It’s no secret that Sin City has attracted marquee food stars. Less known, though, is that some of the town’s best meals come courtesy of Vegas’s lower-profile chefs -- chefs who live locally and get personal by (gasp!) actually cooking in their kitchens. The next time you’re in Vegas, tear yourself away from the craps table long enough to hit one of these newly opened eateries. You won’t be gambling, but you’ll hit the jackpot nonetheless.


1. Simon at Palms Place
A bit more refined than Kerry Simon’s previous operation at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel, this new spot at Palms Place focuses on contemporary American cuisine. Dine with a poolside view, check out Simon’s indoor herb garden, and go a little nuts on dessert; homemade cotton candy isa house specialty. Also try the tuna dynamite, fried rock shrimp, and meatloaf (probably not like your mom used to make). (702) 944-3221, www.simonatpalmsplace.com

 2. Picasso
Chef Julian Serrano made his name at Masa’s in San Francisco, but his new spot in the Bellagio takes things to a whole new level. Sitting among priceless paintings by the restaurant’s namesake, diners indulge in a tasting menu that includes perfectly cooked scallops, buttery-tender Kobe beef, and sautéed foie gras complemented with Olsen cherries.(702) 693-7223, www.bellagio.com

3. Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood
It’s one thing to move to Las Vegas with the intention of opening a new restaurant, but it’s quite another to shut down a successful eatery in New York City in order to do it. Such is the case with Rick Moonen, whose sleekly designed restaurant in the Mandalay Bay is highlighted by silky yellowtail sashimi, spicy oysters, and a simple preparation of flaky, white-fleshed cobia. (702) 632-9300, www.rmseafood.com

A Mediterranean Trip

Fresh seafood in the desert seems miraculous enough, but Paul Bartolotta takes it a step further at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare in the Wynn (702-248-3463, www.wynnlasvegas.com). His swimmers are exotic enough that you’ll be hard-pressed to find them outside of the Mediterranean.

Succulent soft-shell crabs are shipped in live from waters near Venice, blue rock lobsters come from various parts in the Mediterranean (mostly Sicily),and a special breed of sea bream gets caught near Naples. “This restaurant is all about the product and a culture that has been around for hundreds of years,” says Bartolotta, popping a nugget of fried squid into his mouth. “Along the Italian coast, they eat a basic but delicious octopus salad. Why would I want to mess with that and make it into a foam?”

Though the preparations may be simple, the procurement is not. Working like a gourmet air-traffic controller,Bartolotta endlessly monitors the comings and goings of the international creatures that make up his menu. Sometimes, though, he must go beyond beloved Italy in order to secure necessary ingredients.“The slipper lobster is very Italian, but I get it from Algeria andSenegal because it is illegal in Italy,” says Bartolotta of the sweet crustacean. “When you do find a slipper lobster on a menu there, it’susually in a small-town restaurant where the chief of police is the only one enjoying it.”