|By Liz Benston, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 08, 2011--The town that invented megaresorts and supersized nightclubs with beach parties can add another concept to its roster of capitalist surprises: the neighborhood hotel minimart.
Market Cafe Vdara, a tiny version of Whole Foods or Dean & Deluca, is a departure in a tourist zone where quick eats are typically found in fast-food courts, gift shops or gritty-looking minimarts.
This isn't your corner bodega or neighborhood 7-Eleven. There are no handwritten signs for cigarettes and beer, or buy-two-get-one-free snacks fronting the Market Cafe, which opened last week in Vdara's lobby. Nor will you find prepackaged sandwiches wrapped in cellophane, rotating hot dogs under heat lamps or nachos drizzled in cheese. There are no fill-your-own sodas, Slurpees or Big Gulps.
Instead, you will find Champagne bottles and colorful containers of exotic pasta sauces, suspended in glass displays like modern art. Ingredients for simple meals are arranged in wicker baskets or stacked along the walls like a high-end boutique. Deli meats, wedges of cheese and smoked salmon for sandwiches, microwaveable meals, bags of pancake mix and uncooked pasta are available.
A kitchen in the back is where simple meals such as omelets, burgers, chicken tacos and salads are whipped up for $8 to $15. A deli case features prepared sandwiches and desserts such as cookies and pastries. Grab-and-go meals are packaged in plastic boxes and paper shopping bags like those at high-end retailers. There are a few chairs and tables for people to eat what they buy, no tipping required.
It's no coincidence that this quick, low-cost approach to food opened just as Vdara's only restaurant, the Silk Road, closes today for lack of business.
In this economy, opulence is out, simplicity is in, Vdara General Manager Mary Giuliano said.
"Our guests have changed with the times," she said. "Even the luxury customer likes things simple and convenient. Ostentatious-style dining has slowed down a bit."
The market was always planned as part of CityCenter, envisioned as an urban, live-work neighborhood of resorts, condominiums and office space. The project has fallen short of its loftiest goals in the recession, as the real estate crunch dampened demand for office space, condos and condo-hotels. Many units intended for sale and built with kitchenettes for use by owners are rented nightly as hotel rooms.
Still, the market is creating more of a neighborhood setting among CityCenter's stark landscape of curved steel, glass and modern sculpture, Giuliano said. Guests in rooms with kitchens such as those at Vdara and Cosmopolitan appreciate the ability to buy food they can prepare, she said. Passers-by and visitors at conventions at Vdara also like the inexpensive yet quality selection, she said.
As if on cue, men wearing dark suits and convention badges stream out of the conference area and into the lobby. Some make a beeline for the deli counter.
"Our intent was not to capture the entire Strip audience, but to serve the people in our neighborhood," including guests of CityCenter and neighboring properties such as Bellagio and Cosmopolitan, Giuliano said.
Inside, Steve Pegram smiles as he contemplates the large meat and cheese display, near wines and Champagne that start at $30. Pegram is in town on business for the NASCAR races and is staying at Aria.
"This is not your usual junk food," he says. He is thinking about his next trip to Las Vegas, on his own dime, and the appeal of fixing some appetizers or a quick meal in his room. His wife would probably like that, he said.
"I could see getting some meat and cheese and crackers. This right here would be enough for breakfast or lunch."
Next to him, Kevin Ford looks surprised to see food so prominently and tastefully displayed in a hotel lobby.
"This is really beautiful," said Ford, a local who drove to the Strip for lunch with a friend. Better yet, he said, it fits his time and budget.
"I didn't really want to go to a sit-down restaurant, anyway," he said.
You won't find cheap or cheesy here: Executive Chef Martin Heierling of Silk Road and Bellagio's upscale Sensi restaurant chose the items, which include many Dean & Deluca brands. They tend to be natural and organic.
Frozen dinners are made by Kashi, meats and cheeses are Boar's Head and the ice cream is Ben & Jerry's.
The usual messy racks of candy and gum at the checkout counter are absent save for a few bags of potato chips and dark chocolate bars.
Mostly, though, the market features an abundance of bottled sauces and condiments, such as "roasted tomato cream cheese topper" or "mesquite and stout ale mustard" for those New York cheddar Kettle chips.
There are also lots of exotic words for such a small space. Instead of salsa, you will find "bruschetta," such as Dean & Deluca's "fresh basil and roasted pepper" toppings. Instead of spaghetti or macaroni, you will see bags of Bendetto Cavalieri brand "lumache" and "farfalle" pasta. Herbs float in olive oils advertising "rustic" flavors. And there are sauces with French labels that may require a leap of faith. (A close look at fine print reveals they are "fruit vinegars" made of figs and raspberries.)
Giuliano is quick to point out some basics, such as a $3.27 carton of organic eggs. You can still buy bottles of Budweiser or milk with your baguette. And there's a wall of the usual drugstore items, such as Pepto-Bismol, aspirin and NoDoz.
In a sign that the world is returning to something resembling normalcy: There's no caviar.
"But we could stock that, if people asked for it," Giuliano said.
To see more of the Las Vegas Sun go to http://www.lasvegassun.com
Copyright (c) 2011, Las Vegas Sun
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.