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Mirror, Mirror

Measuring the substance behind the splendour at Encore, the Strip’s latest gold standard.

We’ve let the dust settle on the grand opening of Encore in Las Vegas. December 22 last year was the night and it happened to coincide with some of the most freakish weather modern-day Las Vegas has ever seen—Sphinx in the snow? Only in Vegas. Now baked in more familiar desert sun, we see all of Encore’s grandeur is overt beyond measure, of course. But after a few months into operation, now that the honeymoon period is over, GOM examines whether or not it’s suffering from “evil twin” syndrome and if Steve Wynn and Co. need to get their new act together.

After two and a half years of construction, Wynn was conscious of trying not to appear too over-the-top for the ribbon cutting right in the middle of nationwide economic collapse. But the terms “humility” and “understated” still drip with ornamentation in Sin City—it has to live up to its name, of course. (Jewelry) case in point: on display is a 231-carat Wynn Diamond, touted as “the largest cut pear-shaped diamond in the world.” Plus, Wynn laid out a few million for distinguished high-rollers to get the betting party started, announcing, “Let the games begin!” and spinning Sinatra’s “Luck be a Lady Tonight.” Smiles all around, but for the more understated bankrolls among us, how does the massive resort suit? Very well is the short answer. Even if you can’t buy a Ferrari on a whim, the massive Esplanade shopping area, spa, multiple restaurants and bars and nightclub XS (with space for 3,000) are all within reach.

Encore is a lavish affair with massive windows, tropical greenery, and contemporary and traditional designs borrowed from Asia and domestic whimsy, including bold reds and delicate butterfly designs. The glorious pool area has acres of frolic space and is constant stimulus for the eyes, especially if you’re camped out in one if the 29 cabanas.

Once upstairs, rooms vary in size from the generous standard rooms at over 69 square meters, to suites in its own dedicated tower. The views, especially if you’re on the south side, offer grand splendour of the Strip. But no matter where you face, just don’t ask for a room on floor 13 or anything from 40 to 49 as, well, they don’t exist; global superstitions carry a lot of weight in this town. So even though it has a 63rd floor, there are only 52 levels—still three floors higher than its counterpart, the Wynn.

But as we all know, time spent in any Las Vegas room is kept to an essential minimum. Back downstairs, restaurants at Encore include Sinatra, a—surprise!—Frank Sinatra-themed dinner-only steakhouse, including a Grammy and an Oscar from Old Blue Eyes himself. That adds a little wow factor, but, despite our great experience there on a particular Thursday night recently, instructions to “go somewhere else” have come from previous diners. “The cooks in Sinatra have to step up their game because it demeans the Sinatra name to have such low quality food,” commented one unhappy customer on TripAdvisor.com. Of course, if you want to heed the advice of one person, you can always go to Wazuzu, a pan-Asian bistro complete with an eight-meter crystal dragon suspended from the ceiling. We opted for the sushi and the Korean short ribs, which were both wonderful. The service, however, was shorter than the ribs and was the antithesis to the spectacular decor—something we were warned about.

We opted out of Switch, which is a French restaurant with walls, ceiling and lights that change and mutate twice every hour—not exactly something that seems conducive to easy-going digestion. However, when appetite resumed, Mark LaRusso’s Botero, another dinner-only steakhouse, ticked every box. It’s slick without being pompous, attracting—naturally—a lively, upscale, impossibly attractive crowd. But when you’re finished looking around at the people and original art from artist Fernando Botero, from where the restaurant gets its name, check out what’s on the plate in front of you. A medium-rare bone-in rib-eye slab made everything else fade into the background, much to the dismay of my guest across the table. Service, like the meal, was great and we’ll be back.

Taking all of Encore into account, it might suffer from being too ambitious—an arbitrary measure in Las Vegas but nevertheless evident when lines are clearly disregarded. But give it time and everything at Encore will lock into place. Expectation is always one step ahead of reality here but when you’re Steve Wynn, there’s no such thing as compromise. We just hope unsatisfied customers at Wazuzu and Sinatra, for example, come back and eventually turn around to see it his way.
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