I didn’t realize it until now, but I’ve made a lot of memories at this place. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it the JW Marriott. (It’s had different names since it opened in 1999, and it might soon revert back to its original name, the Resort at Summerlin.) I’ve had outstanding meals at different restaurants here, including the long-gone Oxo steakhouse. I’ve mulled important life decisions over many pints at J.C. Woolaughan’s, the Irish pub. I’ve stepped onstage at Addison’s Lounge while a cover band took on Morris Day and The Time (maybe I was drunk). I’ve popped New Year’s corks on top of the parking garage while watching distant fireworks.
With the exception of the Morris Day part, these are all things locals do at neighborhood casinos, but this is not that kind of place—or at least, not only that kind of place. This is a luxury resort in the desert, a place people go for a sunny vacation filled with golf and spa time. It just happens to have a neighborhood casino attached, one heavily populated by the retirees and older folk living in Sun City and other quiet Summerlin neighborhoods. It might not make sense for me to eat and drink here, but as history has proven, I like to.
Stroll around and you’ll notice how different it is from wide-open locals’ joints managed by Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming. It feels like the kind of place where people book their weddings, receptions and corporate parties, because it is. That former steakhouse space is now used exclusively for such events, and the poolside Ceres cafe is open to the public for breakfast only.
The signature dining experience here is the Carmel Room, a more casual take on the old Vegas gourmet room. Though the restaurant offers a $40 three-course menu, you’ll enjoy it more if you venture beyond shrimp scampi and prime rib to taste other vintage dishes like escargot bourguignon ($9), three onion soup ($8) and Dover sole veronique ($39). The steaks here are top-notch, too.
The Carmel Room is in the casino while most of the other restaurants are connected by a corridor in the back of the property. Find your way there by locating the small but serviceable Promenade Cafe, a 24-hour coffee shop. Then you’ll find that pub, sucked in by happy hour specials (3 to 6 p.m.) including $2.50 draft beers and $5 appetizers. On the other side of the mini-Starbucks is another happy hour retreat, 221, where more $5 small plates like sliders and crab cakes and discounted drinks await ($4 sangria or margaritas until summer’s over). Across the faux street is the Rampart Buffet, known for Friday night seafood and Thursday deli nights (both $18.99).
Go deeper to discover Shizen, a pretty great Japanese teppan house and sushi bar, maybe one of Summerlin’s best-kept secrets. Share some kumamoto oysters or tuna poke ($14) or maybe some mussels baked in spicy motoyaki sauce ($14) before feasting on steak, shrimp, scallops, lobster or more, grilled before your eyes and served with all the trimmings (miso, salad, fried rice and vegetables).
The last restaurant on the JW Marriott list has been here the longest, chef Gustav Mauler’s Spiedini. Here, Italian classics are done with a lighter hand, meat gets extra-special treatment (such as the gorgonzola crust applied to a filet or 16-ounce ribeye) and pasta specialties are true standouts. Try spaghetti alla chitara ($19), with sweet sausage, eggplant and basil, or cognac-doused lobster ravioli ($20).
Recently, the once-separate hotel and casino came under the same ownership and management, with gaming family scion Michael Gaughan Jr. as general manager. That will assuredly bring change to this 14-year-old property, steady improvement for an already charming joint.
JW Marriott 221 N. Rampart Blvd., 869-7777.