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December 20, 2014

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LAS VEGAS AT LARGE:

Las Vegas becoming a sweet spot for a gourmet sugar rush

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Sam Morris

You can surround yourself with sweet indulgences at the Sugar Factory in the Mirage. Perhaps you’d like a $22 “couture” lollipop?

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Or perhaps you'd like a Cotton-Candy Martini, being prepared at Serendipity 3 outside Caesars Palace.

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Shoppers examine the chocolate fountain at Jean-Philippe Patisserie at the Bellagio.

Most who make the trek to Las Vegas come to get their cravings on: eat, drink, smoke, gamble, make sexytime, anytime. What brings people here comes down to a yearning to forget the bitter, to taste the sweet.

Which reminds us of the unspoken vice and open secret of this city: our raging sweet tooth. Yes, you may leave Vegas with all manner of wonderful or icky mementos, but your most likely souvenir will be sticky fingers, a jacked-up glycemic index and a toothache.

Candy is hardly anyone’s top-of-mind response when Vegas is being discussed. But in the past year, the Strip has been sugarcoated and dipped in chocolate, with sprinkles on top.

And we’re way beyond humble Raisinettes, Snickers or even 100 Grand bars. Like other cravings that have been tarted-up — tiki bars, gaudy slots, Peepshow — candy itself has been Vegasized, from the bedazzled $22 “couture” lollipops at Sugar Factory, to the all-chocolate dinner at Payard at Caesars Palace, to the carefully tended Zen gardens of gelato at almost every casino.

Vegas is often called an adult Disneyland, but a more apt allusion is a grown-up Candyland, a Willy Wonka factory where everyone has a golden ticket.

Maybe it’s because the sugar rush is the most affordable and accessible high, attractive even to that small percentage impervious or immune to the allure of gambling or sex.

Candy’s siren song affects the lucky and luckless alike. For those who succeed in games or romance, it may be a reward or a tool of seduction. And for those who fail, it’s instant solace, solitary comfort, orally administered when the prize didn’t arrive as planned.

Late on a Thursday afternoon, the most crowded spot at Bellagio is the Jean-Philippe Patisserie candy boutique, where visitors cluster to gawk at the world’s largest chocolate fountain, and a captive audience lines up for scoops of ice cream and pricey confections.

It’s no accident that at the very heart of the new Aria resort is an even more phantasmagorical Jean-Philippe outpost, where the sweet stuff is artfully lit and arrayed like lingerie, like jewels.

Candy may in fact be the one market sector where Las Vegas is seeing growth: Pamela Jenkins recently expanded her Cupcakery empire to the Strip with a cupcake emporium at Monte Carlo. Having established a candy-shop beachhead at the Mirage, the Sugar Factory is opening a location inside the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood; the company will open a Sugar Factory restaurant at Paris Las Vegas this spring.

Last year, the Strip saw the arrival of Serendipity 3, a very expensive ice-cream pavilion in front of Caesars Palace, known for its Frrrrozen Hot Chocolate ($8.50), cotton-candy martini ($12), and the $1,000 Golden Opulence sundae, which you have to order 48 hours in advance: five scoops of Tahitian vanilla ice cream, rare chocolates made from Venezuelan cocoa beans, exotic fruits and 23-karat edible gold leaf.

Chef Kerry Simon knows the way to our hearts: The desserts at his Simon restaurant at Palms Place include a PB&J sundae with peanut butter ice cream, concord grape jelly and peanut-butter fudge sauce, a junk-food platter that includes house-made “hostess” cupcakes and snowballs, cookies, brownies, chocolate-caramel popcorn, a mini-sundae, milkshake, Rice Krispies and Froot Loops treats and, simply, a big bowl of cotton candy (all $9).

Perhaps the ultimate Vegas twist on a sweet and simple tradition is the $10 Scottish milkshake — spiked with 12-year-old Glenlivet single malt — at the Country Club at Wynn. A bargain, really.

Candy is need and solution in one. And the same rules apply as to sex and gambling: If you’re gonna do it, make it memorable, make it last. Go for quality, not quantity. Know when to stop.

And try on a Vegas attitude to candy: Whether it’s your indulgence, your self-medication, your addiction or secret shame, no one here wants to hear, “Oh, I really shouldn’t,” or how bad you’re being.

— A version of this story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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