I have found the best bargain in Vegas: Continental breakfast at the tiny Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro in Caesars Palace. François Payard is a brilliant French pastry chef who's well known in New York, where he has his first restaurant. But I doubt his name rings much of a bell with people outside Manhattan. I'm ringing it loud and clear.
Breakfast here is sheer poetry. For a mere $16, you get good, strong coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice and as many of Payard's exquisite morning pastries as you can devour in one sitting. That means a croissant so buttery and flaky, you and the table are covered in crumbs at the first bite. You'd be hard-pressed to find one anywhere in Paris (I mean the real Paris) of this caliber. Then there's the almond version -- indulgently stuffed with fragrant almond paste -- a tender brioche scented with orange, an elegant apricot Danish and whatever else Payard and his capable chef here, Gregory Gourreau, might dream up. Gorreau, incidentally, used to be the head pastry chef for Alain Ducasse at Mix in Las Vegas and worked with Payard in New York.
Each time I come to Vegas, I can't stay away. Not to sound like a late-night TV hawker, but that $16 continental breakfast also includes silky house-cured smoked salmon with all the fixings and a decent bagel (toasted if you like), which my Brooklyn-born husband vastly appreciated, plus cereals, fresh fruit and pretty little yogurt parfaits with granola. Oh, I'll have a taste or two, and then it's back to that dreamy croissant.
The bistro itself is adorable, round in shape, with the kitchen, where you can order from the a la carte menu, in the center and fanciful white leather banquettes around the edges. This, in fact, may be the smallest restaurant I've seen in Vegas, with just 16 tables beneath whimsical chandeliers dripping glass gumdrops. And for such a sumptuous breakfast, Payard is first-class all the way, from the heavy linens and serious flatware to the white porcelain plates.
Service is crisp yet unusually comfortable, and there's always someone right there to refill your coffee cup or water glass.
Breakfast is served only until 11:30. After noon, Payard serves a casual bistro menu until 7:30 p.m. Drop in for a light lunch of salade niçoise, a perfect omelet or a deliciously fluffy croque-monsieur (or madame, if you prefer), in which you can actually taste the nutmeg in the béchamel sauce. Or, silly thought, take some pastries from the shop next door back to your room. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right?
After 9 p.m., Payard offers a three-course prix fixe dessert tasting for $45, in which you choose from more than 15 items from several categories. You can also order just one if you like. But I'd go with the prix fixe, in order to taste as many of the fabulously intricate desserts as possible. Here, you can't be too greedy when we're talking macaron stained with squid ink and filled with a savory black olive cream cheese served with Gorgonzola ice cream. Or peanut butter napoleon with milk chocolate pastry, rice crispies and a subtly evocative peanut butter sauce. Or apples slowly baked with a cardamom streusel and crowned with a tart, refreshing scoop of Granny Smith sorbet and dried apple chips. I could go on and on, but I won't. Taste for yourself one night: skip dessert wherever you're eating, and run, don't walk, to Payard for a languorous, late-night splurge.
Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro, Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; (702) 731-7110; www.harrahs.com/casinos/caesars-palace/restaurants-dining. Open daily from 6:30 to 11:30 a.m. for breakfast, noon to 7:30 p.m. for lunch and 9 to 11:30 p.m. for dessert prix fixe. Continental breakfast, $16; lunch-dinner entrees, $16 to $26; three-course dessert prix fixe, $45; individual desserts, $15.