If cooking at Gary Danko, Fleur de Lys (San Francisco version), ALEX and Scarpetta (Las Vegas version) doesn’t prepare you to run the kitchen at Marche Bacchus, we can’t imagine what does.
Those comprise the culinary pedigree of new MB Executive Chef David Middleton, and the 31 year old chef is planning on using his ten years of cooking at others’ restaurants to put his personal stamp on his own.
“I got tired of grinding it out,” is how he puts it when we asked him why he moved from the pressure of being Dan Rossi’s Sous Chef at Scarpetta to running Las Vegas’ best, off-Strip bistro. “It was time for me to take the helm of my own kitchen.”
The opportunity arose when Joe Swan, also an ALEX alum, decided to fly this coop for the colder climes of his hometown Michigan. Two weeks into the gig, Middleton is excited but cautious when we ask him the ultimate question about the food at MB: How can you upgrade and move this food forward without alienating the older regulars who expect the same old, same old every time they dine…at the same prices they’ve been paying since 2003? (If they add a buck or two the cost of something, even if it’s for better ingredients, customers go apoplectic….as many an owner has told us. Ahh, the joys of restaurant ownership in the Vegas ‘burbs.)
“You’re not the first person to ask me that,” he says with a wry smile. “We have the potential to be the best restaurant off the Strip, but I have to remember our core customers, so for the time being, we’re going to change about 40% of the menu.” And then, without missing a beat he volunteers: “The trout’s coming off. Trout is only good if you catch it yourself.”
ELV couldn’t agree more. When we ask what remains sacrosanct, Middleton is quick to defend the lobster croissant, and then add (almost as if to appease the finicky critic): “We’re adding a seared foie gras with a sweetbread fricasse, plus three new pastas, and David Doyle, who’s leaving D.O.C.G. to be my sous.”
At this point, our staff wondered if anyone would be left at Scarpetta/D.O.C.G. to do the cooking, but ELV assured them all is well in the Scott Conant universe…and the last time we saw him he was too busy counting money to stress over the help.
You get the impression the stress of the Strip is something Middleton will be glad to leave behind. “It’s really important to get some balance in this chaotic business we’re in,” he says. “Almost anyone can make steak frites, but not everyone can make a perfect sauce. It’s that perfection you strive for with Michelin 2-star food, but when you consider the cost and the labor and the 4% profit margin, it almost doesn’t make any sense.”
Being mindful of the costs, labor and expenses of Strip eateries (and the money casinos have to throw at them), is it even realistic to expect neighborhood joints to compete? “Off Strip restaurants get a bad rap,” he says, “but you can still aim for that level of excellence. We are the Davids to its Goliath. I can’t compete with the starting union wage for a Cook 1 ($18.50/hr.), but if you get the freshest, highest quality ingredients, manipulate them as little as possible, and let them speak for themselves, you can put out food that’s just as delicious as anything that’s going on down there.”
2620 Regatta Drive.
Las Vegas, NV89128