ELV note: As you may know, we write the “So Many Dinners” column for VEGAS magazine — a column that highlights noteworthy restaurants from around our valley. This month’s feature explores the origins of Vintner Grill, and since the ‘zine isn’t running it on its website, we at ELV thought you’d might like to peruse the gustatory gusto with which we gratifyingly gallivanted to (and gushed over) this galvanizing grill.
It’s safe to say that when Vintner Grill opened on December 6, 2006, no one associated with the project had the slightest idea it would become Las Vegas’ most prominent neighborhood restaurant. Who could have predicted that its sleek interior and swanky bar were destined to become the hotspot for everyone from serious oenophiles to socialites to celebrity chefs? These days, it all feels like a forgone conclusion, and five years on, you are as likely to run into Nicolas Cage as you are a power broker on the gorgeous outdoor patio. And if you think you see Andre Agassi and Stephie Graf , Bette Midler, or Steve Wynn sitting in a corner booth, you probably do.
Almost everything associated with the place was a first, and a big gamble. Owner Michael Corrigan wanted a very special, wine- focused restaurant, in an office building that depended upon word of mouth for its customers. “We just opened the doors and hoped the word got out,’ is how General Manager Peter Varela puts it. Executive Chef Matthew Silverman is even more to the point: “We were either going to be a big success or a colossal failure.”
How it bucked those odds is a story unto itself.
To begin with, there is that location. Las Vegas has never had a successful, food and wine oriented restaurant within an office building. Office buildings in this town aren’t for food (as they are in bigger cities) they’re for copy machines and coffee shops. And this one wasn’t even going to be in the heart of any urban or suburban core. If that weren’t enough of a long shot, there is the inconvenient fact that the place is practically hidden. The Vintner Grill is a restaurant you either have to know is there or want to find. The measly street signage is pretty much invisible, and the entry from inside of the parking lot is not much better. In other words, Vintner’s location is more hidden than a celebrity chef’s humility; one is tempted to call it the worst in town. “Everyone said we were crazy for not having a big sign out front,” says Silverman. “But there’s something to be said about having to seek out and find a place.”
But find it people have. And almost since day one they have flocked here for food and wine that is like no other off the Strip. Corrigan first poached Varela from his twenty years of service with the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, who recommended Troy Kumalaa has wine director. Kumalaa, who has since left the operation, had been a sommelier at Spago and was told to “write your own list” – pretty much a dream directive for any wine guy. What he did was set a template for an aggressive-yet-gently-priced program.
No wines by the glass are priced over twenty dollars, and the list is chock full of “eclectic whites” and interesting reds for well under a hundred. As much fun as it is to drool over the “50 Under 50” portion of the list – featuring such gems as a Colle Massari Vermentino or an Owen Roe Syrah from Yakima, Washington – it is the bargains featured on local vintner’s wines – like Kevin Vogt’s ethereal Mastery Cabernet Sauvignon and Julie Lin’s Rockroom Pinot Noir – that really get our attention.
If the wines weren’t enough reason enough to return, Silverman’s food is. He knew it would need a quality food product if he was to lure the Summerlin crowd to his doors. “As it was taking shape, I could see it was going to be something special, and I needed a menu that would fit the dramatic décor (by noted designer Peter Deussing),” he told me. “The first thing I wanted was a cheese and charcuterie selection where diners could mix and match their own selections. I’d been to too many places where they just brought you whatever meats and cheeses they wanted you to have.” In seeing this trend first, Silverman turned out to be something of a pioneer in the salumi education of Vegas, as artisanal, cured meats are now as common as crème brulee in our better restaurants.
Then, of course, there is the grill. “No gas,” says Silverman, “nothing but mesquite, apple and cherry wood, both for our pizzas and the grilling of meats and fish. It adds a level of difficulty to the cooking, but I just love the depth of flavor it brings to the food.” It’s hard to argue with him when you bite into a toothsome flatbread adorned with caramelized onions, gorgonzola and basil pesto, or his seared halibut with cous cous – a dish so captivating that “we’d get a dozen complaints a day if it were taken off the menu.” Pawn Stars’ Rick Harrison is a regular, and is equally enamored of the braised lamb “tagine,” while former mayor Oscar Goodman “would have a fit if he couldn’t get the lamb ribs.”
Thus, has the Vintner Grill become a victim of its own success. It has developed such a loyal following of celebrities, power lunchers, movers and shakers, and more than a few attractive women, that it would be tempting to say its food has suffered. Far from it. Of course, such success (and the beautiful burdens it brings) is a good problem to have. Lucky for us, Matthew Silverman is at the helm, making sure everything on the menu is as good as it can be.
10100 W. Charleston Blvd. Suite 150
Las Vegas, NV 89135