John Curtas is …

GIADA – THE RESTAURANT (Where the Suits are Picking Up the Bill)

Squirrel Nut Zippers "Suits Are Picking Up the Bill" directed by Norwood Cheek from Norwood Cheek on Vimeo.

It’s pretty hard to feel sorry for a celebrity chef — especially one who’s led as charmed a life as Giada De Laurentiis – but that was our primary response after reading a recent article on her trials and tribulations in trying to get things done her way at Giada – The Restaurant.

It seems the old celebrity chef bugaboo — the fact that these chefs don’t own a damn thing, and that the hotels and casinos are putting up all the money for them to open (and profit from) a restaurant with their name on it — has bitten little miss Giada on her pretty little keister. She wants things her way (i.e. the best of everything), and big, bad Caesars executives keep telling her things like: “You’re no Guy Savoy,” and “We have to keep an eye on the bottom line.”

ELV actually did feel a tinge of pity for the gal upon reading these things, especially since we read them after two meals at the restaurant; two meals that convinced us the little dynamo has some major chops, and pretty much has developed an Italian food vernacular all her own; two dinners that made a statement that this could become a famous and seminal restaurant (for all the right reasons), if Giada is allowed to do things her way.

Sadly, we are not optimistic that such things will be allowed to happen. Commerce wins out over art every time in these things. Quality eventually takes a back seat to quantity, and the accountants inevitably get their way.

According to news reports, Giada vetoed two chefs before they settled on Executive Chef Kurtess Mortensen as an interim solution. From the looks of things, he was the first chef able to keep this dining diva happy:

http://www.reviewjournal.com/sites/default/files/field/media/web1_DSC04350_2_3.jpeg

From the taste of things, they’re both bringing their “A” game….and producing food on a level commensurate with all the hype.

To say we were pleasantly surprised by that food is an understatement. Equally surprising was the warm welcome we received from the staff….more than a few of whom had read our skeptical musings about Giada. Kudos to all for showing such professionalism.

Truth be told, we tried to sneak in the first time….and maybe grab and drink and perhaps nibble on a couple of apps. But within minutes we were busted and shown to a nice, cozy booth that was so comfortable it could double as a luxury suite. That booth was tucked away from the main dining room, but gave us an excellent perspective on the large, L-shaped bar, and the parade of dishes coming both to our table and tables throughout the packed house.

“They can’t be here for Italian food,” we thought to ourselves. “Italian food is about as hip as a dickey. It must be her celebrity that’s packing them in.”

Truth be told, it’s both. Giada’s fame may be getting them in the door, but it’s her recipes that are keeping everyone riveted to their plates.

Recipes like a pasta e fagioli soup that takes this time-worn, worn-out, warhorse and gives it a whole new personality with small, tubular ditalini pasta, cannellini beans, finely diced carrots all suspended in a first class broth:   

Or a black truffle pizzette:

….that is so crispy, chewy, rich and intense you will wonder how so much flavor can be packed into so small a triangle.

Vegetable dishes like artichokes two ways (roasted and deep-fried), will have you re-thinking your attitude towards healthy edibles, and her pastas like farrotto with morels (top) and lemon spaghetti:

……will have you wondering how something so sumptuous can leave you feeling so light.

About the only dish we’ve tried of ho-hum quality was  a mascarpone and tarragon shrimp dish (not pictured) that looked and tasted like something straight out of a corporate kitchen — it having none of the flavor pop or dazzle of the rest of the menu.

All of the sides tried: peas with parsley, pancetta and pecorino, crispy polenta, and sweet corn with spicy sausage show real attention to detail and are more than worth the ten dollar price tag.

And for a piece de resistance, you can hardly do better in any Italian restaurant in this town than Giada’s whole roasted chicken for two with cacciatore (hunter’s) sauce:

…consisting of a good bird, properly roasted, with the cacciatore portion served as a separate sauce, rather than the braising liquid in which the clucker was swimming as it cooked. Some might prefer the wetter version, but we found this one just perfect.

In keeping with this “less liquid is more” philosophy, she likewise believes that Americans oversauce their pasta (and she would be right), so, she pretty much goes in the opposite direction with her rigatoni Bolognese:

….barely flecking her toothsome noodles with bits of vegetarian Bolognese, and making the dish no less delicious for it.

As for the wine list, it is typical of the corporate lists which burden (instead of enhance) most of our top end restaurants — it being all over the map with a something-for-everybody quality that keeps the conventioneers and bean counters happy, while disappointing oenophiles looking for interesting bottles to match with unique food.

Should you be the sort that looks for a drinking experience equal to your meal, super-somm Darius Allyn will eagerly steer you to gems like this Sicilian star:

…which was so good we can still taste it.

Like this Pithos Rosso, almost everything we tasted during our two meals here points to a one-of-a-kind take on Italian food, served in a spectacular setting.

So get here while the gettin’s good, meaning: while everyone is still playing nicely with everyone else, and before the suits start cutting corners, compromising on ingredients, and replacing skillful chefs with hack union cooks. If you do that, you’re going to eat some spectacularly original Italian food, cooked with the care and creativity that is distinctly Giada’s.

You won’t find better Italian food anywhere in Las Vegas right now.

There, I said it.

Both of ELV’s dinners were comped. Dinner for two should run around $150-$200, depending on how crazy you get with your alcoholic beverages.

GIADA – THE RESTAURANT

In The Cromwell Hotel & Casino

3595 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

855.471.8890

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16 Responses to GIADA – THE RESTAURANT (Where the Suits are Picking Up the Bill)

  • This is insightful food commentary from a writer who isn’t afraid to put aside preconceived notions in order to provide readers with information untarnished by PR hacks Nice work John, some of your best writing

  • Thanks for the honest and encouraging review. Fingers crossed that she can keep up the quality. Everything looks wonderful.

  • I feel compelled to comment. Does MGM Resorts have similar contracts with its celebrity chefs?

  • in cities that have more than 4 or 5 great italian food is hip

  • Did you pay for the meal? Price tag? Any of it comped? Hardly doubting the integrity of the only food writer in town willing to mix it up with the PR flacks but you don’t seem to be including this information to your posts anymore. Disclosing the amount and depth of the comp just seems appropriate.

  • Full, right at the bottom of the article he says both of his meals were comped.

  • Went this past weekend with three friends. The place was packed and one of our party had made reservations for the date several weeks earlier. Was told that they are pretty booked so plan ahead if you are an early participant. The restaurant is gorgeous with a fantastic view of the strip and Bellagio fountains. Food was better than most upscale “Italian” restaurants on the Strip and although clearly catering to the tourista crowd not bad giving the pricing for entrees. Having said that, wine costs were typically high for a Strip joint. Expect the usual mark- ups for imbibing your favorite beverage. Several entrée Portions were on the small side and thus, may reflect the average entrée price point of $28. Service was crisp and attentive and overall a pleasant experience. Would I go there again, yes. The crowds made the evening a little uncomfortable because all the hubbub and some loud parties at adjacent tables.

  • ELV responds: The extent of non-attention on the interwebs never fails to astonish us. “Did you pay for the meal?” asks Full Disclosure….as he/she/they disclose how empty their attentiveness to our prose was.

    That said, FD makes a good point. We should probably pay closer attention (and report on) prices more than we do. And FYI FD….we always (or almost always) include how much we paid or whether or not the meal is/was comped (unlike every other food writer in town, whose modus operandi is begging for comps before writing whatever the flacks ask them to. (Are you listening Eric Gladstone and Zeke What’s Your Name?)

    The free weeklies in town are no better — with editors blithely refusing to pay expenses and expecting all that food to magically appear for their writers before doling out a few hundred dollars per article. (By way of example: if a reviewer properly tried enough dishes to write a proper review of Giada, their food costs would easily hit $200….leaving a mere pittance left to pay the writer.) All of this is to the great shame of our “food journalists” in this town….but no one but ELV ever calls anyone on it.

    Are you listening Al Mancini, Sarah Feldberg and Xania Woodman?

    The R-J and HKR is the only periodical with any integrity….and Heidi Knapp Rinella doesn’t get enough credit for upholding what little journalistic standards are left in the food writing biz.

    Finally, ELV doesn’t ask for comps. He’s never asked for a comp. He always offers to pay. Sometimes he pays, most times he doesn’t (except in Chinatown where he ALWAYS pays). He is grateful for the freebies, but isn’t swayed by them. (Beggars, on the other hand are always very grateful, if you ever watch/read them.)

  • Hm, should the guy who started the Bourdain/Charlie Palmer Steak brouhaha really talk about journalistic integrity?

  • Jay – Jon is a blogger, he is not paid for his services, this is his way of expressing himself and his point of view. Bloggers are not paid journalists, there is a night and day difference when it comes to responsibilities. John is known for his honest essays on the food scene in Vegas – he calls it as he sees it, and is certainly not politically correct, frankly, that’s just the way I like it – and most industry insiders I speak with tell me they appreciate what John has done for the dining community even if they have a love/hate relationship with him. John is not known for his gossip faire, so get over the Bourdain/Charlie Palmer mess. Everyone else seems to have moved on, you should too. We need John in this city, right or wrong there is no denying that he is the only food writer who sees how our dining scene compares to the rest of the world.

  • ELV: We appreciate the defense of In theCards.

    As for the “Bourdain brouhaha” we have nothing to apologize for. We called out Bourdain and forced him to reveal where he dined (rather than hiding behind his wife’s skirt and their coy little “secret diner” charade.)

    The fact that we initially got the name of the restaurant wrong — after being told, erroneously by staff at Carnevino, that the Bourdain’s dined there and signed the check to their room at the Venetian — in no way compromises any ethics or integrity that we know of.

    If that sort of thing offends you Jay, we have the name of a few Japanese bloggers who you should be fast friends with.

    And in terms of “food journalism” and “food journalists” — we’ll put our 20 year record of reporting on the Vegas food scene (for KNPR and every periodical in town – save the R-J) up against any of the titans of gastronomy that are currently working in dead tree media.

  • Can’t get over it? Offended? Moi? Hardly. I, like you, am just calling as I see it.

  • Curtas is a decent critic/food troll (your call) but it’s a shame he has to resort to insulting customers and relying on his “20 years of blah, blah” to help prop his insults. (see his skinny fats review).

    Curtas just a sensitive, privileged gourmand with a ego the size of Texas. Make no mistake, even his readership in the industry would rather he just go away. No one would miss his self-important commentary about blahbpah. Curtas is no different than a yelp critic who slams a sushi restaurant because of poor parking and the fact they really don’t like sushi.

  • Congratulations, Mr. Noble, for your consistency. After careful review, it appears that your understanding of John’s work, and his standing in the local culinary community, has a pretty close correlation to your grasp of English grammar.

    Sadly, neither is very good.

  • Eating Las Vegas responds: While we are always grateful for the spirited defense from our regs (like Quincy A.), we equally look forward to all comments – pro or con – from readers both gruntled and dis-.

    Tommy Noble is right in that (some) of our “readership in the industry” would wish we would go away…especially those who put out inferior products (like Skinnyfats, Echo & Rig et al) and depend on the free magazines to promote them.

    However, his sushi/Yelp analogy is a non-sequitur that not even our substantial brain cannot parse. All we ever concentrate on is the food….with our other rants serving merely to put the quality thereof in context. (Even a disgruntled chef, or friend of a disgruntled chef – of which TN surely is one – should be able to see that.)

    And…as for the size of our ego…Tommy Noble gets things terribly wrong. It is more Alaska- than Texas-sized.

  • Let’s put it in real text. For all the places to eat in Vegas, most fall short. How many times have you seen some suckhole food writer hype another shitty Burger joint! Or Robin Leach praising the shit out of another place. First of all, the help comes and goes quickly. Most just moved here with no understanding of working in an Eatery. The illegal immigrants in the kitchen just cannot cook other cuisines, period! Giada is gonna wish she never came here. The bigwigs only want profit.

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