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:
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