Far be it for a late-middle-aged white guy to explain (or fathom) why Giada Di Laurentiis seems to be the most popular chef in the history of Las Vegas, but she is and there’s no denying that her restaurant has created another rumble in our gastronomic jungle…and that the whole food world has felt the shudder.
None of her predecessors — not Puck, not Lagasse, not Batali, not even Ramsay — has opened a place that became a tough, almost impossible ticket from day one. (Call for a reservation today, for lunch or dinner, and you’ll be told “we’re fully committed” for at least a month. P.S. When did “fully committed” become restaurant-speak for “totally booked?” What that sweet-voiced 20 year-0ld is really telling you is: “Don’t even think about eating here anytime soon, loser.”)
Some of this pent-up demand comes from the restaurant’s (and Giada’s) desire not to exploit the space and the staff too soon. She told Eating Las Vegas that they could easily be doing a thousand covers a day, but wants to keep a lid on things (and do about half those meals) until the shakedown cruise is over.
Giada’s fame among socceer moms may be getting them in the door, but it’s her recipes that keep 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:…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.
Sides like 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. 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….even though Pete Wells might disagree.
In keeping with this “less liquid is more” philosophy, Di Laurentiis likewise believes that Americans over-sauce 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 unfocused, expensive and all over the map. (Don’t blame super-sommelier Darius Allyn — he and his talented crew of wine sellers are just following orders.) Its something-for-everybody quality may keep the conventioneers and bean counters happy, but oenophiles looking for interesting bottles to match with these unique recipes will be disappointed.
Love her or hate her (and lots of people love to hate the marketing machine behind her), there’s no denying the little dynamo has created her very own delectable vernacular in this cuisine. Call it Cal-Ital, call it over-hyped, call her made-for-TV, just don’t call yourself late for dinner here. Because you won’t find better Italian food anywhere in Las Vegas right now.
Max Jacobson (Max hasn’t been well enough to review this place, but if he was, here’s what he would say): Once again, a pretty face and a pair of breasts has robbed John of his good sense. You can dine well here if you order carefully — don’t miss the lobster arancini or the 28 oz. Tuscan rib eye. But the menu is too large (and the prices too rich) for my palate. There’s no beating the beauty of the room, however, although the stunning surroundings only whet my appetite for a plate of beshbarmak, washed down with a nice glass of kymyz, ayran or shubat.
Recommended dishes: Peperonata with Caper Berries; Caponata; Cipollini Onions Agrdolce-Style; Artichokes Two Ways; Orzo Meatballs; Lobster Arancini; Clams Casino; Black Truffle Pizzette; Pasta e Fagioli Soup; Spaghetti with Shrimp and Lemon; Rigatoni Bolognese; Tortellini with Pea Pesto; Farrotto with Morel Mushrooms and Fava Beans; Tuscan Rib-Eye; Whole Roasted Chicken Caccciatore; Peas with Pancetta and Pecorino; Lemon Potatoes; Sweet Corn with Spicy Sausage.
GIADA – THE RESTAURANT