Chefs’ Night Out

What they eat during off-hours seems to be a hot topic. We sent our critic to get a sampling.

Chef’s Feed, a new app for the Android or iPhone, is on its way to Las Vegas. A cool concept already launched in American cities such as San Francisco, the app provides an interface that indicates where top chefs in a given city eat and their recommended dishes.

Meantime, Vegas Seven got into the spirit by doing its own mini survey (see below), and I did my part by obtaining this prized information the old-fashioned food critic’s way: by dining out with chefs on their nights off or, better yet, after their shifts. Recently I enjoyed a late-night supper at Kyara, a Japanese tapas bar, with three top local chefs, and on another occasion, I ate at Settebello Pizzeria Napolitana with chef Theo Schoenegger of Wynn’s Sinatra.

The former adventure began about 11:30 p.m.—that’s dinnertime for many chefs on work nights—when I met up with Gary FX LaMorte, the talented corporate chef for Michael Mina; Brian Howard of Comme Ça at the Cosmopolitan; and Daniel Ontiveros, a chef de partie at Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand.

“We usually go Asian late night, to places like China MaMa, the ramen bar Monta or here,” said LaMorte, as we nibbled on grated mountain potatoes on a hot iron plate. “It’s a departure from what we cook.”

Which, in LaMorte’s case, is a lot of Western-style seafood. Howard, whose focus in the Comme Ça kitchen is French bistro classics such as coq au vin and house-made charcuterie, is a regular at restaurants like this, too.

“Japanese food in Vegas just keeps getting better and better,” Howard said as we hoisted a cold one and dug into jidori tori kara, pieces of delicately fried chicken.

But Howard’s after-work tastes do vary. “For me, it often boils down to a cold beer or a great cocktail. I love hole-in-the-wall bars like Money Plays. They’ve got great Mexican food by El Taco Fresco” [which is a kiosk in the bar].

While we compared notes at the tapas bar, the chef brought out pork belly, grilled mackerel, niku jaga (a Japanese beef stew), skewered chicken skin, soy-glazed chicken meatballs and beef tongue—small plates that go perfectly with our Asahi Dry beer. I got their point about these simple pleasures.

I met Schoenegger on his day off, in the late afternoon at Settebello in Green Valley, where he feels right at home.

“I’m Italian,” he said, demonstrating the proper technique for eating a true Neapolitan-style pizza. “First, it has to be folded so.” He deftly picked up a wedge and folded it in half, the crust facing outward. “Then, you eat it from the point up.”

The chef has been here more than three years and, like many of his countrymen, strongly prefers Italian cooking. “Settebello has the best pizza in Vegas,” Schoenegger said. “And because I have two young children, I don’t like to take them to fancy restaurants.”

We ordered the pizza Capricciosa, topped with artichoke hearts, olives, arugula and prosciutto, and a panzanella salad, which he pooh-poohs. “This isn’t a real panzanella,” Schoenegger told me, objecting to the paltry hunks of bread. “For a real panzanella, you have to soak the bread overnight.” But he loves the pizza, especially the chewy crust, as well as the casual feel of the restaurant. Guys like Schoenegger get enough of the high-end lifestyle at work.

“Casual places are the lifeblood of locals dining,” he said. “Every chef I know likes to eat simply when he’s not working.”

Where the Chefs Eat

– Xania Woodman

Vegas Seven asked some of the city’s top chefs where they eat and what they eat there. Here’s a sampling:

Carlos Buscaglia of Due Forni in Summerlin: Sen of Japan for black-cod lettuce wraps.

Rene Lenger of Switch Steak in Encore: Naked Fish for sushi and pork with ginger.

Todd Harrington of Central Michel Richard in Caesars Palace: Bachi Burger for “anything—honestly.”

Brian Howard of Comme Ça in the Cosmopolitan: Kyara Japanese Izakaya for fermented squid marinated in stomach, beef-tongue stew or sashimi.

Royden Ellamar of Sensi in Bellagio: Soyo Korean Barstaurant, dol sot bibimbap (hot pot with rice, pickled veggies, bulgogi and a sunnyside-up egg), spicy chicken wings and kimchi pancake.

Mark Purdy of Alizé at the Palms: Ping Pang Pong in the Gold Coast for orange beef and pot stickers.

Tammy Alana of Andre’s in the Monte Carlo and Alizé in the Palms: Ichiza for sushi.

Sam DeMarco of First Food & Bar in the Venetian: Kyara Japanese Izakaya for sautéed kimchi and pork.

Michael Armstrong of Tao in the Venetian:
Goyemon for shoyu ramen.

Devin Murchin of Slice of Vegas Pizza at Mandalay Place: Osaka for the YuMi roll.

Robert Moore of Jean Georges Steakhouse in Aria: Raku for Agadashi tofu and Kobe tongue skewers.

Eric Klein of Spago in the Forum Shops at Caesars: Pho Kim Long for pho, spring rolls, calamari and the orange chicken from “Ben’s Secret Menu.”

John Schenk of Strip House Steak House at Planet Hollywood: Ichiza for butta kimchi (sautéed pork belly with kimchi and scallions).

Dustin Lewandowski of Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina in Crystals at CityCenter: Soyo Korean Barstaurant for banchan, spicy kimchi and pork soup with egg and garlic chicken wings.

Sven Mede of American Fish in Aria: Raku for robata-grilled kurobuta pork cheek.