“My goal with this restaurant is to get people who say, ‘I don’t like something, I’m just not a fan of it,’ to give it a shot and fall in love. It’s a food epiphany,” celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis says. We’re sitting at a mini menu-sampling for her forthcoming restaurant Giada, scheduled to debut inside the Cromwell in early June. It’ll be one of the most highly anticipated openings of the year, not only because Giada is the sole dining venue at the Strip’s first boutique resort, but because it marks the first restaurant endeavor for De Laurentiis, a Food Network and Cooking Channel veteran.
De Laurentiis has just asked me why I didn’t eat the caponata—hitting the “t” hard as she says it in that Giada way. (I resist the urge to ask her to say “spa-GIH-tee” for me.) And to be fair, it was one of the few dishes I skipped while grazing the groaning board of antipasti before us. Compared with the marinated mushroom salad, grilled octopus, calamari salad, mini mozzarella salad and myriad charcuterie, the Italian eggplant and tomato salad didn’t rank high on my list. A similar spread will greet guests at Giada, instead of Las Vegas’ ubiquitous bar, as will a podium inspired by a desk De Laurentiis has at home. The entire entrance, in fact, is inspired by her at-home aesthetic.
Except we’re not in her new house at the moment. Giada restaurant isn’t finished yet, so the event’s being held at one of the opulent pool villas at Caesars Palace. De Laurentiis is unhappy that the little nuggets of cheese are so sticky, but if she’s upset that her restaurant hasn’t been completed, she isn’t showing it. The first female celebrity chef in the Caesars Entertainment stable likens the experience of opening her debut restaurant to having a child, and though she says, “I have no idea what I’m in for,” she cannot hide her excitement.
Words such as “detail-oriented,” and “meticulous” come to mind as De Laurentiis talks about how hands-on she has been through the process of building and developing the restaurant— “aggressively Giada,” as Caesars Entertainment’s regional VP of food and beverage Jeffrey Frederick puts it. Her vision has been clear from the get-go, from the pizza and bread ovens at the front of the restaurant (so guests are welcomed with the scent of fresh-baked goods), to the elegant presentation of the signature, California-Italian dishes she cooks on her shows, to her desire for a breathtaking view of the Strip, not a space that’s stuck in the “dungeon of a casino.”
When I can’t wrap my head around the rest of the dining room from the renderings, she takes me up to the easels and talks me through her vision for the 270-seat room with such clarity it’s as if she’s walked through the space countless times. While her restaurant is still essentially a raw shell, De Laurentiis is confident that the choices she has made, once realized, will fit in with the glamour of Las Vegas, down to the pretty monogrammed “G” that marks the back of her bar stools.
“I want you to know where you are at all times. Are people going to think it’s ego-driven? Absolutely!” she admits. “I was showing Bobby Flay my ideas for the menu and the plates, and on some of the plates there’s going to my signature in rose gold—not all the plates, just some of them—and he’s like, ‘Isn’t that a bit much? Don’t you think you’re going overboard?’ And I said, ‘No. It’s Vegas.’ ”
Faced with that kind of self-assurance, I’m definitely trying the caponata when Giada opens.