If all goes according to plan, by its opening June 3, celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis’ restaurant in The Cromwell will be full of the homey elements and rose-gold chandelier shown in renderings. But at the moment, the multi-level space that used to be two floors of Bills Gamblin’ Hall parking garage is a very active construction site, filled not with soothing ambient music but with the sound of a buzz saw. Brimming with passion for Giada, her first restaurant, and offering intense, wide-eyed attention to everyone who approached her with camera or recorder, De Laurentiis took Vegas Seven on a tour of the space Friday. We left convinced she’ll be a great addition to the Las Vegas dining scene, if not its most important arrival of the year.
The restaurant is now taking reservations at Opentable.com. Here are a few things to know before you visit:
- When it is completed, guests will enter via an escalator and be greeted from a podium reminiscent of a desk in De Laurentiis’ house. “We tried to think of everything … whatever touches were in our home,” De Laurentiis says of collaborating with her fashion designer husband, Todd Thompson, on the restaurant’s decor. Other cozy elements include a fireplace and a private dining room for about 20 people.
- Once inside, your first encounter will not be with booze at the bar, but with food at the antipasto bar—all made in house—as well as the pizza ovens. De Laurentiis says she’s shied away from making pizza on her show as she felt that her viewers would not be able to properly re-create it in their homes, but it was an important part of every meal with her grandfather, the famous Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis. In honor of him, Giada says the first pizza she will make in her new ovens will be pomodoro.
- Cocktails at Giada bear names inspired by Dino De Laurentiis’ filmography. Guests at her shared Vegas Uncork’d Masters Series dinner May 8 with Bobby Flay began the meal with a cocktail called the Barbarella. Other titles Dino produced include Blue Velvet, Flash Gordon, Red Dragon and Mandingo. But here’s not-so-silently hoping for a Conan the Barbarian cocktail.
- Tiles in the lowest level of the main dining room were inspired by a visit with her brother, Dino De Laurentiis II, to a home in Modena, Italy, where they used to spend time in as children. It was in a state of disrepair, Giada says, but they were able to rescue a few ornate tiles as momentos. The new tiles have been incorporated into the sunniest area of the restaurant, where seven nearly floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto the Strip and Bellagio fountains. Here, the windows cantilever, opening completely like garage doors with the turn of a key. “They’re kind of industrial, but I also find them homey,” De Laurentiis says.
- Giada is the only restaurant in The Cromwell, and will serve dinner only for the first 10 days, before adding lunch, then brunch and breakfast. The kitchen is outfitted with Jade ranges, the same model that De Laurentiis says inspired her to attend culinary school. “I made some of my best dishes on that stove,” she recalls. “It cooks like nothing else!” Jade is also the name of her 6-year-old daughter, and Giada is Italian for jade.
- De Laurentiis specifically asked for large wooden spoons to replace the industry-standard steel ones in the kitchen: “In my family, it’s against our religion to use a metal spoon to stir tomato sauce.” She adds that a metal spoon also affects the acidity and flavor of the dish. At the time of our tour, the staff was whipping up meatballs and marinara for 3,000, to be served later that night at the Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace.
- Food here will be light, Californian-style “elevated” Italian as well as a few “comfort” dishes. A highlight will be the whole roasted chicken cacciatore carved tableside. Cooking didn’t exactly run the family the way show business did, but De Laurentiis says her mother was an expert at layered casseroles, so we can expect a lasagna homage to her mother on the menu.
- Post-meal, diners can enjoy the G Cart, a rose-gold dessert cart with a mission to bring back the custom of eating sweets. De Laurentiis says she road-tested 20 desserts recently, selecting just six to appear on the cart; she still wants six more to make a dozen new reasons why people should start eating dessert again. (She also tried 38 focaccia recipes before finding one that she liked for Giada, one that is lighter and airier than those typically served in America.)
- Even celebrities get cold feet. “It’s a very big risk,” De Laurentiis admits of going brick and mortar with her first restaurant. “But it’s time to take big leaps, not baby steps.” Since she and Caesars Entertainment sealed the deal in April 2013, De Laurentiis has been heavily involved in creating the concept, especially in the last few months, when she’s been commuting from Los Angeles to be on the ground with her new project during the week, “More time than [Caesars Entertainment] ever could have imagined!” she joked. Once doors open, she will flip-flop that schedule to be in Las Vegas for the weekends and in L.A. during the week.
- Celebrities also get advice. Bobby Flay told De Laurentiis that his restaurant Mesa in Caesars Palace is such a well-oiled machine, he feels like he’s in the way when he visits. De Laurentiis says she wants Giada to reach that level of smooth sailing. When she’s in town, De Laurentiis says you will find her hanging out at the antipasto bar, the pizza ovens and expediting dishes at the pass.
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