In a city already packed with celebrity chefs, it’s pretty amazing how much buzz has surrounded the arrival of Giada De Laurentiis’ first-ever restaurant, Giada, in the Cromwell. (A buzz to which I admittedly contributed with my recent cover story in this publication about the restaurant’s opening.) By now you’ve undoubtedly heard the backstory of how the Food Network superstar has been an admitted control freak, overseeing nearly every aspect of the launch. Of course, you can’t eat a backstory, and attention to details only matters if you get those details right. So is Giada’s namesake Italian restaurant worthy of the hype? While the price tag is a bit steep, and a few service kinks still need to be worked out, it’s a gorgeous room with far more hits on the menu than misses.
De Laurentiis has told people that she wants her restaurant guests to feel like they’ve been invited to her home. And the open, airy lounge and dining room definitely have a homey feel. The first thing you see when you enter is an antipasti bar, and chefs laboring in front of two ovens. But the key seats are away from the open kitchen area, next to the wraparound glass windows that offer a view of the Bellagio Fountains and the towers of Caesars Palace. Those windows are retractable, and I’ve heard some people complain about the noise level when they’re open, given the proximity to the street. But I personally love the energy of being right on one of the busiest corners of Las Vegas Boulevard.
The menu here is intended to be shared family style. The first page features a large selection of antipasti—vegetables, meats, seafood, cheese, salumi and crostini—as well as a handful of pizzas. I love the orzo meatballs, which substitute the tiny pasta for breadcrumbs to provide a lighter consistency. Miniature peppers stuffed with rich, creamy goat cheese are outstanding. And the broccoli rabe has a wonderful smoky flavor from the grill, accented with a hint of chili vinaigrette. Other standouts include bacon-wrapped dates and a pizza bianca piled high with mortadella.
Once you’ve shared some starters, the menu offers various soups, salads and family-style pastas, main courses and sides. I’ve had three of the house-made pastas so far, and all of them were delicious, only lightly sauced so the pasta flavors are able to shine. Don’t leave without trying the lobster ravioli. The chef uses her mascarpone and ricotta sparingly so as not to drown out the delicate flavor of the lobster, which is accented with a touch of tarragon and citrus. The tortellini are another highlight, thanks to a bright pea pesto sauce.
From the grill, the mustard-crusted lamb with spinach, raisins and walnuts is delicious. But I was unimpressed by a massive veal chop saltimbocca that was disappointingly bland. And a side of sweet corn and spicy sausage just didn’t work for me, with the disparate tastes fighting for attention rather than complementing each other. Be forewarned: While some dishes—such as the aforementioned veal chop and a massive burrata appetizer—are large, others (particularly the pastas and the meatball appetizer) are tiny. And nothing is cheap. So ordering enough food to fill you up can be a pricey endeavor.
Given how tough it is to score a reservation here, however, at least you’ll have time to save up for that check. When I called on a recent Thursday, I was told the place was sold out for Friday, Saturday and Sunday! That’s due in part to De Laurentiis’ decision to limit the number of covers they do daily until the staff is fully on its game. And based on the slow service I received on a recent visit (when the restaurant was technically sold out, but there were numerous empty tables), that’s probably a good idea.
In light of all of this, some might want to give Giada a few more weeks before visiting. But if you’re the kind of person who just has to try the town’s hottest new eatery, they don’t get much hotter than this.
Al’s Menu Picks
- orzo meatballs ($14)
- baby sweet peppers with goat cheese and olive tapenade ($12)
- tortellini with pea pesto, pancetta and mint ($26)
- rack of lamb ($45)
In the Cromwell, 855-442-3271. Open for dinner 5–10:30 p.m. Sun–Thu, 5–11 p.m. Fri–Sat. Dinner for two, $150-$300.