File under “What the hell were they thinking?!” Reflecting on the generally well-organized Life Is Beautiful festival, I’m still baffled by one colossal screwup. I’m talking about the decision to put José Andrés’ much-hyped solar kitchen in the shadows of the Ogden and El Cortez, so that while the sun beat down on most of the other food vendors, Andrés’ was rendered powerless after 3:30 p.m. Festival organizers say it was part of the plan all along. But staffers at the booth on Friday seemed surprised and disappointed. Andrés, for his part, shrugged it off when I spoke to him at a lecture on Sunday, and was all smiles when he joined Bruce Bromberg cooking in the artist area later that night.
Speaking of Life Is Beautiful, I ran into Susan Feniger at Grills & Guitars, the Life Is beautiful kickoff party. Feniger was excited that Las Vegas’ second Border Grill is open in the Forum Shops at Caesars (702-854-6700, BorderGrill.com). I’ve long considered the Mandalay Bay location the best high-end Mexican restaurant in town, and one of the best I’ve experienced anywhere. So I can’t wait to try the new spot. Feniger says about 40 percent of the menu consists of dishes that aren’t available at Mandalay.
The bigger the chef, the bigger his heart. That’s the impression I got when muscle-bound Steve Martorano was reduced to tears several times during the grand opening party for his Paris restaurant (702-946-4656). He cried when recounting how the other kids in his Philadelphia neighborhood teased him when they saw him delivering his sandwiches, and again during video messages of congratulations from celebrity customers and family members. The crowd in the restaurant—who enjoyed Martorano’s classic Italian dishes and a performance by the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash—also included members of Boyz II Men. (The Boyz arrived late to the full restaurant, prompting Martorano to have another table added just to accommodate them.)
Martorano promises it will feature the same (often loud) blend of nightlife and dining as his restaurant in the Rio. “Not everybody gets it,” he says. “If you don’t get it—what we’re trying to do here with the movies and the food and the nightclub later in the evening—you might think that we are the most unorganized, chaotic kind of restaurant. But if you get it, it’s a unique experience … because I touch all senses.”
Following those two openings, the award-winning Desnudo Tacos quietly closed its doors on October 20. Owner Chris Palmeri says the level of business simply couldn’t support the spot any longer. He tried to negotiate a rent reduction to keep it open, but when that failed he shuttered it because he believed “it would basically put itself under.” Palmeri says he’s hoping to reopen in a new location “with higher traffic.” In the meantime, Palmeri adds that he’ll be taking Desnudo’s food mobile in a truck that will hit the streets four to five days a week, posting its stops on the restaurant’s Facebook page.