Among the great chefs who changed the city’s dining scene over the years, Emeril Lagasse is inevitably near the top of the list. His first local restaurant, Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House, is approaching 20 years at the MGM Grand. Lagasse was there recently to unveil a recent remodeling and some new menu items, and I had the chance to chat one-on-one with him about those changes and how dining in Las Vegas has changed over the past two decades.
How do you describe the remodel?
We modernized it from a very New Orleans perspective. We’ve opened up the front of the restaurant. But more importantly, we’ve added back the oyster bar that we used to have years ago. So if people are by themselves or they just want to hang out and have some oysters or shrimp or other cold seafood, maybe have a glass of wine or an artisanal beer—no problem. If they don’t want to sit in the restaurant in that white-tablecloth environment, no problem.
Your $1.50 oysters during happy hour are one of the best deals in town. Will you bring that back as well?
Yes. You know we’re just trying to still be a great restaurant for locals. And that was the philosophy from Day One. Yes, there’s a lot of traffic, and yes, we’re in MGM Grand. But the local people still matter to us. And that’s who we’re focusing on with those things. As we progress, you’re gonna see a lot more things happening that are aimed at locals.
When the restaurant opened nearly 20 years ago, was it difficult to get fresh seafood here in Las Vegas?
Wow, holy smokes. I was relying a lot on my guys from New Orleans. To break that barrier down [here] was really tough to do. But we did it.
How is it different today?
It’s not necessarily cheap, but the availability is awesome. I tell people all the time that we can get [great] products here in Las Vegas. Vegas, there’s no question, has turned into one of—if not the— dining meccas of the world. What I can get delivered on a daily basis from San Francisco or Los Angeles is incredible. It literally was caught the day before.
If Las Vegas is a dining mecca, you, Wolfgang Puck and a handful of other pioneers helped create it.
[Puck] was here with Spago first. And then he came to do his café here [in MGM Grand]. I can’t get enough of Wolf. He’s a great guy and a great chef. Then there was Mark Miller—he had Coyote Café right down the hall. And then we took over this restaurant and turned it into Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House. Then came Charlie [Trotter]. And—what can I say, then it started. MGM Grand is responsible, really and truly. Danny Wade, who was a longtime general manager and president way back then, and Lou Silvestri—those two guys, combined with their team, changed how Las Vegas eats.
Could anyone then have predicted the dining scene we have in Las Vegas today?
No way. Nooooo way. I mean, I still remember when you’d go to a restaurant, and instead of [staff] saying “Thank you for coming in. Did you have a nice dinner?” when you would leave, it was like “Good luck!” [Laughs.] That’s just the way it was. The mentality has completely changed. The hospitality industry in Las Vegas now is amazing.