One of this year’s most eagerly anticipated restaurant openings (and one which I’ve followed particularly closely) is that of Rivea atop the Delano hotel. There are myriad reasons for the buzz surrounding the new dining option: It occupies one of the Strip’s most prime pieces of real estate; the opening was delayed a bit; it replaces the beloved French fine-dining spot Mix with a more casual, affordable, small-plates concept that combines the gastronomy of both Italy and France. But perhaps most importantly, it’s brought to us by Parisian master Alain Ducasse, whose worldwide restaurant empire includes the chef’s eponymous three-Michelin-star restaurant in London’s Dorchester area, as well as Le Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower—the original in France, not the one here on the Strip.
Ducasse’s team spent the summer remodeling the dining room, but Rivea, and its adjacent Skyfall Lounge, retain many of the same elements that made Mix memorable, including the curtain of glass spheres that cascade from the ceiling. The most prominent new feature is a large blue and white tile wall that bends in places to conjure images of flowing water. The best seats, weather permitting, are still on the patio. There, guests facing north are treated to one of the finest views of the Strip, while those looking south can enjoy a surreal, twisted reflection of the city’s neon on the gold facade of the Delano.
The menu features three dozen savory options from the area of the Mediterranean stretching from Southern France to Italy. While Ducasse already operates Rivea locations in St. Tropez and London, he let local head chef Bruno Riou design the dishes here. In fact, I’m told that after sketching out a rough menu, Riou traveled to the Mediterranean, as well as to his grandparents’ homeland of Corsica, and returned to Las Vegas to start over from scratch.
Most of the menu consists of simple small plates designed around fresh seasonal ingredients. Among the highlights is a rustic trio of Niçoise stuffed baby vegetables comprised of a sweet onion, an acidic tomato and a savory zucchini. The octopus salad contrasts the textures of some of the most tender octopus I’ve ever had with rich, meaty coco beans. Sautéing, rather than frying, renders the traditional Sicilian eggplant dish caponata more packed with flavor. And the vitello tonnato (thinly sliced veal in tuna sauce), provides one of the few meaty options in this section.
The small-plates section of the menu is also where you’ll find the pasta options. Don’t miss the seasonal mushroom risotto, an extra-creamy rice mixture that complements the earthiness of the mushrooms with a bite of sharp cheese. Even richer, and nearly as good, are the thick tubes of paccheri served with ox cheek and a dark daube-style wine sauce. I wasn’t impressed, however, by the linguine and clams, which struck me as bitter.
The chef offers a pair of raw seafood options: marinated sea bream in the main restaurant and striped bass carpaccio on the more limited menu in Skyfall. Both are well seasoned, although I’d prefer the sea bream with just a dash more sea salt. But, more importantly, both are sliced with the knife skills of a master sushi chef.
I was a bit less impressed with Rivea’s main courses. The lobster and striped bass are both solid dishes, but their complex preparations overshadowed the main ingredients. The duck breast, on the other hand, is wonderfully simple, adorned only with turnips and bigarade (bitter orange) sauce.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Rivea is its price point. The menu recommends two to three small plates per person, and a reasonably hungry couple could probably make a light meal out of five. With dishes priced from $8 to $16, it’s easy to get out the door with a food bill in the $60-$75 range. For the level of quality Ducasse and Riou are putting out, that’s a pretty amazing deal. The view is merely the icing on the cake.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Provençal caponata ($10)
- Niçoise stuffed
- baby vegetables ($16)
- seasonal mushroom risotto ($12) and roasted duck breast ($38)
The Delano, 702-632-9500, DelanoLasVegas.com. Open for dinner 6-10 p.m. Sun-Thu, 6-10:30 p.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $75-$150.