The restaurant space at the southern end of Desert Shores’ waterfront retail strip has had a hard time defining itself. For years it was home to Garfield’s, the site of multiple changes in chefs and menus. More recently, Downtown veteran Beni Velazquez took a swing at it, opening Latin Fish in early 2015. It closed shortly thereafter, only to be immediately reopened by Velazquez as a pair of restaurants, Isabella’s Seafood Tapas & Grill and Republic Kitchen, a cafe. Unfortunately, they were also short-lived. But with such an amazing location, it’s no surprise that another name talent is ready to try his luck with the space. That chef is Stephen Blandino. And his restaurant, opening October 20, will be called Americana.
Born and raised on Staten Island, New York, and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Blandino is a protégé of Charlie Palmer and has been cooking on the Strip since 2000. He originally learned his way around the kitchen from his Italian-American grandmothers, and his first restaurant jobs were at various spots in the Hamptons, New York’s summer getaway spot. But it was a culinary school externship arranged by a friend in 1998 at Charlie Palmer’s original Aureole in New York City that mapped out the next 18 years of Blandino’s life.
In 1999, Mandalay Bay opened its doors with Aureole as one of its flagship restaurants. And Palmer was fielding talent from his New York team. “Charlie said, ‘Steve, do you want to go out there?’” Blandino says. “And I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never been to Vegas.’ Then I came out here and fell in love. And I haven’t looked back.”
Those early days were arguably the glory days of the Aureole kitchen. Blandino’s coworkers included Mark Purdy, Megan and Joe Romano, Barry Dakake and Brian Massie, all of whom have since found success outside of the Palmer organization. But Blandino stayed in the family, eventually being promoted to executive chef of Charlie Palmer Steak in the Four Seasons. The chef held that position until this August, when he decided it was time to strike out on his own.
“The steakhouse thing has passed for me. I’ve done it. I love it, but … I want to get back to my roots.” – Chef Blandino
Blandino’s mentor was supportive of his decision. “When I told Charlie, he said, ‘I know you’re gonna make it, man. Good luck!’” he says, touched by the confidence.
When he began searching for a location for his new spot, however, Blandino had never even been to Desert Shores. But once he saw the waterfront location, he knew he’d found his new home. “I was looking in Green Valley—all over the place,” he says. “And when I saw this place I thought this was the perfect venue for it. I just fell in love with the community here. Where else is there water [in Las Vegas]? It’s a totally different atmosphere. And when you do really good food, it’s going to attract so many people.”
So what’s on the menu? “Modern American,” the chef says. “I don’t want to say ‘tapas,’ but you’re not gonna get a big portion, a 20-ounce steak on a plate. The steakhouse thing has passed for me. I’ve done it. I love it, but out here it should be more intimate and more fine dining. I want to get back to my roots.”
While dishes are expected to be seasonal, some of the “uniquely American” ideas that are being tossed around include a foie gras terrine with Nutella, raspberry spaghetti and figs, and white peach burrata with prosciutto. They’ll be offered in various-sized prix-fixe menus as well as a la carte, both intended to keep the price down. “I want to give that fine dining experience but not charge a gazillion dollars,” Blandino says. So he foresees a price point of around $50 to $100 per person.
He believes that formula can succeed where so many others have failed to make a lasting impression. “I’m very, very confident,” he says without hesitation, “that with this style of food and the level of service we’re gonna provide, it should sell.”