A True Gem Among Rhinestones
Okay, anybody who knows me knows that I'm a particular fan of Giada De Laurentiis. I became a fan during her “Everyday Italian” days on Food Network, back when the network was actually worth watching. In addition to being a talented chef, I've always found her to be a nice person. I've actually met Giada, spoken with her, spent time with her and have frequently defended her against shallow detractors who criticize her for her appearance. Is there a more absurd reason to “hate” a person?
Anyway, I was excited when Giada made the announcement in 2014 that she was opening a restaurant in Las Vegas, joining the ranks of many other “celebrity” chefs with eponymous eateries there. And I was even more excited when I finally got the opportunity to dine at her signature place.
I don't much like Las Vegas in general. It's just not my scene. In the first place, with apologies to Elvis, the “bright light city” doesn't so much “set my soul on fire” as it just burns up my wallet. I'm not fond, for example, of shelling out ten dollars for a Coke and a candy bar. I don't gamble, I don't like crowds, I don't like noise, I don't like drunks, and I especially don't like crowds of noisy, gambling drunks. And I object to being accosted by grubby pornslappers who pop their smutty little cards at me every ten feet as I walk along The Strip. After all, why should I patronize them when I can, as the numerous rolling billboard trucks proclaim, have girls delivered “direct to your room” just like a pizza? Thank you. No.
I do, however, appreciate the vibrant Vegas food scene. Just about every “famous” chef I know either personally or through various media has a place in “The Entertainment Capital of the World.” Tom Colicchio, Gordon Ramsay, Emeril Lagasse, Masahara Morimoto, Buddy Valastro, Joel Robuchon, Guy Fieri, Wolfgang Puck, Jose Andres, Robert Irvine......the list is extensive to say the least. But it was on Giada's place at The Cromwell that I was focused this trip.
We had a 9 p.m. reservation, but between being seriously jet lagged and frankly tired of all the throngs crowding The Strip, we showed up early with the intention of just sitting quietly at the bar until nine if necessary. Fortunately, it wasn't: thanks to a very friendly and accommodating staff, we were seated within about thirty minutes. But our relatively brief sojourn at the bar was quite comfortable and pleasant. We were attended to promptly and settled in to enjoy a nice Pinot Noir (hers) and a cool glass of Peroni (mine). When we were seated, we were quite well seated, thank you, at one of the coveted window tables overlooking The Strip below and the adjacent fountains of the Bellagio. The restaurant's huge retractable windows were open on a pleasant autumn evening, enabling us to take in all the dazzling sights and cacophonous sounds from a nice safe perch on the hotel's second floor.
The ambiance and décor are very much reflective of Giada, including works by her artist friend, Darren Quinn. Giada fans and viewers will recognize his “Amore” from her TV show set. There are also some wonderful portraits of her, her grandfather, Dino, and her beautiful grandmother, Silvana Mangano displayed near the bar. It's an elegant and sophisticated vibe that is at the same time quite understated and soothing in the midst of all the surrounding glitz and faux glamour.
I don't know where Giada (the restaurant) found Fred, but I wish he could be cloned or at the very least loaned out to train every server at every eating place in the country. Friendly, personable, efficient, and knowledgeable, Fred was a joy. He was perfectly professional without being the least bit pretentious or stuffy. He never hovered, but he was never far away. His familiarity with every dish was impressive, although I do wish he'd learn to pronounce “mascarpone.” The flat, American-accented “mahs-car-POHN” was a bit grating, but that's just the annoying purist in me. Fred's recommendations were spot on and he seemed genuinely pleased when we were genuinely pleased by them. Obviously somebody who enjoys his craft and is not just collecting a paycheck.
Whoever was running the kitchen the night we were there (I know it wasn't Giada) also obviously enjoys their craft and is extremely good at it. The food was absolutely delicious. Giada features a unique fusion of Giada De Lauretiis' personal “authentic Italian meets modern California” style. By and large, it's lighter fare that doesn't necessarily sacrifice any of the traditional Italian taste.
My wife was especially amazed by her ravioli with Brussels sprouts and brown butter. She has never met a Brussels sprout she enjoyed – until now. Her fulsome praise of the cook on the vegetable and her equally enthusiastic enjoyment of the delicately unctuous brown butter were the talk of the evening. My bucatini pasta dish was also enjoyable, with a sweetly tangy pomodoro sauce and perfectly cooked pasta. Well, the al dente texture was perfect. The pasta itself could have benefited from just a teensie bit more salt. I know a lot of places have to cook to the lowest common denominator of misinformed patrons who are convinced that the slightest amount of salt in their food will lead them straight to hardened arteries and an early grave, but I was somewhat disappointed that the cooks at Giada would fall into that. Giada knows, as every Italian does, that salt – in what some consider egregious amounts – is the only way to flavor pasta. There was a little dish of flake salt on our table, placed there to compliment some incredible bread, and I crushed and sprinkled the tiniest pinch of it over my dish to immediately discernible results. The minuscule addition made the tomato flavor in the sauce pop even more. But again, I'm a purist and a cook. Others may not have noticed or appreciated the difference.
And these were porzioni veramente italiane, truly Italian portions. No huge overflowing platters of food. These were perfectly plated individual portions, not great piles designed to feed ravenous hordes like you usually find in “Italian” places.
Speaking as I was of the bread, a complimentary plate of ciabatta and an olive oil rosemary bread was absolutely to die for when combined with a selection of condiments that included the aforementioned flake salt, some capers, some peperoncino, an herbed olive oil, and an insanely good lemon mascarpone butter. I'm definitely stealing that last one.
I'd also like to steal the hot cocoa souffle that capped our incredible meal. A fresh-baked hot chocolate souffle that was deflated tableside and filled with rich chocolate sauce and served next to a scoop of creamy marshmallow gelato. Buonissimo! Perfetto! Delizioso! And a whole bunch of other Italian superlatives.
Did this heavenly repast come cheap? Oh, hell no. My credit card went straight to ICU. But you know what? The food, the service, the atmosphere, the entire experience was worth every penny and I'll eagerly do it again next time I'm in town. Just don't think you're going to Olive Garden when you cross the threshold at Giada. The food is obviously superior to anything you'll ever get at such a place, but be aware that you'll get a lot less for a lot more.
Giada is located on the second floor of The Cromwell Hotel & Casino at 3595 S. Las Vegas Blvd. They serve a weekend brunch Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and are open from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. those days. Monday through Thursday hours are 5 p.m until 10:30. Parking? Yeah, right. This is Vegas, baby. Reservations are not strictly required but are strongly suggested. Dress is golf course or business casual. But again, this is Vegas: don't be surprised by anything you see. Allow at least an hour to an hour-and-a-half for your dining experience. Call (855) 442-3271 or visit the website at https://www.caesars.com/cromwell/restaurants/giada .