He spent more than a dozen years running some of the best restaurants on the Strip, beginning with his five-star Renoir at The Mirage and ending with his Michelin two-star Alex at Wynn Las Vegas. Now he’s running the kitchen at Marche Bacchus in Desert Shores, in the suburbs and far removed from the tourism corridor, at least figuratively. But as Alex Stratta relaxed in the restaurant’s lakeside dining area on a recent afternoon, he seemed nothing if not content.
Stratta had been recruited for The Mirage by owner Steve Wynn, who was familiar with his award-winning cuisine at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. After Wynn sold The Mirage to build Wynn Las Vegas, Stratta followed him across the street, opening first the fine-dining Alex and later the rustic-Italian Stratta. Alex closed in early 2011 (Stratta not long after), and Stratta was quoted at the time as saying he was “bummed.” Today, he’s more philosophical.
“I had a great run with Steve Wynn,” he said. “Alex closed at a time when fine dining was morphing into more casual dining. We went out on top.”
For the relatively low-profile Stratta, who long has expressed a desire to shun the celebrity-chef spotlight, it was the beginning of a shift in focus.
“I wanted to have more of a family life,” he said, with his children, twins Marco and Bianca, now 6. It was time, he thought, to leave behind the hard-driving life of a fine-dining chef. The twins had moved with their mother to San Jose, Calif., and Stratta wanted to be closer to them. He left Las Vegas late that year, taking jobs first in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles. He would be gone for about a year and a half.
“It just seems a lot longer,” Stratta said with a laugh.
And it turned out to be a period of introspection.
“I found out a lot about myself,” he said, including the discovery that he couldn’t leave the hard-driving chef behind.
“Unfortunately, I’m kind of built that way,” he said.
Stratta returned to Las Vegas.
“This is where I belong,” he said. “I’ve been here for 13 years, the first three kicking and screaming.”
In Las Vegas he rejoined his friends, who included Jeff and Rhonda Wyatt, owners of Marche Bacchus. With one of his former sous chefs in the kitchen, he started consulting for the couple. That chef moved on, and though he has been replaced, Stratta recently took on a much more prominent role at the restaurant, helping the Wyatts with a thorough revamping of the menu.
“My focus right now is all Marche, all the time,” he said. “I really think we’re going to live up to our potential. We’ll be solid by summer.”
The new menu, he said, will reflect “the roots of what they ought to be — a French bistro. The fundamentals done correctly. Approachable and true to form. Lower prices.”
That, he said, will include simplifying things somewhat.
“These younger chefs want to make their mark,” he said. “This isn’t the forum for that. You can do that with things like wine dinners.”
And eventually, it won’t be the forum for Stratta, either. While he said he plans to stay at Marche Bacchus “indefinitely,” he does aim to once again run his own show.
“I want to rebuild my reputation,” he said. “I do think that fine dining is something I don’t want to do anymore. I want to cook more from the heart and less from the head. I want a chance to be the local restaurant that everybody goes to. I’ll be 50 this year. I want to try something else before it’s too late.”
That might mean the suburbs, probably Summerlin, he said.
“You can’t develop an intimacy when people only come in four times a year,” which seems to be the maximum frequency in most of the tourism corridor.
It probably will be rustic Italian-American, with French accents.
“I want it to be affordable, so people can come in two or three times a week,” he said. “I’m going to put as much love into a plate of pasta as I do foie gras.”
He wants the concept to be a strong one — “where we can do something in Henderson and it doesn’t lose its integrity and get diluted.”
He’s definitely planning to break new ground.
“I want it to do something unusual, but not funky,” Stratta said. “You have to gear it to who’s coming.”
That might translate to a location in downtown Las Vegas.
“In less than two years, the promise of downtown seems to be happening,” he said. “There are too many people working too hard for it not to work.”
As the downtown dining scene has been revitalized greatly during the past few years, one thing it still lacks is a destination restaurant.
“That is the goal,” Stratta said. “The timing should be really good.”
Then again, he thinks he’d be willing to go back to the Strip.
“I’d love to go back to Steve,” Stratta said. “He put me on the map in Las Vegas. He gave me everything I needed.”
A Wynn spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on former employees.
But Stratta wouldn’t rule out the other corporations.
“They’re all great properties,” he said.
Michael Severino, who as director of marketing and special events for Southern Wine &Spirits has worked with Stratta over the years, said he welcomes the chef’s return to local dining.
“I think Alex is one of the originals, back 15 years ago when he was a powerhouse at Renoir at The Mirage, and the work he did over at Wynn,” Severino said. “His pedigree is outstanding; his father was a hotelier. He only brings a wealth of knowledge, and his temperament is excellent for any young chefs as well.
“He’s done things for the university. He’s done a lot of charity events, he’s helped Southern Wine with events, he’s helped Keep Memory Alive. He’s a credit to the community.”
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.