Pips brings authentic Italian to Aliante

Rino Armeni’s soul has never really left southern Italy, but his first restaurant will reside in North Las Vegas.

Through Pips Cucina & Wine Bar, which will be one of six restaurants at Aliante Station when the property opens Nov. 11, Armeni said he will bring to valley residents for the first time "a true message of what Italian food is all about."

Armeni speaks passionately about being able to bring authentic food from the land of his birth to the country where he has lived for nearly 28 years.

"It’s about simplicity, it’s about texture and, quite honestly, it’s about happiness," said Armeni, who was raised in Rome where his mother and siblings still live.

Armeni’s roots in the Las Vegas restaurant industry date back to 1989 when he became vice president of food and beverage at Caesars Palace.

He then spent 14 years at liquor and wine distributor Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, where he worked with most of the large resorts on the Strip and hotel-casinos around the valley.

"Having somebody like Rino who has a local following and can bring people out to that area was a great fit," Stations Chief Operating Officer Kevin Kelley said.

Half the restaurant’s menu will have a touch of family recipes handed down through the generations and gathered by Armeni’s mother.

"Three years ago, probably the best gift I got … was my mother wrote me a book," Armeni said. "She wrote me 56 recipes."

The wine list will also be rooted in Italy with 80 percent of the wines coming from Armeni’s homeland. The rest will come from vineyards in the United States.

Armeni said expensive wines will be available, but, given the current economy and the North Las Vegas residential market, he is making sure that the restaurant will offer wines that all of its customers can afford.

"I’m choosing wines that I can sell between $25 and $50 per bottle because I think that’s what the market demands today," Armeni said. "I don’t want to out price myself."

Armeni said he started talking to the Fertitta family, founders and executives of Station Casinos, more than two years ago.

"I talked to different people about doing my first restaurant," said Armeni, who left Southern Wine & Spirits in February. "Truth of the matter is the only people who believed in me was the Fertittas."

Pips’ kitchen will be overseen by 29-year-old executive chef Gerald Chin, who was hired away from the Joel Rubuchon restaurant at The Mansion at MGM Grand.

Pips will join a lineup of six casual dining restaurants that will open when the $675 million Aliante Station opens.

"What we tried to do was create a great balance of unique products up there not currently in the market there," Kelley said.

Other restaurants that will be opening at the Aliante Station will include The Original Pancake House.

It will be the company’s second Station Casinos location. It has had a restaurant at Green Valley Ranch Resort since the property opened in 2001.

T.G.I. Fridays and a Mexican restaurant, Camacho’s Cantina, are the other two restaurant tenants owned by outside operators.

MRKT Sea & Land will be the company-owned and operated steak and seafood restaurant, along with a Feast Buffet.

"We’ve been very happy with our ability to execute really good steak concepts," said Kelley, pointing to similar restaurants at Texas Station, Green Valley Ranch Resort and Red Rock Resort.

Kelley said it was important to select restaurants that would offer "mainstream" and "very approachable" prices on the menu because of the slow economy.

"We are very, very sensitive right now to providing a great price value for our guests," Kelley said.

"We have a high sensitivity in making sure our prices are approachable and people feel they are getting value for their money."

Armeni admitted that today’s economy will affect his menu prices, but he said that will not mean he will sacrifice quality and service.

"I’d rather do 300 covers at a good price than do 50 covers at a high price," said Armeni, who hired two managers from New York City.

With four of the restaurants owned by outside operators, Aliante Station is part of a larger change within the company.

All nine restaurants at Red Rock Resort were owned by Station Casinos when the property opened in 2006.

Joe Hasson, Aliante Station’s vice president and general manager, said the he likes the mix of company restaurants and restaurants owned and operated by people whose core business is food.

"It lets me focus more readily on the core business I’m in, which is casino and to a lesser degree lodging," he said.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

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