I never watch cooking shows — haven’t since the days of the since-discredited Frugal Gourmet. I guess it’s a case of not wanting to take work home with me, but at any rate, I’ve never seen Giada de Laurentiis on TV.
Which is not to say I wasn’t familiar with her work, even before she opened her first restaurant over the summer at The Cromwell. I Google a lot of recipes and had come across a few that turned out to be hers and that produced sublime results without being unnecessarily complicated, so I was impressed with her culinary skills and vision. After dining at her restaurant, I’m only more impressed.
Spotting it on the menu, I was moved to order the rigatoni with vegetable Bolognese ($28), one of her signature dishes, and one of the recipes I had tried. And it was just as I’d hoped, the rigatoni nicely al dente, tossed with the sauce composed mainly of dried and fresh mushrooms and vegetables that produced a beefy texture and flavor, without any beef.
Sorely tempted by the bacon-wrapped dates with Italian sausage and Gorgonzola crema, we demurred because of the ubiquity of bacon-wrapped dates these days. Instead it would be the simple crostini topped with fresh ricotta, a whisper of honey and lemon and a sprinkling of mellow pink peppercorns ($12), which showed the purity of the ingredients to great advantage.
We decided on the branzino ($36) largely because we were intrigued by the idea of the tangerine vinaigrette, and it was special, a refreshing, slightly sweeter zigzag from the usual lemon. Even more impressive were the fish fillets, smaller than most branzino we’ve had (but there were two of them) and almost delicate, as well as moist and flaky.
And, since the old-school (but modernized with de Laurentiis’ iconic script “G” as part of its metalwork) dessert cart had been past a few times it would’ve been difficult to resist, and we didn’t even try. Rather than massive slices of cake, you can choose a bit of this and a bit of that and we did; the whisper-light chocolate-amaretti cookies ($6) were unlike anything I’ve ever had, and the lemon-ricotta cookies ($6) were impossibly delicate.
Oh, and let’s not forget the bread: grissini, those tiny crisp breadsticks, some crackerlike flatbread and a cassoulet holding a diminutive rosemary focaccia, with a tray of spreads and seasonings.
So, wonderful. And, OK, now the negative.
“Is bottled water OK?” was our waiter’s opener, and how did we end up back in 2001? And the not-so-subtle upselling continued.
“Our pastas,” he said with a deep air of caution, “are really small. Well, they’re not that small, but they’re not meant to be entrees.”
And, after we’d ordered: “Are you sure you don’t want any side dishes?”
Well, geez, bud, I can see what’s being served around me, and I know how much I like to eat, and I guess I can figure out how much to order. And after consuming just half of the crostini and the not-so-small pasta dish, I was sufficiently satisfied that I barely nibbled at a cookie.
This sort of thing rankles because, in a restaurant where, by the very virtue of its location on the Strip, the clientele will be primarily tourists, it doesn’t do a lot for the city’s good name. They might be persuaded to order more, but also will probably resent it later. And despite what people tell you, not everything stays in Las Vegas. And considering the restaurant has been slammed at every meal (we waited three weeks for a reservation on a weeknight), they’re not hurting.
One other thing: mascarpone. Look at the spelling. Mas-car-pone. NOT mars-ca-pone. The guy running the dessert cart said it three times and one of our servers at least once, although I hear it all over town. It’s a largely phonetic language, guys, and with the exception of words like sfogliatelle not that hard to pronounce.
But I digress into ranting. The food at Giada was fantastic, the airy restaurant with its sweeping view of the Strip very pleasant, and service really very good, aside from the upselling.
I drink my share of bottled water (though much more filtered water, for a number of reasons), but the experience reminded me of a dinner at the old Renoir, in about 2001. It was during NFR, and seated next to us was an older couple, the cowboy-hatted and conservatively dressed male half of whom looked like a successful rancher. The bottled-water bit was more common 13 years ago, and sure enough: “Sparkling or still?”
The man looked at the waiter, and in a voice straight out of a McMurtry novel, delivered a line I’ll never forget.
“Evian,” he said with an air of feigned gravitas, “is ‘naive’ spelled backward.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.
Giada, The Cromwell, 3595 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 702-777-3777
Pluses: Excellent food and generally good service.
Minuses: Subtle and not-so-subtle upselling attempts.