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1st look inside 1 of the most anticipated new restaurants in Las Vegas

Updated July 18, 2023 - 7:15 pm

At Amari, it’s all set but the license to swill.

A lawyer for the restaurant, in the UnCommons development in southwest Las Vegas, is scheduled to meet Monday with officials about Amari’s alcohol licensing. If all goes well, and timely, the highly anticipated restaurant could be open by the end of the week for lunch, dinner and happy hour.

“The second we get the green light, we need three days, and then we’re ready to go,” said Jason Rocheleau, a partner in Heart & Vine Hospitality, which owns Amari.

The opening has been highly anticipated, in part because it’s been a long time coming. Amari was first announced more than a year ago, with a planned debut last winter, but supply chain challenges kept pushing things back. With the June launch of The Sundry food hall next door, there’s been renewed interest in when Amari would open, too.

“It’s a huge compliment,” Rocheleau said of the anticipation. “It feels very special to us that people are excited about what we’re pulling off here. We just want to get going. I’ve opened over 50 restaurants — I still like to do it.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal received an exclusive first look inside Amari to see what all the buzz is about.

Dishes you know, elevated

Amari is showcasing what Rocheleau called a modern take on American-Italian food, inspired by the red-sauce Italian restaurants he grew up eating in (and working in, early on) in Connecticut.

“We wanted to do something for the neighborhood,” said Rocheleau, who lives nearby. “We thought, ‘This is what people want, this is what our neighbors want, the sauce, the focaccia to take home.’ We wanted a broader audience.”

What does modern American-Italian look like in practice?

Focaccia baked fresh daily, for one, then served with dunking sauces: garlic miso, whipped ricotta, classic tomato, honey with Calabrian chilis.

There’s a Caprese salad, yes, but with vincotto, a condiment made from the cooked-down juice of fine wine grapes. The Italian grinder layers coppa, soppressata, finocchiona fennel sausage and provolone between a seeded roll.

Pastas, made in-house, include truffle mushroom tortelloni, properly al dente, and large shells stuffed with ricotta, mascarpone and mozzarella, another American-Italian classic. The tortelloni stuffing includes a gust of basil, mint and parsley; executive chef Brent Stanford calls the ingredient combo the trinity, and it’s used everywhere on the menu.

Pizza neither East nor West

Pizzas emerge from a gas-fire Fiero Forni oven cooking at about 625 degrees for about six to eight minutes per pie. The pizza dough draws on a 25-year-old starter and on high-gluten flour milled in Utah; the mushroom pie features local mushrooms.

“I try to keep as much from this region as possible,” Stanford said.

The pies offer some of the airy edge of a Neapolitan pizza, and some of the crisp bottom of a New York version, but ultimately, “I wouldn’t call it East Coast, I wouldn’t call it West Coast,” Stanford said. “This is my take on pizza.”

Standards like veal piccata and chicken Parm make a menu appearance. So does a saltimbocca, made with halibut, not veal, and chicken cacciatore, made with chicken breast and thigh but not the usual mushrooms. At least two menu changes a year are planned.

Liqueurs, wine and lots of light

Amari takes its name from the plural for “amaro,” the family of bitter Italian liqueurs that aid digestion. When the restaurant is at full strength, it will offer about 100 amari, Rocheleau said.

The restaurant encompasses 4,500 square feet inside and 500 square feet on a terrace with cushioned seating, a screen against the western sun, and a wall that opens to the bar inside. Amari seats about 130.

The entry area features a wine display, a coffee station, and a case for take-home breads, salads, sandwiches, fresh pasta and sauces (look for the Bolognese and Taleggio crema). Communal seating populates the bar and lounge area. A five-seat pizza bar, right across from the oven, is fashioned from striated green stone — paler than cucumber skin, darker than endive — sporting a lightly dimpled “leather” finish.

A glass-walled wine room has 14-foot ceilings, a fixture composed of plunging glittering glass rods and a private table. “This is supposed to be a jewel box,” Rocheleau said. Just beyond, the main dining area includes rectangular wall treatments with a raised abstract pattern; they double as acoustic panels.

Everywhere in Amari, there are custom lighting fixtures: as horizontal light bars, as vertical arrangements affixed to mirrors, as branched clusters of bulbs set the length of the restaurant.

The staff and food and craft cocktails informed by menu ingredients are ready to shine under these lights. “We’re excited. We’re ready for it,” the chef said. They just need that license.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JLWTaste on Instagram and @ItsJLW on Twitter.

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