Vegas Voice is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.
After working in Monaco, New York and Phoenix, Alessandro “Alex” Stratta opened his first Las Vegas restaurant, Renoir, at the Mirage in 1998 at the invitation of Steve Wynn. He moved in 2005 to the new Wynn Las Vegas, where he opened the fine-dining restaurant Alex, followed by the more casual Stratta.
He’s a Michelin chef, having been awarded two stars for Alex, has won numerous other awards and has appeared on “Iron Chef USA” and “Top Chef Masters.”
Alex closed in 2011, followed shortly by Stratta, after which the chef left Las Vegas for about a year and a half, taking jobs in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Stratta returned to the valley in 2014 and opened Tapas by Alex Stratta at Tivoli Village this past April.
He recently discussed being his own boss, his restaurant’s format and location and his plans for the future.
Review-Journal: How does running your own restaurant differ from running a restaurant in a hotel?
Stratta: Starting your own business has its merits and its challenges. I worked in hotels for the better part of 35 years. There’s certain things you take for granted when you’re working in a hotel — all the support structure, from engineering to stewarding. It’s not anything that I wasn’t expecting, just not so much of it. Bookkeeping, marketing and all those efforts that take place behind the scenes, we soon forget until they’re not there any more. There’s more freedom, but I’ve always been fortunate; I’ve always had a lot of freedom. There’s the risk/reward of having your own business with your own standards and putting a lot of that practice in action.
Review-Journal: As a longtime fine-dining chef, why did you choose a more casual format?
Stratta: I wanted to reach more people with something more casual and more identifiable. I wanted to do something that people would gravitate to maybe a couple of times a week. In fine dining, that was limited. I would like to build back up to eventually do fine dining, but I knew going into it that I needed to be very cautious and keep it understandable and not be too adventurous. I wanted to be sure what we were offering was something people had a comfort level with. So far, so good. I think it’s done pretty well.
Review-Journal: Why did you choose tapas, specifically?
Stratta: I thought the idea of the small plates — little tastes of everything, giving the variety — was something that would be interesting for people in an off-the-Strip environment, a convivial experience where they could try just a little of everything. And then we have our paellas; those have gone over very well. The Spanish influence is morphing as we speak. I’m changing it up a little bit, opening up more options. I think people may want something with a little less of an accent to it on a continuous basis.
Review-Journal: Why did you want to be away from the Strip?
Stratta: I wanted to see if I could make an impact off the Strip. I think there’s a need, a niche for it — and I wasn’t the only one to think so, with 35 new restaurants opening right around the corner. It’s much more competitive than it was two or three years ago. There’s so many new options, people kind of make the rounds and try a little bit of everything and then come back to their favorites. I need to still evolve and make it a more comfortable, approachable restaurant. People need to have a comfort level with not only the restaurant but also the staff.
Review-Journal: What is the main difference between guests on the Strip and in the suburbs?
Stratta: I think in the suburbs they’re certainly a little more tame (laughs). I haven’t seen too many of the wild parties yet. They’re a little more frugal; there’s not as much wine sales as I was hoping for. I think people are more into the happy hour. It’s an earlier crowd; by 9 o’clock you’re pretty much done, whereas on the Strip we were just getting rolling.
Review-Journal: Do you want to open more places, either on the Strip or off?
Stratta: We’re going to be opening a place called Sliders and Slices at the Grammercy, at Russell and 215, probably in January, or December. It’s going to be exactly what it sounds like. We just looked at the neighborhood; there’s a lot of families, there’s schools, so we figured something fun. We’re going to be right next to Pinches Tacos. It’s more conducive to lunch, and there are a lot of offices in the area.
Review-Journal: Would you ever consider returning to the Strip or opening in another part of the valley?
Stratta: I would love to go back on the Strip eventually. I would love to do something in Henderson. Downtown would be great, too; there’s that whole resurgence that seems to be doing very well for most people.
— Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.Like Neon Las Vegas on Facebook: