“We have to be very careful of the line that we’re walking.”
Emeril Lagasse is on the phone from Florida, discussing the ongoing renovations to his Delmonico Steakhouse at The Venetian. His team has remodeled the kitchen, and with the public space up next, the chef knows he must tread carefully.
“When you start to do too much, then it changes the whole feel of what the customer really expects.”
The makeover coincides with the restaurant’s — and the resort’s — 20th anniversary. And in those two decades, Lagasse says, his customers have developed certain expectations.
“When they come to Delmonico Steakhouse, they have a certain chip that’s in their brain of what that experience is. And the experience, obviously, is food and service, our mixology program and our wine. But then there are things aesthetically that you’re talking about, that you have to be very, very careful with. It’s a fine line.”
That people have such a strong idea about what Delmonico is, and what it should be, is a little ironic. Because there was a time, when the chef’s partners in the project were having a hard time seeing it.
Lagasse recalls a conversation 22 years ago, when he was at the height of his fame and had been operating Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at MGM Grand for about a year. Celebrity chefs were a new phenomenon in Las Vegas, and the legendary creole chef’s notion of creating the steakhouses for a still-hypothetical, Venetian-themed resort was far from a sure thing.
“I’ll never forget I had a meeting one early morning,” Lagasse says. “And this was sort of in the pre-building (stage), while construction was going on.
“Sheldon (Adelson, owner of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and The Venetian) says to me, ‘Why do you want the steakhouse? What are you going to do?’ ” Lagasse continues.
“It’s not going to be a bunch of baked potatoes and sirloin steaks,’ ” he remembers telling Adelson. “This is going to be very special. It’s going to be an experience.”
The pitch worked. When The Venetian opened to the public in May 1999, Delmonico Steakhouse opened with it. As the restaurant and the resort celebrate their 20th anniversaries, Lagasse can take pride in knowing he helped raise the Las Vegas steakhouse to a new level of elegance.
Since 2004, the restaurant has been a recipient of Wine Spectator’s Grand Award, a recognition of its wine program that was bestowed on just 100 restaurants worldwide in 2019. For those who prefer whiskeys, The Delmonico Book of Whiskey offers more than 700 selections from nine countries. And then there are the touches that can’t be quantified.
“I think it’s about the greeting,” Lagasse answers, when asked what sets his steakhouse apart from the rest. “I think it’s about the bar experience. I think it’s about seating. I think it’s about attentive service, cleanliness. I think it’s about outstanding food that’s extremely consistent, with a great staff that’s trained, that knows the mission of what we’re trying to do — which is to be a great steakhouse.”
While that mission hasn’t changed, The Venetian has — or at least it’s grown. Delmonico’s location went from being tucked away in a corner to front and center when Palazzo was built.
“When we opened the restaurant 20 years ago, we were at the end of (a) corridor,” Lagasse says. “However, we knew that eventually that was going to change when the Palazzo was going to be built … which then sandwiched us in the middle of that corridor in between brother and sister properties.”
More than 11 years after the Palazzo’s opening, Lagasse wants to finally embrace that positioning with significant changes to the restaurant’s façade and entrance, as well as to the front bar area. As for the rest of the changes, which will be done gradually to avoid closures during construction, he’s instructed his team to proceed carefully.
“It’s taken me months with this design team, and some people internally, to get the message across: let’s be careful here. Because we’re not changing the sign to ‘The New Delmonico Steakhouse.’ It’s Delmonico Steakhouse. And what we’re doing is just really refreshing 20 years later. Because I want to be there another 20 years.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palazzo.