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The Palazzo Opens—Sort Of

Massive Vegas resort boasting top shopping and restaurants limps to its opening, with several promised offerings still under construction

Harvey Steiman
Posted: January 22, 2008

The Palazzo, the first new mega-resort on the Las Vegas Strip in nearly three years, held a three-day opening ceremony last week. The proprietors cut a ribbon, set off fireworks and threw a party for A-list guests featuring performances by Seal and Diana Ross. But behind the glitz, only four of the hotel's restaurants, a few of its shops and three-quarters of its rooms were ready, even though the Palazzo has been open to the public since Dec. 30. It will take weeks to finish many of the key elements.

The Palazzo is a 50-story, $1.9 billon tower and casino attached to the Venetian hotel. Combined with the 4,050-room Venetian, the Palazzo's 3,068 rooms make the combined resort the largest in the world under one roof.

Four big-name chefs have restaurants in the new building, but only Mario Batali got his place operating for the opening—and just barely. Construction delays kept moving back the resort's soft opening, once scheduled for mid-December. At the grand opening, construction workers labored on restaurants belonging to Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter as crowds snapped pictures of the Palazzo's lavish marble shopping atrium, where a long list of famous designers have yet to open their shops. The big Barney's store, a first for Las Vegas, did manage to get going on time.

Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Venetian, the Palazzo and the adjoining Sands Convention Center, and Rob Goldstein, president and COO of the Venetian and Palazzo, put on brave faces as they opened with only four of their 14 planned restaurants and a handful of the 60 shops. Adelson also told reporters that he was not afraid the slowing economy or a recent decline in Vegas visitors would hurt business—he believes the wealthiest of high rollers will keep coming.

Goldstein described the restaurants and introduced the star chefs in a media presentation during the weekend. He casually acknowledged that some venues were as much as six weeks away from opening, and didn't mention others that may not arrive until summer. But when they do start serving, he said, "No matter who you are and what you like to eat, we have it. Between the Venetian and Palazzo, we can have 10,000 people for dinner in 30 restaurants."

Aside from the stars, other restaurants coming to Palazzo include Dos Caminos, a modern Mexican restaurant from New York; Sushi Samba, a Japanese-Latin American hybrid; Woo, billed as pan-Asian, from the owners of Mayflower Cuisinier, popular in Las Vegas; and Mainland, billed as French-Vietnamese from Jonathan Morr, owner of Bond Street in New York and Miami.

When Hollywood stars and media arrived for the official opening, only Grand Lux Cafe (part of the Cheesecake Factory chain), Morels (billed as a French steakhouse) and Jade (an Asian noodle restaurant from the creators of the night club Tao) were already feeding people. Carnevino, the new Italian steakhouse from Batali and business partner Joe Bastianich, threw some organic beef on the grill just in time to greet the crowd.

 
Emeril Lagasse's Table 10 restaurant is among the delayed attractions.

Carnevino is one of four upscale steakhouses in the Palazzo. Aside from Morels, an outpost of the Los Angeles restaurant of the same name, the competition will include Cut, a clone of Wolfgang Puck's wildly popular Beverly Hills restaurant, and Prime Blue Grille, a branch of a Miami-based steak and seafood restaurant. And then there's Delmonico's, Lagasse's Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning steakhouse in the Venetian, just past the atrium shops that separate the two hotels.

Batali is philosophical about the looming steakhouse wars. "I think we should call it a steakhouse smackdown," he laughed. "It will be just like the World Wrestling Federation, where it's a great show and everyone wins."

Cut, expected to open by Valentine's Day, will be Puck's sixth restaurant in Las Vegas, and he has two more places planned at City Center, a condominium/resort development under construction next door to the Bellagio. He's not worried about too many steakhouses, either.

"Palazzo and Venetian, it's like a city," he said. "There's room for everybody. Americans can't seem to get enough steak—it's their soul food. And the quality of meat available now is amazing. It's more exciting than ever to do a steakhouse."

The seafood-oriented Restaurant Charlie, also aiming for a Valentine's Day opening, will mark Trotter's return to Las Vegas. His earlier restaurant at the MGM Grand came and went before the wave of big-name dining spots that arrived in the late 1990s. "We had offers, but nothing felt right until this," he said. In the interim, he opened C at the One & Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico, his only other current venture outside his home base in Chicago.

Lagasse expects Table 10, his third Las Vegas restaurant, to open by Jan. 28. "We have our staff in place," he said in the kitchen of Delmonico's, where the chefs are fine-tuning new dishes. "They've been working for a month and they're ready to go. But we can't get through the inspections and all the licenses. It's one delay after another."

Despite the delay-plagued construction, gamblers filled the casino throughout the opening weekend, shoppers ogled the merchandise in the limited number of open stores and the ka-ching of cash registers filled the air. The Palazzo was open for business. The fine-tuning will come later.

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