Las Vegas has become a mesmerizing city in terms of dining quality, with more and more star chefs and restaurateurs establishing locations in the bustling city. The latest addition to the Strip is RPM Italian, the fifth restaurant from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises partners R.J., Jerrod and Molly Melman and celebrity couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic. Each of the four RPMs—including RPM Steak, RPM Seafood and RPM Italian in Chicago, as well as RPM Italian in D.C.—has earned a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.
“We’ve wanted to go to Vegas for a while,” said Richard Hanauer, RPM beverage director and partner. “We were waiting for the right spot where we knew the restaurant could make its influence on the city.” That spot, which opened May 16, is within The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, taking over the space from Slanted Door’s short-lived stint on the Strip. “Got lucky in a big way. It’s ground floor, with street access, plus centrally located,” he added. “We’re excited to start our residency.”
Diners familiar with RPM restaurants should feel right at home. The vibe is definitively RPM, but with subtle nuances. The modern space, which includes a 26-seat, marble-topped bar, plays with contrasts of black and creams. The expansive open kitchen runs the entire length of the spacious dining room. “There’s continuity in all RPM Italian designs, but it is not a stagnant copy and paste,” said Hanauer. There’s a freshness to the architecture, but the second you walk in, you know you’re in an RPM.”
The food and wine too will have RPM’s signature stamps. Housemade pasta is a mainstay of each location, with hallmark dishes like Mama DePandi’s Pomodoro and spicy king crab with squid ink spaghetti and Fresno chile. While there’s continuity between the locations’ menus, Hanauer said each incorporates local influences and he expects Las Vegas’ proximity to California will be a factor in including dishes like the Santa Barbara uni spaghettini with Meyer lemon. The sizable menu is rounded out by antipasti, salads, pizzettes, seafood and steaks and chops.
The robust wine program, overseen by Hanauer but with on-site execution by Allison Curatolo, opens with 1,000 selections, with two-thirds of them from Italy. However, Hanauer expects that the overall number of wines will grow once the restaurant is firing on all cylinders. The Vegas location will also continue RPM’s Sommelier Experiences, an intimate dining option in which the sommeliers and chefs serve a changing food-and-wine pairing menu, including exclusive wine selections.
“We were excited to move into Vegas from a wine standpoint,” said Hanauer. “There are some awesome companies that move a lot of wine, and there’s more depth in vintage than I was expecting, allowing us to buy for now and what we can serve five or 10 years down the road.”—A.R.
This week, chef and restaurateur Gavin Kaysen brought two new concepts to his hometown of Minneapolis: Mara, a Mediterranean restaurant and cocktail bar, and Socca Café, both in the city’s new Four Seasons Hotel.
“We felt that this was the perfect location,” Kaysen told Wine Spectator via email. “We believe in this community and all it has to offer.” Kaysen already runs Spoon and Stable, the tasting-menu concept Demi and Bellecour Bakery locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
When developing Mara, Kaysen found inspiration in his experiences living in Europe, as well as from the work his mentor, Daniel Boulud, did at Mediterranean-inspired Boulud Sud in New York. Mara focuses on light, shareable plates inspired by the 22 countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Italy and Spain. Overseen by Kaysen and chef de cuisine Thony Yang (formerly of Spoon and Stable and Demi), the menu includes dishes such as lamb tartare, brioche-crusted turbot with sorrel pistou, plancha-cooked octopus and Turkish pide with asparagus, as well as a range of handmade pastas.
“I have always loved the food and style of cooking from the larger Mediterranean region,” Kaysen explained, “and felt that we could build it around the three pillars that come to mind when I think of that area—the land, sea and craftsmanship.”
With hotel executive chef Martín Morelli and pastry chef Eddy Dehin, Kaysen and Yang have set Socca Café’s coffee-friendly menu for casual daytime dining, with the likes of baklava or spanakopita croissants, pistachio shortbread, an eggplant caponata wrap and a variety of salads, soups and paninis. “The culture in the Mediterranean is all about the experience you share with others, generosity, and taking a moment to enjoy life,” Kaysen said. “I hope to capture the essence of that with both [restaurants].”
Adam Witherspoon leads Mara’s beverage program with assistance on the wine list from sommelier Paul Hennessy. With about 100 labels and 25 selections served by the glass, the list is packed with wines from throughout the Mediterranean. “The wine list is a combination of approachable favorites for those seeking a familiar pairing, mixed with more esoteric selections that might suit guests looking to be challenged,” said Hennessy.
He elaborated that the list offers a “linear pairing experience,” complementing the different stages of a meal. This means that guests will receive plenty of help from the wine team to find their ideal pairings. Standouts include Vernaccia from Tuscany’s Montenidoli, made by Elisabetta Fagiuoli, and a Tintilla red from Spanish winemaker Alberto Orte using grapes from a once-abandoned vineyard.
Design firm AvroKO has conceived the 124-seat Mara as a bright environment with tall windows, an open kitchen and a palette of reds, golds, pistachios and sea blues. It also features a chef’s table, a private dining area, a cocktail bar and a chocolate room, which will produce the Four Seasons’ confections. The 70-seat Socca Café is also roomy, with floor-to-ceiling windows, and takes its name from the thin, chickpea-based pancake that has been served in the Mediterranean for millennia.
As the former chef de cuisine of the now-closed Café Boulud in New York, for years Kaysen oversaw the café’s Restaurant Award–winning sibling locations in Canada and Florida. It was at the former, located at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, that he began his longstanding relationship with the luxury hotel company. “We share a deep appreciation for hospitality and our relationship has continued since that time,” the chef explained. “We hope that [these restaurants add] to our dynamic food scene we currently have; this is a great community and one that is ripe for creative restaurants and people.”—C.D.
Restaurateur Jon Neidich and his Golden Age Hospitality group, the team behind Brooklyn Award of Excellence winner Le Crocodile, opened a new bar-café, Le Dive, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on May 10. Following another new Golden Age endeavor, Bar Blondeau, Le Dive offers a selection of natural wines and small plates influenced by French cuisine.
Specifically, Le Dive draws inspiration from the modern wine bars and traditional café-tabacs found in Paris’ 10th and 11th arrondissements. This is on display in beverage director Ashley Santoro’s wine list. Many of the selections (currently around 50 to 60) are from France, but additional picks come from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria and Germany. This includes sparkling Pinot Meunier, Basque rosé, skin-contact wine, Beaujolais, Barbaresco and much more.
“I’ve always been drawn to Parisian tabacs,” said Neidich in a statement, “not only for their classic design, but also for how they function as neighborhood cornerstones, where locals of all ages come together to drink and eat throughout the day and night.”
Alongside Le Dive’s wines, chef Nicole Gajadhar prepares a changing menu of bistro-influenced plates, including classics like tuna Niçoise salad, heirloom tomatoes with chèvre, steak tartare, mushroom pâté and tinned sardines, as well as charcuterie. Diners will be able to enjoy these at outdoor tables as well.
France has also influenced Le Dive’s design. Located at 37 Canal St., the former location of French-Brazilian spot Brigitte, Le Dive has bright floor-to-ceiling windows, a tiled facade, Venetian plaster walls, antique mirrors, glass tables, brass elements and other items brought in from the Paris flea market at Marché aux Puces de St.-Ouen. A “Le Dive” neon sign helps light the wine bar at night.
“Our hope is that Le Dive is both a neighborhood hangout and destination spot, where friends can gather in the early evening and linger long into the night,” said Neidich, “enjoying bottles of natural wine and small plates of food.”—C.D.