MGM Resorts International, a collection of hospitality venues across the globe, named Douglas Kim as its new wine director this month. Kim now oversees the wine programs for hundreds of concepts including four Wine Spectator Grand Award winners at the company’s lauded Las Vegas casino-resorts such as Bellagio and MGM Grand. He’s been with the company for 11 years and previously held positions at two of those Grand Award winners: First as sommelier at Mandalay Bay’s Aureole and then wine director at Bellagio’s Picasso. Both feature wine lists of more than 1,500 labels.
After a rough period of tourism challenges and reduced inventory resulting from the pandemic, Kim is eager to start building the cellars back up with bottles that are exciting for the team and enjoyable for guests. "We're in a period of growth right now," he told Wine Spectator. “And while we are increasing SKUs and product, we're doing it in a way that makes sense."
Kim doesn’t have a specific bottle count he’s working toward or specific regions he’s looking to expand overall. Rather, the growth will happen organically, with additions that are appropriate for each venue while still offering bottlings to meet a range of demands, from familiar favorites to more adventurous, lesser-known discoveries. He does note, though, that there’s been significant demand for high-end wines that aren’t always readily available, especially considering today’s supply-chain issues.
Especially now, Kim’s primary focus is supporting the sommelier teams at the individual outlets. “We have so many different wine talents in all of our restaurants that I really want to help them nurture what they're passionate about, and bring in the wines that they want to showcase that make sense for their restaurant." Still, he says he’ll guide the evolution of the wine programs through the lens of his simple core philosophy: “I’m always about what the guest wants to drink.”—Julie Harans
Tilman Fertitta’s Landry’s Inc. brought the first location of Mastro’s Ocean Club to Texas Dec. 6. Opened in the Woodlands, a community just outside of Houston, the new outpost joins the growing restaurant empire, which encompasses more than 150 Restaurant Award–winning destinations. This includes chains like Del Frisco's and Morton's, and a Grand Award–winning outpost of Mastro's Steakhouse at Houston's Post Oak Hotel.
In a statement shared with Wine Spectator, Fertitta said the Woodlands is a fitting place for the first Mastro’s Ocean Club. “I’ve invested in this community for more than 25 years, and have always admired the city’s wide-reaching success,” he said. “This dynamic hometown will soon celebrate the opening of one of the best restaurants in America and Houstonians from across the city will travel to experience this renowned concept.”
Staying in line with the brand, Mastro’s Ocean Club focuses on steak-house and seafood classics paired with blue-chip wines. The wine program is overseen by Mastro’s senior director of wine and spirits, Robbi Jo Oliver, with help from wine director TJ Bellow. Recognizing that the restaurant is much smaller than their Grand Award–winning Houston steak house, she said her primary goal when building the list was to offer a diverse selection for a range of guest tastes, even on a smaller scale. The program has a similar focus to many other Mastro’s wine programs, featuring top Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, Italian reds and Bordeaux bottlings, plus a noted addition of sparkling wines across the list’s 26 pages. And true to Texas style, each by-the-glass option is served in extra-large pours of more than 8 ounces rather than the standard 6.
The menu features dishes from executive chef Mario Valdez like oysters Rockefeller, blackened swordfish, lobster mashed potatoes, plus a selection of sushi and Wagyu beef.—Taylor McBride
Chef Lorena Garcia and 50 Eggs Hospitality Group have a new location for their Chica concept in Aspen, Colo., as of Dec. 2. Like its Award of Excellence–winning sibling restaurants in Miami and Las Vegas, Chica Aspen offers Garcia’s spin on Latin cuisine with a global wine list.
“It is exciting to showcase our vibrant flavors in this beautiful destination,” Garcia told Wine Spectator via email. “I have found it to be a very warm community. Being at the base of the Ajax mountain makes it a dream come true.”
Overseen by 50 Eggs beverage director Daniel Grajewski, the 280-label wine list focuses on smaller wineries in France, Argentina, Portugal, California and beyond. Among the more than 1,800 bottles in Chica's inventory are Champagnes, Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons and several dessert wines. This is the most extensive Chica wine program yet, and the restaurant’s team hopes to help expand diners’ knowledge of styles and regions, even those they may already be familiar with. An après-ski beverage list is also available, encompassing a varied selection of wines, beers, spirits and cocktails.
Guests can pair these with executive chef Khamla Vongsakoun’s menu of Latin-influenced dishes, like Peruvian ceviche, crispy octopus, arepas with braised short ribs, Brazilian butternut squash soup and wood-fired mushroom barbacoa. There are also several steak options, as well as plancha-cooked dishes, shareable plates and diverse sides. “The food is something that isn’t really represented in Aspen and we felt like we could give the location a vibrant personality through the menu,” 50 Eggs founder and CEO John Kunkel said via email. “From presentations of the al pastor ribs to the elaborate and interactive dessert, the flaming skull, our dishes are an experience in itself.”
These are served in a wood-accented dining room with gentle lighting, a tiled floor and colorful murals decorating the walls. “Our design celebrates a blend of contemporary Aspen aesthetic and classic Latin American influences,” said Kunkel. “Drawing inspiration from the fresh tastes of chef Garcia’s food and spices, as well as the traditional design elements found locally.” The aesthetic carries over onto Chica’s patio, which offers picturesque mountain views.
“There is something very special to see our guests arrive after a day of skiing,” Garcia said. “There is nothing like it, and I cannot wait for everyone in Aspen to have that experience; not only in the winter season, but all year round.”—Collin Dreizen
Keep up with the latest restaurant news from our award winners: Subscribe to our free Private Guide to Dining newsletter, and follow us on Twitter at @WSRestoAwards and on Instagram at @wsrestaurantawards.