Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater Vegas talks with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their first anniversary.
Alain Ducasse transformed his restaurant Mix into Rivea on the 64th floor of the Delano Las Vegas one year ago in October, bringing a gentle breeze from Saint Tropez. The menu, which Ducasse created with executive chef Bruno Riou, brings French and Italian dishes influenced by the food markets of Provence and Italy, "the casual and vibrant nature of the Riviera" and an emphasis on "simple, fresh plates." Here, Riou reflects on the first year of the restaurants, the changes that helped shape the space and what the future holds.
How did Rivea come together?
After Saint-Tropez and London, Alain Ducasse wanted to bring Rivea to Las Vegas to offer locals and visitors alike a renewed take on Mediterranean cooking, a coastal cuisine that is very dear to him, influenced by France and Italy but also in tune with products found on the West Coast. The seaside-inspired design creates a comfortable and vibrant environment, making guests feel as though they’ve been transported to those endless summers in the South of France. It’s dynamic yet relaxing, chic yet low-key, and evokes the glamour and grandeur of the outside in a more laid-back setting, which seems to really appeal to the Las Vegas clientele.
What have you learned in the first year of running the restaurant?
Since opening, I’ve learned that it takes time and dedication to share your vision and passion with everyone, but it’s been interesting to work with new flavors and train the entire team to adapt to a different concept and style of service. It’s been an exciting transition.
Is it different than running Mix? How?
While we’ve always been very careful about using products based on their local availability and the time of year, there’s a bit more of an emphasis on seasonality at Rivea because seafood and vegetables are a major part of Mediterranean cuisine and the menu at Rivea has a lot of light options and preparations that are coherent with what’s available then and there. We also make our fresh pasta in-house, which is something we didn’t previously do, and because of the quantity of small plates meant for sharing, the organization in the kitchen has evolved, as has the flow of the service. The vibe is also more casual; servers are wearing denim and the food calls for a more convivial experience.
What were you thinking about in terms of design of the restaurant?
Alain Ducasse worked closely with Paris-based designers, Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku, to translate the "art de vivre" of the Riviera through a very coastal design: maritime blues and yellow accents, cozy corners and banquettes, Venetian blinds, elegant striped fabrics and a custom-designed glass chandelier made of 15,000 hand-blow glass spheres from Murano, Italy, reminiscent of water drops. The centerpiece is really the "Wave Wall" though, crafted by arranging hundreds of glass squares in a pattern mimicking the lapping motion of the sea. It all looks brighter and airier.
What was the menu testing process like?
Prior to opening the restaurant, I traveled to the South of France to get a feel for the Mediterranean, its products and overall energy. I worked there in the past so it was great to be immersed in that environment and cuisine again.
During my trip, I spent some time in the kitchens at La Trattoria in Monaco and both Riveas in Saint-Topez and London, to re-familiarize myself with the flavors we were going to have to translate in Las Vegas.
I came back here to start working on the menu and play around with local ingredients, and after several months of cooking, testing and trying, we finalized the menu during a tasting with Alain Ducasse and the team in New York, shortly before the opening in October.
Has Las Vegas embraced the restaurant?
Absolutely. As Delano Las Vegas goes on to celebrate its second anniversary, we’re getting increasingly comfortable with the new DNA of the hotel and restaurant. Guests are being seduced by the dynamic, coastal atmosphere, reminiscent of both South Beach and the Riviera.
Six months in, what changed? A couple months in, we realized that guests weren’t necessarily familiar with some of the dishes that are very specific to France or Italy so we had to rework the menu to be more descriptive with certain items regarding ingredients and preparation, such as tigelle (small, round shaped, pressed bread, which we currently garnish with either tomato/almond pesto or arugula and parmesan) or panisse (chickpea fries), to name a few.
What’s the most unexpected thing that happened in the first year?
We received a call that a famous band was coming in for dinner. Shortly before the dinner, we found out that ex members of the Beatles were coming in to celebrate a birthday with us in our Rivea+ private dining room.
How about the craziest thing?
We hosted a reception for little over a 1,000 guests last August. We had to remove most of the furniture at both Rivea and Skyfall Lounge to accommodate.
What's the must-order dish of the moment?
Some of our most popular dishes include the lobster risotto and the John Dory, our rendition of the traditional Bouillabaisse, a hearty seafood stew. Ours is prepared with a hot rock fish broth and served with prawn and calamari seared on an iron griddle, potatoes cooked with saffron and fennel, and a crostini topped with rouille — a condiment made of garlic, saffron and chili mayonnaise. The fresh pastas are always a must and our menu encourages guests to share several small plates to start, so you can’t dine with us without having a couple of those, namely the caponata, panisse and marinated sea bream with citrus.
What's on tap for the future?
We’re getting ready to celebrate Rivea and Skyfall Lounge’s first anniversary in October so we have a couple of fun things happening then. You’ll have to wait and see.
On the menu, we’re working on adding a really delicious fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms for the fall. So stay tuned for that one too.