Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater Vegas talks with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their first anniversary.
Stephen Blandino opened his restaurant Americana a year ago on Lake Jacqueline in Desert Shores. The long-time executive chef at Charlie Palmer Steak at the Four Seasons opted to head to the suburbs for his take on American dishes with a European influence. Here he reflects on the first year of running his restaurant.
How did Americana come together? What made you decide to strike out on your own?
I always had a vision of cooking on the water, and when my good friend told me about an opening on Lake Jacqueline in Desert Shores, I knew right away it was where I wanted to open my first restaurant. The ambience at Desert Shores is so different from any other place in Las Vegas. I was confident that if I combined exceptional cuisine with a lakeside setting, we would capture the attention and support of locals in the Summerlin area.
What have you learned in the first year of running the restaurant?
I have had great mentors who have really helped me grow through the years to prepare me for my new adventure. In the first year, I have learned patience, hard work and the ability to adapt in various scenarios to find a solution.
Is it different than running a restaurant on the Strip? How?
The bond and sense of community is the biggest difference. Americana is a neighborhood restaurant, and I have enjoyed becoming a restaurant that is frequented by regulars, where I get to know names and preferences. It feels like a family restaurant.
What were you thinking about in terms of design of the restaurant?
I wanted to make the restaurant feel more spacious and open to the water. The view of the lake is so beautiful at any time of day; it was important to me that no matter where guests sit, they have that breathtaking view. We made the inside tones warm and lighting soft, and added to the ambience with candles and our brand new grand piano. Our private room was designed to resemble a cook’s library, adorned with Vladimir Kush paintings. His paintings are also featured throughout the restaurant. We have a great relationship with Vladimir and the restaurant has become somewhat of a satellite gallery to beautifully showcase his work.
What was the menu testing process like?
When I first developed the menu, I dedicated so much attention to finely tune every single dish — I wanted everything to be perfect. Early on, we introduced signature dishes like the Ora King Salmon served with pickled artichokes, tart cherry and citrus emulsion and grilled filet mignon served with snap peas, cipollini onions and fingerling potatoes; dishes that have become favorites for our regulars. However, I also change the menu with the seasons, and to always have the flexibility to introduce new dishes made with fresh ingredients and seasonal flavors. Because of that, I am always testing new dishes.
Has Las Vegas embraced the restaurant?
Going from the Strip to a neighborhood restaurant, I think I enjoy having a neighborhood restaurant that much more. Our neighbors have been fantastic, and we have felt a tremendous amount of support from the Las Vegas community. Whether it’s our lunch, happy hour, dinner or brunch crowd, I am always happy to hear great things about the food, service and atmosphere. When you come to Americana, I make it my aim to make you feel welcomed as if you were dining in my home.
Six months in, what changed? When I first opened the restaurant, we kept it simple. I wanted to make sure our lunch and dinner operations were going smoothly — and then we looked to introduce new offerings. Around six months in we introduced a social hour, brunch, and nightly events. We also introduced a weekly harvest menu, served daily, that includes a three-course dinner made from seasonal ingredients. It includes unlimited wine pairings and is priced at just $42 per person. We also expanded the lounge area to accommodate a larger bar crowd.
What’s the most unexpected thing that happened in the first year?
We received the award for “Best New Fine Dining Restaurant” from the Silver State Awards, which was tremendously rewarding. Opening up my own restaurant was a lifelong dream of mine, so to receive that award just months after opening, it was incredibly rewarding for me, personally, as well as the entire team at Americana.
What's the must-order dish of the moment?
Everyone raves about the table side Australian Wagyu — we flambé it table side and serve it with truffle pomme purée.
What’s on tap for the future?
I will soon be launching a monthly cooking class. That, too, is a benefit of being a neighborhood restaurant. A lot of regular guests have asked me to do a cooking class, so I’m going to do it. I look forward to continually adding flavorful new dishes to the menu, too.
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