Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater Vegas talks with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their first anniversary.
Tao Group’s reign over the nightlife and dining scene only grew larger last year when Beauty & Essex debuted at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, complete with a pawn shop in the front, a jewelry box decor and Chopped guest judge Chris Santos at the helm. Since, it’s become a go-to destination for celebrities and fans of the show alike. Here, Santos talks about the first year of the restaurant.
How did Beauty & Essex come together?
Beauty & Essex at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas was really a five-year dream that was born soon after the opening of the first Beauty in New York City . My long-time partner, Rich Wolf (co-founder of the Tao Group) and I knew we wanted to open in Las Vegas and the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas was truly the location for us. With the success we were having in New York and the success Tao Group had in Las Vegas for so many years, it just seemed natural to team up officially and bring Beauty & Essex to Las Vegas with the Tao Group team behind it to make this dream a reality. Five years later, the dream is real and we already celebrating Beauty & Essex Las Vegas’ first birthday. We are looking forward to many many more years too.
What have you learned in the first year of running the restaurant?
I've learned that it is truly a team effort in building brand. I get so much of the credit, but I could not do it without each and every person in every department from the front of house to the heart of house. I’ve learned I'm even more grateful for my team than ever as their hard work continues to shine even when I am thousands of miles away.
How is it different than running Stanton Social, Vandal or Beauty & Essex in New York or Los Angeles?
Las Vegas definitely has a different crowd than you find in New York. Different food items, drinks, etc. are more popular in the Las Vegas area than it is in New York or Los Angeles. We sell a ton of steaks and oysters in Vegas for instance. A ton. It’s exciting to deliver Beauty & Essex and my own style to such a diverse group of diners. I think that there aren't as many restaurants in Las Vegas that offer the style of dining that we are more used to in New York, which is a communal style, share plates and that sort of thing. My menus are designed to be able to share little bites of several dishes throughout the night. It's been really great watching this style of dining be so accepted and appreciated in Las Vegas.
Do you think your role on Chopped has helped the restaurant?
I definitely don't think its hurt. But sure it drives some traffic, no doubt. You know, even though I have been a judge on the show for almost a decade, it never ceases to amaze and humble me at how excited some people get to meet me and nowhere do I get recognized more than in Las Vegas.
What were you thinking about in terms of design of the restaurant?
When we designed the Vegas location, it was really important to me that it stayed true and had the same spark the New York location has. The whole restaurant is designed to feel like the inside of a jewelry box the moment you walk in, from the vintage locket walls to the giant lavish pearl chandelier in the pearl lounge. And from that perspective the synergy, design wise that we have with the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, you just can’t ask for a better fit.
How did the pawn shop come into play?
The pawn shop entrance also came from the New York location. We really loved the idea of a hidden speakeasy. Something about the element of surprise when you walk in just really spoke to us. What better than a jewelry-inspired restaurant than a storefront where you can actually buy vintage beautiful jewelry.
What was the menu testing process like?
Well, that was actually very interesting. The climate is much different here than it is in New York. I've had some recipes that are very near and dear to me for years and years, like my empanada dough recipe. I had to change it around several times to find a recipe that agreed with the climate and also stayed true to the flavor and consistency that I love so much. It was fun for my kitchen team because it gave some of my chefs the ability to get creative and bring new ideas to the table for our guests to enjoy.
Are the menus different at all three Beauty & Essex restaurants or do they tend to stay the same?
The menus are different, but also the same. At each location, I have my signatures that are a must have. However, at each location there are also many dishes that are specific to that venue. For example, we have entree style chicken dishes at each location, but each one is different and unique on its own.
Anything on the menu that is just found in Las Vegas?
Yes, so many things actually. The sashimi, grilled lobster tail, the short rib mac n cheese, and one of my favorite desserts ever... the peanut butter pie sundae (shout out to Tao Group corporate chef Marc Marrone for that one).
Has Las Vegas embraced the restaurant?
That's the best part. I'm so honored to say that we have been rated or in the discussion for the No. 1 restaurant in Las Vegas this year in many different forums. It's been so exciting and I'm so grateful it has been embraced the way it has. My team has worked so hard for this.
Six months in, what changed?
We got our feet on the ground. We put some final touches on the designs and tweaked the menu a few times until we found exactly what we wanted.
What’s the most unexpected thing that happened in the first year?
Just learning the ebb and flow of convention business and how wildly busy it can truly get.
How about the craziest thing?
You can see some crazy things when people are letting loose in your venue in Las Vegas, but what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas so I don't want to blow up anyone’s spot.
What's the must-order dish of the moment?
Grilled cheese, smoked bacon and tomato soup dumplings. The name alone just says everything. These never cease to stop being extremely addicting. Introducing a twist on such a classic dish is kind of what we do and this is one of our favorite examples.
What's on tap for the future?
Just continuing to focus on warm hospitality and evolving the menu so that we remain on top of our game and represent for the hotel and to represent along with all the other restaurants in the world-class portfolio the Cosmo has assembled. Grateful to be a part of it.
• All Coverage of Beauty & Essex [ELV]