Las Vegas obviously has its fair share of celebrity chefs, from the TV personalities such as Gordon Ramsay and Emeril Lagasse to those with high accolades including Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy, and Pierre Gagnaire. But the city has another layer of famous faces who have quietly earned awards over the years that helped them build a sophisticated empire worthy of the next step — opening in neon-soaked Las Vegas.
Enter Marc Vetri, the award-winning chef out of Philadelphia who placed his own stamp on Italian fare. And what better way to fete his Italian fare than an introduction to Las Vegas from Scott Conant, the frequent judge on Chopped? Conant’s Masso Osteria hosted Vetri when he presented a killer lineup of his signature dishes at the Red Rock Resort restaurant.
In mid-November, Vetri opens his eponymous restaurant in the former Alizé space at the top of the Palms, with its view of the city unfolding to the east.
Vetri initially opened his cozy Italian fine dining establishment in a Philadelphia townhouse on Spruce Street in 1998 and quickly became known for his outstanding pasta dishes. He earned accolades from Food & Wine two years later as one of the nation’s “Best New Chefs” and by 2005, he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic.
Now Las Vegas earns a shot at tasting his cuisine as the Palms adds to its roster of fine dining.
A cavalcade of Vetri dishes came out during the preview, with Conant happily posing with diners and touching every table as the night wore on while Vetri manned the kitchen staffed with his Philadelphia crew. An advance look at his stuzzichini, Italian for snacks, showed off his bites of creamy foie gras pastrami, an herb tart, and a house-cured salumi.
Perhaps one of his most famous dishes, the must-order sweet onion crepe with white truffle fonduta, came out with a scallop crudo with bright persimmon and a squid and artichoke gallette.
Vetri’s true strength comes with the pastas, such as the change-your-life casoncelli-bergamascan, meat filled ravioli, and a wild boar ragu with chestnut fettuccine. Another signature dish, Vetri’s spinach gnocchi with brown butter and shaved ricota salata, practically melts with those big potato dumplings steeped in butter.
A stuffed Guinea hen breast with mushrooms and a halibut with legumes and bean crema showcased Vetri’s dexterity with main courses, each with featuring a sophisticated and contemporary take on classics.
For dessert, interesting interpretations of polenta, with a chocolate souffle and budino both incorporating the cornmeal staple.
Granted, in Philadelphia, Vetri Cucina occupies an intimate townhouse and features a $165 prix-fixe option, an $85 lunch option, and a wine cellar with 2,500 bottles. It remains to be seen if he plans to emulate that experience in Las Vegas. But Vetri the chef does plan to bring his classics to Las Vegas, along with his stellar service, once he opens in mid-November.