A man in a cerulean blue jacket and white shirt unbuttoned at the collar briskly glides through the dining room, tray in hand. He stops at a table and in a blink, clears the remaining glasses from a couple who just left. He moves faster than the servers and bussers in the room, seamlessly greeting a new table and surveying the situation on this busy Wednesday night with diners waiting at the door for their turns to order the Italian food within.
Anyone who dined at Spago during its 25-year reign at the Forum Shops at Caesars at least recognizes Carlos Perez, the long-time maître d’ who seemingly found tables where there were none, whisked celebrities into private dining nooks, and made running the front of the house look easy, barely breaking a sweat. Perez started working for Wolfgang Puck at Spago in West Hollywood in 1987 and followed him to Las Vegas in 1992 when he launched the era of the celebrity chef on the Las Vegas Strip. When Spago closed ahead of its move to the Bellagio in 2018, Perez left. Disappeared. When asked about Perez when Spago reopened the Bellagio, Puck said he didn’t know where he went.
Now after a three-year hiatus, the best maître d’ in Las Vegas is back, this time at Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano, the Eater 38 restaurant at the Venetian, reuniting with co-owner Matteo Ferdinand and chef Eduardo Perez, who all worked together at Spago in West Hollywood, Puck’s first restaurant. Over the years, Eduardo Perez, no relation, worked the line and moved up into executive chef positions with Puck, eventually landing as chef de cuisine at Spago before moving over to Lupo by Wolfgang Puck at Mandalay Bay for four years. After a stint in Miami at Smith & Wollensky, he returned to Las Vegas to run Matteo’s.
Ferdinandi joined Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group at Spago in Las Vegas as its general manager before returning to Los Angeles to oversee Cut in Beverly Hills as its opening general manager. He reconnected with his friend chef Angelo Auriana, who worked at Piero Selvaggio’s acclaimed Valentino in Los Angeles, and they decided to launch Factory Place Hospitality Group, opening the Factory Kitchen in the Arts District in Los Angeles in 2013. By 2018, the duo opened at the Venetian, changing the name to Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano in 2019. Ferdinandi lured Perez to the restaurant that same year. And now with Carlos Perez handling the front of the house, what Ferdinandi calls “the holy trinity” is back.
“I do 430 people at Brera on a Saturday night,” Ferdinandi says of his restaurant Brera Osteria upstairs from Matteo’s, a revamped take on his Sixth + Mill space at the Grand Canal Shoppes. “I [work] the door, and the door is everything. But I’m not even close to doing what he’s capable of doing.”
Call it a gift, finding tables where there are none, seating diners in a packed room, accommodating a 20-top with no notice, and catering to clientele from locals to celebrities who want a seat, all without a fleck of sweat or a furrow of the brow. Perez found seats for Celine Dion and her husband René Angélil at Spago, where he played with their kids as they dined. And while celebrities were de rigueur there, he estimates that 90 percent of the diners at Spago were locals, and they all seemed to know his name.
“I spent the 25 years with them,” Perez says of his time at Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars. “I opened and closed it. Pretty much in the end, I got tired. I guess I worked for them for 30 years and I said, ‘You know what? This is the end.’” Note that Perez spent five years with Puck in West Hollywood before moving to Las Vegas.
So he took some much-deserved time off. He stayed at home and spent time with his wife and daughter. His phone kept ringing with former customers who still turned to him for a seat at Spago. After a while, he stopped answering those calls but always kept the phone number just in case.
And after three years, he decided to come back and work at Matteo’s. “He told me that he will never work for anyone, but if he ever goes back to work in the restaurant business, he will work with me,” Ferdinandi says.
Perez returned in June, just as conventions started resuming in Las Vegas, bringing thousands of business travelers. On this Wednesday night, a throng of people wait to be seated at Matteo’s, and Perez, who says he sometimes feels like an actor who turns into a different person when he steps through the restaurant’s doors, gracefully keeps the restaurant humming as the busy 6 p.m. hour approaches.
“Carlos is the best maître d’ manager I ever worked with, by far, and he is unmatchable,” Ferdinandi says. “Why? Because of many different gifts that he has. He’s pleasant. He’s marked. He understands the flow. He understands the business better than everybody else. He understands how to deal with not only guests but employees. He understands how the flow needs to be in order to make a place profitable, and above and beyond.”
Perez heads into Matteo’s for another night of tending to friends, new and old alike. Unlike Spago, Matteo’s is small with 152 seats in a space with Art Deco-style light fixtures, concrete walls, and gray banquettes, and doesn’t have a private dining room. Still, Perez will make it work. “That’s what I miss, you know, doing that for people,” Perez says. “I want them to know that I’m here.”