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Jun 4, 2014 12:44 AM

Giada at The Cromwell - Opening Night review (long)

My friends and I have been looking forward to Giada's first restaurant ever since it was announced that she would be opening in Vegas. Many news updates and delays later, Giada's finally opened to the public tonight. We were one of her first paying customers to be seated. The theme of the restaurant is Italian with a Californian twist, so most dishes were a bit lighter with very nice use of citrus to brighten up the food.

This will be a long review, so for those that don't want to read a wall of text, the words I would use to sum up Giada's would be "Homey", "Inviting", and "Perfection".

The restaurant is on the 2nd floor of the Cromwell, with escalators dedicated to it. Escalators drop you off at the hostess booth and then you are taken to your seat. The first thing you see walking into the dining room is a huge array of antipasti, a station where pasta is being made from scratch, and a pizza oven imported from Italy. It's a very smart way to let the diner see how fresh everything is and also to give a little preview of what's available. The room then opens up into a very inviting dining room. Casual with a slight feminine touch. You can feel how involved Giada was with the planning and design. The huge windows (which open to turn the dining room into a gigantic patio) look out to great views of Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Cosmo, and Aria. The Bellagio fountains are visible from almost every table. I can't think of a better location for a restaurant.

Even though it was opening night, service was impeccable. The staff are well-trained and know the menu. Our server was Jason and he was excellent. Every dish he talked about sounded more delicious than the one before it. And his recommendations were spot on. We felt cared for throughout and found our experience enhanced by the service.

Once we ordered, we received bread service that included very nice black pepper breadsticks and a warm lemon-herb focaccia served in a small cast-iron pot. Definitely one of the more unique and tasty bread offerings on the strip. We were also started with a complimentary apéritif with flavors of elderflower. A very nice start and an indication of the great meal to come.

On to the food. The two-page menu features a page of antipasto (with 45 choices of apps in small-plate format) and a page with the real menu. We started with an assortment of antipasti. The "Bacon-Wrapped Dates" came as a serving of five dates stuffed with spicy sausage and sitting on a bed of smooth, creamy gorgonzola. Tons of flavor, with the spiciness offset by the sweetness of the date and the crema smoothing out the flavors. The "Clams Casino" were excellent with fresh littlenecks cooked in white wine, with prosciutto, lots of garlic, and these tiny bread crumbs for texture. "Oysters Rockefeller" came with four deep fried oysters sitting in their shells with spinach bread crumbs. We also ordered the Burrata and the Prosciutto (separate dishes, but they complement each other). The burrata was made in-house and was sheer perfection. Fresh and smooth and silky, it went perfectly with the prosciutto. Prosciutto was served with pickled grapes and pickled apples. Wrap a grape in prosciutto and pick up some burrata with it for a bite of pure heaven. All the antipasti was good, but the clams and the burrata were standouts.

Next, we shared some pasta. The Spaghetti came with three HUGE shrimp (they must be 1-2/pound). The shrimp was cooked perfectly and the spaghetti was kept light with the addition of lemon and basil. The acidity of lemon really cuts through a dish that could otherwise be heavy. Spaghetti turned out to be the unanimous winning dish for the night. Next was the Lobster Ravioli. Each freshly-made ravioli was stuffed with a piece of lobster. Additional pieces of lobster joined asparagus tips on the plate. A very pleasant citrus sauce brought the dish together and it was excellent. Again we see the use of citrus to bring out flavors and cut through richness. I appreciated that the ravioli was stuffed simply with lobster meat. There was no cheese mixed in to make the ravioli seem dense and compete with the taste of the lobster. Finally, we received the Crab and Scallop Risotto. The risotto itself had pieces of crab folded in and came presented with two perfectly seared scallop sitting on top. The dish was finished with a light citrus olive oil. I really enjoyed the flavors of this dish, although the crab itself was a bit lost.

Main dishes arrived next. We ordered the "Porter house for two", which was presented to us in a very nice stainless steel pan and then carved table-side. Here is where they impressed me the most. The waiter expertly separated the filet from the strip steak, sliced each one into appropriate slices, and plated individual plates with both types of meat, adding grilled lemon, cherry tomatoes, and a supplemental streak of sauce. I forgot what he called the sauce, but it was an oil-based sauce with herbs chopped in. Great presentation and reflects great training and attention to detail. The steak itself was wonderful. A beautiful crust full of herbs and spices complemented by the sauce made for one very nice dish. Finally, we received the Veal Chop Saltimbocca. The Saltimbocca sauce was extremely flavorful and went well with the veal. While still excellent, this was our least favorite dish of the night. Although the fault is probably ours because the flavors were reminiscent of olives, something all of us dislike. With our main courses, we ordered a side of Lemon Potatoes, which is a real winner. Small potatoes cooked, smashed, and fried (think Umami Burger in LA) and topped with lemon-infused olive oil and lots of Parmesan. It took potatoes to a whole new level and paired very well with the main courses.

We were then presented with dessert menus and offered coffee. I don't know what it was called, but we ordered this Nutella espresso that was great. A dollop of Nutella, a shot of espresso, and fresh whipped cream all mixed together with some hazelnuts for texture. It was the perfect drink for our desserts. We ordered the Trio of Tiramisu and the Assortment of Cookies. The Tiramisu came as shot glasses with layers of cake and flavored cream (the trio being blackberry, chocolate, and raspberry). They were light and refreshing, which is a big change from the rich tiramisu you get elsewhere. The Assortment of Cookies came with four types of cookies (9 cookies total on the plate). The chocolate peanut butter one was great and the best by far was the lemon ricotta cookie.

Altogether, one heck of a meal. We were approached by Giada a couple times and by the GM a few times as well. It has been a long time since I've had a meal so consistently excellent. I will definitely return and it will definitely be a place I take visitors. 5 antipasti, 3 pastas, 2 entrees (including a steak meant for two), 1 side, 2 desserts, 2 cocktails, a $28 bottle of beer, and 2 espressos came to $380 before tax and tip. And it was more than enough for our table of four.

If I had to give criticism:
-We asked for more bread 2-3 times and finally received it after 20+ minutes, but that's just due to opening night jitters.
-The timing between courses was a bit slow, but the waiter often dropped by to apologize and explain that the kitchen was a bit behind due to it being opening night. He dropped by with three complimentary cocktails (chosen to give us a sampling of what the bar has to offer) to apologize for the wait.
-The risotto dish should be a larger serving. It's $30 and I understand why (the crab and the large scallops), but it looks a bit small for the price. They should simply give more risotto and nobody would find it too expensive, even though the crab and scallop amounts stay the same.

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  1. $380 and the only 'luxury' ingredient was lobster?

    B&B, Bartolotta, and many others seem to offer a far better pricepoint...

    Nice review, but reads more like a fan letter to me.

    15 Replies
    1. re: uhockey

      Giada has not made my radar yet because the menu is a little "standard" (if others chime in positively on the execution points perhaps there will be a visit), but you might want to read through that order list again in terms of the price point aspect -

      "5 antipasti, 3 pastas, 2 entrees (including a steak meant for two), 1 side, 2 desserts, 2 cocktails, a $28 bottle of beer, and 2 espressos came to $380 before tax and tip." It would be an extreme challenge to do that less expensively at B&B or Bartolotta. At B&B antipasti averages $17-$19, the current range of pastas are $23-36, "ribeye for two" is $120, etc. The Giada price points are actually well in line with the Strip standards, the question is whether the creativity and execution will be good enough to add another place to "the list".

      1. re: uhockey

        I fail to see how "the only 'luxury' ingredient was lobster" is a relevant reason to dismiss a restaurant. Especially now, where many chefs are moving towards offal and cheap cuts of meat. You could go to Scarpetta, have an amazing dinner, spend around the same, and what luxury ingredients would you have been served? Duck and maybe some foie in the ravioli. You could go to B&B which actually has a very similar menu to Giada at a similar price point. What would be your tally of "luxury" ingredients there? On the non-Italian side, you could drive to LA and go to ink, Animal, Son of a Gun, etc and you would spend $380 or more, with your most luxurious ingredient being an oyster. You could go to Momofuku ko in NY for $500-$700 for a group of four and the only luxurious item would be some frozen shaved foie. But does that, by default, make them bad dining experiences? I don't think so.

        (in any case, I don't quite understand to see why huge shrimp, scallop, oyster, porter house, and veal are not in your tally of luxury ingredients)

        I am definitely a fan of Giada. As in I'd catch her show every now and then back in the early 2000's when Food Network was still watchable. But I am also a fan of Jose Andres, Daniel Boulud, Alex Stratta, etc. I don't see how being a fan of someone makes me unable to give an honest review, especially since I've written many other reviews for this forum (and yes, I write them just for this forum and one other Vegas forum, I'm not advertising a blog or anything like that).

        1. re: ah6tyfour

          Alex Stratta--now that's someone who deserves a restaurant! Miss him very much!

          BTW, I like Giada (the chef/TV celeb) too. Doubt I will add her restaurant to my list when I visit LV later this year, but I liked your report.

          1. re: ellenost

            I believe chef stratta is consulting, and possibly cooking, at marche Bacchus, a local restaurant. I enjoy MB; it's on a manmade (natch) lake and also doubles as a very good wine shop where you can buy wines at retail for your dinner. However, my last few dinners there were pretty uneven. I have not been back in about six months. It could be worth checking out when you return to LV.

            Having just dined at Grace in Chicago, where the food alone was 205 per person, I'm interested in the value analysis. I did not think that there was a significant use of luxury ingredients in that meal, especially in the flora menu that I had (there are two choices, flora and fauna). In that case, I felt you were definitely paying for the labor intensive nature do the dishes, the impressive presentations, and the luxury of the overall dining experience.

            1. re: lvnvflyer

              I'm thinking about returning to Chicago for a few days next year, and Grace is one of the restaurants that I'm considering. Probably the "fauna" menu. I'll be checking the Chicago board for more suggestions (probably want to try Sixteen at Trump too).

                1. re: ellenost

                  I enjoyed Grace and would recommend it, and think fauna is probably the better option. The rest of my table did fauna but I am allergic to scallops (one of the courses) and not a huge fan of sweetbreads. In the fauna menu there was a terrific lamb courts and a great beef course. I think we all found the desserts disappointing. Great great service throughout and a very nice room
                  I spend about equal amounts of time in las and Chicago, so it's fun to compare

                2. re: lvnvflyer

                  Marche Bacchus, unfortunately, is still a bit off its game. I've had quite a few meals there and the dishes are pretty hit or miss. Even with Alex Stratta at the helm, something is just not quite right. It ends up being an expensive meal that you realize was not worth the cost.

              1. re: ah6tyfour

                Advertising would imply I derive some sort of benefit from the blog aside from promoting businesses I believe in.

                As to the costs - item for item I find the LA spots to be definitely lower and more creative.

                B&B is offering duck liver, lobster, bottarga, numerous house cured meats, and tons of artisanal produce.

                Better question is "what is Giada offering that I cannot get at Montesanos?"

                1. re: uhockey

                  In fairness, we really should make some distinctions here. As stated above, the Giada menu does not create a desire to make a reservation. But as for the price points, it is not just that B&B, which I really like, carries higher tariffs strictly because of the menu creativity and ingredients. While there is not a lot of crossover between the two, at Giada the Porterhouse for two is $78, at B&B the rib-eye for two is $120. At Giada a veal chop is $43, at B&B $55. At Giada a rack of lamb is $45, at B&B the same price brings lamb chops. As much as I enjoy the imagination and sourcing of B&B, which also seasonally turns the menu over with much more frequency than most high-end Strip options, there is also smirking at the absurdity of "Linguini with clams, pancetta and hot chili oil" for $33. But that, of course, is not what I go there for (a shame that "Ragu Norcino" has not made the specials board in a little while). Yes, some exotic ingredients carry high price points, but at B&B, so do many of the simpler dishes as well.

                  Also in fairness, the "better" question could come off as very misleading to those that do not live in Las Vegas. When Montesanos adds branzino, a porterhouse, rack of lamb, a veal chop, farotto, baby artichokes, etc., then that question could lead to a better discussion. For now the comparison does not serve much purpose

                  Ultimately Giada is not going to be B&B, Bartolotta, Valentino or Circo (the latter two will be greatly missed), but instead will be competing with the likes of Rao's, Allegro or Il Mulino. It will come down to service, quality of ingredients and execution, if not culinary imagination, and the OP helped to get us started on a peek inside of those issues.

                  1. re: QAW

                    I guess I need to see portion sizes to gauge the last paragraph - from what I'm seeing of early photos the 'tapas' at Giada are far smaller than the plates at Rao's, Il Mulino, or Circo.

                    B&B is indeed overpriced, but it is also far more creative in its offering.

                    Montesano's has baby artichokes. It has crab pasta. It has Veal, though not a chop.

                    1. re: uhockey

                      Wow...would Steve get a kick out of this thread!!!

                      1. re: VegasGourmet

                        I gather he'd be quite happy to get what she is charging for food no more interesting. :-)

                  2. re: uhockey

                    I'll just say that Giada indeed offers something unique. While the menu may not seem creative and adventurous, she has done a great job creating a restaurant that is uniquely Californian-Italian. The overarching citrus theme gives the food a lightness and a complexity that is very pleasant.

                    I went to the opening with a group I consider to be collectively well-versed in food. All of us agreed it was an excellent meal and that we would definitely return. I stand behind my review. No, it's not your beloved Twist, but it's worthy of a visit.

                    For me, here's what I'm looking for in a restaurant.
                    Is the food good?
                    Does the food all make sense and the ingredients all serve a purpose?
                    Is the food interesting, complex, and of a quality I can't get better elsewhere?
                    Is the service attentive and knowledgeable?
                    Is the environment pleasant?
                    Is the overall experience greater than the sum of its parts?
                    Would I bring visiting guests here?

                    For Giada, I can answer yes to all those questions. That's more than I can say about Sage, Yusho, Jasmine Fountains Brunch, DB Brasserie, and many others. Heck, even NYC's Per Se would not receive yes answers to all those.

                    So is it breaking new culinary ground? No. But does it need to in order to be a great place to eat? No. It's a great meal featuring a style of Italian cuisine not currently in Vegas, in a great environment, with an amazing view.

                    1. re: uhockey

                      And I dine at ink, Animal, Son of a Gun, etc in LA decently often. While the menu prices per item are cheaper, they are all "tapas to share" and, so, portion sizes are much smaller. A table of four worth drinks and coffee for $380 is about right for those places. And I think the most premium ingredient would be sweetbreads.

                      The serving of littleneck clams on Giada's antipasto menu is $13 or $14. The serving size is double the size of what I would expect from those places in LA (even though the price would be the same).

                2. Thanks for the detailed review. I missed the opening by a couple days and am really looking forward to trying Giada's on my next visit.

                  If I were you, I wouldn't feel the need to defend your experience from posters who haven't even tried the restaurant- but that's just me.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: BubblyOne

                    It isn't just you. A thoughtful and detailed review got taken off-track in a fashion that is not ordinarily what one finds at Chowhound. While there is much appreciation for uhockey sharing his dining experiences on this site, when someone gives Buddy V's a very positive review, but then criticizes the creativity and price points of Giada's menu, it does raise some "doth protest too much" questions.

                    I think a proper way to resolve some of it would be the Montesano's comparisons. I like Montesano's, and have been eating their food for nearly 20 years, mostly at their original location on West Sahara. There is even one particularly fond memory that remains etched in my mind - a carry-out order of meatballs, bocconcini and roasted peppers watching Curt Schilling get blood on his sock while beating the Yankees (has it been 10 years already?). But the comparisons between what they do and what Giada is attempting to do have precious little correlation.

                    Montesano's actually does some things better than high-end strip properties, which would make for a good Chowhound topic (the notion of balancing the spicing and flavoring of a large entree so that a customer wants to consume all of it, vs. those bolder smaller plates that often do not hold up well beyond a few bites, after the first pleasant shock to the palate). But you can not compare the price points of a place in a strip mall in Henderson to something at the Cromwell. Would they like to get those prices? Of course. Could they maintain anywhere near their price points in Giada's location? Hell no. It is an entirely different operation - the Montesano's competition is the likes of Siena-Roma-Cugino's, and neighborhood places like Capo's, Bootlegger, Pasta Shop, etc. Those are not fresh baby artichokes on their menu, but fried artichoke hearts, usually with a side of marinara. And they are just fine, but they are what they are.

                    I have not dined at Giada's yet, but here is one item for Chowhounds that should matter - there was a note on sourcing in this discussion, and that aspect should be a major positive. Giada is working with Kerry Clasby ("Intuitive Forager") for produce, much the same as B&B - it was Kerry who helped Mario Batali to develop what was first the "Bet on the Farm" farmers market, which has now morphed into the "Downtown 3rd Farmers Market". Kerry's sourcing is remarkable - most summers B&B will do an "Heirloom Tomato" tasting menu, and last summer there was a "Farmers Market" tasting menu - when that time comes around Chowhounds should be on alert. Giada may not go to those same levels of creativity, but the produce being used on the menu should be first-rate.

                    1. re: QAW

                      I politely disagree - starting with the Buddy V's comment. The OP here is an admitted Giada fan. I am not a Buddy fan. I was shocked by the quality, frankly - and I went for my friends who were in town.

                      Secondly, I report on every meal I eat outside the house - not just my favorites. It in nondiscriminatory. Sure the Montesano's comparisons were a bit over the top...but it made a point.

                      Simply put, having seen the pictures of the food and looking at the ingredient lists plus price point Giada is easily one of the most expensive dollar-per-bite restaurants on the strip and at that price point I either want to see serious creativity or something more luxurious than lemon and shrimp spaghetti.

                      1. re: uhockey

                        "Giada is easily one of the most expensive dollar-per-bite restaurants on the strip." Without a visit?

                        Sorry, but there is just too much editorial license. The definitive "is", instead of the speculative "could be". The quantitative "easily", which really should demand experience.

                        What many of us aspire to do here as a community, unlike places like Yelp, is to build a trust with each other, so that information can be relied on. You have been doing an excellent job of that with the reviews of your actual experiences, and the detail is much appreciated. This is particularly important for a destination like Las Vegas, where some visitors only get a few days each year, and want to maximize their experiences. The amount of time that a Chowhound like Long Island Chef spends in making his decisions is a good example. I do the same thing when I am on the road.

                        Striving for accuracy and integrity has cost traffic in recent years, but that is also a sign of the times. The standards are lower elsewhere. It is also why some of us will flat-out cringe when we see the post below, the sort of thing that is a rarity here (if there has been a silver lining to the loss of traffic, it has been the minuscule amount of spam).

                        What I have tried to do in this thread is keep a degree of accuracy in place for those that are coming to Las Vegas, and may have Giada's as a prospect on their list. That is why your comments on the price points ring hollow. It requires experience if one is to be that definitive in a judgment, and not only is the experience lacking, but I am not sure that the judgment is accurate. All it takes is a cursory glance to see that Giada's and Buddy V's are both at $9 for Pasta e Fagiole; Giada's is $28 for Spaghetti with Shrimp, Lemon and Basil, while Buddy V's is $28 for Capellini Shrimp Scampi; Giada's Veal Chop is $43, Buddy V's is $42 (although they are served slightly different). Up and down their menus the prices are comparable, and Buddy V's would be considered "middle of the road", by Strip standards. Or try it this way - other Italian Veal Chops on the Strip are $55 at B&B, $55 at Scarpetta, $54 at Bartolotta, $53 at Rao's, $49 at Sinatra, $49 at Allegro and $44 at Zefferino.

                        The actual evidence at hand so far does not indicate that Giada's is anywhere near being one of the most expensive "dollar per bite" restaurants on the Strip. I do know first-hand that Caesar's was not aiming for high-brow with this project, but was aware of the traffic that places like Rao's and Il Mulino were attracting (not that their upper management has been correct about much in recent years). For them, Giada was the ideal partnership - a personality and a menu that tourists will be comfortable with.

                        Over time, those that dine there will help us all to establish just what the value ratio is, but it would be best if confusion could be avoided until those experiences accumulate. One likes to think that there is a code of chivalry in the Chowhound community.

                        1. re: QAW

                          Fair points all around, and your moderation/intent are admirable.

                          As someone who plans their trips in a tetris-esque fashion by fitting in as much quality as I can in a given space I certainly see where you are coming from.

                          1. re: uhockey

                            "As someone who plans their trips in a tetris-esque fashion" First of all, I love the word tetris-esque, describes my planning perfectly as well. For me I lay out the shows/events first then fit everything else around them. Of course, very little but the shows/events goes as planned, but thats another story...

                            1. re: LongIslandChef

                              A-Men to the planning aspect of Vegas LIC! Just got back last night from 4 nights (currently sitting on the 5:37am is really a drag) and so many of the best intended plans unfortunately, and fortunately sometimes, go awry (as Uhockey can attest, we were going to try and hook up for lunch Saturday but as things go, did not happen...again my apologies).

                              Too bad this post was not a week before my visit as I could have made several alterations to agenda. I would loved to of gone to Giadas new place. And to the simplicity aspect of a menu, which if I am reading correctly, should never be the basis for deciding the quality. Isn't that what some love about a place like Sinatra? Not a multitude of choices but rather a few expertly prepared dishes?

                              And prices on the strip have gotten a bit out of control. But as has been discussed on many blogs and on CH for quite a while, it is Vegas and most people come to expect that (for better or worse). Giada's price points (from what I have read here) seem to be in line and reasonable by some standards. I think the comparison to Bartolotta is most unfair (I love Bartolotta). The prices there far exceed most places, I would hesitate to say you could get out of Bartolotta for anything close what you could at Giada's. Just my thought. My reviews to follow shortly.

                              1. re: LVI

                                I'd also give her place a try if I was in town. Why not, right? But I won't be until late September.

                                Also wanted to add, the prices don't seem that bad. Even if it does disappoint(but not saying it will), when I consider how much money I've spent on some crappy meals in Vegas in the past, it would be a drop in the bucket. Sad, but true and we have all been there.

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