VegasEats: Giada at The Cromwell
While trapped in a tipped-over tactor trailer traffic tangle deep in the dusty desert, the message arrived. "Bad news. Called to see if they could get a reservation and they couldn't." The plan - a tag team eat out of Giada with JohnH - had been snatched from the hungry jaws of victory like beignet-seeking dive bomber bats. Rats.
Fast forward two hours. I've snaked throught the desert, checked in to a hotel room under the name "Lars Ulrich", attended to travel day decompression demands, freshened up, and sniffed out a trail straight to The Cromwell. I'm flying solo - JohnH is stuck downtown, feeding me lyrics for the third verse of a crowdsourced blues shuffle boogie tryptych I'm writing under the working title "Sweet Whitney Forgot Suite". Flying? Not really... I've ascended the escalators out of curiousity, armed with a smile and patience enough to hopefully squirm my way into Giada's iron clad garden of culinary delight. Will she be there? with Guy Fieri? And tv cameras? Can I dazzle her with my wit? Will she invite me upstairs to her pottery studio? And gift me some signature cookware? Dream on.
The hostess perch a the top of the escalator reveals Giada's target market via a design mash up of Crate & Barrel light wood modernity peppered with decor by Williams-Sonoma and tons of Giada branded merch - a soft sell version of the other barrel's (Cracker) enter through the gift shop routine.
One thing is for sure, Giada's restaurant is infested with Caesars Entertainment suits. Laurel-encrusted nametags abound... and not low level managers, jerky clerks or social media slaves hashtag instabooking. They stand, they hover, they observe, they discuss, they take notes, they really want this restaurant to succeed they way the Paula Deen partnership didn't.
I've watched about as much Giada on TV as I have Guy Fieri... 30 seconds in passing when satellite surfing, only to see what kind of cockamamie food prep lesson she's bathing in a lip smacking cleavage routine. It was when she started using a rolling pin to stretch out a personal-sized pizza dough and skipping the opportunity to teach FOOD Network viewers how easy (and fun!) it is to toss pizza dough. Tossing pizza dough is like pan flipping an omelet... once you learn the trick, you'll never go back. But that doesn't sell Giada branded rolling pins does it?
So yes, I'm a skeptic... but I also know that Giada isn't in the kitchen cooking night after night, the guys and gals with the nametags hired professionals to do that.
True to JohnH's message, Giada's is indeed booked solid for that night. Upon probing, the hostess revealed that they were booked for the next two nights too. I learned the next day that the restaurant was now booked for the rest of the week. JohnH mentioned to me yesterday that Giada's is now booked solid into August.
"Would you like to sit at the bar? We have cocktails and appetizers available?" You had me at bar. "Great, would you like a tour of the restaurant?" Definitely. I was shown the interior gift shop wall that surrounds drape covered restroom entrance. Then a quick walk past the "open kitchen" where all salad ingredients are displayed in odd shaped bowls alongside a prominently displayed leg of prosciutto as salad chefs construct individual orders. Then, a pasta station where strands of linguini made according to Giada's grandfather's recipe hang on drying racks, followed by a bread bar containing two small ovens imported from Italy (similar to the ones Giada's grandfather used) and the bar where they serve booze and wine similar to what Giada's grandfather used to drink and/or serve. Oh and peekaboo, there's even a painting of Gramps on the wall by the bar. I wonder if he's the guy responsible for the alternating sountrack of songs by The Police and Heart.
Speaking of grandparents and The Police, here's some truth: my grandfather on my Dad's side was a NYPD police officer who moonlighted on weekends with NY Fire Department Captain uncle on my mothers side to run booze from Canada during prohibition. Does this make me qualified to open a mafia? Perhaps.
The bar menu is delivered via iPad and contains drinks and appetizers. There are eight signature cocktails, spread over two pages, tapping on the image flips it around and shows the ingredients. The app took forever to load and was almost unresponsive to tapping. Even the bartender got frustrated with it. I ordered "The Destroyer" ($15), Giada's tribute to Arnold Schwartzenegger's breakout film role.
The bartender apologized upon delivery... unfortunately they ran out ofbasil infused ice spheres, so I got regular cocktail cubes instead.
Bread arrived, including twisted, Parmesian flavored bread sticks (look familiar?), tomato basil flatbreads, and an olive oil sopped loaf of rosemary bread delivered in a Staub cooker.
Along with the breads came an assortment of condiments in questionably shaped bowls. Starting from the left: butter with shaved orange zest, sea salt, crushed red pepper, deep fried capers and a basil and olive oil tapenade.
I ordered the medium sized "Calde" appetizer plate ($46) a selection of six of Giada's select appetizers, which would serve as nosh-ables for a group of 3-4 people waiting for their table to arrive. Normally, a single human might not order all this food, but smaller sized plates didn't decrease portion size, but instead omitted items. I wanted it all.
We'll go through this clockwise from the bottom.
Japanese eggplant rollatini, stuffed with ricotta cheese - slivers of ichiban eggplant with a paste of ricotta on top of a pomodoro sauce and covered with parmesian cheese. Gooey, almost slimy cheesy roll up, pomodoro sauce was full bodied and tasteful, yet shamefully presented as an afterthought.
Deep fried calamari rings and shrimp on a bed of shaved fennel covered in sweet cream sauce. Basic deep fried appetizers, fennel and cream sauce were the stars here, sadly buried at the bottom... again.
Threads of deep fried potato and zucchini atop a teeny tiny spoonful of tomato gravy. Threads tasted like salty crunch and little else... again the sauce is missed, and found when it was too late.
A quartet of deep fried lobster risotto balls with rosemary breading and shaved parmesian, again sitting atop a teeny tiny spoonful of sauce. These were flavorful but the lobster was decimated by the rosemary, to the point of not tasting the lobster at all. Three deep fried foods in a row.
A quartet of chicken meatballs covered in a marsala mushroom reduction, an explosion of tangy tartness amidst a sea of sweet and heavy fried foods. The chicken meatballs were dense and dry, by far my least favorite dish of the array. I appreciate the intention to play the lobster risotto balls off of the chicken meatballs in a larger finger food reinterpetation of traditional chicken marsala, but flavor wise, three or four select slices of breast or thigh tenders (and delicious fat content) would've transformed it from a presentation play to an item that whets your appetite for the full menu.
Finally, in the center shrimp scampi sitting on top of a surprisingly delicious polenta cupcake.
Upon reflection, the most surprising revelation about my brief, appetizers-only excursion into Giada was that the restaurant offers primarily American comfort food recast through an Italian inspired filter, presented in at the higher end of suburban aspirational style.
Service, for the most part was fantastic - upscale, informal and friendly - although I was led astray by the servers, bartender and even Avi the General Manager when asking what each item was.
The bill for one, with one drink came to $65.94 plus tax.
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