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Giada De Laurentiis has become a megastar with simple Italian recipes for the home cook. Now, she's opening an ambitious restaurant—her very first—on the Vegas Strip. F&W's Kate Krader gets a preview and explains why it's destined to win big.
Giada De Laurentiis steps into the lobby of Las Vegas's Nobu Hotel, hidden inside Caesars Palace. She's inconspicuous in flats and a long black coat. Still, her wavy chestnut hair and startling cheekbones are unmistakable.
A woman standing at the reception desk recognizes her immediately. "Eric," she says to her husband, who is checking in. The woman is frozen; her husband doesn't turn around.
"Hiya, Eric," says Giada, pressing his arm as she walks past him, into the slot-machine frenzy.
"Eric, did you see her? Giada!" the woman squeals. Her trip to Vegas already has its highlight.
De Laurentiis has an army of followers from her Food Network shows, like Everyday Italian, and her seven cookbooks, including the new Giada's Feel Good Food. Now she's opening a restaurant for her fans, and everyone else in town, called Giada. The location is Caesars' brand-new boutique hotel, The Cromwell. Not only is De Laurentiis one of the first female chefs to have a spot on the Strip, she's also nabbed one of its most enviable pieces of real estate: a corner of Las Vegas Boulevard that some 40 million people pass by each year.
Enormous letters on the facade of The Cromwell spell out G-I-A-D-A for all to see. Set on the second floor, the restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the Bellagio fountains. At the entrance, an antipasto bar offers a selection of De Laurentiis's dishes: artichokes braised in olive oil, then topped with cheesy bread crumbs; meatballs stuffed with ricotta and orzo.
The menu at Giada will feature many of the beloved Italian dishes the chef is known for, but with an ambitious twist. "Chicken cacciatore has followed me around for years," she says. "I've always made simple versions for home cooks. This one will have a wow factor." At the restaurant, she transforms the braised cut-up chicken her fans love into a succulent whole bird, rubbed with red wine butter under the skin and roasted with fennel, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers and other seasonal ingredients. She adds kale, prosciutto and figs in her chopped salad, scattering shaved Gorgonzola on top instead of Parmesan.
There is no detail too small for De Laurentiis to consider. Recently, her fashion stylist, Sam Saboura, arrived at her Los Angeles home before an event. He found the entrance blocked by nearly a dozen chairs she was testing for the restaurant. "Seriously, Giada?" he asked. "Seriously," she replied. "I need to know how narrow, how wide, how sturdy they are. If I don't sit in each chair, how am I going to know?"
De Laurentiis recently heard that the great Alice Waters sits in every seat at every table at her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, to ensure that each diner has a good experience. "I'm going to sit in every chair in my restaurant, just like Alice Waters," she says firmly.
Giada's Italian Dim Sum Brunch
For brunch at Giada, servers roll custom-made carts around the dining room. Giada De Laurentiis got the idea to serve Italian dim sum from family meals she had as a child. "My grandfather had a soft spot in his heart for Hong Kong–style dim sum," says the chef about the legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis. "He would take the family out to experience the magic of silver carts being pushed around a restaurant, bringing little bite-size presents of food."
Panettone cinnamon rolls: Small, sweet rolls made from the beloved Italian cake.
Silver dollar lemon-ricotta pancakes: Mini pancakes stacked three or four high, served with maple syrup, marmalade and house-made hazelnut-cocoa spread.
Pizzette con uova: Just-made little pizzas with toppings like a runny egg and Parmesan cheese.
Eggs Amatriciana: Baked eggs with tomatoes and pancetta, served in individual cocottes.
Chopped Kale Salad with Prosciutto and Figs
Orzo-and-Ricotta Meatballs with Marinara
Lemon Spaghetti with Shrimp
Roast Chicken Cacciatore with Red Wine Butter
Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragù
Ricotta-Orange Pound Cake with Prosecco Strawberries