It's part of a massive undertaking to transform the Monte Carlo into two luxury properties: Park MGM and The NoMad.
Bryce Shuman spent part of last Monday afternoon showing his pastry chefs how to make buckwheat cereal.
"We take whole buckwheat kernels, hydrate it 100 percent, dehydrate it almost 99 percent, fry it at a really high temperature, and it puffs like popcorn," Shuman says. "The first time I saw this, it was like magic. It's one of those techniques I'll carry with me always."
At Primrose, the new Las Vegas restaurant that Shuman is soft-opening today, the magical puffed buckwheat clusters are being folded into granola with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, organic oats, currants and golden raisins that have been soaked in brandy.
It's a good example of how Shuman, who was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2015 for his work at New York's Betony, is elevating the three-meal-a-day restaurant in Vegas.
In some ways, Primrose, located next to the lobby of what's currently the Monte Carlo resort, is the all-day café with accessible food that every casino requires.
But it's also much more than that. Primrose is the first piece of the new Park MGM's restaurant collection. It's part of a massive undertaking to transform the Monte Carlo into two luxury properties: Park MGM and The NoMad. The hotel Primrose inhabits should be officially re-branded as Park MGM next March. The NoMad is slated to debut late 2018.
In the meantime, Primrose and an outpost of steakhouse Bavette's (a Park MGM restaurant that Brendan Sodikoff of Chicago's famed Au Cheval is opening soon) are getting the party started.
Park MGM, where Mario Batali's Eataly is in the works as well, is also home to a new theater where Bruno Mars has an ongoing residency. The resort is adjacent to the T-Mobile Arena and its new NHL team. Park MGM and The NoMad want to attract a young and worldly crowd who want a different Vegas experience.
Which is to say, what happens in Vegas doesn't necessarily have to stay in Vegas.
Sydell Group CEO Andrew Zobler, who is developing Park MGM and The NoMad with MGM Resorts International, says he's working on numerous other deals with prominent restaurant and bar operators.
"I'll give you some foreshadowing about the personality of the hotel and the [Park MGM] brand," he says. "Vegas has typically been about sex and sex being kind of naughty and something that happens late-night. This is about sex in its own way, but sex you really feel good about and want to tell your best friend about, maybe even your uncle."
"It's really about intent," Zobler says. "You meet somebody for the first time. Is it really about nailing that person? Or is it, 'Maybe I met this person I can spend my whole life with'? Maybe that's the fantasy even on the first night."
So here's how this applies to Primrose: The 378-seat restaurant, designed by Martin Brudnizki (who worked on The Ivy, Le Caprice and Annabel's in London), feels residential. It resembles a fabulous country house.
"There's a series of rooms, none are really big," Zobler says. "It's a place you want to bring a date and have a real moment as opposed to a restaurant that's really loud or raucous and really slick. Primrose is really homey, really clubby. Hopefully, this encourages intimate moments among your friends or with your date."
Guests at Primrose can enjoy intimate moments along with a menu inspired by the South of France. There's a lot of fresh fish and vegetables, and Shuman likes cooking with fresh citrus and different vinegars and olive oils. This is a place that will showcase all kinds of open-fire cooking, on a gigantic grill created by Bill Blazvick. The grill has four rotisseries, and Shuman is roasting whole suckling pigs.
"It's going to be so much fun," Shuman says. "There's going to be pigs spinning constantly."
Shuman is also using the grill, which is powered by peach wood, almond wood and mesquite charcoal, to create his version of a chicken club sandwich.
"We're getting a great organic bird, brining it with the same kind of brine we used for whole roasted chickens at Betony," he says. "We're grilling it over the wood fire. We're also grilling the avocado."
Shuman is also dehydrating and then crisping chicken skin for the sandwich, which features heirloom tomato and is made on local sourdough.
"I'm not going to take a chicken club and make it weird, put squab on it," Shuman says. "It's straightforward honest cooking."
Shuman also mentions a lightly cured salmon carpaccio with unripe green tomatoes, thin strips of celery, celery leaves, dill and crunchy salt. It's served with a vinaigrette that includes Indian lime pickle, fermented citrus and chiles.
Shuman's making a short rib, like he did at Betony, which is poached in beef fat for two days and served with a potato puree and butter lettuce. But he's also using that meat for a sandwich with cheese and fried onions on a potato roll. Shuman says he enjoys offering his take on American classics.
The chef's challenge, of course, is cooking delicious, creative food while serving what could be 1,000 guests a day, some of whom had a really long night and want to roll in for breakfast at 2 p.m.
Shuman's got some time to figure it out.
"We're doing a soft opening," he says. "There's a long preview period [before the October grand opening] where people can get a sense of it. It will be priced accordingly."
Primrose (open from 6 a.m. until midnight Sunday through Thursday, and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday) is serving omelets, salads and burgers, but also lacto-fermented pickles. There's roasted chicken with artichokes barigoule. There's bouillabaisse with loup de mer, clams, mussels, octopus and scallops. Shuman has big plans for whole-animal feasts and a late-night menu. Cocktails from beverage director Emily Yett, formerly at Herbs & Rye (the 2016 Tales of The Cocktail winner for Best American High-Volume Cocktail Bar) off-Strip in Vegas, are available anytime the restaurant is open. Yett is focusing on light, fresh drinks with herbs and other ingredients grown in Primrose's garden.
"When people come to Vegas, part of the fun is you can experience a lot of different things," Shuman says.
And you can do this without getting up from your chair at Primrose.
But beyond the restaurant, there's an art-filled lobby with David Hockney paintings and a giant Henrique Oliveira ceiling installation that looks like the roots of a tree. You can also walk through the terraced garden next to Primrose and visit three hotel pools. The design and greenery of this path is "a little like Broken Shaker," Zobler says, referring to the cocktail bar that started as a pop-up at Sydell's Freehand Miami hotel and has since expanded to Chicago and Los Angeles.
"We really are rethinking the big casino hotel and how to make it more intimate and more personal and be more like the authentic kind of experience you get at a lifestyle hotel," Zobler says.
In terms of Primrose, "What we're trying to say is the masses are a lot smarter than they used to be and they're more demanding," Zobler says. "It's not just the elite that want to sit in a great restaurant and eat great food. I think a lot of people do."
And if a fantastic meal leads to some amazing sex (perhaps in the morning or afternoon) that makes you want to call a relative, that's even better.
"It's about fantasy, but it's not about being shameful," Zobler says. "The idea that sex is dirty is to some extent outdated. Cosmo and some of the other hotels, they're celebrating the idea of late-night, slick, almost dirty, naughty sex. What we want to inspire is a cleaner point of view that's more modern."
Primrose, 3770 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702-730-7777