The queen of high-roller restaurants in Las Vegas sets up shop at Vancouver's Parq
If you're a developer looking to open a high-roller restaurant, you want Elizabeth Blau by your side.
Blau, the queen of Vegas dining, created restaurants for Steve Wynn at both Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas. That meant she was instrumental in bringing superstar chefs like Michael Mina, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and Paul Bartolotta to the Strip. Blau also partnered with late, great rock 'n' roll chef Kerry Simon on his restaurants at Hard Rock and the Palms, and she now operates her own Vegas empire with Buddy V's, Honey Salt and Andiron Steak & Sea.
In addition, Blau is a globetrotting hospitality consultant whose current endeavors include a Mohegan Sun project in South Korea and the new Golden State Warriors arena complex. She's also opening an outpost of Buddy V's in San Antonio.
And this fall, Blau will unveil eight restaurants and lounges at Parq Vancouver, a glittery new casino-resort and entertainment center opening next to the B.C. Place stadium in downtown Vancouver.
Blau's husband and business partner, Kim Canteenwalla, is running day-to-day food-and-beverage operations at Parq, which includes an outpost of Honey Salt. Canteenwalla, a Canadian-born chef who's cooked at prominent resorts in Vegas, Toronto and Asia, is working closely with local suppliers to showcase the bountiful produce and seafood available in Vancouver.
But Blau knew that she needed to look beyond Vegas and Vancouver for inspiration. Vancouver is a city with a big, well-heeled Asian population, and Parq wants to attract top-tier gamblers who stay and play in places like Macau. So Blau, along with Parq developers Scott Menke and Diana Bennett of Paragon Gaming, headed to Asia for research. They ate their way through China, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore.
These are some of the things that Blau learned about creating the ultimate high-roller restaurant.
Quick Access to High-Stakes Gaming Is Important
At Parq, you'll be able to walk out of elegant Chinese restaurant 1886 and immediately see a baccarat table.
This is something Blau picked up on at resorts like Wynn Macau, which has a super-high-limit gaming area adjacent to its Wing Lei restaurant.
"Some of the high-limit rooms are literally outside of the Chinese restaurants," Blau says.
Rich People Love Variety
The high-rolling gamblers known as "whales" are used to getting whatever they want, whenever they want. So 1886 and its team of Chinese cooks will serve hyper-specific regional cuisine: Cantonese, Hunan, Szechuan and Shanghai. Chef Richard Chen, who used to run Wynn's Michelin-starred Wing Lei in Vegas, is consulting on the menu.
There are private rooms for lavish banquets with bird's-nest soup and big plates of fresh fish and crab. There's also a bar area where you can grab some noodles or enjoy a quick late-night meal.
Blau and Canteenwalla are also operating Parq's Mrkt East, which was inspired by Singapore night markets and will serve Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Singaporean and Vietnamese dishes. Mrkt East, which will also have an extensive coffee and tea menu, will open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There will be dim sum and then some.
"Mrkt East is on one side of the building, and you've got 1886 on the other side," Blau says. "We really have both sides covered in terms of speed and ease."
You Must Be Able to Serve Simple Food Perfectly
"When you're doing a barbecue duck or barbecue pork, you're not hiding it under tons of sauces and flavors," Blau says. "So you better start with really wonderful-quality proteins. But you also have to have people who are really skilled technicians, along with the best equipment."
Canteenwalla spent five years designing the kitchens at Parq, working closely with manufacturers like Electrolux on specialty equipment. Parq has, for example, a tandoor at Mrkt East. There are high-heat woks and banquet-ready appliances that will let Parq cater Chinese weddings and other huge parties. And there are pantries designed to hold snack foods for high-rollers who don't want to interrupt their gaming session with a long dinner.
It helps that Blau never stops thinking about food. When she calls me, she's in Cape Cod, where she's been picking blueberries and using them to make pancakes, muffins and spoon cakes. She's been digging for littleneck and quahog clams. In many ways, enjoying this kind of simplicity can be the ultimate luxury.
Blau can't wait to open in Vancouver, where she loves the freshness and flavor of the herbs, micro greens, lettuces, oysters, fish, crabs, dairy products, free-range eggs with orange yolks and so much more.
"All these subtle differences really make the food quality game-changing," says Blau, who knows that game-changing is the baseline when your customers are high-rollers.