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Prime rib will be carved tableside and waiters will wear tuxedos at Sara’s, a place where you “can get away from the noise.”

Andy Wang
December 21, 2018

Michael Symon has had many opportunities to open a Las Vegas restaurant in the last 15 years. He says none of the offers presented to him “felt 100 percent right” until he started talking to Palms.

“What we liked about Palms is it wasn’t as massive as some other casinos,” Symon says. “And the Fertitta brothers who own Station Casinos, it didn’t feel like this big corporate world to us. It felt a little more personal where you actually sat and had a conversation with the owners of the casino to create the deal.”

So Symon decided to open two restaurants at Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta’s Palms. Mabel’s BBQ, a 250-seat meatery with three custom smokers, debuted yesterday. And tucked inside Mabel’s is Sara’s, a 45-seat supper club that should open in late January and give Vegas a dose of old-world glamour.

“We’re going to be carving the smoked prime rib tableside,” Symon says. “We’ll be doing the Dover sole tableside. Waiters will be in tuxedos. We want to bring back some of that old-school flair that Vegas was known for in the early days.”

Sara’s is named after the mother of Symon’s business partner Doug Petkovic. She owned a Cleveland catering company that served tableside classics.

“They had an upscale party center where everybody in Cleveland got married,” Symon says.

The party space served desserts like bananas Foster and cherries jubilee, so those are going to be the desserts at Sara’s, a place where Symon says Vegas visitors “can get away from the noise.” Palms is in the middle of a massive upgrade that will cost close to $700 million, but the Fertittas want to have intimate spaces at their casino-resort. Last month, Marc Vetri’s Vetri Cucina opened at Palms with 80 seats, making it a cozy destination restaurant by Las Vegas standards. On January 11, mixologist Francesco Lafranconi will open Mr. Coco, a 47-seat lounge nestled in Palms’ Fantasy Tower. Mr. Coco will feature caviar service and live music along with cocktails like the Truffles & Bubbles with truffle-infused Cognac.

But there might be no better place at Palms to live large in a small setting than Sara’s.

“It’s going to be incredibly elegant," Symon says. "It’s this beautiful little jewel box with incredibly high-end finishes, antique brass and mirrors, beautifully crafted leather chairs that are all custom. The tabletops are all custom. Some are marble. Some are all oak. Some are marble and oak.”

There will be a stunning bar, a dining room, and an enclosed patio. The menu will be small, with starters like a raw-bar platter and escargot with garlic-parsley butter. There will be five entrees.

“We’ll always have a very simple straightforward pasta dish with shaved truffles,” Symon says. “We’ll always have some kind of lobster preparation.”

The Sara’s team has also been testing roasted and fried chicken preparations with truffles.

“In Vegas, you’re able to do some things that are tougher in mid-market cities,” Symon says. “I can offer six different caviars in Cleveland. I don’t know if they’re going to sell. But in Vegas, we know that we’ll sell them. So that’s very exciting.”

Expect to see tater tots topped with caviar and crème fraîche at Sara’s, which is being billed as a “meateasy” because it’s a hidden restaurant that will serve ingredients like LaFrieda beef. Symon is thinking about putting a dry-aged burger on his late-night menu that will be available “from 11 until whenever.” He hopes that Sara’s, with its off-Strip location, will become an industry hangout for chefs looking to decompress after work. He promises that “the cocktail list is going to be insane with a lot of really hard-to-find stuff.”

Symon, whose Lola in Cleveland opened in 1997, sees Sara’s as a way for him and his wife/business partner Liz to “get back to our roots” while doing something new.

“I think a lot of it is, that’s the kind of chef I’ve always been,” Symon says. “If you look at the Lola menu from 22 years ago to even today, it always had those elements on it. We do Dover sole tableside at Lola. We always enjoy those kinds of things because it’s where Liz, Doug, and I all came from. We just wanted to go all-in with it and do it in a small space with a very limited menu but just be focused on those things we kind of grew up in the business with.”

Sara’s, Symon says, is the type of place he’s looking for “when I go to Vegas now at 49 years old as compared to when I went to Vegas at 25 years old.” And beyond his own restaurants, Symon feels lucky to be at a Vegas property alongside Vetri and Bobby Flay. Flay is scheduled to open his Shark seafood restaurant at Palms next March.

“I’m friends with a million chefs, but they’re two of my five best friends in the business,” Symon says.

These are three veteran chefs who are writing a new chapter at a resort where the Fertittas have recently put up art from their personal collection that includes pieces by Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Takashi Murakami.

“You see all these Damien Hirst pieces, it’s like, holy shit, man, it’s real,” Symon says.

Adding to the excitement is how creating restaurants can still make a chef feel, even after all these years in the business. Doing it in Vegas is a little different, Symon says, because Petkovic isn’t yelling at him about spending too much money on a range. Symon laughs. He’s really amped about Sara’s.

“I love a restaurant opening, man,” he says. “They always charge me up. I love working with the young cooks and seeing the excitement in their faces. I love being on the line. I’m always in love with the process.”

Sara’s, 4321 W. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas

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