La Strega—There’s a Good Witch in the Kitchen
The trend of extremely talented chefs from the Vegas Strip venturing out to the suburbs to launch their own restaurant is one that is most welcome and that will hopefully continue. Case in point is La Strega, located in the former space of Due Forni on Town Center near the 215 Freeway.
The gifted chef is Gina Marinelli, whose resume includes stints as executive chef at D.O.C.G. at The Cosmopolitan and several years ago as a line cook at Michael Mina’s Nob Hill at the MGM Grand. The Utah native attended high school in Florida and after earning a degree in English at the University of Florida and later working in sales, discovered her true calling. She took the plunge to pursue a career doing something she loves and began taking classes at Cordon Bleu Orlando, while working as a dishwasher at Roy’s to help fund her schooling. This humble beginning in the industry is key, for as any chef knows, it is a vital position that a restaurant can not function without and gives an eye to the inner workings of a restaurant’s operation.
The interior of La Strega is a complete makeover from the former pizza restaurant, with a décor reflecting the feminine side of Italian design, with a hand-painted wall mural by local artist Holly Rae Vaughn evoking the Amalfi Coast, clean looking white tile wall, globe chandeliers, hardwood floor, an open kitchen and tables enhanced with fresh flowers.
Chef Gina quips that a key to Italian cuisine is to keep it simple, using about five ingredients. All of the pasta except for the dry linguini are made fresh, and one of the dishes Chef is most proud of is the aforementioned Linguini Vongole dressed with Manila clams, preserved lemon and chives. The Spaghetti Pomodoro may be a reflection of her time working with Scott Conant, and is a simple but outstanding dish with blistered tomatoes and basil. The Farroto with farro, goat cheese and corn is her take on risotto, and the braised pork with Marinelli polenta is so named for it’s her native Italian grandmother’s recipe. The pizzas are quite a bargain for their reasonable cost ($14-$18) size and splendor, such as the Salsiccia with a cream sauce made from the broccoli-like rapini and spiced with pepperoncino.
While the seasonal menu is a mix of Northern and Southern Italian fare, there’s also evidence of a fusion of cuisines, with items such as Japanese Himachi with chili gremolata; the Greek-like Adriatic Insalata with feta, olives and arugula; and Nigerian Prawns with summer squash and couscous.
Dessert options include the unique Bomba: an addictive Italian-style donut with chocolate and strawberry cream, Harry’s berries, lemon sugar and crisped mint; and Panecota with fig compote and bay leaf.
All of the above are complemented by a wine program overseen by Sommelier Stephanie Torres (featured in the Twinkle Toast column in our July, 2019 issue) who works closely with Chef Gina. When asked what prompted her to join the La Strega team, she replied, “Honestly, it was Gina’s passion for cooking and teaching. I love being a part of a chef/sommelier team that is focused on service and helping others in the industry grow.” I had nothing but high praise for the selections Stephanie made for me, which included the Italian Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Scaia” Rosso from the Magical Reds section of the menu. Stephanie has the good fortune to be able to print in-house, so the list typically changes a couple of times a week; during my visit it contained a few dozen by the glass and the bottle selection had nearly 100 choices mainly from Italy, France, Napa and Sonoma.
The successful operation of any restaurant, in addition to the quality of its food, is dependent on the performance of its waitstaff. In the case of server Sheena Dressel, La Strega is in good hands, as she is not only extremely pleasant and professional, but quite knowledgeable about the menu items she offers to customers. Sheena says, “I am beyond grateful to be a part of La Strega, where we bring something special to the table with our hospitality program. We create a dining experience for our guests, while bringing them great food from a talented, and compassionate chef. I’ve never worked at a place where that was the top priority.”
La Strega is Italian for witch, but in this case, the witch in the kitchen is a very good witch, creating magic and casting a spell of deliciousness through stellar renditions of the freshest flavors of Italy and beyond. Any extra money you may spend on gas driving to the outskirts of Summerlin will be well worth it, especially when you experience the quality of the benevolent witch’s cuisine, which is also quite reasonably priced.
3555 S. Town Center Dr. #105, 702-722-2099
Jade Offering a Tour of Asia Through Décor and Cuisine
The newly-opened Jade Asian Kitchen and Noodles at the JW Marriott/Rampart Casino has replaced its Shizen Japanese restaurant. The new eatery is part of the resort’s 20th anniversary fanfare and renovation, and this new offering offers greatly expanded options and a variety of environments. Located in the Promenade restaurant row off of the casino on the north side of the resort, the first thing that will catch your eye is the majestic entrance with two lions on carved pedestals on either sides of the door, greeting all who enter.
While the previous Shizen iteration only offered a sushi bar and teppanyaki tables, at the new Jade you’ll find no less than six environments. Inside the quite spacious 10,000-square-foot restaurant with seats for more than 400 diners you find an inviting lounge with TVs and classy brick walls and windows with a view of the outdoor patio; sushi bar, with seating at the bar or at a communal table, where chefs personally and precisely prepare sashimi, nigiri and rolls; robata grill and noodle bar where you can view the chefs in action grilling over binchotan-charred coals; a patio with koi fish swimming in ponds, the sounds of waterfalls and a beautiful landscape; a room with two teppanyaki tables, each with seating for 20, where chefs entertain diners as they prepare choices of steak, chicken, vegetables and seafood; and a dining room beautifully outfitted with a modern décor with high ceilings and wood accents where you can enjoy a quite extensive array of Asian delights.
Your dining experience can turn into a dinner show of sorts if you sit in the teppanyaki room, where the chefs will entertain you with the classic onion volcano, juggling of utensils, creation of a fiery smiley face and the eggroll joke, while also expertly preparing delicious (and quite filling) renditions of fried rice, vegetables and options of steak, shellfish and chicken. For further entertainment, a dish that brings the wow factor is the Troy Roll—a compilation of seared salmon, spicy tuna, lotus root, fennel, bonito truffle crush and habanero aioli—which is lit afire when it arrives at your table. Likewise for its presentation alone, the Prime Red Snapper Whole Fish (offered fried with spicy soy sauce or steamed with ginger) is served with the whole fish carcass on the plate and is topped with fish roe.
The restaurant lives up to its Asian Kitchen and Noodles moniker with choices from China, Japan and Korea. Starters I recommend are salt and pepper calamari enhanced with green chili and nouc mam sauce; and Green Beans Tempura served with an Asian green ceviche. Other crowd-pleasing dishes include the robata grill’s Prawns with shrimp crunch and shishito butter blanc and the vegan 48-Hour Aged Tofu with ssamjang and jangajji; and the noodle bar’s Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen with pork and soy broth, BBQ pork, egg and mushroom dadegi.
Those with a sweet tooth are surely not left out, with desserts including Miso Crème Brulee, Black Sesame Panna Cotta and Jade Cheesecake. All of the above are complemented with a full selection of Asian beer and Japanese whisky and 20 different sakes, as well as a full wine list and specialty cocktails such as the Signature Jade with matcha green tea, sake and coconut cream.
Jade offers not only an upscale environment and wide range of Asian cuisine, but price points to suit anyone’s budget, with menu items as low as $5 and the vast majority under $20. This new option gives us yet another reason to venture out to Summerlin. Hours are 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 5-11 p.m. Friday & Saturday.