Photos courtesy Cleo, MGM Resorts International and by Chris Summers
Cleo Brings the Mediterranean to Las Vegas
What do you get when you mix old Hollywood glamour with relaxed Mediterranean charm and cuisine? The answer is Cleo, which features the shareable contemporary Mediterranean plates of culinary mastermind Chef Danny Elmaleh, a CIA graduate who is behind many of sbe’s most renowned restaurants. Locations span the globe, with three in Los Angeles (including the original at Hollywood and Vine), and South Beach Miami, NYC, Bahamas, Kuwait and the Las Vegas outpost at the SLS.
As you enter the restaurant’s pyramid-shaped entrance you are greeted by a larger-than-life image of Cleopatra. Inside you’ll find an open kitchen in the center of the dining room spotlighting a brick wood-fired oven extending to the ceiling sending forth intoxicating aromas; elegant crystal chandeliers; Moroccan-tiled floor; semi-private booths with curtains; a mélange of tan, red, white and black tones; shelves lined with antique radios, globes and old books; and old time black and white photos depicting Mediterranean scenes.
Running operations in the kitchen is Los Angeles-raised Sous Chef Ivan Saavedra. Chef Ivan began his career with sbe right after graduating Le Cordon Bleu/Pasadena in 2009, opening the Katsuya in Laguna Beach, and also worked at the Hollywood Mercato di Vetro, Katsuya Glendale and the original Cleo at Hollywood and Vine before coming to Las Vegas to open Cleo when the SLS debuted in 2014. Chef says he likes Las Vegas for its lower cost of living than L.A. and that “people come here one time, and they keep coming back.” Chef adds that the scratch kitchen keeps everything fresh and he personally likes the food so much he actually comes in to dine on his days off.
The menu is described as shareable plates, but portion sizes are a bit larger than tapas. During our visit we were especially impressed with the vegetable dishes, so much so that I almost considered becoming a vegetarian. Standouts were the cauliflower with vadouvan and cashews; mushrooms—a mix of crimini, shiitaki and shimegi with dates, hazelnuts, puffed rice and red wine reduction; and Brussels sprouts with capers, almonds and vinaigrette featuring leaves of the sprouts flash fried for a crispy effect that reminded me of eating salt and vinegar chips. The meats section is well represented by roast lamb—Sonoma lamb presented like steak with Israeli couscous and yogurt-like lebaneh (Middle Eastern yoghurt cheese). Sweet finales include fig & almond panna cotta with Amaretto and almond brittle and flourless chocolate cake with baked banana, Ecuadorian Arriba chocolate and vanilla gelato.
Complementing the global fare are 37 wines from around the globe, with varietals from France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Napa, Portugal and Spain; specialty cocktails such as Old Vegas with Aviation Gin, muddled orange, lemon juice and a splash of Aperol; and a better than average beer list with the likes of Duvel, Chimay Red and the Greek Mythos (but sadly no local beer!).
The majority of the menu dials in at around $10-$20 per item, and a daily social hour from 5-7 p.m. offers several food items priced from $7-9 (like lamb sliders, flatbreads and Moroccan fried chicken), select beer for $4 and specialty cocktails and house wine for $8. Such reasonable price points are likely a significant reason why the eatery attracts so many repeat customers and a fair amount of locals, and Cleo’s outstanding quality results in excellent value.
Open for dinner Thu.-Mon.
(closed Tue. and Wed.)
Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak Serving Family Style Sunday Roast
Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak at The Mirage is now giving us even more of a reason to look forward to Sundays. Its once-weekly Sunday Roast features a three-course feast that I guarantee will fill you up. Reminiscent of family dinners, each course is served family style with an appetizer/salad course, protein course with sides and dessert. The menu changes monthly, and during our visit in June we were treated to cheddar jalapeño biscuits and housemade beef jerky; pickled artichoke and heirloom tomato salad enhanced with goat cheese and huckleberry vinaigrette; succulent, juicy roast Berkshire pork loin with sausage, bacon and chicharrón with sides of Yorkshire pudding, Grandma’s mushroom slaw, sweet potato basalmic onion rosti and Heritage corn casserole; and dessert of strawberry short cake—lemon pound cake, strawberries and Chantilly cream.
Head Chef Matt Chacho, who has been at the restaurant since it opened, related his grandma was a huge influence on him and the mushroom slaw is her recipe; he used all of the pork and created barbecue bacon, (which to me had the consistency and shape of a piece of steak and the smoky goodness of bacon); and the slightly spicy corn casserole is a collaboration with Executive Sous Chef George Alonzo and is a play on Mexican street corn.
Several menu items spend time on the wood-fired grill, which uses white oak because it burns hotter and longer without imparting aggressive flavors, such as the tender grilled octopus, braised then charred with roasted pepper and purees of charred leek and almond. The steaks also pick up the smoky goodness, like the Prime NY Strip I was fortunate enough to enjoy.
While the Sunday Roast is only served one night a week, the rest of the menu is reason enough to find your way to Heritage Steak and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of The Mirage atrium and aroma and flavors of the wood-burning hearth.
Heritage Steak is open daily from 5 to 10 p.m.
Giordano’s—My Preferred Version of Chicago-style Pizza
If you thought all deep dish pizza was thick and doughy, you will need to reevaluate your assessment after tasting the pies at Giordano’s. Such was my opinion prior to my first visit to the artisan pizza restaurant founded in 1974, and after trying it am now sold on their version of Chicago-style pizza.
There are two locations in Southern Nevada, one in the Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally’s and the one in Boca Park I visited. The “Eat Pizza” in neon lights should get you in the mood for America’s favorite food, and other décor accoutrements are Edison lights, an industrial ceiling, white brick wall and a collage of pics of Chicago landmarks.
General Manager Evan Faircloth is passionate about the brand he represents, and aptly described the crust as a “dam to hold the ingredients.” The pizzas hold true to the 200-year-old Mama Giordano’s Easter Pie family recipe, the Italian matriarch of the family the pizza chain was founded by and is named for. The deep dish versions (there are also classic hand-stretched thin crust options) are baked low and slow in a baking pan, so plan on a 45 minute wait, which will be well worth your time. Whereas most pizza restaurants fire their ovens at 1,000°, Giordano’s goes with a 450° temp, as Evan explains, “any hotter the outside of the crust would burn.” He also relates that if the dough is too thick you can’t taste the ingredients completely.
Speaking of the ingredients, Giordano’s does not cut any corners. The mozzarella is sourced from Wisconsin, a state legendary for its high quality cheese; and tomatoes for the sauce are hand-picked in Northern California and are deskinned by a machine without the use of chemicals. Anyone who knows pizza knows the importance of water’s effect on the flavor of the dough, and Giordano’s has that covered, with a machine that conditions the water to replicate the minerals found in the Lake Michigan water flowing from the taps in Chicago.
While your deep dish pizza is baking, there are several non-pizza items to enjoy. Our favorites were the artichoke fritters, bruschetta, chicken bites and mozzarella triangles. Several variations of salads include the chopped chicken salad with chicken breast, bruschetta tomatoes, bacon, pasta and blue cheese tossed in a honey-mustard dressing.
One guarantee is you won’t leave hungry, as I found I was nearly full after only one slice of the deep dish (chicken sausage deluxe with mushrooms & spinach), and the small size lasagna layered with ricotta (Mama Giordano’s recipe!) my guest ordered was enough to feed at least two. But you will want to save just a bit of room for the fresh-baked salted caramel oversized skillet cookie, named for the vessel it is cooked in.
Another guarantee is the price you will pay will be quite reasonable. The small deep dish 12” run from $18-$22, and although the menu says it will feed 1-2, unless you are a competitive eater, it could easily feed four; the aforementioned “small” lasagna is only $12.25; and appetizers are in the $9-$12 range.
Evan informed me that 90% of the customers opt for the pizza with 22% selecting take out, 18% delivery and the remaining 60% preferring dine-in. Without a doubt I’ll be back for the pizza and am now a convert to this version of Chicago-style pizza pie.
8730 W. Charleston Blvd. @ Boca Park,