Q&A: Marc Vetri
He may not be as TV-famous as Bobby Flay, who’s opening a new seafood restaurant called Shark at the Palms this spring, or as Food Network fave Michael Symon, who just opened his Mabel’s BBQ at the off-Strip resort, but Marc Vetri is just as significant as a new entry to the Las Vegas restaurant scene. The James Beard Award winner is the chef and founder of Philadelphia’s 20-year-old Italian cuisine institution Vetri and in mid-November, he brought an extension of that acclaimed dining destination to the Palms, fortifying its growing reputation as a new Vegas culinary hot spot.
Can you talk a little about your approach to creating and maintaining a restaurant that has kept the original Vetri so popular for so long?
It’s a wonder to me as well as it is to anybody else. Twenty years is a lot of years. It’s certainly the restaurant I focus on the most, the one I reinvest in the most. It was the first and it is always evolving, not resting on its laurels, not settling, always asking what’s next and how can we make this more interesting and thoughtful. It has evolved over the years from simple, rustic food to more elegant food to tasting menus and amazing wine lists to different events and having a school on the second floor. Yet it’s always like eating in my living room.
How much did you have to change your approach or customize it to create Vetri Cucina in Las Vegas?
I don’t really think we changed much. The big thing is our culture in the restaurant. What I get from a lot of servers is that we run it unlike a Vegas restaurant, and they seem to like that. We’re the owners so the hotel doesn’t dictate the rules, and they really like that. It feels like there are a lot of locals in Las Vegas who work in hospitality, and the last thing they want to do to celebrate their anniversary or have a special time is head to the Strip, so I really wanted it to be that spot, the restaurant where they can park for free and hop in the elevator and ride right up. There’s so much more to Vegas than the Strip and the more I’m there, the more I like it.
What attracted you to the Palms?
Number one was the timing. I had sold everything else (other restaurants) and only had Vetri to run, and that’s really the only thing I would open up now. The Palms was interesting because it’s off the Strip, it seems more local-friendly and it’s a little smaller. And then the obvious thing, when you head up in that elevator and look out those windows in the restaurant, it’s pretty magical.
Italian cuisine is still so popular in Las Vegas and around the country. Do you think diners’ attitudes and expectations have changed over the years?
I think they have. Italian food is still (thought of) as a homey comfort food, but I don’t even think of our food as Italian. I think of it more as having the spirit of Italy, just using what’s around you and highlighting the flavors of one ingredient. At the beginning of the year, every four or five years, some national magazine says food from Italy is in again, and I didn’t know it was out. These days there is definitely room for more higher-end foods from Italy, but who doesn’t like some meatballs and some red sauce and some chicken parm too?
You finished another book this year, Mastering Pizza. Was that project different or more intense than your other cookbooks?
Yeah. I think it was the most amount of research that went into this book. Mastering Pasta kind of started that and then evolved into a little more science about the subject, and Pizza took that to the next level.
Did working on it change the way you think about pizza?
It’s more about understanding why things happen in a certain way and being able to figure things out. There’s a recipe but there are so many variables, using different flours and now there’s the different ovens. Some people have the outside wood-burning oven at home now. So I wanted to make sure there are directions in there for everyone.