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Heidi Knapp Rinella

SLS restaurants bring L.A. to Las Vegas

22 August 2014

LAS VEGAS -- The Sahara is gone.

And wow, is it gone. Although the venerable hotel wasn’t torn down to make way for the SLS Las Vegas Hotel Casino, which opens Saturday, the property has been renovated and reconfigured to the extent that its origins are mostly unrecognizable. It’s hard to imagine, for example, that the old House of Lords restaurant is the new high-limit gaming area.

But the Sahara also lives — through the use of its icons throughout the resort. Among them is a Sahara logo that’s part of the carpeting near the front desk; a copy of an old Sahara playing card is inlaid in the carpeting in a restaurant lounge area. And those aren’t the only memories of Old Vegas that are evoked during a walk through the resort. Sam Nazarian, founder, chairman and CEO of parent company SBE, reportedly is a friend of Terry O’Neill, a British photographer legendary for his images of old Hollywood (and, it follows, old Vegas), which also are reproduced throughout the property in the carpeting and on art installations on the walls.

In other areas, the SLS is thoroughly contemporary. A guest may find, for example, that the headboard of his or her hotel-room bed is illuminated from inside, and that the bathroom, hidden behind a series of sliding doors, is configured in a three-part row along the front wall to help block noise from the hallway. And to help ensure that what happens in Las Vegas really does remain here, each room door is marked not only by a number but also a picture to help prevent a lot of pounding on the wrong doors.

But while the resort has a lot to offer, its restaurants tend to stand out, and to reflect SBE’s Los Angeles roots.

“We’re proud to be able to execute this,” Nazarian said, “to be able to offer household names in other markets at a value proposition. They’re some of the best brands in the country.”

Nazarian said the restaurant portfolio was designed for a $15 to $20 check average. Offering a comparison, he said that at his favorite Mediterranean restaurant, Estiatorio Milos at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the check may run $150, while at the SLS’ Cleo, checks will average about $45. Cleo, whose flagship opened at Los Angeles’ Redbury Hotel in 2010, has a monumental depiction of Cleopatra out front and is decorated with green and white tile, with a marble-topped four-sided seating area at its center and a prominent wood-burning oven. Dinner only.

The Griddle Cafe on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood also has an outpost at SLS, decorated in diner style with rustic wooden tables and used-brick walls, fronted by a pillar covered in scratch-and-sniff wallpaper. It’s hung with signs proclaiming homilies such as “It’s hard to do the right thing when syrup is involved” and “French roast, French fries, French toast, French kissing,” and serves diner favorites including Mom’s French Toast, red velvet pancakes and a shrimp BLT. It’ll be open 24/7.

800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria is self-explanatory; it’ll serve California tomatoes on pizza crust made with flour imported from Italy. Nazarian said it was designed with a $10 check in mind. A quick-service restaurant, it’ll be open from lunch through late-night.

Katsuya, named for chef Katsuya Uechi, is marked by a traditional stone monolith inscribed with Japanese characters, but inside it’s purely contemporary and minimalist, with a largely neutral color scheme with chartreuse accents and a sushi bar in the center. It’ll specialize in sushi, sashimi and rolls, dinner only.

Umami Burger is the property’s sports book and its decor reflects that with multiple video screens, including one at each booth; the booth’s inhabitants can choose the programming (presumably a game) they want to watch. The adjacent Beer Garden is outdoors along the Strip, separated from the madding crowd by large panels decorated with scenes that are vaguely Alpine; the screens make the space easier to see out of than into. The theme continues with antler-bedecked light fixtures, and misters for summer comfort. Lunch through late-night weekdays, breakfast through late-night weekends.

Antler chandeliers also decorate the upstairs SLS Buffet, where designer Philippe Starck reportedly had a Midwestern lodge in mind. The walls look like they were ripped out of a log cabin, floors are stone and whimsical displays of items like old plates and college pennants decorate the area. The main buffet line extends across the rear of the space; in a separate area in the center of the room employees will make fresh doughnuts and crepes and serve gelato and dessert shooters. The buffet will serve breakfast weekdays, brunch on weekends and dinner daily. A Terry O’Neill gallery is outside the entrance to the buffet.

The Perq is a coffee shop with grab-and-go salads, panini, sweet and savory pastries, gelato and ice-cream sandwiches. Early morning through late evening.

Ku Noodle is one of two SLS restaurants from nationally known chef Jose Andres, who has Jaleo and China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan. It’ll serve hand-pulled noodles in a white-on-white interior with white-tiled open kitchen and chrome seating. Billed as Andres’ “homage” to Asian cuisine, it’ll have a full menu and will be open from lunch through late-night daily.

The centerpiece of the new resort’s culinary offerings will be Andres’ Bazaar Meat, which executive chef David Thomas said is “definitely a new concept for Jose and a new concept for the Bazaar brand.” There also are Bazaar restaurants in Los Angeles and Miami, but Thomas said the Las Vegas version is different.

“There’s a line that runs through all of them,” he said. “When you walk into the space you know you’re in a Bazaar, but they all have a life of their own.”

Approaching the host stand, he said, guests will see the flames of the wood-burning kitchen elements, which will burn various types of wood (including grapevine) depending on the item being cooked.

The emphasis, he said, is on “simplicity and proper execution of dishes. Really what we’re focusing on is the integrity of the ingredients. Once we find that product and we’re happy with how it’s being produced, it’s up to us to execute it perfectly.”

Nazarian said the resort will have an entrance that will enable locals to easily reach the restaurants.

“People want to get in and out and they want price point and value,” he said. “This is as much a locals place as anything else.”