Monday, April 11, 2011 | 3 a.m.
Calling the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ dapper CEO, John Unwin, Sin City’s consummate foodie executive is something of an understatement. This Seattle native has taken his love of food and drink from his first job (as a bartender at Trader Vic’s) to senior management positions with the Marriott and Ian Schrager’s hotel corporations, to a G.M. slot at Caesars, to now running what might be the ultimate gourmet hotel in town. Along the way, he has brokered food and beverage deals from Malaysia to Miami Beach, was instrumental in revitalizing the restaurants at Caesars and personally courted and chose the chefs and concepts that make up the Cosmopolitan’s talked-about eateries.
Before menus are even in hand, and before I have a chance to ask him why he chooses Milos as his go-to business lunch venue, he’s quick to whip out his cellphone and show me what he cooked at home the night before (pounded veal chop, fresh pasta al’olio, oysters Rockefeller) that makes it clear—as if there was any doubt—that this is no steak and potato dude. “So you must do a lot of business over lunch?” I ask, knowing that with a person as passionate about food as he, mixing business with pleasure must be mandatory. “Every day,” is his quick response. “It’s a very efficient way to get business done. I also do a lot of breakfasts.”
But I’m dying to know: How do you decide where to eat when you run a hotel filled with fabulous food? “Easy,” he says,” “after weekends of cooking for myself and my wife a tremendous amount of food with a lot of fat in it, it’s a relief to have Milos’ nice tomato salad, a beautiful piece of fresh fish and all these unbelievable ingredients—none of which leave you feeling like you can’t go back to work.”
“The oysters here are particularly good,” he mentions, and within minutes, six kusshis and kumamotos are in front of us, begging to be dipped into the pomegranate mignonette perched in the center of the ice. As charming a guy as Unwin is, and as eager as he is to talk food and wine, it’s also obvious that the guy in charge of a 3,000-room Las Vegas hotel isn’t allowed the luxury of lingering over the food, no matter how good it is.
He’s right about the oysters, not that I doubted him for a second, and then starts raving about Cosmo’s Wicked Spoon buffet. “But I have a religious objection to buffets,” I offer in protest. “So do I,” is his surprising response. “I’ve never liked them, but I searched high and low to find our model for the perfect one and I found it at a place called the Island Shangri-La in Hong Kong, and that’s what our buffet is modeled after. It’s the only buffet I’ve ever found where everything looks like it was made for you instead of waiting for you to show up.” I can’t help but ask: “Is it even good for a business lunch?” “Of course,” he answers. “It wouldn’t be in my hotel if it wasn’t.” Somehow, I know there’s no reason to doubt him there either.