Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018 | 2 a.m.
The comprehensive renovation of the Palms has been one of the most talked about Vegas developments of 2018 and the buzz has spiked once again thanks to the arrival of a couple new restaurant options. Mabel’s BBQ, a new location of the Cleveland barbecue joint created by Food Network star and James Beard Award winner Michael Symon, opened on the casino floor near the main entrance on December 20 and last month, on November 19, another James Beard-winning chef, Marc Vetri, opened the second iteration of his famed Vetri Cucina of Philadelphia on the Palms’ 56th floor.
But these new-to-Vegas restaurateurs aren’t here by coincidence. Symon, Vetri and celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who is set to open his new seafood concept Shark at the Palms in March, are very close friends. Flay even made the trip for the Mabel’s opening event last week.
“Bobby is good like that,” says Symon. “He’s never missed one of my openings. We’re all very tight. One of the great things about this project for us is getting to work with really close friends. But it wasn’t really a package deal. We kind of came in first and talked about different projects we’re doing and [the Palms’ operators] were nice enough to listen to my recommendations.”
Vetri might not be as TV famous as Symon or Flay, but he’s created a family of wildly successful restaurants including his eponymous dining destination, considered an Italian-food institution in Philadelphia after 20 years.
“It’s a wonder to me as well as it is to anyone else. Twenty years is a lot of years,” Vetri says. “It was my first and it is always evolving, not resting on its laurels.”
Like the original Vetri, his Las Vegas menu, served in the space formerly occupied by French restaurant Alizé, features the chef’s signature dishes including sweet onion crepes with white truffle fonduta, foie gras pastrami with brioche and hand-crafted pasta including Swiss chard gnocchi with brown butter and ricotta salata and squash rotolo with blue cheese fondue.
“I don’t think we changed much [for Las Vegas] but the big thing I get from a lot of the servers is how we run it, unlike a Vegas [casino] restaurant, and they seem to like that,” Vetri says. “We’re the owners so the hotel doesn’t dictate the rules. When I’m there, it really feels like Vetri Philadelphia feels, like a family, and I really want it to be that spot where a lot of locals who work in the hospitality industry … can come and celebrate.”
The previous version of the Palms had a great Italian restaurant, Nové, but Symon is carving a different path with Mabel’s, in a city that hasn’t always been kind to barbecue restaurants. He’s serving up staples like smoked brisket, pulled pork, pork and beef ribs and maple and mustard-glazed pork belly with sides like baked beans, coleslaw and mac and cheese. But there are some more daring dishes on the menu and Symon will continue his meat-based experimentation at Sara’s, a smaller speakeasy-style restaurant within Mabel’s.
“Believe me, when I said I was going to do barbecue in Vegas, a lot of people told me it doesn’t work here,” he says. “But we believe in what we do and that people are going to enjoy it. We feel very comfortable and confident that we know how to do it the right way. When it comes to barbecue, we’re purists to the extreme. But we also wanted to create a setting where it’s not only great barbecue, there are 300 bourbons available, there’s a deep beer selection, and you get that full experience.”