Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the Vegas Golden Knights and other sports and entertainment offerings, more Las Vegans are spending more spare time having fun on the Strip than ever before. The Sun’s new Strip for Locals series is designed to highlight different destinations and attractions along Las Vegas Boulevard we think residents will enjoy just as much as tourists do.
Cucina by Wolfgang Puck has been one of the city’s most consistently excellent Italian restaurants since it opened eight years ago, but because of its location in the luxury Shops at Crystals mall on the Strip, it’s been operating under the radar to varying degrees for both locals and Vegas tourists.
Today there’s another great reason to visit Cucina for the first time or come back for another meal as the new executive chef is Vincenzo Scarmiglia, a Vegas veteran who’s spent years in the kitchen at Giada, Fiamma and the Maccioni family’s former Circo and Sirio restaurants.
“I missed Las Vegas,” says Scarmiglia, who most recently ran an Eataly-esque Italian food hall in Miami. “I missed the action here. Vegas is very unique. The city has changed a lot and some of that has to do with the Golden Knights and I’m super excited about that. It’s good to be back in this game and I really like this company.”
Cucina is one of the more recent concepts from Puck’s Las Vegas operations, and with Scarmiglia in the fold, there’s a renewed focus on authenticity. “I’m also a businessman and I’ve been in this space for 20 years so I know the dishes customers expect to have in an Italian restaurant,” says the chef. “We want to accommodate everybody. The secret to me is to make it better than anyone else. So you’re going to get the best pasta with Alfredo sauce, if somebody wants it, even though it’s not on the menu.”
The menu changes with the seasons and some of the current highlights include grilled octopus with roasted fennel and olive tapenade, beef and pork meatballs with whipped ricotta and pomodoro sauce, ricotta ravioli with sage butter and mushrooms and pappardelle with wild boar ragu.
Scarmiglia originally hails from Orbetello on the coast of Tuscany so seafood is his specialty. That’s reason enough to order the seabass with broccolini, fennel sausage and cherry pepper vinaigrette. Cucina is open for lunch and dinner and also offers a special menu at the bar, including a rich and spicy porchetta sandwich in a crispy roll.
Cucina may be located in a fancy mall on the Strip but it does have a good number of repeat customers and the dramatic, sunny setting is a big part of that.
“It’s a little unusual for Las Vegas but because of the Veer Towers and Vdara, there are residents there who are repeat customers,” Scarmiglia says. “We know we’re farther away than local restaurants but we want people who live in Las Vegas to join us for real, authentic Italian food.”
And don’t forget, valet parking at the Shops at Crystals is still free. Combine that feature with Cucina’s substantial value — most entrees are in the $25-$39 range and wood-oven pizzas are $19-$23 — and you have an approachable, convenient and still upscale dining experience.
“You still have an opportunity to come to the Strip, park the car and have a great meal with great service in a nice setting,” Scarmiglia says. “It’s a few extra miles but you still get the Strip feeling without the Strip pricing.”
Cucina by Wolfgang Puck is located at the Shops at Crystals (3720 Las Vegas Blvd. South #240, 702-238-1000) and is open Sunday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.