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by john curtas | June 25, 2012 | Food & Drink
Vintner Grill’s signage is purposely hard to see from the road
The dining room is always packed with movers and shakers
Local celebs love the Cobb salad
No gas: filet mignon hot off the grill, fueled by mesquite, apple, and cherry wood
Chef Silverman wows Summerlin
Prime seating for prime eating on VG’s famous patio
When Vintner Grill opened on December 4, 2006, no one involved with the project had the slightest idea it would become Las Vegas’s most prominent neighborhood restaurant. Almost everything associated with it was a first—and a big gamble. Michael Corrigan, who co-owns the place with his brother Sean, wanted a winefocused restaurant, in an office building, that depended on word of mouth for its customers. “We just opened the doors and hoped the word got out,” is how general manager Peter Varela puts it. Executive chef and partner Matthew Silverman is more blunt: “We were either going to be a big success or a colossal failure.”
None of them suspected that Vintner Grill’s sleek interior and swanky bar were destined to become the hot spots for everyone from serious oenophiles to socialites to celebrity chefs. These days, it all feels like a foregone conclusion, and five years after rolling those dice, you are as likely to run into Nicolas Cage or Bette Midler as you are a power broker on the tented, outdoor patio. And if you’re enjoying one of Silverman’s signature flatbreads and think you see Andre Agassi and Stefanie Graf sitting in a corner booth, you probably do.
Those long odds are a story unto themselves. To begin with, there is that location. Las Vegas has never had a successful foodand wine-oriented restaurant in an office building. And this one was going to be 12 miles from the Strip. If that weren’t enough, there is the inconvenient fact that the place is practically hidden— it’s more difficult to find than a celebrity chef’s humility. The street signage is pretty much invisible. “Everyone said we were crazy for not having a big sign out front,” Silverman says. “But there’s something to be said about having to seek out and find a place.”
And find it people have. Almost since day one, they have flocked here for food and wine that is like no other off the Strip. This summer, the first-come, first-served patio will be one of the hardest tables to get in town, especially the comfortable white cabanas bedecked with romantic lanterns. The wine program, kicked off by Troy Kumalaa, adds to the enchanting ambience. Kumalaa was hired by Varela, who was himself poached by Corrigan after 20 years of service with the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. Kumalaa, who has since left the operation, had been a sommelier at Spago and was told to “write your own list”—pretty much a dream directive for any wine guy. What he did was set a template for an aggressive-yet-gently priced program. No wines by the glass cost more than $20, and the bottle list is chock full of “eclectic whites” and interesting reds for well under $100 (with a drool-worthy “50 Under 50” section).
If the wines alone weren’t reason enough to return, Silverman’s food certainly is. He knew he would need a quality product if he were to lure the Summerlin crowd to his doors. “As it was taking shape, I could see it was going to be something special,” he says, “and I needed a menu that would fit the dramatic décor” (by noted interior designer Peter Deusing). Most of all, he wanted a cheese and charcuterie selection where diners could mix and match their own selections: “I’d been to too many places where they just brought you whatever they wanted you to have.” In this way, Silverman turned out to be something of a pioneer in the cold cuts education of Las Vegas. Six years ago, they were almost unheard of around here, but these days, artisanal cured meats are practically as common as crème brûlée in our better restaurants.
Then, of course, there is the grill. “No gas,” Silverman says, “nothing but mesquite, apple, and cherry wood, both for our pizzas and the grilling of meats and fish. It adds a level of difficulty to the cooking, but I just love the depth of flavor it brings to the food.” It’s hard to argue with him when you bite into a toothsome flatbread adorned with caramelized onions, Gorgonzola, and basil pesto, or his seared halibut with couscous, a dish so popular that, he says, “we’d get a dozen complaints a day if it were taken off the menu.”
Pawn Stars’ Rick Harrison, a regular, is enamored of the braised lamb tagine, while Oscar Goodman “would have a fit if he couldn’t get the lamb ribs.” Along with the throngs of deckedout ladies, these foodies know just where to go for the best pumpkin gnocchi, crispy calamari, or Cobb salad in town. Nowhere in Vegas do hand-made food and great wine match so well with the beautiful people consuming them. Michael Corrigan’s wager on good taste has paid off for all. 10100 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-214-5590
photography by beverly poppe (entrance, diners, filet, salad, silverman); peter varela (outside tables)