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Bistro Bows In

Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

(continued from page 2)



Bellagio had been a phenomenal opportunity, an unprecedented stage, so Mina had felt comfortable creating another Aqua, a concept that he knew would work. But with the economy waning, he wonders, how many great restaurants can Las Vegas support?

He also doesn't want to do fish again. Mina offers to put Aziz in touch with another chef who might be hungrier, eager for a break. But Aziz won't give up. Another Mina restaurant in Las Vegas makes sense for several reasons, he argues. Mina already has a client base from Aqua. He has infrastructure and staff here. And while Aqua was created by Condy, this is a chance to succeed in America's most competitive restaurant environment with a concept of his own. Aziz wants Mina to know that he isn't wedded to fish. Perhaps there's something else Mina has wanted to do?

There is. In 1990, Mina had worked briefly as the pastry chef at the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles. What he proposes now is a restaurant built around a giant oven. He wants to put the oven in the dining room, where everyone can see it. He'll bake his own bread, turn out variations on the lobster pie that's so popular at Aqua, make great desserts.

Aziz is intrigued, but worried. In the desert, with temperatures reaching 110 degrees, anything that might generate too much heat must be avoided. He's starting to sweat just thinking about an oven in a dining room. Nevertheless, he wants Mina, and Mina wants an oven, so Aziz asks the MGM's engineers. They propose shooting the hot air generated by the oven out through the walls of the hotel and replacing it with cold air. The only problem, they admit, is that the solution is merely theoretical. In practice, it probably won't work.

Aziz decides to move ahead with a concept for an oven-based restaurant, but with a conventional kitchen oven. He commissions Tony Chi, who had designed Aqua, to do a rendering. When Mina sees it, his face drops. "It has everything I want," he says. "Except the oven."

Aziz is worried that Mina, who hasn't signed a deal, will back out. He's almost as worried that Mina will continue, but without enthusiasm. The project is teetering now, its outcome in doubt. Then, dramatically, the engineers call back. They've concocted a way to keep a dining room cool despite a massive oven. Aziz doesn't wait for the details. He calls Mina immediately.

In Mina's vision, the oven is set against one wall of the dining room, with a service table in front. There'll be no beautifying of the food out of sight of the patrons, he ordains. It will emerge from the oven, be plated, get sent out. Mina even thinks he knows the oven he wants. It's at the Las Vegas outpost of La Brea Bakery, which bakes bread for the Bellagio. La Brea has outgrown it; Mina sees it and pronounces it perfect.


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