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Bistro Bows In

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

(continued from page 4)



Nob Hill will have the soul of a San Francisco restaurant, but it has to make sense for Las Vegas. Examples of this start showing up in the design. The lounge area is huge, almost the size of the dining space. "People like to drink when they're in Vegas, and we want to take advantage of that," Aziz says. "There's profit in it, but it also generates an energy we need."

That will be captured, too, in the mood of the room as set by the service staff. "When people come to dinner in Las Vegas, they're in a good mood," Aziz says. "If a server spends a bit more time with a table, laughing and joking, it's OK."

Aziz expresses all of this to his new general manager. Didier Palange has run Bouley and Danube in New York. Hiring someone of Palange's caliber is something Aziz never could have pulled off before. Three years ago, even as Las Vegas restaurants like Le Cirque and Lutece were making their way from the drawing board to reality, the city was not only a topographical desert, but a culinary desert. Aziz had to sell an entire corporate vision to get talent to relocate to a city that served its best food for $5 a plate. "Now," Aziz says, "my résumé file has some of the best in the country."

That's true in the kitchen, too. "People who want to get out of big cities are leaning toward Las Vegas," Mina explains. "It used to be you'd go to New York or San Francisco and starve yourself so you could work 18 hours a day in a kitchen. Now you go to Las Vegas, work a year at Aqua, a year at Picasso, a year at Le Cirque, build a nice résumé. At the same time, you can afford to buy a house."

Each week, Nob Hill evolves a little more. Mina calls one day with the idea of a potato cart, five flavors of whipped potatoes to be served at every table. This has design ramifications. The centerpiece on each table now becomes a heating element, to keep the potatoes warm. That gives Nob Hill yet another point of difference from the rest of the Strip. Chi admits he's getting design inspiration from his own hangout, an Irish pub in Manhattan. "The booths there are used for all purposes," he says one day. "In the afternoon, I go and read my newspaper. In the evening, I have a great meal and get entertained."

Chi has the mesmerizing ability to turn the description of a restaurant into a short story. Whenever Mina starts to worry, he picks up the phone for an earful of Chi's soothing visions. "We're a neighborhood restaurant," Chi says. "We create the perception that this is a humble tavern, without pretensions. You look at the menu, and you might even have a meat loaf. But the quality is unexpected, and the level of service will bring joy until the end.

"Now, when you come to the big dining room in the back, it's a dining hall. I love the word ëhall,' by the way. High ceilings, 16 feet tall, with a parchment chandelier on the ceiling that casts a glow. Then you have the oven tucked into a corner, with a visible flame. That speaks of autumn. Americans get together in autumn. It's all about meal-period celebration."

Chi understands that in Las Vegas, unlike anywhere else, atmosphere-setting can work all year. No outside world intrudes on
the man-made reality. "You're surrounded by such a huge indoor environment," he says. "Does it really matter that it isn't autumn outside? You don't know what season it is. You don't know what day it is. You don't even know what time it is."

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