Quadrello di Bufala. Fegolotto. Branzino. Confused? So was I. Still am actually. These were just a few items from a menu I could barely read, but it turned out they all translated remarkably the same: delicious.
Let me make one thing clear. I am by no means a “fine diner”. In fact, a few short years ago, if you’d have shown me a menu devoid of words such as “blooming onion”, “sampler platter” and “cowboy burger”, I’d have run for the hills (which is where I grew up). For a long time, I didn’t trust a restaurant that served only modest portions. Fortunately for me and my taste buds, I married a woman who had a healthy adoration for The Food Network and more specifically for Giada De Laurentiis. I will admit that on more than a few occasions I have watched along with her; mostly when the recipes involved Italian bacon or pancetta, as Giada calls it (Pancetta is similar to American bacon except it uses more elaborate hand gestures). So naturally, when the opportunity came up to visit my brother-in-law in Las Vegas, my wife jumped at the opportunity to make reservations at Giada’s restaurant in The Cromwell on the Las Vegas Strip.
The first thing you’ll notice upon arriving at Giada is that everyone smiles at you. The staff that is. Not the the other patrons, because that’d just be weird. More than a few times, I found myself looking around and making accidental eye contact with waiters, waitresses, pepper-grinder guys*, and even chefs, and always getting a friendly smile in return. If you’re anything like me, an unfortunate side effect of growing up in today’s society is that I’m immediately suspicious of anyone who makes unprompted kind gestures. So you can imagine my befuddlement when a kindly chef beamed a grin at me as I headed back to my seat from the restroom. He must have thought I had a nervous tick from the ferocity at which I checked to ensure my fly was up or that I didn’t have a hitchhiking swatch of toilet paper dragging from my shoe.
Our waiter later explained the happy nature of the staff as being the result of good management and an owner that cares. As it turns out, Giada herself makes frequent visits to the restaurant to check up, tweak the menu and of course ensure no “blooming onions” or “cowboy burgers” have made their way on to the list of offerings.
In hindsight, I have a different theory about all the smiles. I think the staff found joy in knowing that I was about to have one of the best meals of my life and everything I’d eat for a week after that was going to taste like garbage in comparison. A little sadistic, you might think. Maybe, but I have no regrets.
Now I’m not a food critic, so I’m not going to try to describe to you in detail the transcendent taste of the Spicy Italian Sausage Arancini nor the heavenly velvet texture of the Crab and Scallop Risotto. And I would never be able to do justice to the silky Chocolate Torte with a hazelnut crunch, so I won’t even try. What I will tell you is that when I left, I understood. And every stranger I passed for the rest of the evening got a great big beaming smile from me. And I secretly hope it made them uncomfortable.
*The pepper-grinder guy must have some sore arms at the end of every day, because the thing is bigger than a baseball bat. Serious. You could take out some kneecaps with that thing.
**In the mid 1950’s, the mafia hitman Johnny “Mr. Pepper” DiSanto (no relation to Dr. Pepper) was notorious for dispatching his victims with a similar oversized pepper grinder.