Light Group restaurants have made an indelible impact on the Las Vegas Strip dining scene, and a lot of the credit for that success goes to executive chef Brian Massie, who’s been with the company for 11 years. By creating Fix at Bellagio—and then its sister eatery, Stack at Mirage—Light and Massie set the tone for the hip pre-club meal. They did it again with Diablo’s Cantina, the casual outdoor party palace at Monte Carlo. “I think we’ve always gone into the market and witnessed what was missing and kind of been ahead of the curve,” Massie says.
Now he’s preparing to go into a new market. Light will open its first off-Strip Vegas eatery, Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar, at Red Rock Resort this fall. We caught up with Massie to explore his latest project, look back at his accomplishments and get the lowdown on his recent James Beard House dinner in New York City.
KEEPING IT REAL
It’s tough to make changes at popular Strip restaurants, Massie says. “There’s something to say for ‘if it ain’t broke,’ you know? If you look at Fix, there are core items on the menu we can never remove. We just did a huge overhaul, changed probably 80 percent of the menu, but left the sliders, the wings, the mac and cheese, the spicy tuna and the lobster tacos. If we lost those things, there would be riots among our repeat guests.”
When Massie is developing a new restaurant concept, he gets out of Vegas to find fresh ideas. “When we were working on Citizens [Kitchen & Bar at Mandalay Bay], we were getting away from certain types of presentations and moving toward more of a real food for real people concept. Citizens is super approachable, still a great meal but a super casual concept, something you might find in Chicago or New York. Hearthstone is geared toward a more wine-friendly crowd, so we were looking at coastal California, San Diego and Napa, much more of a West Coast vibe.”
Hearthstone will be built around two huge ovens in the center of the dining room, offering seasonally driven meals in a warm, inviting setting. “The question is how far to stretch it. Is this town ready for something different, or do you go more approachable?” Massie asks. “I think the key is to have great food and a great setting and just make people want to come back. For locals, we’re going with rustic American cuisine, a simple approach with great seasonal ingredients, not super-fussy. A lot of wood roasting, like a salt-roasted fish, a couple flatbreads, steak and chicken from those ovens. It will be a cool place to hang out.”
In April, Massie took Chocolate & Spice’s Megan Romano and Herbs & Rye’s Nectaly Mendoza to New York to cook dinner at the James Beard House. “It was fun and stressful,” he says. “But it wasn’t about the stress or the cooks or needing to get the food out and all that adrenalin. It was a bunch of great friends and great chefs doing great food. There wasn’t a dish that was the centerpiece, it was the combination of the direction of the menu with the cocktails and desserts that were all put together well.” Among his dishes were octopus posole and duck and waffles.