When we last checked in with chef Alex Stratta in January, he had found his way back to Las Vegas after more than a year away and spoke of being refreshed and ready for new culinary challenges. He’s still best known as a fine-dining champion on the Strip—the James Beard-awarded, Michelin-starred chef who helmed Renoir at the Mirage and Alex at Wynn—but he had his sights set on something different, more approachable and much more local.
Stratta’s plans are coming together. He’s found a home with Preferred Restaurant Brands, which franchises restaurants like Capriotti’s and Papa John’s and develops new concepts, including Stratta’s. First up is Tapas by Alex Stratta, opening this month at Tivoli Village, and that will be followed by Alex Stratta Steakhouse in the spring at Gramercy. One of Las Vegas’ favorite chefs has so much going on, it was time to check in once again.
We just passed the Mirage’s 25th anniversary, a resort that means so much to what Las Vegas is today. Nine years after launching it, Steve Wynn brought you here to open Renoir. What was that like? I remember very clearly how hesitant I was to come to Las Vegas. I had a great job and was nice and comfortable in Scottsdale [Arizona], and I had already been in a gaming environment at Monte Carlo in Monaco, so I had a taste of that, though Vegas is quite a bit different. I’d never been until I interviewed with Mr. Wynn. I didn’t know what I was getting into. But it was all about building Renoir and whatever I needed to make that happen. It was a great opportunity for me to take the next step.
Now that you’re building restaurants off the Strip, are you looking to anything or anyone as a model? I’m kind of going my own way. I see this as a similar opportunity as I saw Scottsdale back in the day, with the Summerlin area having experienced the same kind of growth we experienced there in the sense of restaurants and shopping and fashion. When I moved to Phoenix in 1989 there was not much going on, and we built a five-star restaurant. I think the demographic is similar. There seems to be a lack of crafted restaurants. And for me, this has nothing to do with anything negative about the Strip; I just needed to grow into a different part of my career. I’ve been working in hotels for 36 years now. It was time for a change, time to do something a bit more risky.
For those who’ve followed your fine-dining restaurants, the idea of Alex Stratta doing Spanish tapas is pretty exciting. I hope so. I think there’s a fine line I need to ride where there’s an expectation of Alex—the quality of that restaurant—yet the food is not like that, or it doesn’t have that price. What I want to get across is this is all of the technique, the quality of ingredients, the same amount of passion and drive as I’ve always had. I don’t do anything halfway. And this is tapas, not small plates or a gastropub. The fundamentals are classic Spanish, though there will be a little bit of North African, French and Italian, there’ll still be that Spanish accent. You can come for paella or pan tomate and then morph into a Moroccan-spiced dish, or an Algerian-spiced dish. The idea is to come and create your own tasting menu—it just won’t be 300 bucks. The goal is still to give you the best iteration of X, Y or Z that you’ve ever had. That’s what I want. Oh my God, that’s what that’s supposed to taste like! I’ve always wanted that.
Tapas is opening December 17. When is the steakhouse opening? Hopefully March. That’s a different animal. I thought, what are the most popular and viable restaurant styles people like? A steakhouse, and Italian, and sushi is right up there. Well, I’m not doing sushi, but I am doing a shellfish and raw bar with different ceviches and different raw interpretations of fish. Also, great, true-to-form pastas, really identifiable and wonderful, and the steakhouse component will have more than the fundamental five or six cuts. We’ll do a lot of braises ... I can’t run away from braised short ribs.
The off-Strip dining scene is really surging lately, and you seem positioned to help keep up that momentum. I think it’s a great opportunity to be a part of that, but I don’t think of myself as a catalyst. You know, things were really rocking and rolling, and then with [the recession] everybody hit the brakes. Now it’s coming back. I think there are a lot more people who maybe don’t want to go to the Strip for a great dinner all the time, and now there are more options so they don’t have to. For us that live here, that’s really important to have that side of Las Vegas. The Strip gave me a life beyond my dreams, but it’s not something I want to do every day if I don’t work there. Now maybe we don’t need to go to the Strip. We can go down the street.