Chef Scott Conant burns the candle on both ends of the country. The gregarious, dapper, raw-onion-hating Food Network star is working on opening his flagship Conant restaurant in New York City, and his sprawling empire also includes the new Corsair restaurant in Miami. But it’s in Vegas, at the Cosmopolitan, where the man behind the country’s most prominent and best spaghetti pomodoro has both Scarpetta and the more casual concept, D.O.C.G.
D.O.C.G recently launched lunch service, which accomplishes a couple notable things. One: It solidifies the Cosmopolitan—home to Estiatorio Milos’ $25.15 three-course steal of a lunch special, the Mexi-Asian delights at China Poblano and the wide-ranging buffet fare at Wicked Spoon—as the best Vegas resort for a daytime meal. Two: It reminds visitors that, as elegant as Scarpetta can be, Conant is a chef who embraces casual food.
A little background: Conant has an excellent sandwich shop, Paninoteca, inside the kitchen of Scarpetta at the Montage Beverly Hills. Paninoteca is where executive chef Freddy Vargas, who grew up on Staten Island, offers his mashup of New York red-sauce fare and refined cooking. Paninoteca’s chicken “parmagiano” sandwich, for example, is made with burrata and smoked tomatoes.
So is the wonderful chicken “parmagiano” sandwich that’s now available for lunch at D.O.C.G. On a recent Monday, I found Conant at a back table in D.O.C.G. tasting all the sandwiches on his new lunch menu, making sure they were up to his standard. He’s a hands-on chef, so he’s often making tweaks even when things are popular or when he’s told they’re perfect. That’s what good chefs do.
But he’s got little to worry about at D.O.C.G. The chicken sandwich is a winner, and the porchetta with spiced pork belly glistening with fat and topped with broccoli rabe pesto and a fried egg is even more stunning. These sandwiches are an affordable quick lunch ($11 for the chicken and $9 for the porchetta, bag of chips included), and they’re available to-go.
Conant’s no fool. If all goes well, the chef says, he’ll end up with multiple restaurants that serve sandwiches. He understands that this is a world where fine-dining folks can make the most bank at fast-casual, where Danny Meyer takes Shake Shack public and makes investments in two salad chains: Tender Greens and Sweetgreen.
Conant has wanted to go casual for years. Scarpetta in New York once served a late-night menu headlined by some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. D.O.C.G. was preceded by New York’s Faustina, a chill pizza-and-pasta joint that also served fried chicken. That restaurant closed, largely because the hotel it was in, which has since changed owners, seemed cursed. But you feel the imprint of Faustina every time you visit D.O.C.G. for a soulful pasta or pizza.
The day I popped by D.O.C.G. was also when Eater LA editor Matthew Kang came in for a quick lunch. Kang left so impressed that he quickly wrote a piece listing “Five reasons why D.O.C.G might be the best new lunch in Vegas.” These reasons included the porchetta sandwich and the “fantastic” house-made pastas. Kang’s right. This is a special restaurant from a man who’s ready to expand his hold on Italian food in America. And Conant’s going to look pretty cool while he does it. Who else wears a white shirt, unbuttoned almost down to his navel, while eating sandwiches stuffed with juicy meat, oozing cheese and dripping tomatoes?
But this is just how Conant, a man who bet it all on red sauce and won, rolls. His shirt stayed clean as he ate everything, took notes and smiled like a man with big plans.