Las Vegas native Joshua Smith rejoined Michael Mina’s restaurant group this year—his first sous chef, executive sous chef and executive chef gigs were at Mina’s former Seablue restaurant at MGM Grand—as executive chef at Bardot Brasserie at Aria. Bardot was an easy pick as one of our Best New Restaurants of 2015, but that’s not all. Smith made our list of People Who Ruled Las Vegas this year. We caught up with the chef to dig into what made his year, and Bardot Brasserie’s first, so great.
Did Bardot Brasserie and the reception to the restaurant meet your expectations? I would say my expectations for the first year were met and maybe even exceeded. We’re in a place where we’re running a responsible business and making a reasonable amount of profit, so a healthy business, and there are a lot of moving parts and plates in the air in the first year, so that’s [good]. This is kind of a throwback restaurant, and the inspirations behind all the dishes are all very classic. So to do that and keep the attention of a [varied audience] and millennials, create a place where they want to be, that came a little easier than I expected. And it’s because we have a really strong [staff].
How did Bardot make an impact on Aria? We rolled our bakery program through the hotel, gave them recipes, supported them, and got everything lined up to be able to do our bread. We wouldn’t be able to do our bread program with just our staff alone, from the restaurant. Now [Aria] has taken on Sage and Carbone, too, but we were the first ones on property to initiate this bread program in our hotel, so our influence made the bread better on the whole property.
There are plenty of great French restaurants on the Strip. How have you distinguished the food at Bardot? I think it’s not price-exclusive, it’s not necessarily a special occasion restaurant that you’ll [only] visit on a birthday or anniversary. And it’s a place with good value for brunch. It’s relative to the Strip, of course, but we think we’re providing a fantastic value and that’s always been echoed through our reviews. That’s a big part of it, but it’s also been about putting together something on the Strip that has something for everybody. We put as much effort into our cheeseburger and our onion soup and our croque as we do do our most expensive entrée. If you cut corners on those details, people notice. And people also love to come back to Vegas and they expect the same preparations, the same fries on the menu, the same sauces available. They can replicate the experience they had before here. At the end of the day, we’re trying to compete with their memories. And with this type of food, there’s nothing to hide behind. My onion soup needs to be better than the best you’ve ever had or else it will feel like a letdown.
What has surprised you the most about the first year of Bardot Brasserie? The brunch success has been surprising. But overall, just the [reception] … we set out to do a restaurant atypical in its approach to consistency and quality product but typical in the approach to the menu. It’s something that’s happening in other cities but it’s been a bit of a surprise to see it catch on in Vegas. It’s funny, it seems the trend now is no trend. It’s less about a flashy concept or crazy flavor combinations or wild esthetics, and just more about honest food that tastes true to its classic counterpart. We add some modern twists to help us produce those classics consistently, but we don’t manipulate the recipes in any way. It’s definitely a surprise to see some of these awards.