No surprise: Shawn McClain’s Five50 Pizza Bar is a winner

Owner and executive chef Shawn McClain puts fresh basil on the blanca pizza at FIVE50 Pizza Bar on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 inside Aria at CityCenter in Las Vegas.
Photo: Leila Navidi

The pizza at Five50 Pizza Bar is outstanding, and though it might not look or taste like it at first, it’s something new. It’s hybrid pizza. It’s hard to explain … I’ll let chef Shawn McClain do it:

“In creating our own signature style, we looked at the two sides of pizza, which we see as Neapolitan or Vera—with the super-hot oven and using only certain ingredients—and the New York style, to me, the more nostalgic part [of] getting pizza by the slice growing up,” he says. “I like parts of both. So we use a dry yeast and a starter yeast to get some fermenting flavors in [the crust]. We wanted a little bit more chew than Vera and a little bit more structure than New York.”

Does that make sense? It has thin crust, it’s crispy and chewy and it doesn’t taste like dough. It’s cooked quickly in a 550-degree wood-fired oven, so it has some char underneath, but not in a way that will overwhelm the natural flavors of the crust or the toppings. It looks substantial but eats light, surrendering humbly to whatever you put on top.

Five50 Pizza Bar

Five50—McClain’s second restaurant in Aria after the great Sage—made its debut on July 4 in the sports book-anchored corner of the casino. It’s larger than it seems and looks more like a bar that happens to have food than a seriously delicious pizza joint. It has a slice counter up front, a central bar with 12 taps, lots of bottles and great taste (Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Firestone Walker Pils) and cool design accents like a Lego-ish tile floor and a winding mural commissioned from LA collaborative Cyrcle.

Standouts on the signature pizza list include the Gotham (pepperoni, sausage, salami, mozzarella and Grana Padano cheeses), the Blanca (fresh mozzarella and ricotta, white cheddar, olive oil and garlic) and the North Beach (clams, smoked mozzarella, sweet onions). I can’t wait to go back and try the Sicilian, with pancetta, peppers, anchovies and broccoli rabe. Signature pizzas run $24 to $29, or you can build your own starting at $22.

Take pizza out of the picture and Five50 is my favorite new tapas bar. The rest of my month will be spent sipping something from Goose Island and plowing through charcuterie boards from Portland’s Olympic Provisions; order a chef’s selection of six meats and cheeses for $28. Other stellar bar snacks include house-made giardiniera (pickled veggies) or melt-in-your-face pork rinds (both $6). Under small plates, explore wildly creative dishes no other pizza place could conceive of, like marinated octopus crostini ($13) with roasted fennel purée or porchetta ($15), ribbons of shaved pork belly with grilled peaches and black garlic. Wow.

There are refined pastas and seasonal salads, including the best version of caprese ever—heirloom tomatoes with burrata and basil purée ($15). Grilled garlic sausage, also made in-house, is layered with remarkable flavors and served with a white bean and fennel salad. Is everything good at Five50? Pretty much. In an era when fine dining chefs are unleashing casual concepts left and right, it should come as no surprise that McClain and his team could create a next-level pizza restaurant.

Five50 Pizza Bar Aria, 590-7550. Daily, 11 a.m.-midnight.

Tags: Dining
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Brock is an award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently leads entertainment ...

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