Gambling, the biggest names in music, shopping and discreet misbehavior are some of the many reasons we escape to the Mojave desert oasis that is Vegas. Fish and seafood markets, admittedly, have never been among them – until now.
Celebrity chef and restaurant owner Bobby Flay has completely redesigned his former Mesa Grill space at Caesars Palace into an homage to one of his favorite oases on earth, the craggy cliffs of the Amalfi coast in southern Italy. His Vegas flagship restaurant shuttered after 16 years during the pandemic and via Zoom meetings has been redesigned and transformed into a more intimate space that is elegant and casual at the same time. Most of the original wait and kitchen staff from Mesa Grill has returned and been retrained.
Flay worked with designer Olivia Jane to create four spaces, a 30-seat bar and 40-seat lounge area framed by a limestone mosaic floor and teak wood beams. The main dining room is surrounded by textured limestone walls and antique brass with views of the open kitchen.
Calabrian chilis have replaced jalapenos, and the focal point of Amalfi is a fresh fish and seafood display staffed by a fishmonger from which you can pick your own catch, a concept inspired by the Italian coastal markets. Fish are offered whole by the pound and prepared to order either whole or filleted, grilled over charcoal or roasted al forno and served with the choices of Meyer lemon and capers, red pepper and Calabrian chile pesto or salsa verde. Selections include golden and red snappers, black bass, branzino, Carabinero shrimp and other seasonal choices.
The delicate shellfish fritto misto antipasti with Meyer lemon aioli and pistachio pesto or salmon carpaccio with pistachio bread crumbs are a good start followed by a primi selection from the diverse pasta menu. Scialatielli with a scampi sauce and basil and the orecchiette with eggplant bolognese and ricotta are excellent good choices.
While the seafood-centric menu is casual and accessible, Flay’s true personality shines through for dessert in Bobby’s Pistachio Sundae made with pistachio gelato, dark chocolate sauce, dotted with Amarena cherries, vanilla cream and chopped pistachios. The blueberry panna cotta topped with cherries is a delight as well.
“I’ve been pretty obsessed with Italy for the last 20 years and hope to move there someday,” Flay, who is hands-on as he glides through the kitchen inspecting every dish to greet guests in the dining room like a branzino in the Mediterranean Sea, tells Irvine Weekly. “I love the healthful Mediterranean diet with lots of vegetables and olive oil and the thing I love the most about Italian food is that it has guts to it and is full-flavored, but it’s also casual.”
So the obvious question is how much advice did he get from friend and fellow Bobby and Giada in Italy Food Network star Giada De Laurenti is on the project?
“Nope, she didn’t say a thing,” Flay says. “She’s from Rome and a true Italian and loves the fact that I’m so in love with Italy. She’s accused me of being more Italian than her. The only thing she’s always after me is my pronunciation. She always corrects my pronunciation, which is fine with me because I really want to learn how to say things correctly.”
While the celebrity chef, whose daughter Sophie Flay is a community journalist for ABC7 covering the Silver Lake area, is most comfortable in the kitchen, his passion for competition shows is undying. The new season of BBQ Brawl that he hosts with Michael Symon and Eddie Jackson on Food Network & discovery+ was shot in March and April of this year in Austin, Texas and premiered last week.
“It was really nice to get back to work after not working for a year,” says Flay. “It was all shot outdoors, so that was helpful. It was great to get back to competition cooking. And as for Vegas, people are coming out in droves and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the busiest summer Las Vegas has ever seen.”