Las Vegas is known for continually morphing into a better version of itself and so, too, do some of the people who do business here. A case in point: Todd English, who on Wednesday will open Olives restaurant at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
English’s name probably is familiar; he’s received multiple James Beard Awards and operates 26 restaurants around the world. But Olives may ring a bell, as well, from English’s Boston restaurant that in 1989 launched an empire and the Bellagio outpost that was a favorite for two decades. The Virgin restaurant, English said, will incorporate old and new in a new beginning of sorts.
“It feels to me like 1989 all over again,” he said at the restaurant Saturday.
One thing that evokes the feeling is the wood-fired oven, an English signature that the Bellagio restaurant lacked.
“I love the romance of wood,” he said. “I can just sit and watch a live fire.”
So, it appears, will some of his customers. The new restaurant has two crescent-shaped chef’s tables, each of which seats six, adjacent to the cooking area. Customers seated there will be able to interact with the staff, and will eventually partake of a tasting menu.
“We wanted to get that old feel back and put on a show from the kitchen,” he said, “with all of the Olives smells.”
Among the menu items to come out of that oven will be flatbreads such as fig and prosciutto, or the Bronx Bomber with charred cup pepperoni and caramelized onions. Those likely will feel familiar to Olives regulars, as will a number of other standards.
“There’s so much we’ve done over the years,”English said. “We’re really opening with Olives classics,” such as beef carpaccio with Gorgonzola polenta and balsamic onions, a frequent request from regulars as the new place was taking shape.
“If I had a dime for everyone who’s asked for that …” English mused.
Olives is known for Italian dishes — the tortelli with butternut squash and sage brown butter is another signature, and the opening menu lists four other pastas — but really incorporates flavors from, as English likes to say, all the places where olives grow. Thus there’s shawarma-spiced salmon, prime filet au poivre with lemon escarole, honey cake and sevruga caviar with olive oil creme fraiche.
The decor is sort of olive-inflected, as well, in shades of dusky greens, “burnt tomato” and brown. There’s a more intimate upper dining room, a lower dining room and a patio, landscaped with bougainvillea and olive trees in the mood of what English calls “Positano meets Mykonos” and accessible from the resort’s pool area. In total, there are about 200 seats, though they’ll be adding more.
The menu is about 75 percent complete; weekly and daily specials will be added soon, and lunch is in the offing.
The lounge, where live music is planned Wednesdays through Sundays initially and eventually daily, will serve a mix of creative new cocktails and classics from the hands of “Joey V,” who worked at the first Olives in 1989.
Other veterans are back, as well, in a time when restaurants are struggling to meet staffing needs. English said he also has five of his original prep cooks from Olives at Bellagio.
“You spend a lot of time here; you have to have a good relationship,” he said of the industry in general. But sometimes, that can backfire a bit. English said those veteran prep cooks have a frequent refrain: “No, jefe, that’s not how we used to do it.”
He said he’s restored some vintage touches, such as the rooster-shaped wine vessels he first used in 1989.
“It’s a blend of old and new,” he said. “Like me. I’m very excited to see where it goes.”