Comfort, Happiness at the Heart of Hearthstone

Social media has had a drastic impact on the restaurant industry, driving chefs and restaurateurs to find their value in how many Facebook likes they have and how many people are tweeting positive reviews.

That is not the case for Brian Massie, owner and executive chef of Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar, just 10 miles off the strip in southwestern Las Vegas.

“You want to have positive reviews. You want to be on the top of the list all the time and you feel accomplished by that,” Massie said in this Table 42 vignette. “For me, personally, that’s not my primary focus. My primary focus is what people are supposed to feel when they come in here and when they leave. I want them to be happy, and that’s the true testament to how well you are doing.”

Massie explains that the people in Las Vegas have changed from meat and potatoes to a more elevated palate – one which Hearthstone is attempting to satisfy with a different approach to food, décor, and atmosphere.

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The restaurant concept is open, based on a sushi bar (but swap out the sushi and replace it with rustic American). Guests can watch the chefs preparing the food and interact with them at the same time, which makes for an exciting concept. In addition, there are six or seven menu items that come right out of two huge wood burning stoves which sit in the middle of the dining room.

Massie describes the restaurant and food as “less flashy.” The food is “straightforward” and dishes like the bacon wrapped chorizo stuffed dates in piquillo pepper gravy create an umami flavor that customers crave and keep coming back for.

Comfort is what Hearthstone’s customers feel and it is what keeps them coming back.

“Three or four times a week they will come back, maybe for a drink or to sit in the lounge or play shuffleboard…[customers] feel like it’s the neighborhood spot. That’s what we are trying to make it. They feel happy and that’s important,” Massie explained.

Cemitas Puebla: Proving Mexican is More than Burritos and Tacos

The menu of Cemitas Puebla is just as rich and flavorful — and perhaps, a little crazy — as its story.

"I had no money, I had no experience. Everything that I did, you should do the opposite to own and start a successful restaurant," owner Tony Anteliz says in this Fast Casual Nation vignette as he recalled when his doors opened in 2002. "The only thing I had going for me was that I thought 'I had an idea that no one else is doing, and it's gonna be great, and within a a year, we're going to be busy, and everything is going to be fine.'"

So like we said, and as Anteliz admitted that any experienced restaurateur would believe, the restaurant's beginnings were a little crazy. Still, this big risk came with an even bigger reward. What began as what Anteliz calls a greasy spoon or hole-in-the-wall on a shoestring budget, a taqueria or the "equivalent to an American hotdog stand," became a bustling Chicago hot spot.

"We specialize in making a cemita. Cemita is a sandwich that comes from Puebla, Mexico," he says.

The cemita is a sweet, sesame bread, often served with avocado, Oaxaca cheese, chipotle peppers, the herb pápalo, and meat. All said and done, it's delicious, but Anteliz had challenges getting the dish out of the kitchen and into the hands of guests.  

When he would suggest the cemita to consumers, they would shrug off his suggestions politely and ask for their burrito or taco. How did he convince people to order something they had never heard about before? He eventually bit the bullet, and when he saw a table full of customers, he would cut up a cemita and let them sample it. Pretty soon, people would go up to the counter asking him for "that thing last time."

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Anteliz owes the success of Cemitas Puebla to local writers in town who made it a personal project to spread the word. Above all, he owes the inspiration for the space to his father.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my Dad. He's an awesome father. Helpful in so many ways in regards to Cemitas," he says, also mentioning that his father grew up in Puebla. "He was always the point of reference of, you know, how do we get this more authentic."

And what is Anteliz's main goal when people walk into his doors?

"I would love for them to say, 'I tried something I never had before.' And I want them to see there's more than burritos. I would love for them to see Mexico is a big place with a lot of different styles and a lot of things to offer culinary-wise," he says. "If they want to take a nap after they leave here? Then it was a win."

For Spago’s Chef de Cuisine, a Culinary Dream Comes Full Circle

Before Tetsu Yahagi entered the culinary world, he didn’t know what to do with his future. Serendipitously, while in a bookstore one day on a family vacation, he stumbled upon Wolfgang Puck’s “Adventures in the Kitchen.”

“My dream, before I left the United States to go back to Japan, was to dine at one of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants,” he said. “So, I asked my father if we could all dine at Spago. He made a reservation, and that’s where I first met Wolfgang. He signed the book that I bought.”

Now, Yahagi is the chef de cuisine at Spago Beverly Hills, working under Chef Lee Hefter, who Yahagi says is a great mentor.

“He has the background of French and Italian cuisine, and at the same time, he has a great understanding and respect for Asian cultures, which corresponds a lot with where I’m from and what I do and my cooking style,” said Yahagi.

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The Menu

The dinner menu at Spago changes daily, and is determined by availability and seasonality. 

“We try to come up with a new dish, new technique every day,” said Yahagi. 

But there are some tried-and-true dishes that stay on the menu as a backbone, like the smoked salmon pizza, which the chef shows us how to make in this episode of “Table 42.”

In the Kitchen: Smoked Salmon Pizza

To make this dish, a lot of prep work is involved with the dough, which is slowly fermented. This makes the sourdough flavor really come through. 

First, rub the dough with olive oil, sprinkle on some red onions, and throw the pizza in a wood-burning oven. Next, it’s time for the smoked salmon. 

“It’s important that we slice the salmon really thin,” said Yahagi. 

While the crust on the pizza dough is still hot, spread dill cream on top of it, and then top with the salmon. Then, add chives (for color), caviar (for flavor), and salmon pearls.

The contrast between hot and cold, said Yahagi, makes the dish unique.

“We have always created something new, and we still are trying to come up with new ideas, new techniques, new dishes,” Yahagi said. “We don’t want to turn ourselves into a museum. This restaurant needs to be evolving every day, and it needs to be kept always relevant in the industry.”

GT Fish & Oyster: A Balancing Act of Traditional and Modern Seafood in Chicago

In the five years Chicago’s GT Fish & Oyster has been open, they’ve sold roughly 1.5 million oysters. Of the concept, the restaurant’s chef and partner, Giuseppe Tentori, says it was, at first, a challenge. “Five years ago, there were not too many seafood restaurants — it was like fine dining or super casual.”

And while Chicago may be inland, Tentori says fish is being flown into the Windy City every day. “It’s beautiful, too. Sometimes they save the best fish for the big cities because we pay the prime price.”

Tentori went to culinary school in Milan, and, after working for four years, moved to Chicago to work for Chef Gabriel Viti. Tentori headed off to Utah for three years after that to open a restaurant called Metropolitan, then studied with Charlie Trotter for about nine years, and in 2007, he started working for the Chicago-based Boka Restaurant Group, which owns GT Fish & Oyster.

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The Menu

GT Fish & Oyster is known for its shareable plates format, but is not limited for those who do not want to share. (Bonus: The restaurant even makes its own sauces.)

A huge driver is the restaurant’s oyster selection. “Every oyster has different flavor,” says Tentori. “For wine, terroir is very important. Oysters, same thing.” Today, GT Fish & Oyster has about 95 different varieties of oysters, 63 of which can be expected daily, plus a couple of more unique varieties for oyster enthusiasts. 

“We spend a lot of time on the phone,” Tentori says. “We’ve built a strong relationship with our purveyor, so they know what we like and what we want, so they will source it for us and tell us exactly, ‘These are the best oysters right now.’”

Tentori explains GT’s menu as a balanced mixture of traditional and modern seafood. For the diners who prefer the traditional route, there’s fish & chips, lobster rolls, mussels, oysters, and the like. For diners who prefer a more modern take, the menu offers items like shrimp bruschetta with avocado, toasted pistachio, grapefruit, and cilantro. In this “Table 42” vignette, Chef Tentori shows us how to make this dish.

In the Kitchen

The shrimp bruschetta appetizer dish starts with searing salt-and-peppered shrimp. Avocado mousse, housed in a bag for application, is made by mixing avocado and jalapeño — but keeping the avocado pit in the bag is key to ensure it stays green for a longer time. Spread the avocado mousse onto the bruschetta. Then, cut grapefruit in thirds and place on top of the mousse. Split the shrimps in half and add onto the bruschetta. Add fresno pepper, pistachios, cilantro leaves, and lime zest. 

Kerry Simon’s Culinary Spirit Keeps Rocking at Carson Kitchen

Kerry Simon’s Culinary Spirit Keeps Rocking at Carson Kitchen

In this “Table 42” vignette, we join Cory Harwell, president at Simon Hospitality Group (SHG), to explore Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas. Harwell is also co-founder of the group, which he started with the late Kerry Simon.

Harwell got his start in the industry at just 13 years old, and built his way up the ladder — from dishwashing to hosting to bartending to serving, and eventually opening and operating four restaurants under the SHG umbrella. 

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