May 17, 2022 - 6:31 am
Mama is taking Las Vegas.
That would be Mama DePandi and her bucatini pomodoro.
The dish has been a mainstay of RPM Italian since the first RPM restaurant opened in Chicago a decade ago. Monday, celebrity couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic and their business partner, Lettuce Entertain You, debuted a sleek RPM Italian in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.
Mama DePandi’s bucatini pomodoro, a specialty of Giuliana Rancic’s mother, Anna DePandi, is once again helping to anchor the menu.
“I grew up eating it. My 10-year-old son asks for it,” Giuliana Rancic said. “It took over 30 tries, between my mom and the team, to perfect it before the first opening. For 10 years, no other item has ever surpassed it for sales, on any given night. We’ll see how it does in Vegas.”
A rare sort of entrance
The couple has long wanted to bring the bucatini (one of a dozen pastas made fresh daily) to Vegas, with a serious search for a location starting about five years ago.
Potential spots “floated across our desk,” Bill Rancic said, but a deal began coalescing only about a year ago with the availability of the soaring Forum Shops space, which the famed Slanted Door of San Francisco occupied for one week in 2020 before the pandemic shutdown.
“The Las Vegas locations that didn’t materialize — we’re so lucky we waited because of the entrance that is right there,” Rancic said, gesturing toward the Forum Shops front door a short walk away, making RPM Italian one of the few casino restaurants on the Strip you don’t have to cross the casino to enter.
“When you open in Vegas, you know you’ve arrived.”
You can’t eat fame
RPM Italian on the Strip marks the third RPM Italian to debut, after Chicago and Washington, D.C., and the sixth restaurant in the RPM portfolio. Las Vegas as a city, and Vegas visitors and locals, welcome restaurants opened by celebrities in a way the restaurants would not typically be welcome in, say, Portland, Oregon, or Seattle or even New York (just ask Guy Fieri about that).
Which is to say, the Rancics’ status as a celebrity couple — variously built from media gigs, entrepreneurial vigor, reality TV and bestselling books — works well in Vegas. At the same time, they quickly acknowledged this town brings expectations.
“When you come to Vegas, where you eat in Vegas is very important. You want to be sure the food is right, the ambience is right, the service is right,” Giuliana Rancic said. “We don’t take it lightly that we are here in Vegas. We know about the competition. We’re prepared for that.”
Celebrity, Bill Rancic added, might get people in the door once, but “if the food doesn’t exceed expectations, they won’t come in again. We focus on the food first.”
Only served in Vegas
Mama DePandi’s bucatini will be part of that focus in Vegas, of course, along with other RPM Italian standards such as Giuliana’s Italian salad (salumi, fresh mozzarella, pepperoncini) and spicy king crab nestled in squid ink spaghetti.
But there also will be Vegas-only dishes, such as oozy briny burrata with caviar, crisp chicken Vesuvio baked with black truffles, and Gorgonzola Wagyu steak starring antibiotic- and hormone-free beef from Beeman Ranch of Texas.
“There’s always a little glitz and glamour in Vegas,” said R.J. Melman, president of Lettuce Entertain You.
Joining the restaurant family
And Melman knows from Vegas.
Lettuce Entertain You, his family’s privately held company, has been in the hospitality business for more than 50 years and in Vegas for nearly a quarter century.
RPM Italian joins five other Lettuce restaurants in Vegas, including Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Las Vegas and Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, in the Forum Shops since late 2004. Melman lived in Vegas for about two years to oversee the launch of Joe’s.
RPM Italian marks Lettuce’s first Strip opening in about 15 years, Melman said, offering the team a new opportunity “to be really critical about the concept, trying to improve what we’ve been doing. It gives us a chance to work on it every day.”