Ronnie Rainwater is the executive chef of Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian resort in Las Vegas. The restaurant is under the umbrella of Emeril Lagasse’s culinary empire and helped kick off the booming celebrity chef era on the Strip. Rainwater talks to Filthy Lucre about how he got hired and the changes he’s seen over the years.
How long have you been at Delmonico Steakhouse now?
June was 19 years. I moved here (to Las Vegas) in June of 1999 from Southern California. I was working at the Playboy Mansion and on vacation. The building had just opened. This restaurant just opened. I happened to be walking by and my girlfriend at the time, who’s my wife now, says, ‘Oh, fill out an application.’ Before that. She never wanted to move to Vegas. I filled out this application and I swear to you, 30 minutes later, the chef offered me a job and two weeks later, I was living here.
So what sealed the deal? Was it the experience of working at the Playboy Mansion?
I really don’t know. I’d have to ask that chef. I’d like to think it’s my charm.
How has the identity of the restaurant changed between then and now?
That was the beginning of the celebrity chef craze in this town. Not the 99-cent buffet or $7.99 Surf n’ Turf. It was higher end, higher ingredients and more chefs started to flock into town. It became more than a town of gambling. It’s a town of art, whether it’s musicians, food or a little more culture. But for the most part, Las Vegas is still a very young city compared to New Orleans, New York or Chicago. Were still developing. That’s the biggest thing I’ve seen. You can come to Vegas and not put a nickel in a machine or on a table, but still have an unbelievable trip
How would you describe Delmonico Steakhouse to someone who hasn’t dined there before?
I think Delmonico has a lot of classic American steakhouse in it. We try to do some New Orleans twists, but I like to think of it as a comforting place. A home away from home. The chef will come out and talk to you. You can come out and dine at a private kitchen table and be served by us. Just comforting, quality food and service. Not over-the-top, but still very high quality ingredients with comforting service.
What cut should someone order first?
We have been dry-aging prime beef in-house since day one. We’ve made some adjustments over the years. Most recently, we’re going to be doing all Creekstone Farms. Still prime, still dry-aging in-house. The bone-in Ribeye, the boneless Ribeye — the dry-aging is unbelievable.
We’ve seen Carnevino close its doors at the Palazzo next door. Delmonico is now one of the longest running steakhouses on the Strip. Do you feel the restaurant now holds something of an elder statesman role?
I like to be an old reliable, but not old fashioned. We want to stay relevant. We want to be exciting. Even though our backbone is those dry-aging rooms, cutting of steaks and really high-quality meat, I still want to have options in dining, whether it’s private tastings or a really cool lunch menu or who knows — maybe a brunch menu or bar snacks. Have a nice cocktail or small bites before you move on to another restaurants or before you move on to our dining room. I like to keep options open for our guests.
There’s no brunch?
Not yet, but we’re looking at it.
Are there any trends in the culinary world that you’re adapting to Delmonico Steakhouse?
I see a lot of brunch. I lived in Atlanta for a couple of years and saw a lot of brunch and breakfast and those things. Molecular gastronomy was going on for a while. I always like to think that meat is timeless and quality service is timeless. If we do that consistently, I think we’ll be in good shape.
Visit emerilsrestaurants.com/delmonico-steakhouse or venetian.com/restaurants/delmonico-steakhouse.html to learn more about Ronnie Rainwater and his work at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.