Local chef returns to Strip with riffs on Italian classics

It’s been a long — and in some ways strange — trip these past few years, but Nicole Brisson feels like she’s going home.

“You look at the last three years,” she said, “of what I went through — closing restaurants, opening a big operation, then a local restaurant. I wanted something that I could see in my future.”

That future will bring her back to her past, as the longtime local chef returns to the Strip with Brezza Italian Restaurant, which will open with Resorts World on June 24.

Brisson started on the Strip when she opened Wynn Las Vegas in 2005 before moving to The Venetian, where she eventually was promoted to culinary director of the Las Vegas restaurants of the Batali & Bastianich Group. After the restaurants closed in the wake of the Mario Batali sexual-misconduct scandal, she opened the massive Eataly at Park MGM, and then had her own place, Locale Italian Kitchen in Mountain’s Edge, before committing to the new ventures.

And while Brisson sees Brezza as a new home for herself, it also will be for a lot of those close to her. Her upper-management team is made up of people who have worked with her for years — and that goes for many of the hourly workers, too.

“I have people who have been making pasta with me for 10 years,” she said.

Brezza also will provide a new home for customers such as “the cigar guys,” who have followed Brisson from B&B’s Carnevino.

“They’ve just become regular friends and family,” she said. “They want a home. They want a patio they can smoke cigars on.”

That they’ll have. Brezza will have a 110-seat patio surrounded by olive trees that once graced the Stardust.

“It’s going to be a new home for a lot of people in my life,” she said.

The food will reflect that sense of hospitality. There will be plenty to appeal to red-sauce aficionados, with classics such as garganelli with pork ragu. Most of the dishes will be slightly elevated and have just enough spins and twists to keep things interesting.

One of Brezza’s owners is a fan of dishes prepared oreganata-style, so Brisson created Cappellacci Oreganata, a riff on a dish she’s been making since she was 17. It’s hat-shaped pasta pockets stuffed with a silky cauliflower mixture with spinach, crispy capers and lemon.

“It’s an explosion of flavors in each bite,” she said.

Ricotta-filled corzetti, made with rounds of pasta embossed with a design, will be topped with crispy artichokes and finished with tomato butter and basil for all of the flavors of a stuffed artichoke.

Sustainable seafood will be a focus of the restaurant as well, with dishes such as charred baby octopus with limoncello vinaigrette, gigante beans and salsa verde, and littleneck clams with fava beans, prosciutto brodo and fennel.

There also will be a secret menu for those who want more simple preparations.

“We want people to feel they’re sitting down at an Italian dinner,” Brisson said.

The bar program will specialize in hand-crafted cocktails with inspirations from Italy. There will be various negroni variants, for example, and a Fernet Branca tap.

The decor of Brezza will reflect Brisson’s food, said vice president and business partner Jason Rocheleau, in that it will be classic Italian with updated details. Colors will be mostly soft neutrals, but it seems no detail has been missed.

“You’ll be able to stand at the front door and see through to where (Brisson’s) expediting, and to Las Vegas Boulevard,” Rocheleau said, because the back wall of the restaurant will be glass. The open kitchen will provide a view of the grill burning white oak and olive wood, and a stone wall along one side will provide a background for elevated booths.

In the lounge, the mosaic floor will evoke the Amalfi Coast of Italy, and ceiling trellises will draw the eye to the bar’s satin-brass walls. Three televisions will descend from the ceiling when needed, and then disappear again when not.

And the restaurant and lounge will be in tune with the zeitgeist, Rocheleau said.

“We wanted something that was open and inviting, post-COVID,” he said. “Inviting, not overly trendy.”

“And we are very grateful that we have a great outdoor space,” Brisson said, with the patio to be the site of the only Strip-side live music at the resort.

Brisson and Rocheleau’s Resorts World plans include the adjacent Bar Zazu, which will open later. It will serve tapas reflecting various cuisines, including the Eastern-European ones in Brisson’s background, plus cured meats and cheeses, fresh seafood and grab-and-go pastries.

“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Brisson said of Brezza and Bar Zazu. “It’s that project that keeps you glowing. I feel like everything’s happening around Resorts World’s opening.

“I think now, Vegas will flourish more than ever.”

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