Giada De Laurentiis knows how to cut a ribbon. With her 9-year-old daughter Jade, Food Network costar Bobby Flay, and Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner, she sends a garland of herbs to the floor of her new Las Vegas restaurant. “Welcome to Pronto, everybody. Come on in!” she says, flashing that megawatt smile. The breezy space fills with people eating, drinking, and hugging. It’s loud and cheerful, and De Laurentiis agrees it could almost be an Italian kitchen on a Sunday. “It’s controlled chaos,” she says.
The Emmy-winning chef poses for photo after photo near a large portrait in Pronto’s gift shop, showing the same polished effervescence in person. She’s had a lot of practice, having started her Food Network career in 2002, with the cookbooks and restaurants following. “They expect the show first and the food second, where from other chefs they expect food first, show second,” De Laurentiis told Travel + Leisure. “I have to keep that in mind whenever I’m doing things, and to make sure that it really has my signature on it — that it’s happy and it’s warm and it’s inviting.”
Pronto, inside Caesars Palace, checks those boxes, especially the last one. While De Laurentiis has seen success with her eponymous restaurant just down the Strip at the The Cromwell, she wanted to create something within reach for fans who can’t afford a $60 filet, or who want to bring their kids along for a tasty meal from a T.V. star.
“As much as fine dining is great, there’s a whole sector of people who are looking for a different experience, and not necessarily just a buffet,” she said. “I know buffets are still big, but this is a taste of something a little more elevated but at a much lower price point. I think that’s kinda needed here.”
With Pronto, she has Giada-fied the fast-casual concept. On her website before the February grand opening, she gushed about drawing inspiration from “the all-day cafes of Italy where friends meet for everything from a quick bite on the go to a leisurely meal over wine.”
The "quick bite of the good life" tagline describes grab-and-go specialties and a long deli case full of sandwiches, grilled proteins, and rustic sides. Desserts range from dark chocolate mascarpone cake to the gorgeous grapefruit-Aperol sorbetto. The selection exemplifies Giada’s signature weave of Italian and Californian influences, whether you want to grab a salami-tomato focaccia at 6 a.m. or hit the wine bar for Rochioli sauvignon blanc at 10:30 p.m. And it packs flavor without being overdone.
“Vegas is known for over-the-top indulgent dishes, right? And I had these people yesterday say to me: 'You know, it’s hard to find the basics.’ Oatmeal, yogurt — the basics of basics,” De Laurentiis said (though her special oatmeal comes with Marcona almonds, Maldon sea salt, fresh orange, and a drizzle of olive oil). “Because we’re the land of indulgence here, we forget the simplicity.”
That, she adds, is why Jade was the perfect muse for Pronto. With her developing palate, she gave sharp feedback on the menu and even the visual flow.
“Children don’t have a lot of patience for things that are too chaotic or complicated, or where they have to spend too much time figuring things out. So she’s been a big guide in all this,” De Laurentiis said. “She likes simple and she likes fast, but then again lots of flavor.”
Enter the muffuletta ($15), cured meats ribboned on artisan bread with aged provolone, tapenade and roasted peppers flecked with herbs. A Jade favorite is the cheese and lemon pesto panini ($14), one of many dishes showcasing De Laurentiis' beloved fruit (her lemon-ricotta cookies are three for $3 and deservedly famous). For elevated breakfast on the go, try the croissant-like cornetti laced with salty mortadella and floral and creamy California goat cheese ($6).
The most expensive thing on the main menu is $18, and many items are under $10. Chef de Cuisine Josh Grimes says no dish takes more than four minutes, with front-end finesse (aka tons of prep) ensuring the quality De Laurentiis demands.
“She’s been with us this entire journey, from menu development to picking wine glasses,” General Manager Megan Hutton says, the spotless crystal ready for 40 wines by the glass. Tuscan red blend Brancaia Ilatraia 2012 retails for $60-$70 per bottle, but Pronto’s aromatic preservation system enables 3-, 5-, or 9-ounce pours of premium wines typically unavailable in single servings.
Hutton recalls the first time she met De Laurentiis, during an on-the-fly interview in the busy kitchen of her restaurant at The Cromwell. The chef’s whirlwind life requires improvisation, though she seems never to let the details get lost.
That is keenly felt inside Pronto, in the careful curation and delivery of each element. Customers might not notice the juice in their cocktails is pressed to order, or realize their Counter Culture coffee comes from a company committed to single-origin brews and broad sustainability.
The quality speaks for itself, De Laurentiis says, even if guests are more dazzled by the idea of taste-testing an episode of "Everyday Italian." “If I can deliver a good show, then I feel like people will keep coming back for the good food.”