Strip chef leaves Prime to open Henderson Italian restaurant

General Manager David Oseas and Chef Rob Moore are working to create Rosa Ristorante still unde ...

Dateline: New Jersey, 1984, 7th grade.

Rob Moore wants to enroll in shop class, but he misses the deadline. Macramé and home economics are the only electives left. He chooses home economics, where a culinary epiphany ensues over cinnamon rolls: They don’t have to come from the Pillsbury can!

And just like that, what the world lost in planters and birdhouses, it gained in a budding chef who would go on to cook at some of the country’s most celebrated restaurants for some of its most celebrated chefs.

Such as Gray Kunz at Lespinasse, one of the finest restaurants ever to open in New York City, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Prime Steakhouse in Bellagio, one of Las Vegas’ great communions of marbling and fine wine. In fall 2021, after more than 15 years cooking for Vongerichten, Rob Moore suddenly left as executive chef of Prime — without knowing where he would next deploy his knives.

“I quit without a landing pad,” he said. At the same time, he couldn’t have stayed. “We were busier than ever, but I didn’t feel like what I was doing mattered. I wasn’t happy.” And yet: “Sometimes, opportunities present themselves after you leave.”

A VIP customer from Prime who had an interest in a former restaurant asked the chef for advice on what to do with the space. Suggestions led to taking a meeting, then led to Moore being recruited to help plan and be the executive chef for Rosa Ristorante, an Italian spot scheduled to open by late April at 3145 St. Rose Parkway in Henderson.

After 25 years of preparing other people’s menus, Rob Moore finally has a room of his own. “For the first time in my life, someone asked me what I wanted to cook,” he said. “And this is it.”

Italian-American dishes; sticking with steaks

Rosa Ristorante takes its name from the mural of roses being painted across the back wall of the restaurant by local artist Cerissa Lopez. (The mural replaces rose wallpaper from the previous restaurant that was initially going to remain.) Rosa draws inspiration from the Italian-American dishes Moore grew up eating in New Jersey and the Italian restaurants he worked at in New York City.

“These are the things I like, these are the things I make, these are what I made for family meals for the troops (in the restaurants),” Moore said.

There is spaghetti and meatballs, of course, with a sauce of Roma tomatoes. Ribbons of tagliatelle are served Bolognese. Rigatoni slip into a creamy vodka tomato sauce, a 1980s standard that feels fresh again.

Appetizers present a version of surf and turf: amberjack crudo slicked with lemon vinaigrette, and beef tenderloin carpaccio with arugula, Parmesan and lemon. Pizzas have their corner of the menu, too.

“I haven’t done them professionally before, only at home and in the back of the kitchen, and making pizza makes me happy, so I wanted to do it,” the chef said.

Among the main courses: chicken Parmesan, pork chops robed in prosciutto and lobster fra diavolo with a snarl of spicy linguine. Steaks showcasing 1855 Black Angus Beef summon the years Moore helmed the kitchen at Prime.

“I would never get tired of cooking steak,” he said. “It’s my area of expertise, it’s what I’ve been known for, for half my career, so how could I leave it behind? It’s somewhere customers can start to trust us: We know he can cook steak, so let’s see what else he can do.”

Looking after locals

David Oseas worked with Moore at Prime as the restaurant’s general manager. He recently left the steakhouse to come aboard in the same role at Rosa Ristorante.

Like the chef, Oseas’ resume brims with gigs at famous restaurants before his Prime time, including helping to open Border Grill in Mandalay Bay and general manager stints at Hubert Keller’s Fleur and Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay, Jaleo and é by José Andrés in The Cosmopolitan, and Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak at The Mirage.

On the Strip and 12 miles off it at Rosa Ristorante, certain principles of hospitality endure, Oseas said: a friendly welcome, attentive service, customer comfort. At that same time, “we’re going to be a local restaurant, and there’s a change in relationship from seeing someone once every six months to seeing them once a week.

“When you’re on vacation, you don’t think so much about the money. In some ways, local diners can be more discerning.”

Oseas will oversee a main wine list focusing on California and Italy, with detours to France and Spain, about 30 percent white wines and the remainder red. There also will be a reserve wine list offering heavy-hitting Brunellos, Barolos and Super Tuscans, a selection of amaro and the restaurant’s homemade limoncello.

A little bad taste is a good thing

In a room across from Rosa Ristorante, tufted red velvet banquettes await the dining room. Faux crystals lie at the intersections of the tufts. The banquettes feel like the “red sauce” version of Italian restaurant décor. What’s next, you wonder. Gilded putti? Venus de Milo rain lamps?

No putti, Moore said, laughing, but the banquettes, like bold seasoning, have their place. “It’s just a little bit of gaudiness to let you know you’re in a New Jersey-inspired restaurant.”

Bring on the meatballs. And maybe Venus?

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.