Jun 03, 2019 01:49PM
● By Debbie Hall
“I feel we are creating our own cuisine specifically for our restaurants, including how we handle products, how we treat our guests, and now with my second restaurant, I have incredible support, and I can do more.” – Chef James Trees
Las Vegas native Chef James Trees expands his classic culinary style with an idiosyncratic twist, opening Ada’s in Tivoli Village. His neighborhood destination combines the comfort of the kitchen with a menu of seasonal ingredient-driven pizzas, plates of pasta, salads, and a new ice cream brand alongside a unique cocktail program.
The chef opened Ada’s as more of a pizzeria than a pasta house, while his very successful downtown restaurant, Esther’s Kitchen, is a pasta place. As he explains, “About 80 percent of the menu came from Esther’s since there are so many people who live in the northwest who love Esther’s and would come more often if it were in their neighborhood.” However, he didn’t want to introduce a whole new menu with different items. “I didn’t want to alienate my guests who wanted the food served at Esther’s.”
A favorite antipasti choice (and one of the chef’s specialties) is cauliflower allaromana, similar to what is served only in Rome (but with artichokes). This dish is seasoned with anchovy, chili, and garlic with a canola oil base; the flavors are blended so not one overpowers the seasonings. The cauliflower is soaked in a 2 percent salt solution to brine it. After a coating of rice starch and cornstarch, it is deep fried, but with very little fat added since it is not breaded. The gluten free dish is then tossed with oil and topped with fried capers, parsley, salt, pepper, and chili peppers.
“It might be a lot of effort for such a simple dish,” Trees explains, “but this is the chef’s way of doing it, and it tastes like a great bowl of cauliflower. This just reminds me of the food that I eat in Rome.”
For the more adventurous, mussels combine spicy nduja, lemon, and parsley served with toast. Other Roman-inspired bites include mushroom polenta and beets with honey. Greens, such as in a salad, tempt even the heartiest appetites, including a salad made from black kale, cauliflower, raisins, and pine nuts that raises the bar. An atypical Caesar salad combines lettuce with fresh Parmesan, chili oil, and anchovy.
However, the Italian eatery yells out one word: Pizza. There are 15 choices for pizza as well as make-your-own selections. Yes, favorites such as Margherita, mushroom, and veggies are on the menu. However, Chef Trees takes it out of the (pizza) box with ingredients such as truffle cheese, white asparagus, broccoli rabe, duck confit, and foiegras. Clam pie tops the crust with clam veloute, lemon zest, and parsley. Baccala is a combination of salt cod, saffron potato, and spicy tomato.
The housemade pasta served with unique sauces takes the palate on a trip to Italy with stops of unique touches. Gemmelli presents the ultimate in pesto with peas, lemon zest, and pecorino. Rigatoni carbonara, radiatore with black garlic, and daily ricotta ravioli add to the delish choices on the menu.
Polenta, mushrooms, sherry, and truffle butter is smooth and creamy as it dances with the taste buds. Beets are served with vinegar, lavender honey, and herb ricotta for a healthy, tasty side dish.
“We always talk about the DNA of recipes and where they come from. I learned some amazing dishes and continue to serve them. That is how that evolution happens. I feel really encouraged because I feel we are creating our own cuisine specifically for our restaurants, including how we handle products, how we treat our guests, and now with my second restaurant, I have incredible support, and I can do more,” he says.
Ada’s features roaming bar carts offering tailored gin and tonic cocktails along with other gin-based specialty drinks tableside.
It is all about the atmosphere with a Danish modern aesthetic featuring bright colors, clean lines, polished woods, and original artwork by local painter Heather Grace. The kitchen is open, and seating includes tables and big back booths. Shaded outdoor seating with a special play area for dogs and their lovers beckons an alfresco moment or bonding with your pooch.
As for dessert, Ada’s serves BEST ice cream, a new branded line of ice cream with culinary flavors made with ultra-premium ingredients. The seasonally rotating menu includes Billington’s salted caramel, peach, and ricotta; Vesta white coffee and chocolate; and roasted salted pistachio. Toppings such as fresh cookies, marshmallows, sauces, and brittle complement the frozen treat. A show-stopping brûléed banana split tops the dessert experience. The ice cream counter is at the front of the café, making it convenient to order it to go or enjoy it in leisure on the patio or after dining.
As for the name, it was the idea of Ada’s general manager Sonia Stelea, who told Trees about Ada Coleman, the first female head bartender (in the world at that time) of the legendary Savoy hotel in London. She invented the Hanky Panky cocktail during a period in the hotel’s history when it was considered a dive bar.
“It was a man’s position running a bar at the time, but Ada was strong and authoritative, and I see the same qualities in Sonia, which I love about her. So, I decided to name it Ada’s, and my themes in my restaurants is that they are named after powerful women,” Trees says.
Inspired by his great-aunt Esther, Trees began his culinary career as a teenager at the Mirage Hotel & Casino on the Strip. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, he rose through the ranks under internationally known chefs and opened multiple restaurants for the Mina Group and spent several seasons behind the scenes with Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen. The wildly popular Esther’s Kitchen in the Downtown Las Vegas Arts District is his first independent restaurant along with a BEST ice cream counter at The Strat. His new neighborhood destination, Ada’s, creates a fun, playful atmosphere with a delectable menu and smooth drinks.