Las Vegas
las vegas
THEN AND NOW
As we celebrate Aureole’s 20th anniversary, we step back in time to opening night and skip forward to what’s on the plate tonight.
Aureole Opening Night Menu
Aureole Las Vegas Entrance
I can still remember, clear as day, sitting at the edge of my bed in my hotel room at Mandalay Bay a couple of hours before the opening, thinking, “What have we done?ˮ
—Richard Femenella
CFO and Senior VP of Operations Richard Femenella has 40 years of restaurant and hotel experience, 20 of them with Charlie Palmer Group. He was general manager of Aureole Las Vegas when it opened in 1999.
I can still remember, clear as day, sitting at the edge of my bed in my hotel room at Mandalay Bay a couple of hours before the opening, thinking, “What have we done? Am I about to destroy our company’s reputation and my own career?” No one had ever attempted to open a restaurant this large and at such a high level in Las Vegas. The deck was stacked against us, and opening night had the potential to be mayhem.

Swan Court, the name of our dining room back then, had a table for every casino owner in the city. Many of the other restaurants in Mandalay Bay hadn’t yet opened, and so every guest invited to the hotel’s grand opening the night before also wanted to be in Aureole the following evening. By the grace of God, we made it through that night, and everyone had a spectacular time.

One of the many challenges we faced that night was that the owner of Mandalay Bay at the time insisted we limit our dining experience to one and a half hours. Remember, Aureole LV was set up to be a two- to three-hour dining experience. For Chef Charlie Palmer to monitor every table’s progress and keep service tight, we installed closed-circuit cameras in the dining room connected to two large TV monitors in the kitchen.

The second biggest challenge was figuring out how to manage a 40,000-bottle wine list with 25 percent of the inventory sitting in a 42-foot wine tower! Our brave wine director, Steven Geddes, handled that with grace.

Two decades ago, Las Vegas did not have a history of fine dining. Andre’s French Restaurant, Spago, and Napa were the only high-end restaurants to survive before the Bellagio and then Mandalay Bay opened within a four-month span. Charlie was part of a small group of brave, award-winning chefs that risked their reputations to change the dining scene in Las Vegas forever.

And it paid off: We received four-star reviews in our first year of operation and were the first restaurant ever to win a Wine Spectator Grand Award. But the most important part of opening this restaurant was the team that Charlie had assembled to operate it. There were so many talented young individuals, many still with us or who have gone on to find success within the hospitality industry.

Aureole Opening Night Menu
CFO and Senior VP of Operations Richard Femenella has 40 years of restaurant and hotel experience, 20 of them with Charlie Palmer Group. He was general manager of Aureole Las Vegas when it opened in 1999.
I can still remember, clear as day, sitting at the edge of my bed in my hotel room at Mandalay Bay a couple of hours before the opening, thinking, “What have we done? Am I about to destroy our company’s reputation and my own career?” No one had ever attempted to open a restaurant this large and at such a high level in Las Vegas. The deck was stacked against us, and opening night had the potential to be mayhem.

Swan Court, the name of our dining room back then, had a table for every casino owner in the city. Many of the other restaurants in Mandalay Bay hadn’t yet opened, and so every guest invited to the hotel’s grand opening the night before also wanted to be in Aureole the following evening. By the grace of God, we made it through that night, and everyone had a spectacular time.

One of the many challenges we faced that night was that the owner of Mandalay Bay at the time insisted we limit our dining experience to one and a half hours. Remember, Aureole LV was set up to be a two- to three-hour dining experience. For Chef Charlie Palmer to monitor every table’s progress and keep service tight, we installed closed-circuit cameras in the dining room connected to two large TV monitors in the kitchen.

The second biggest challenge was figuring out how to manage a 40,000-bottle wine list with 25 percent of the inventory sitting in a 42-foot wine tower! Our brave wine director, Steven Geddes, handled that with grace.

Two decades ago, Las Vegas did not have a history of fine dining. Andre’s French Restaurant, Spago, and Napa were the only high-end restaurants to survive before the Bellagio and then Mandalay Bay opened within a four-month span. Charlie was part of a small group of brave, award-winning chefs that risked their reputations to change the dining scene in Las Vegas forever.

And it paid off: We received four-star reviews in our first year of operation and were the first restaurant ever to win a Wine Spectator Grand Award. But the most important part of opening this restaurant was the team that Charlie had assembled to operate it. There were so many talented young individuals, many still with us or who have gone on to find success within the hospitality industry.

Aureole Las Vegas Entrance
I can still remember, clear as day, sitting at the edge of my bed in my hotel room at Mandalay Bay a couple of hours before the opening, thinking, “What have we done?ˮ
—Richard Femenella
Paige Courtney
It’s one of the finest wine collections in the world, and we sell more wine here than in any other specialty dining restaurant in the entire MGM family. It’s not unusual to get a guest who’s usually a spirits drinker to walk into the restaurant and order a bottle. It’s really the experience of a lifetime.”
—Paige Courtney, General Manager, Aureole Las Vegas
Restaurants come and restaurants go. Chef Charlie Palmer was one of the first to put his name on a restaurant in this city. And after 20 years, it’s still here.”
—Alexandre Gregoire, Executive Chef, Aureole Las Vegas
Alexandre Gregoire
20 years later
“When we first opened Aureole, all the tables in the restaurant were covered with white tablecloths,” explains General Manager Paige Courtney. “But the linens in the Swan Court, which is what the Fountain Terrace was originally called, were upscale, and the area featured a different menu.” The restaurant required that patrons commit to a seven-course dining experience. “You were told that up front when you called in to make a reservation. In the Swan Court, you got the pomp and circumstance with your meal.”

Not today: Over the years, Las Vegas has changed. Major hotels have come in with glittery, over-the-top entertainment attractions. Tigers, big-name musical and magical acts, volcanoes, pyramids, zip lines, and rollercoasters all vie for your attention. There’s even the Eiffel Tower!

Executive Chef Alexandre Gregoire worked in the actual Eiffel Tower’s second-floor restaurant in Paris before he moved to Las Vegas nine years ago. He’s seen plenty of change in the culinary landscape. “Restaurants come and restaurants go. Chef Charlie Palmer was one of the first to put his name on a restaurant in this city. And after 20 years, it’s still here.”

Gregoire says that key is giving diners what they want and what they know. “In Las Vegas, people have a different mindset. They come from all over the world, and so you have to offer a menu that is familiar.” Not that familiar stifles the chef’s creativity. “We might keep the proteins basic, but we use garnishes and accompaniments that stand out.”

Aureole Wine Tower
He offers one or two unfamiliar menu items to keep it interesting for the diner looking for an experience. “We had pheasant in the fall, duck breast in the winter, and now I have saddle of rabbit on the menu. It’s not something you usually find in Las Vegas.” It’s only been on the menu for a few weeks, but from his table touches, guests seem to love it. And that makes Gregoire happy.

It comes down to knowing your audience, and Courtney has spent plenty of time in this town. After developing a love affair with hospitality in Hawaii, she moved to the city to earn a degree in hospitality at UNLV with a focus on food and wine. “I love the push and pull of this business, the go go go, and figuring out those puzzle pieces when the pressure is on. I can’t wait for 5 p.m. to roll around, when I get to open the restaurant and see what the machine can do that night.”

Of course, there’s the wine tower, Aureole’s ode to Las Vegas excess. It added that wow factor back in 1999, and it’s very much in play today. “I can’t understate its appeal,” says Courtney. “It’s beautiful, it’s dramatic, and almost daily we get requests from guests to fly inside it. But that’s something we allow only our wine angels to do.” Courtney obliges guests with a tour, however. “It’s one of the finest wine collections in the world, and we sell more wine here than in any other specialty dining restaurant in the entire MGM family. It’s not unusual to get a guest who’s usually a spirits drinker to walk into the restaurant and order a bottle. It’s really the experience of a lifetime.”

During her time in the restaurant industry, Courtney has seen all types of dining, from super casual and full service to fine dining. In a sense, Aureole tailors those services to the guest all in one dining room. “The Fountain Terrace has the white tablecloths,” she explains, “but the rest of the restaurant does not. It’s more formal and quiet on the terrace, and that’s where I seat my guests who are celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, my two-tops.” She acknowledges the several types of guests that Aureole attracts. “With so much to do in Las Vegas, we can get a lot of people in at 5:30 p.m. and have a hard out at 7 p.m. so they can catch a show. We have only an hour or so to impress them before they are on to the next thing, and so that’s something we consider in terms of the service we offer those tables.”

Courtney is happy to oblige those who come in for the whole dining experience. “We will go above and beyond, because we know they have options.” She feels the same when the guests are locals. “Locals are hard to attract,” adds Gregoire. “The allure of the Strip is not as exciting when you live here, and so when they do come, you know it’s a serious commitment.”

Tasting menus are a big draw at Aureole, and both Gregoire and Courtney take comfort in knowing that at the end of the day, guests still want the Charlie Palmer dining experience. “Dining is about sitting at a table with friends, talking, eating, and overall congeniality,” Gregoire says. “It’s what Aureole was created to do, and still does, 20 years later.”