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Alon Shaya goes to Las Vegas with Safta 1964

The chef reimagines his Denver restaurant with a retro, fun, over-the-top residency

Alon Shaya said Las Vegas exudes an over-the-top, excessive and vibrant vibe that’s perfect for his latest concept, Safta 1964. Starting in April, diners can experience this extravagant tribute to his grandmother’s younger days, showcased in a year-long residency in Jardin at Wynn Las Vegas.

“Out here [in Las Vegas] people want to be taken somewhere, on a trip, on a voyage, and that’s what we are setting up to do,” the chef and restaurateur said over the phone. “Our beloved Safta from Denver — we had a daydream of her getting this shot of coming to Vegas and making a name for herself in this crazy town.”

Safta is the Hebrew word for “grandmother,” and it’s what Shaya called his own grandmother. In essence, Safta 1964 is a celebration of her and her early years, before Safta was a safta. As the chef puts it, the Las Vegas residency is the “Safta prequel.”

Shaya opened the original Safta in Denver in 2018, around the same time he launched Saba, or “grandfather,” in New Orleans. The idea was to give the Denver restaurant a cozy grandmother energy, with soulful and comforting Mediterranean fare. Shaya said the service there is meant to be warm and inviting, where the diners feel taken care of.

With Safta 1964, Shaya will take all the energy but give it a retro twist, right down to the décor, place settings, staff uniforms, and presentation. The food is less 1960s and more Las Vegas indulgent. Think “extra,” he said, with dishes such as duck matzo ball soup with a pile of shaved black truffles on top; tagine filled with king crab and hand-rolled couscous; a tower of salatim — salads, spreads, and other cold appetizers — with fresh pita; and Osetra caviar-topped beef tartare. While the prices of the dishes haven’t been disclosed yet, based on the online-menu the per-person check will lean toward the triple digits.

“All of these are fun takes on Safta’s cooking, though my grandma didn’t use Osetra caviar or even saw black truffle or king crab, but here we are making her take these risks and having a lot of fun with it,” said Shaya. “Overall, it’s going to be this incredible party, and she is like 25 years old, with nothing to lose, taking risks, and going all out.” 

Opening in Las Vegas also feels like a homecoming to Shaya, who got his start in the restaurant world there. Born in Israel and raised in Philadelphia, the chef attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., before heading to the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In 2001 he moved to New Orleans and planted personal and professional roots there.

Shaya launched Pomegranate Hospitality in 2017 with his wife and partner Emily Shaya. Today the restaurants include Saba in New Orleans, Safta in Denver, and both Miss River and Chandelier Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans. 

With Safta 1964, Shaya said he is excited to let loose and celebrate his beloved grandmother. She never got to visit him in Las Vegas, so the residency is a way he can bring her there in spirit. 

TAGS: Chefs
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