This weekend (Feb. 9), Puck will debut Caramá at the former Lupo space inside Las Vegas casino-resort Mandalay Bay, with a soft-opening ahead of Sunday’s big game. Indeed, Puck and his son, Byron, are looking forward to unveiling Caramá in time for the Super Bowl LVIII, which will take place at Allegiant Stadium near Mandalay Bay on Feb. 11.
The Austrian-born Puck grew up in Sankt Veit an der Glan, a small town on the border of Italy, and Caramá will showcase northern Italian food and be a tribute to his mother. He admits he was nervous about turning Lupo, which he says had its best year ever in 2022, into a new restaurant. But Mandalay Bay is the middle of a makeover, and he knows it’s time for a revamp with some new energy.
“We want to have real Italian food,” he tells Observer. “We’re building a salumeria in the middle of the restaurant. I’m excited about it, and change is good.”
Puck’s son and right-hand man, Byron, elaborates on the salumi program and the restaurant beyond that: “We’re working with distributors and vendors in Italy to source the best prosciutto and culatello we can find,” he tells Observer. “We’re bringing in the distributors and vendors to come work with our chefs before we open to really train them on slicing it appropriately and understanding the history behind it. And then we’ll create some new offerings that we’ve never done before and really reinvent what our Italian style of cuisine looks like within our fine-dining room. There’s going to be a beautiful wine room and the biggest bar that we’ve ever seen in any of our restaurants.”
The salumeria will be an interactive experience, where guests can choose their meat, cheese and vegetable accompaniments (like Roman artichokes). Then the appetizer boards, which could pair well with cocktails or a glass of Franciacorta, will be assembled in front of them.
The Pucks, who are working alongside seasoned restaurateur and wine expert Piero Selvaggio at Caramá, will explore the intersection of southern Austrian and northern Italian food at their new Las Vegas restaurant. So there might be topfenknödel along with ravioli and agnolotti.
“It’s really a love letter of a restaurant to my grandmother, to the cooking and the styles of cuisine that she taught my father when he was 12, 13, 14, and learning to cook with her at a hotel on the Wörthersee in Austria,” Byron says.
The Pucks are also actively looking at other projects, including the possibility of boutique hotels. But the most notable future venture is a grand waterfront restaurant space at the storied Gladstones location on the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles.
“I think it’s the most exciting project we’ll do in our lifetime, except maybe opening the first two restaurants, Spago and Chinois, because they made a statement in America like no other restaurants,” Wolfgang Puck says.
Among other things, Spago turned a chef-driven destination with an open kitchen (revolutionary at the time it opened) into the hottest celebrity-laden restaurant anywhere. And Chinois was a pioneering fusion restaurant.
Gladstones is still open, and the new Pacific Palisades endeavor from the Pucks is likely at least a few years away. But they’ve already been working with esteemed architect Frank Gehry to “create an everlasting building,” Byron says.
The Pucks plan on creating a fine-dining restaurant with close to 300 seats. There will be elements of Spago’s California cuisine, of course, but the Pucks are imagining a Mediterranean-style destination with a raw bar and a menu that could include salt-baked fish, dips, spreads and lots of grilled vegetables.
The two-story structure will also feature a top floor with banquet space for weddings and other events. Byron, who recently enjoyed some of the best fish tacos of his life in Playa del Carmen, is also envisioning an outdoor cafe that will serve beachgoers. And the Pucks have been floating around the idea of having a beach club as well.
“We want to bring in DJs,” Byron says. “We want to create a very lively and fun space to go enjoy the beach in the afternoon, grab a great bottle of wine or champagne and have some nice light tapas-style food.”
The Pucks are also considering members-only social-club amenities in Pacific Palisades. This makes a lot of sense, given the rise of food-focused private clubs and Wolfgang’s intersection of top-tier cooking and an A-list crowd.
“I think it’s exciting to do something new all the time,” Wolfgang says. “I would say this is probably the best location you could have in L.A. or California. With Frank Gehry, it’s going to be expensive to build. But it’s going to make a statement worldwide. This one’s going to be, for us, a new experience.”