Las Vegas

How a Pastry Chef Is Keeping the Vegas Karaoke Spirit Alive

Off-key singing, private rooms, and cheap beer.

Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist
Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist
Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist

Welcome to Karaoke Week, Thrillist’s celebration of our favorite global phenomenon with drink recipes, singing advice, celebrity recommendations, tips for hosting karaoke at home, and much more.No matter how bad things get, Las Vegas will always be a town of unlimited possibilities. A place where you can roll the dice, cash in big, and go home a millionaire. Build the life you want, live the dream you want. Playing tourist is fun. Being a resident of Las Vegan is even better. 

Few represent the lifestyle as well as Jesse Siharath. The pastry chef works hard at Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian by day. By night, the 30-year-old is a fixture at Karaoke Q Studio — a lounge in Chinatown where patrons stay up late, belting out off-key but earnest renditions of “I Will Survive” and “Don’t Stop Believing.” It’s something Siharath has been doing much of his life.    

“My family always sang karaoke,” he says. “I guess you could say it’s an Asian thing.”

Though he doesn’t have a go-to song or genre, he admits that being a ’90s kid has him gravitating towards artists like Savage Garden, TLC, All-4-One, and Destiny’s Child. In fact, he lip-synced “Survivor” to win an Ameteaur Night contest at Drink & Drag — the now-closed Fremont Street bar that combined bowling with drag shows. But sometimes country music finds its way into the mix. Siharath was born in Texas and lived in Arkansas and Tennessee before studying the culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

“Living in the South, you develop a love for country music,” he continues. “Like Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, even Keith Urban. I’ll do George Strait, as well.”

Whatever the song choice, there seems to be two categories of karaoke performers. For Siharath, it’s a social thing, something to enjoy with friends behind the closed doors of a private room in a Chinatown karaoke parlor. How you sing or what you sing is less important than who you’re singing with. 

For others, however, karaoke is all about the show — living out a pop star fantasy on stage in front of strangers. This type of karaoke is for the extraverts. Perhaps those who had a rock band in high school or played the lead in a high school musical. That’s where Vegas’ two most notorious karaoke destinations enter the picture. Dino’s Lounge is the one of the longest-running dive bars in Las Vegas, sitting on historic Las Vegas Boulevard real estate — a couple blocks from the Stratosphere tower and in that murky area where the Strip merges with Downtown. Dino’s was continuously open for more than five decades before being forced to temporarily close earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist
Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist
Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist

Until then, karaoke ran Wednesday through Saturday nights, beginning at 10pm and going as long as people kept buying drinks. The bar is dark and the stage is visible from all corners. There’s nowhere to hide from curious eyes, even if some of them occasionally drift to the vintage erotic films that illuminate the TV screens. You’ve got to set the mood somehow. 

Just east of the Strip, Ellis Island is another slice of classic Las Vegas, although one that’s seen more evolution over the years. The hotel and casino recently upgraded its on-site brewery and celebrated the opening of the Front Yard last year, an atrium-like extension with a contemporary menu of booze and bites. However, it’s most enduring legacy may be the popular karaoke nights — offered in a cozy corner bar off the main casino floor.   
   
“The karaoke room is small, and kind of old school. I think that’s part of what makes it so welcoming,” says Christina Ellis of Ellis Island. “We get everyone ranging from actual entertainers on the Strip to drunk bachelorette parties. There’s something really fun about walking a block off the Strip and belting it out in our lounge with a cheap beer until 4am.”

Of course, the scene has been struggling during the pandemic. While bars put their karaoke nights on hold, regulars have been looking for alternatives. Some have turned to apps. Others have actually bought their own karaoke machines to get through quarantine. 

Siharath went a step further, rounding up a group of friends — some as far away as Iowa and Hawaii — for a virtual karaoke session on FaceTime. “It was a lot of fun,” he recalls, despite the technical imperfections. “We had drinks and food like we normally do, and I think we ended up singing for four hours. I’m sure my neighbors were confused about why there was somebody belting horrible off-key songs.”For now, however, Chinatown’s parlors will remain the go-to options for karaoke junkies. The private rooms automatically provide a degree of built-in social distancing with customers required to wear masks outside of them. Just a few months ago, Kamu Ultra Karaoke debuted at the Venetian, bringing a much-needed upscale Asian-style karaoke lounge to the Strip. 

Kamu Karaoke
Kamu Karaoke
Kamu Karaoke

As Las Vegas tries its best to turn back the clock and return to business as usual, it helps to have an outlet to channel your inner voice, reach deep in your diaphragm, and belt out a song that may not be perfect — but comes from a place of sincerity and exhilaration. 

“There are a lot of politics and other things going on in the world,” Siharath says. “People are scared and unsure. With karaoke, you can forget about the stress and just sing.”Sign up here for our daily Vegas email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than six years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.

Las Vegas

A Fresh Take on Italian Dining Opens in Southwest Las Vegas

A first look at Basilico Ristorante Italiano.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

You can’t be all things to all people. Yet a new Italian restaurant strikes an intriguing balance between authenticity and inventive touches while helping to shape the identity of a new community in the booming Southwest Valley of Las Vegas.

Basilico Ristorante Italiano is now open at Evora, a master-planned apartment development still under construction that won’t be finished for at least five years. The 160-seat restaurant follows the vision of chef Francesco Di Caudo, a Sicily native who draws on his heritage and experience throughout Italy to build a compelling menu based on traditional techniques and modern ingenuity.

“I come from a country where farm-to-table is nothing new,” says Di Caudio, while emphasizing the importance of ingredient sourcing and simple, straightforward flavor combinations.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

Just look at the appetizers. Americans are used to eggplant parmesan that’s breaded and fried without restraint. Di Caudo sticks to a traditional Sicilian recipe with the vegetable sliced thin, sizzled in a pan, and layered with tomato and basil. No mozzarella. On the other hand, the Smoked Cigar is destined to be a signature showstopper. Duck, foie gras, and porcini mushrooms are packed inside a thin, cracker-like shell, presented in a box, and dipped into a glass ashtray. The “ash” in the centre is a black sesame and truffle mix. Don’t be shy about double dipping.

The risotto is bound to be another conversation piece. The recipe uses Carnaroli rice, a starchy grain from North Italy that produces a creamy texture, balancing the saltiness of a parmesan broth with a sweet splash of chestnut honey. The real surprise is the inclusion of Lavazza espresso, manipulated to crackle in your mouth like Pop Rocks candy.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

All pastas are made in-house, from a parsnip cavatelli to a lamb and thyme tortellini in a broth filtered from braised prosciutto. Some dishes have a subtle Asian influence, including a hamachi crudo with pomelo (similar to yuzu), Hokkaido scallops with oxtail, and a planned octopus braised in dashi. The flavours come to life inside a sharp, contemporary dining room with deep red chairs and stone, wood, and marble touches. The wine collection is dominated by Italian labels, with a few California and Oregon picks thrown in to round out the list. Bottles are on display near the front entrance and inside illuminated square shelves. “It looks like a fancy restaurant, but when you sit down, I want you to have fun,” adds Di Caudio.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

The bar is the heart of the restaurant, ready to serve up to 16 people inside and dozens more via accordion-style windows that open wide to a covered patio. The outdoor space, temperature-controlled with overhead fans and heaters, effectively extends Evora’s open-air plaza with dramatic water and fire features. It’s a natural spot for tastings and special events with a covered stage for live music. Evora is rolling out in four phases, with the first 342 apartments ready by fall. There could be as many as 1,400 when it’s all said and done. Rent begins at around $1,800 for studios and one-bedroom units and goes up to $4,000 for two-story top-floor residences with a loft and Strip views. The community will include swimming pools, pickleball courts, a putting green, a dog park, firepits, EV charging stations, and pavilions equipped with audio and video features.

“Basilico matches the demographic for our apartments,” says Danny Sorge of Digital Desert Development, the company behind the community. “The term ‘youthful sophistication’ has been thrown around about the restaurant and Evora as a whole. It brings something new to the area.”

Rendering courtesy of Evora
Rendering courtesy of Evora
Rendering courtesy of Evora

The development follows a deliberate strategy to have the commercial tenants in place before the first residents move in, occupying a stand-alone building that strikes a commanding presence on the corner of Patrick Lane and Buffalo Drive. Lemon Tree Cafe & Market is already open as a European-style grocery store with plenty of room to sit down with a sandwich and glass of wine. Keep your eyes peeled for Taps & Barrels (a self-service beer hall), Tachi Ramen, and EVOQ hair salon in the months ahead, with more businesses to come. The timing couldn’t be better. The Southwest Valley is on fire right now, with the Durango hotel and casino and UnCommons mixed-use development taking shape as new attractions in 2023. The Bend, a long-promised shopping and dining district, has been in a holding pattern for years but holds promise in an area where everything is getting bigger and better.

Meanwhile, the team behind Evora is staking a claim with Di Caudio running the kitchen at Basilico. The chef’s recent collaboration with Chef Oscar Amador helped Anima by EDO score a recent James Beard Award nomination and reputation as one of the best new restaurants in Las Vegas. Di Caudio first came to Las Vegas to work at Zeffirino at the Grand Canal Shoppes-a gig he expected to last about six months before returning home. Instead, he stuck around and continued to build his reputation at culinary destinations like Sinatra at the Wynn and Ferraro’s off the Strip.

Ultimately, Basilico will be a restaurant to keep an eye on as it develops under Di Caudio’s guidance. The menu will shift and evolve based on the chef’s preferences and the availability of seasonal ingredients. Di Caudio is also planning a smaller menu and social hour for the bar area and a reasonably priced tasting menu with around 10 dishes served family style.

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Rob Kachelriess¬†has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than nine years. In addition, his work has appeared in¬†Travel + Leisure, Leafly, Supercall, Modern Luxury, and¬†Luxury Estates International’s seasonal publication. Follow him on Twitter¬†@rkachelriess.

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