Iconic Chef Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, after a run of more than 20 years, had pretty much become an institution at Mandalay Bay and opened along with the resort in 1999. In many ways Aureole was an homage to wine with its four-story wine tower storing 10,000 bottles and gravity-defying angels who floated up to retrieve wines selected by its guests.
After the oenophile haven completed its final dinner service in April, now after a quick rebrand less than a month later, its replacement, RETRO by Voltaggio, has been unveiled. The new and first Las Vegas restaurant by the celebrity chef brothers has transformed the space into a shrine to the 80s and 90s through its nostalgic décor, music and food and beverage menus.
Celebrity Chef Brothers
The namesakes of the new restaurant are brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, natives of Frederick, MD who have made quite a name for themselves both through frequent TV appearances on the Food Network. Most noteworthy was when they competed in Bravo’s Top Chef and in season 6 went head-to-head against each other as both made it to the final two spots with Michael besting his brother. They went on to build restaurant empires of their own and together opened modern seafood restaurant Estuary in Washington, D.C. and fine dining steakhouse Voltaggio Brothers Steak House at MGM National Harbor in Fort Washington, MD.
While this marks their first Las Vegas restaurant, they tested the waters for a Vegas residency when they hosted two pop-up dinners at Harvest at Bellagio in 2021 and 2022. Interestingly, both brothers worked for Charlie Palmer early in their careers at the NYC Aureole and consider him a great mentor.
Celebrating the Pop Culture of the 80s and 90s
As you enter the 9,000-square-foot space you could opt for an elevator ride to the restaurant floors below, but trust me you’ll be rewarded if you instead descend via the stairway wrapping around the previous wine tower. It has been repurposed to a museum-like display inspired by the 80s and 90s filled with nostalgic memorabilia the brothers grew up with.
Much care went into the recreation, with bikes, skateboards, basketball hoops, old landline phones, roller blades, guitars, boom box, VCR player, Lite-Bright, board games, vintage Nintendo NES video game, and a record player complete with vinyl albums. Inside the lounge and dining room there are sounds of your favorite songs from the period playing and some elements to make you think of home, like some seating featuring couches with pillows and walls adorned with album covers and color photographs of Bryan and Michael as children growing up.
Nostalgic Celebration Through Food
The nostalgic celebration continues in the food and beverage menus and most items are served family-style and ideal for sharing. The VoltaggiO’s, a take on SpaghettiOs, is a new school version of the old school canned favorite and is housemade O’s, arrabbiata butter, giant meatball and of course is presented in an aluminum can. Pepperoni Rolls mimic the oven-baked after school snack, and are in the form of pepperoni brioche that looks like a cinnamon roll, and are filled with fennel pollen, basil, mozzarella, gooey stracciatella cheese, San Marzano tomato marinara sauce and espelette pepper.
Not surprisingly, there are some surprising uses of ingredients and presentations as one would expect of the innovative chef siblings. Like Wagyu Beef Pot Roast, which like the version your mother and grandmother served, is presented in white CorningWare with blue flowers imprinted on the side, but the non-traditional aspects are the use of wagyu beef cheeks slowly cooked for 48 hours transforming the meat into succulent and tender bites; and the glazed carrots accompanying the beef are prepared separately and bathed in an emulsion of sweet carrots.
Other surprises are Deviled Eggs topped with caviar, the playful and fun deconstructed Key Lime Pie with coconut sorbet and pie crust crumble and Blackened Octopus with ink aioli served in a cafeteria-style lunch tray.
More examples of homecooked fare being elevated into luxury comfort food are the Joël Robuchon-inspired Mashed Potatoes loaded heavily with creamy butter; Chicken Pot Pie spruced up with black truffle coulis, croquettes and buttery cracker crust; and Green Bean Casserole with haricort very, shitake mushroom broth, crispy onions and mushroom hay.
Reimagined Popular RETRO Drinks
The beverage menu features popular 80s and 90s staples with modern takes made with high-end spirits, house-made syrups and fresh pressed juices. The Appletini is a mix of Midori, gin, green apple juice, egg white and matcha; the Fuzzy Navel has Lillet Blanc, Montenegro, orange, peach, honey and prosecco; and the Blue Hawaiian is made with rum, coconut, pineapple, lime, Blue Curacao and Absinthe.
As sharing is a bit of theme here, it also extends to the cocktails with the rum, cognac and gin-infused Jungle Juice with honey, orange and orgeat; and Brass Monkey with a 40-oz Olde English 800 malt liquor in a paper bag poured tableside atop individual glasses of a passionfruit-orange sorbet. Each are large enough to serve 3-4.
Entertainment While You Dine
For entertainment while you dine, there’s a table filled with slinkies, Rubik’s cubes, Magic 8 Balls and Classic View Masters. Your server will also amuse with questions from Trivial Pursuit cards which you are allowed to borrow for your own table competition.
Thoughts on the Concept from Chefs Bryan and Michael
Regarding the new concept and the menu he and his brother have created, Chef Bryan says, “The tail end of the 90s was when we first started cooking. (The menu) is looking back at what we grew up with but with elevated twists.” Chef Michael adds, “It’s a legit residency and we will spend time here. The menu will evolve and we’ve already made changes since opening.”
Although it was initially announced that the residency is slated as a one-year residency, based on the fun environment, elevated American staples, nostalgic accouterments and huge popularity of the Voltaggio Brothers, we certainly won’t be surprised if that year turns into a much longer time period. RETRO by Voltaggio is open 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday