Giada de Laurentiis, the Food Network celebrity chef, will infuse her Italian-meets-Californian flavors into Baltimore’s food scene in mid-April when GDL Italian by Giada opens at the Horseshoe Casino.
Her trattoria-style restaurant at the Horseshoe will offer a “casual but elegant” experience, she said. It’s a new concept for de Laurentiis, who said she did not want to replicate GDL by Giada, her fine-dining restaurant in Las Vegas.
“At the beginning of this discussion everybody just said to me, ‘Let’s just rebuild Giada Vegas but in Baltimore,’” she said. “And I thought, ‘No, it doesn’t work here.’ It’s not the same community, which is why I had to spend time here to understand it.”
De Laurentiis announced plans to open the restaurant, her first outside Las Vegas, last year. She said she was hesitant to open a restaurant in Baltimore when Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, presented the opportunity.
“I thought, ‘But why? Why would I go to Baltimore? I don’t understand why I would do that,’” she said.
Since then, she has visited several times to meet local chefs, such as Cindy Wolf, who made her “the most delicate ceviche I’ve ever had” Monday at Charleston.
She said she plans to lean on chefs like Wolf to better understand Baltimore’s food landscape and learn where to find the best local suppliers.
“We’re now texting friends,” she said of Wolf. “It’s really lovely.”
GDL Italian may incorporate ingredients from local purveyors such as Roseda Farm, JJ McDonnell & Co. and Stone Mill Bakery, said Jay Lattimer, vice president of food and beverage for the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
The menu is still being developed, but charcuterie, seafood, fresh pasta and pizza will play prominently, as well as a few favorites from GDL by Giada in Las Vegas.
“My food is a little bit different than most Italian restaurants,” she said. “Yes, it’s classic Italian, but it has a much lighter spin to it. It definitely has a more vibrant sort of California feel to it.”
She ultimately plans to offer build-your-own pasta bowls. And odes to Baltimore, such as crab cake arancini (fried crab balls) with Old Bay aioli, could appear on the menu, too.
“Seafood is such a big part of who Baltimore is, and so we will incorporate a lot of that, of course, with a little bit of an Italian spin to it,” de Laurentiis said.
The wine list will incorporate a mix of bottles from Italy, California and other regions in the U.S.
“What I’m going to do is just pull my favorites from different areas and make sure they’re priced really well, and that will sort of create it,” she said of the wine list, adding she’ll look to guests for feedback. “This isn’t a one-way street. I’m not going to be eating at the restaurant every night — the folks in Baltimore will be, so if I don’t listen to them, then I might as well just forget doing this.”
She expects prices will be around $35 per guest.
Brian Drosenos will serve as the restaurant’s executive chef.
The second-floor space inside the South Baltimore casino — previously JB’s Eatery, and Johnny Sanchez before that — is under construction. When it’s complete, the restaurant will seat 180 guests and feature an antipasto bar and open kitchen, with “tomato reds,” “citrus colors” and local art adorning the walls.
“What I wanted was bright, happy colors and a feminine touch to the room,” de Laurentiis said. “I wanted to take the intimidation of walking into a restaurant out of it. I want you to almost be pulled in by the aromas of the food, the warmth and the smiles of people that work there.”
De Laurentiis recognized opening a restaurant in Baltimore will be different from her restaurants in Las Vegas, where she also operates the fast-casual spot Pronto by Giada.
“I’ve never opened a restaurant in a city that wasn’t a destination,” she said. “How do I get the people that come here normally to gamble to actually take an interest in my restaurant? And I think that will be tricky. So then at that point I need to pull from the neighborhoods, right?”
She hopes to work with fellow celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Guy Fieri to lure those customers to the casino.
Although she was initially apprehensive about Baltimore, she said the city’s pride — the same pride she takes in her Italian heritage — ultimately won her over.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to try a new concept,” she said. “When I’m incredibly fearful of something is when I have to jump off the ledge and try it because otherwise that fear stops you from ever moving forward.”