Although many tourists may never visit The Palms due to an off-Strip location, Las Vegas’ best fine dining story going into 2020 could very well be Chef Daniel Ontiveros’ hiring at Scotch 80 Prime. Already an impressive restaurant, ever since its May 2018 debut, it is under the former Comme Ça and Bouchon chef’s watch that Scotch 80 has quickly emerged as a true destination. Initially best known for its rare whiskey and artwork by Basquiat, Scotch 80 Prime works on food that matches a dining room and service that rank amongst Sin City’s best.
Inspired to learn more after a recent meal that included Tajima wagyu, Colorado lamb chops and a flaming crustacean tower, we sat down with Chef Ontiveros to discuss past, present and future.
Tell me a bit about your culinary background. Who influenced you as a youth, and who since coming to Las Vegas?
Daniel Ontiveros: I started my culinary career when I was about 16 years old back home in Texas. I worked for a few mom and pop spots and some chain restaurants. I would have to say that my biggest influence early on came from waking up on Saturday mornings and watching Master Chefs of France. I was mesmerized by the elegance of the food and the places that one can travel for food. My biggest influence for moving to Las Vegas back in 2006 was the opening of Chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon at the Venetian. I had never been to Las Vegas prior to moving here. I staged at Bouchon as Commis (Chef) for about a week before being offered a job.
How did you get involved with Scotch 80, and how do you feel your time at Bouchon and Comme Ça helped prepare you for this role?
Daniel Ontiveros: To be honest, I was not looking to move on from Bouchon, but the opportunity presented itself. I have known Chef Steve Barr and Chef Joe Kudrak for some time now. I even did a tasting a few years back for Hank's Fine Steaks & Martins at Green Valley Ranch, but it was not the right fit for me at the time. Fast forward and with the newly renovated Palms and restaurants opening, Chef Barr reached out to me about a possible opportunity coming up at Scotch 80. Conversations took place, and within a few months I was on board.
Both Bouchon and Comme Ça were great restaurants to work at. Not to mention the chefs that ran them. Chef Josh Crain at Bouchon is a very well-established chef, mentor and great friend. Bouchon actually gave me the skill set that helped me push my career in a direction that very few Chefs can come by. My time at Comme Ça was unforgettable. Working with Chef Brian Howard was a great time. Two boys coming from Bouchon background was the best duo for a restaurant to have.
How do you feel your approach differs from (former Scotch 80 Prime Chef) Barry Dakake's? What opportunities do you see to push the restaurant into new territory?
Daniel Ontiveros: I’m not sure exactly what Chefs Barry approach was or is so I can’t really comment on that. My approach is to instill standards and quality with the staff as well as through the food. I want to share with the guest experiences that I have encountered working with great product and great restaurants.
We are slowly rebuilding the management team here at Scotch 80 so I can tell you that we will be coming out strong come 2020. We’re also looking to do some collaborative chef dinners with chefs around town, possibly some whiskey pairing dinners with scotch master Cody Fredrickson as we improve our menus and tableside game.
With so many Shellfish Towers in town, tell me how you came up with yours.
Daniel Ontiveros: Honestly, I cannot take the credit for this one. This was something that was a part of the opening. I just embrace it. I’m actually looking to light more stuff on fire!
Considering how many Steakhouses there are in Las Vegas, what makes Scotch 80 Prime stand out most to you?
Daniel Ontiveros: I would have to say our tableside service. From the food to the whiskey cocktail carts. Also a huge chef presence in the dining room. I am able to interact with our guest more and give them a bit more attention to make it that much more of an experience.