TYRE — This isn't Fabio Viviani's first restaurant. It likely won't be his last.
But like his eateries in Chicago, Los Angeles and other — much larger — places, Portico by Fabio Viviani inside del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, is his project. He's aiming for success. And more than a month after the restaurant opened in this small Finger Lakes town, he's pleased with the progress.
"I'm very happy," he said during an interview Sunday at Portico by Fabio Viviani.
One reason for his positive mindset is the relationship with the casino. The situation is unique for Viviani, who tends to have full control over the venue and some basic day-to-day needs, such as ordering utensils or food.
With Portico being located inside del Lago, Viviani acknowledged that there are different rules and regulations. Even the hiring and firing practices are different.
That relationship could be viewed as a challenge for Viviani, but he sees it in a much different light.
"It's a great asset," he said. "(Saturday night), it was very unfortunate. I got a no-show for two hostesses on a 400 reservation night ... I picked up a radio and say, 'Hey, I need somebody at the door.'"
Viviani said that Portico was able to secure a couple of employees from other restaurants in the casino — a benefit he wouldn't have been afforded if he was operating a free-standing location.
"It's making my life a lot easier and it's a lot nicer to just hang out and bust your ass just cooking and not putting out fires everywhere," he said.
A celebrity chef, Viviani rose to fame on Bravo's "Top Chef." He has a collection of restaurants under his ownership and he's authored cookbooks. He admits that he's hard on himself — and his employees.
While he has high expectations, he believes he's fair.
"I didn't build a $100 million business by patting myself on the back," he said. "You have to cheer your victories and celebrate them, but you have to be very objective of your shortcomings."
Having a restaurant inside a casino offers a unique experience for Viviani. He's noticed that it translates into diversity among his patrons.
He recalled one recent evening when an elderly couple celebrating their 60th anniversary dined at Portico. Their meal was simple: soup and salad.
At the table next to them were four massimo players — the top tier of del Lago's Players Club rewards program — who Viviani says spent $300,000 playing casino games. For dinner, they had a "table full of steaks" and a $1,000 bottle of wine.
Viviani enjoys the wide-ranging tastes of his customers.
"I think it's great," he said. "It challenges me as a chef and a restaurateur. But I love it. I think it's a great area. There are a lot of good people around here."
When Viviani opened Portico in late February, the restaurant only served dinner. That's not to say the dinner menu isn't extensive.
The dinner menu features 13 appetizers and salads, seven entrees, a collection of prime cuts, seven pasta dishes, an array of sides and several desserts.
Viviani said in February that one entree — the whole roasted semi-boneless chicken — was one of the top five dishes he's ever had. The chicken is served with roasted yams, bacon, house-made focaccia stuffing, burnt lemon and rosemary sauce.
Many of Viviani's dishes are made with locally sourced ingredients. That applies to even the desserts. One example is the country apple pie, which is made with ingredients from the region.
The New York-made products extend to the restaurant's beverage list. Portico by Fabio Viviani offers craft beverages from producers across the state. The beer list features some notable breweries, including Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse.
A Buffalo-area brewery, Flying Bison, is on the list. The brewery's Rusty Chain beer is served at Portico.
With the dinner menu and hours established, Viviani decided to phase in lunch. The lunch menu was unveiled last week and the restaurant began serving lunch Saturday.
A couple of favorites from Viviani's other restaurants — a caprese sandwich and truffle burger — are on the menu.
Portico also offers a dry-aged New York steak sandwich. (The meat is dry-aged in the restaurant.) The sandwich is topped with sun-dried tomato, braised spinach and fried eggs. The side: house-made potato chips.
Viviani called the steak sandwich "to die for."
He also touted the smoked chicken sandwich, which is blackened chicken breast served on a pressed baguette and topped with smoked mozzarella, caramelized onions, tomato pepper jam and smoked onion ailoi.
Like the dinner menu, there's a mix of appetizers and salads. A popular appetizer that appears on both menus is the coccoli platter. The dish features three beignet-style bread balls served with prosciutto di parma, stracchino cheese, truffle honey and herb oil.
Desserts are available for lunch, too. The country apple pie is on the list. So, too, is banana cake with peanut butter filling frosting.
So far, Viviani says the reviews of the menu and the restaurant have been positive.
"It's been very good," he said. "Like normal, sometimes there is a customer — their personal taste or we made a mistake — and something goes wrong and you fix it. But 99 percent of the feedback I get, the reviews I read, everybody's happy. Very happy."
What's impressed Viviani the most is how the menu has fared in the restaurant's first weeks of operation.
He said it's typical for 30 percent of the menu to generate 80 percent of the sales because most patrons will find a favorite entree and order that when they return.
At Portico, Viviani said between 70 to 80 percent of the menu generates 100 percent of the revenue.
That doesn't mean he's content with the existing menu. He admitted that there are few dishes he feels are delicious, but people haven't warmed to them. He said it could be how it's worded on the menu or just how it sounds when they read it to themselves.
One example: The smoked pheasant salad on the dinner menu. It's a "fantastic salad," Viviani said. But it doesn't sell.
Without providing specifics, Viviani revealed that there will be at least a handful of low performing menu items that will be removed in the next month or two. The dishes will be replaced by new options.
Viviani cited the potential changes as one way he listens to his patrons.
"Understanding the customer that comes through the door is a very big part of it," he said.
Portico by Fabio Viviani is opened for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Dinner hours are from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.