I know Mario Batali supposedly doesn't like food bloggers, but he'd better not have anything bad to say about me. I've flogged both Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza on here recently, and I've even planned a special trip to NYC in November to check out his newest project - the Italian food emporium Eataly, near Madison Square Park. Now, I'm here to tell you about my new favorite restaurant in Vegas - Otto, at the Venetian. It used to be called "Enoteca San Marco" and I don't think much besides the name has changed, but it was undoubtedly a smart move to capitalize on the association with Otto in New York.
It's pretty easy to like Mario's restaurants, truth be told, especially when he keeps things simple - like this paper thin Prosciutto di Parma and house-made salumi. We paired this with three selections off of the "vegetable" section of the menu - a corn and tomato salad, a radish salad with anchovy aioli, and an assortment of olives. The corn and tomato salad and olives were very good, but the radish salad was especially nice - with sweet, mild radishes tossed with a rich anchovy aioli dressing.
We added an order of cauliflower fritti and some "gnocco fritto" (fried pizza dough) when our server recommended wrapping the prosciutto around the dough while it was still hot from the fryer. I can't say she was wrong about that, but the cauliflower stole the show for me, it was nutty and rich, perfect with a squirt of lemon juice.
The menu is designed for grazing and sharing, with sections divided by subject - meats, vegetables, fritti, insalate, pastas, pizzas, and a selection of contorni, or main dishes. The servings are generous and reasonably priced, especially if you choose two or three items for the table.
We sat at the bar - watching them make the salads, cheese plates and espresso. We like sitting at a table well enough, but if there's a marble bar with something going on behind it, that's usually where you'll find us.
After our Fritti, Carne and Verdure - we moved on to the Insalate - a Summer Vegetable Panzanella. The olive oil-fried croutons, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, onions and red onion vinaigrette made for a refreshing but substantial summery dish - something I'll definitely copy at home. We also shared an order of Spaghetti Carbonara - the classic Roman dish of spaghetti tossed with egg, guanciale and pepper. It didn't photograph very well, but it was a textbook version - with al dente pasta and lots of pepper. We didn't try the pizza but we saw some go by, and they looked like my favorite kind - thin, blistered and saucy.
The cheese course wasn't a whole lot to look at and the selections were a bit basic, but the portions were very generous, and the truffle honey, amarena cherries and mostarda were nice accompaniments.
Having watched them prepare them all evening on this huge, beautiful machine - I had to have an espresso after the meal. It was perfect - rich and deep with a lovely crema.
The gelato was rich, if a little soft. I chose dark chocolate malt and pistachio. They also offer a little plate of Italian cookies, which I would have ordered if I hadn't been so full.
I know Vegas has a lot of dining options these days, but I don't know of many where you can have a meal as affordable as this one, with this combination of simple, high quality ingredients and perfect Italian techniques. If I'm missing one, let me know. (Also, if anyone knows where I can buy some of these gelato coupes, will you clue me in please? Thanks!)
In the Venetian shops - St. Mark's Square
3355 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas NV 80109
reservations available on Open Table (which is a little bit rare for Vegas.)