‘Fresco Italiano’ Races To The Top


Westgate’s superlative Italian restaurant takes highest ranking on TripAdvisor…

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The journey to success is never easy, especially in an era where anyone can be an online critic. It just takes a few troublesome reviews to jeopardize years of hard work. So there’s something to be said for a dining establishment that continues to rank higher and higher on a respected travel website…until it finally takes the top spot. That’s what Fresco Italiano has achieved…number 1 out of 290 Las Vegas Italian restaurants, according to TripAdvisor.

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I first reviewed this “journey for your senses” in the summer of 2017. Won over by its flavorful dishes, home-style atmosphere, exemplary service, and Tuscan-style decor, I found myself returning again and again. I’ve also done so many articles on the Westgate staff and operations that they’ve made me feel like one of the family.

So naturally, I’m biased when it comes to revisiting my favorite Italian destination. But don’t be deterred, because the slogan for Vegas Unfiltered is “Probably Biased -Definitely Honest”. Still, you don’t have to be a world-famous blogger (LOL) to feel right at home. Everyone is family at Fresco.

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In the years since my first visit, there have been frequent additions to the menu, ensuring that each visit to Fresco Italiano is a unique experience. Things really took off when Chef Steve Young of Edge Steakhouse took on dual responsibilities as their Executive Chef, which including revamping their offerings.

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The talented culinary expert, whom I profiled here, managed to keep Edge Steakhouse at the highest TripAdvisor ranking while elevating its sister establishment to the same level. Fresco Italiano was also awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. Combine those accolades with the talents of General Manager Dora Pane and an expert wait staff (including the stellar Michael Nealy Baker), and you’ve got an unforgettable evening in store.

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 GM Dora Pane

Now that Westgate Las Vegas has both the top steakhouse and top Italian restaurant in the city, you owe it to yourself to check them out. EDGE Steakhouse is awaiting a date to reopen since the pandemic has greatly decreased traffic, but Fresco Italiano is serving up brand new creations directly from Chef Young’s kitchen.

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Chef Steve Young

Here are a few dishes, some new and some familiar, that my companions and I enjoyed from the current menu:

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Bruschetta ($12.00) – heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto, vincotto, charred bread
Caprese ($14.00) – burrata, heirloom tomatoes, basil oil, extra virgin olive oil
Chopped Salad ($13.00) – romaine, iceberg, arugula, radicchio, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, salami, crispy prosciutto, Italian dressing, parmesan (half-portion pictured above)
Tuscan White Bean & Kale Zuppa ($9.00) – white cannellini beans, Tuscan kale, Italian sausage
White Sangria and house-baked bread

 

 

Meatballs ($14.00) – slow-braised pork, beef, veal meatballs, stracciatella, grana padano, tomato sauce
Mozzarella Fritta ($12.00) – breaded whole milk mozzarella, tomato sauce

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Guazzetto di Cozze ($14.00) – salt springs mussels, artisan nduja, fennel, calabrian chiles, garlic butter
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Frutti di Mare ($29.00) – strozzapreti pasta, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, spicy tomato sauce
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Salsicce Italiane & Rapini ($20.00) – fennel sausage, orecchiette pasta, roasted peppers, ricotta salata

 

 

Pollo Arrosto ($29.00) – lemon & rosemary roasted half chicken, wild mushroom marsala, asparagus, cipollini onions, creamy polenta

Costata di Manzo ($45.00) – 18oz grilled bone-in rib eye, fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions, garlic butter, wild mushrooms

Salmone in Padella ($30.00) – artichoke hearts, fregola sarda, capers, basil, lemon butter

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Scaloppine di Vitello ($31.00) – sauteed veal loin, piccata style, capers, lemon, parsley, spaghetti

 

Pollo Arrosto ($29.00) – lemon & rosemary roasted half chicken, wild mushroom marsala, asparagus, cipollini onions, creamy polenta

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Tiramisu ($8.00) – mascarpone crema, marsala wine & espresso

Bomboloni ($8.00) – lemon & ricotta doughnuts, raspberry, crème anglaise, and Nutella dipping sauces
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As you can see, Italian meals are much more than past and pizza, although they’re represented here as well. There’s also an extensive wine list and additional meat and seafood entrees. A 3-course Chef Selection makes it simple, offering soup or salad, choic of main course and dessert for $40. Add a wine pairing for $7 more.
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I think you’ll agree that once you visit Fresco Italiano, you’ll look forward to returning frequently…and bringing new guests along each time. Superior to anything you’ll find on the Strip…at prices that belie its quality…Fresco Italiano serves Italian cuisine better than anyplace else in Las Vegas.
Fresco Italiano is located along Restaurant Row at Westgate Las Vegas, 3000 Paradise Road. Open daily from 5pm to 10pm. Call 702.732.5276 for information, click here to reserve through OpenTable.

Actor/Musician Ian Ward is Ready to Rock ‘The Vegas Room’


Youthful heartthrob from “Rock of Ages” and “BAZ” possesses the soul of a legend…

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There are many who consider Palazzo‘s BAZ to be one of the greatest productions that Las Vegas has ever seen. A gentre-defying blend of modern music and the works of literary greats as seen through the eyes of film director Baz Luhrmann, BAZ provided a forum for some of the best entertainers in the business.

When Ian Ward stepped into the role of “Romeo”, the youthful performer had big shoes to fill. James Byous, LJ Benet and Myles Nuzzi had all been stunning as the ill-fated lover, yet Ian (full name Ian Ward Brininstool) managed to make his own indelible impression. His powerful, heartfelt performance of Elton John’s “Your Song” elicited cheers from the audience…and the tragic “Love Is Blindness” (below) could cause you to erupt into sobs.

Ian made his stage debut at the age of nine, landing the lead in a large scale production of Oliver. Since then he’s taken on television with a role in Veronica Mars and the New York stage in musicals like Gettin’ The Band Back Together, Leaving Eden and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.

The native of La Jolla has performed on cruise ships around the world and lived in cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Miami, and of course, the Big Apple. Currently completing his studies at Berklee College of Music with an album on the way, he’s released a collection of self-penned singles that reflect a variety of cultural experiences.

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Ian was performing in the hit Los Angeles production of Rock Of Ages (with fellow BAZ alumnus Sean Lessard) when the pandemic forced it to close. Since then he’s been focused on his studies and writing new music. Like BAZ, Ian refuses to be categorized, yet influences from The Beatles, Elton John and classic rock anthems come through.

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Like most entertainers, the sandy-haired Californian has been yearning for a return to live performance. He’ll be center-stage this Friday and Saturday with an intimate showcase at The Vegas Room. I caught up with Ian over the weekend, and this is what he had to say:

When did you first visit Las Vegas, and when was the first time you performed here?

Growing up in San Diego, Las Vegas has always been a vacation destination for me and my family. I clearly remember spending my 13th birthday here and doing the indoor skydiving experience with my best friend. I think somewhere deep in my subconscious, I always knew that I would be spending more time in this special city. My dream came true when I was cast as Romeo in BAZ back in 2017. This was my first time experiencing performing here and getting to know the entertainment community in Las Vegas.

Roles in BAZ, Footloose, and Rock of Ages have allowed you to stretch your acting, dancing and singing muscles all at the same time. Do you approach a song “differently” when you’re performing in-character versus as yourself? Which do you prefer?

When I am performing a song in a musical, I bring the past experiences and memories of that character into the words that he is speaking and singing. As an actor through song, you must be able to convey to the audience where this character is in their particular journey within the overall story of the play.  

When I perform an original song or a cover song in a cabaret setting, sometimes I am more focused on feeling the energy and vibe of the material and connecting with the audience. I want to communicate directly and bring them along on the ride. It’s much more collaborative with the people there enjoying the music.

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Photos: Ryan Salinas for The Vegas Room

You tend to gravitate towards explosive productions, yet your solo work is of a more romantic nature. What kind of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?

I love doing large scale productions because of the quality of lights, sound, special effects and the entire creative team that comes together to create something spectacular. However, in my solo work, I tend to gravitate towards love stories or stripped down acoustic sounds. I think this comes from my father’s influence in classic rock and my love for classic songwriters such as Neil Young, James Taylor, Sting, and The Beatles. I would love to blend high quality production with my own songs eventually.

Your cover of “Across The Universe” with Ruby Lewis is gorgeous and pure in its simplicity. How did that collaboration come about, and do you see the two of you working together again?

Ruby and I love to collaborate on songs that we share a passion for. One afternoon at my parents house, we were listening to some oldies and “Across the Universe” started playing. Ruby’s voice is so pure and strong that when we blend harmonies, it always sounds special and unique.  

We decided that it would be a nice take on a classic to do our own rendition, and I think the setting of my deck made the ambience all that more magical. She and I will definitely be doing more writing and recording together in the future. She is featured as the background singer on my song “Tru Luv” and sometimes I help arrange or cowrite on her songs. We hope to be onstage together soon!

Your IMDB and social media bios don’t list your birth year. Is there a reason behind that?

Haha! No reason for that actually. Maybe it’s just an industry thing…I think my agents might have taken it down online. I was born on Valentines Day, 1996.

You’ve shone onstage, on the screen and in the recording studio. What’s next to conquer?

I want to continue to grow my catalog in the recording industry and make songs that will make a difference to society and uplift people. A large goal of mine is to get significant progress made with my entertainment company ‘Outward Original’. This company was formed to establish artistic media that can create understanding and harmony. And, I want to collaborate with other artists to make art across all mediums. 

Many artists have reported a surge of creativity during the pandemic. Has this happened to you as well? What did COVID-19 deliver to your legacy?

This year has been very tough on everyone. Covid-19 was responsible for the closing of one of my favorite productions I have been a part of…’Rock of Ages Hollywood’…just after we had opened. It also took the life of my great friend, Nick Cordero, whom I shared the stage with in ‘Rock of Ages’.  

I went though a couple months of reflection and a form of depression where it didn’t feel authentic to be creating or trying to push my voice out into the world. However, now I am feeling invigorated and have been blessed with an influx of new opportunities, so I’m ready to get back out there and create!

Your website is “Ian Ward Out Ward Dot Com”. What is the message or meaning of that?

Ward is actually my middle name. My last name is Brininstool, of German descent. ‘Outward Original’ is the name of my entertainment company. And, being a spiritual person, I believe in the process of taking inspiration and then letting that flow freely outward into the world. So this play on words seemed both fitting and appropriate for my company and my beliefs.

Is there one well-known role that you’d love to take on? Who’s your dream onstage partner?

A dream role of mine would be to play Roger in RENT! Or be a part of a brand new, revolutionary musical where I get to build a role from the ground up. I had an experience like this when I was the first “Ren” in ‘Footloose’ for Norwegian Cruise Lines, because I got to make a lot of creative and artistic choices that became a part of the track for other actors to come! I am excited to see which great performers I get to share the stage with in the future!

The Vegas Room has quickly become the go-to venue/hangout for BAZ alumni (Randal Keith, Lisa Marie Smith, Anne Martinez, Eric Jordan Young) as well as other highly seasoned performers. Your inclusion in their entertainment line-up is testimony to your talent. What can guests expect from your showcase?

I feel so honored to have been asked to perform at The Vegas Room! My peers that worked on BAZ with me are so talented and are such gems in this city. I look forward to joining them in the roster at this great venue! The audience can expect a night of an eclectic smattering of classic songs, some originals I have been writing recently, and stories from my career that I hope will excite and interest people. I can’t wait to connect and entertain to bring some light to their night!


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Ian Ward takes to the stage of The Vegas Room on August 7th and 8th at 8pm. Options include a 6:30pm dinner/show or 7:30pm light bites/show. Click here or call  (725) 206-7059 for more information and reservations. The Vegas Room is located at 953 E Sahara Avenue Suite E18 (Bright RED Doors), Las Vegas, NV 89104 

 

THE VEGAS ROOM – Sin City’s Best Kept Secret Is A Secret No Longer


Intimate supper club is a meticulously crafted experience from arrival through the final applause…

“I miss the days of old Vegas.” How often do you hear those words? Colored by a fondness for “when the Mob was in charge”, people lament about the golden era of Sin City. It was a time when you were escorted to your “usual table”, the bartender had that favorite cocktail waiting, and an evening out was a splendidly curated event.

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If you’re among those who yearn for the return of vintage-Vegas glamour, your prayers have been answered. Step through the red doors of The Vegas Room and enter a world where dinner and music are served on a plate of elegance. Here you’ll enjoy the most gifted entertainers of Sin City, showcasing their talents in an intimate presentation that you won’t see anywhere else.

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The Vegas Room is a passion project of sorts…a crowning achievement representing the careers of three gifted gentlemen. President Thomas Richard Michel orchestrates the business side, pulling from years in the entertainment and marketing industries. It falls upon him to ensure that every visit is uniquely memorable:

“There are so many talented performers in Las Vegas who don’t always have a place to share their talents. And, even if they do under normal circumstances, they often aren’t able to perform the type of material that they might really want to showcase. This was a key reason that The Vegas Room came to be.”

“Our mission is to envelop our guests in an environment that doesn’t really exist in Las Vegas anymore. It is a place where people can experience incredible local talent coupled with delicious handcrafted food, all in a warm and intimate setting.”

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“The entertainment we showcase changes each and every weekend, and the handcrafted menu – whether for our five-course dinner, our light bites “Sampler” package, or our Sunday Jazz brunch – changes every two weeks” Michel explained. “For this reason, many local people are already returning frequently, as they appreciate our reasonable prices and the fact that there’s always something new and wonderful to experience.”

“Tourists also tell us that they’ll make The Vegas Room a definite “must-do” on their calendars when they’re back in Las Vegas. Whether locals or tourists, there’s no doubt that that type of reaction is extremely gratifying for everyone involved in The Vegas Room, whether a performer or staff member.”

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Although the tourism industry is currently in flux thanks to the pandemic, The Vegas Room‘s location gives it the ability to prosper, even in these uncertain times. Tucked away inside a rather humble and aging East Sahara shopping center, the small venue provides an immediate feeling of welcome familiarity. That’s especially important to locals, whose repeat business makes up the majority of their clientele.

The supper club experience might be new to contemporary generations, but it’s made a remarkable return, thanks in part to high-profile spaces like Rose.Rabbit.Lie (Cosmopolitan) and Bellagio‘s new Mayfair Supper Club. True fans of the supper-club concept know that a skilled chef is as much an integral component as the entertainers who command the microphone and keyboards.

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Executive Chef David James Robinson is the owner of The Vegas Room. He’s known to thousands of fans and followers thanks to television shows, a strong online presence, and his 10-part cooking tutorial “Learn How To Cook (and eat your mistakes)”. It’s clear when he’s visiting tables that Chef David is having as much fun as his guests:

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“We care enormously about the food and service we provide. Our guests at The Vegas Room will see that for themselves when they experience the reality – both in look and taste – that everything we make is handcrafted and made from scratch” (click here to view the latest brunch and dinner menus).

“For example, all of our salad dressings, soups, and stocks are uniquely ours and made fresh. Additionally, all breads, muffins, and biscuits were baked fresh that day, and every component of every dish was sourced and prepared with great care…and it always will be.”

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“Our goal when it comes to the food we serve at The Vegas Room – whether for dinner or brunch – is to make it an equally memorable complement to our world-class entertainment, combining the two to make a truly wonderful evening or afternoon out.”

The entertainment community seems to have adopted The Vegas Room as their new combination hangout/haven. Often unable to perform in their usual venues thanks to the pandemic, they come here to share their craft and support one another. During each of my visits, entertainers from large-scale Strip productions were enjoying the food and cheering on their colleagues.

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As you might imagine, management has taken great care to ensure guest safety. Face masks are required until seated, guests have their temperature scanned (a two-second touchless process), and everyone is required to sanitize their hands upon arrival. The serving and bar staff wear protective facial coverings, and implements are santized and sealed. Tables are arranged to meet social-distancing protocols, aptly serviced by the always-wonderful Sandy Love. A full description of The Vegas Room‘s COVID-19 safety plan is available on their website.

                   Vocalist Randal Keith with Philip Fortenberry at the piano…

Onstage, stars like Anne Martinez (FANTASY, BAZ) Randal Keith (Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular, Showstoppers), and Eric Jordan Young (Vegas! The Show, Cocktail Cabaret, Rock Of Ages) present spectacular interpretations of classics old and new. As you might imagine from a line-up of that pedigree, Broadway showtunes frequently fill the air.

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There’s an enormous amount of respect between artists and the venue’s Director of Entertainment Brent Barrett, himself a seasoned performer (The Broadway Tenors, Chicago The Musical):

“From an entertainment perspective, The Vegas Room is meant to be a prestige room. That means that – as the Review-Journal stated recently – you have to be great to play this room. And, speaking of the room itself, instead of being a big theatrical space, it’s a very comfortable jewel box of a setting, currently seating less than 50 guests.”

“With our wonderful sound system and amazing acoustics, you really feel as though you’re listening to great standards, jazz, rhythm and blues, and Broadway showtunes in the comfort of your own living room. It’s THAT intimate. I think that is what has attracted so many of Las Vegas’s best performers to want to play the room.”

                                   Anne Martinez accompanied by pianist Dan Ellis…

“Because of that, we are able to present a robust array of truly incredible singers and musicians to our guests. And, many of the folks who attend The Vegas Room now return week after week to experience artists they know in addition to ones that they don’t…but should,” stated Barrett.

               Patrick Hogan performs at Sunday Jazz Brunch throughout July….

One such artist is Patrick Hogan, who dazzled audiences during July 4th weekend’s Sunday Jazz Brunch. The 24-year-old singer/songwriter is principal pianist at Mayfair Supper Club. Hogan performed two astonishing sets of his own compositions, along with many beloved standards.

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Look for Patrick Hogan and fellow jazz great Amanda King Sundays throughout July. Upcoming evening performances include Travis Cloer (Jersey Boys) with pianist Chris Lash (BAZ), Toscha Comeaux (Cirque du Soleil) and The Vegas Room‘s own Brent Barrett.

The Vegas Room is located at 953 East Sahara Avenue E-18. Sunday Jazz Brunch is held weekly at 1pm. The “Supper Club Experience” takes place every Friday and Saturday beginning at 6:30pm. There’s also a “light bites” sampler option which seats at 7:30pm. Showtime is 8pm.

Click here for full details and to make reservations or phone (725) 206-7059

Photos: Sam Novak, Sparky Lisa, Lisa Marie, The Vegas Room, Brent Barrett, Amanda King, Toscha Comeaux, Travis Cloer, Christopher Lash

Food and Fun Come Together at ‘sixth + mill’


Venetian’s latest culinary offering brings the flavor of southern Italy to St. Mark’s Square…

If you’ve ever visited the city of Venice, you no doubt have fond memories of indulging in the wonderful tastes of the local cuisine, most likely from a scenic outdoor patio. The dining opportunities of that amazing destination are one of a kind…yet Vegas visitors can relive the experience once again…or for the very first time…at sixth + mill ristorante, pizzeria and bar at Venetian.

You may recall my previous write-up of Venetian/Palazzo‘s Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano, a glorious Sin City extension of L.A.’s famed Factory Kitchen. Situated along Restaurant Row, this eatery is the brainchild of restaurateur Matteo Ferdinandi and his longtime friend Chef Angelo Auriana. Now these gentlemen have brought another Los Angeles destination to Vegas, this time at Venetian’s St. Mark’s Square.

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sixth + mill takes its name from the original location in California. The restaurant is a celebration of southern Italian culture as seen through the region’s food. Here guests can enjoy “outdoor patio dining” while taking in Venetian’s signature street performer shows. This is their operating philosophy and conveys why dining there is such a pleasant way to enjoy a meal:

Experience a casual-refined atmosphere that recreates the feel of a classic ristorante – pizzeria and the platform to educate and share the culture and the lifestyle of Southern Italy and its people’s dedication to food and wine.

In Southern Italy, the rich volcanic soil has always been the fueling force of the agriculture that from thousands of years has produced unique ingredients that are intrinsically part of the much sought-after Mediterranean Diet.

Chef Angelo’s commitment is on keeping these old traditions alive today. The cuisine of sixth+mill focuses on traditional recipes that capture the uniqueness and versatility of the regional southern Italian food and include appetizers, fritters, homemade pasta, meat & poultry, seafood, and desserts, keeping an eye on traditions and looking at today’s necessity of lightness, healthiness, and simplicity.

With a description like that, it’s clear that Chef Angelo and Matteo take great pride in sharing their heritage with guests. And fortunately for Vegas foodies, we now have two restaurants by these gentlemen to choose from.

My first visit to sixth + mill was a veritable bounty of flavor, color, and presentation. Interestingly, my companion and I gravitated towards plant-based dishes that were perfect for a satisfying lunch without a heavy feeling afterward. We began with some dishes from the list of “Fritters”.

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First up was u’vroccolo, a plate of cauliflower florets accompanied by parmigiana dipping sauce ($11). It was followed by brussels sprouts toasted, a hearty mound of the divisive little cabbages prepared with a slightly smokey flavor and topped with almonds, paprika and lemon ($12).

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Our final fritter was arancinotto, a generous portion of the traditional Sicilian recipe made with rice, beef, pork, tomato and mozzarella ($12 for 3 pieces). Mouthwatering with every bite, this delight was my favorite part of the meal.

We then moved to a selection from “Small Plates” with melanzana, a warm shareable made with eggplant, parmigiana, scamorza and tomato ($15). Other small plates on the list include minestra soup with quinoa, vegetables, ricotta and chili oil ($15), crostone, an inviting mushroom toast with herbs, reggiano and provolone ($13) and rapini, a leafy green vegetable cooked with chili oil and oregano and served with ricotta and bread crumbs ($9).

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While these delicious vegetarian dishes were incredibly satisfying, there was plenty left to explore on the extensive sixth + mill menu. Our next selection from “Meat & Poultry” was brasato (braised beef with carrots, red onions and gaeta olives – $38). It was so moist, delicious and tender that I was able to separate it with a spoon.

There’s also polpette beef and pork meatballs, chicken parm, pollo romano, and siciliana prime beef steak to go along with seafood selections like acqua pazza (sea bass), pepper-couli salmone and spicy mussels mitili.

While enjoying the brasato, our table was visited by Matteo Ferdinandi himself. Jovial and clearly excited about his new restaurant, he wanted to be sure that we were enjoying our meal. Yet…he couldn’t resist chiding us in a joking fashion about not trying any of his endless combinations of pizzas.

The menu features hand-crafted Neapolitan style pizzas, traditional wheat pastas, and tomatoes chosen with purpose. They use three varieties of tomatoes for their pizza sauce; one for sweetness, one for tanginess, and one for consistency.

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There are six varieties of red pizzas and four white pizzas to choose from. You can customize your selection with ten specialty toppings like n’duja (spicy pork salume), stracciatella (water buffalo milk cheese) and speck (smoke-cured prosciutto). All pizzas are baked in one of two special pizza ovens created to achieve the best airy and chewy crust. The ovens were flown into Las Vegas from Italy especially for sixth + mill.

Pasta is a big deal at any Italian restaurant, but sixth + mill goes the extra mile. Every ravioli, cavatelli, linguine, and fusilli is made fresh in-house and topped with sauces like meat-tomato ragu, chicken sugo and lemon cream with mint oil. There are whole wheat varieties and gnocchi (potato dumplings), too.

Make sure to complete your meal with one of several delicious desserts. And check out their outstanding beveage menu of cocktails, wines, champagne, beers, and teas.

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So the next time you’re craving authentic Italian food with a view of Venice, head over to sixth + mill at Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes. It’s the perfect way to satisfy your culinary urges while indulging in a mini-vacation at the same time.

sixth + mill is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm. Phone: 702.414.1227 for reservations and information…

Photos: Sam Novak, sixth + mill

 

SERVED – Green Valley’s Culinary Delight


Chef Matthew Myer brings eclectic flair to the neighborhood….

In recent years, the popularity of chef-driven restaurants has exploded. Once centered on the Strip, kitchen wizards have found success in Downtown and surrounding areas. One might observe that the further they get from the tourist district, the more daring and creative they become.

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Such is the case with Chef Matthew Meyer. This dynamic young graduate of Pasadena’s Le Cordon Bleu culinary institute is the creator/owner of SERVED, a relatively new restaurant in the McDonald’s Highland area of Henderson. Located at 1770 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway, this intimate brunch/dinner establishment is a local gem that’s worth seeking out.

Despite his young age, Chef Meyer has been shaking up the Vegas dining scene for over a decade. You might remember his two iterations of Matteo’s Gourmet Cafe and the popular Just Rollin’. As his exposure in magazines and websites has grown (along with the accolades), so has Chef Meyer’s offerings to the valley. Matteo’s Gourmet Food Services, a high-end catering operation, provides exceptional cuisine for special occasions.

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All of this experience and experimentation has culminated in SERVED, Meyer’s latest dine-in endeavor. A sleek yet simple restaurant, SERVED provides Meyer the opportunity to share his latest creations in a personal atmosphere with the highest regard for quality ingredients and skillful preparation.

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Chef Meyer describes his approach to the menu as “Cultural favorites, redefined…where guests will have a chance to savor the flavors of the world in a single dish.” Eric C. Gladstone, the marketing powerhouse behind the annual Vegas Unstripped and other highly-regarded food festivals, had this to say about Chef Matt and SERVED:

Chef Matt takes a global approach to his creations, fearlessly crossing culinary boundaries to combine flavors from throughout the Eastern and Western worlds, as well as myriad techniques. But you don’t have to pull apart all the effort in order to enjoy them–the food truly speaks for itself. This is the most exciting breakfast, lunch and dinner food happening in Henderson right now.

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With an introduction like that, it would be tough not to have high expectations. But at a recent presentation of his latest dishes, both experts and laypersons like myself were equally impressed by what we sampled.

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First up were a few tapas: Asparagus 5 Ways – pureed, grilled, fried, fermented and raw asparagus served alongside a poached egg and hollandaise ($10).

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Scallop Benny presents seared scallops, celery root puree, roasted celery root, poached egg and hollandaise, celery/apple salad topped with celery lace tuile ($12).

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Fans of deconstructed dishes should get a kick out of Raviolo ($12), a plate of egg yolk, herbed ricotta, herb-laminated fresh pasta, Guiness braised short rib, broccolini and pan sauce.

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My personal favorite from the tapas selections was Octopus Benny ($11) served with sesame heirloom tomatoes, white corn puree and uni caviar hollandaise.

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Appetizer Beef Tataki ($11) is thinly-sliced and lightly seared mushroom marinated beef with fermented mushroom aioli, parmesan shavings and fried capers.

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A few more tapas were distinctly Asian, beginning with Pinchi Kimchi Foie Gras ($12), a seared piece of foie gras atop a rice pancake, served with kimchi, pickled radish, Korean pear salad, crispy fried rice noodle, sesame oil and a soy galbi glaze.

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Thai Suckling Pig ($12) is an unforgettable crispy pork belly in sweet soy sauce sprinkled with fried garlic and served with broccolini and a poached egg.

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The one dish that everybody buzzed about was Beef Stroganoff ($22) from “Classics Redone”. It’s Guiness braised short ribs atop house made pappardelle and fermented mushrooms. Familiar yet unique, it’s one selection sure to satisfy.

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Despite the small size of SERVED’s dining room, the list of stunning dishes is hefty, thanks in no small part to sharing a kitchen with Chef Meyer’s catering service. The daily Brunch Menu lists elaborate benedicts and egg dishes, hash, pancakes, French toast, tacos, sandwiches and a wide variety of gourmet burgers.

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Their evening Dinner Menu, Wednesday through Sunday from 3pm to 9pm, ups the ante with an inclusion of salads, “Reverse Brunch” and “Chef Special” entrees. Daily Specials weekdays from 9am to 2pm offer significant savings and even 2-for-1 sandwiches on Tuesday.

As a relatively new local, I’ve enjoyed discovering a wide variety of eclectic and unique dining offerings, some that tourists may sadly never see. But thanks to food enthusiasts like Eric C. Gladstone, Esther’s KitchenEDO Gastro Tapas and Wine and the upcoming Graffiti Bao restaurant are getting the exposure and popularity they deserve. Add SERVED to that list, and visit Chef Matt and his team right away.

SERVED is located at 1770 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway in Henderson/Green Valley. Open Monday and Tuesday 9 – 3, Wednesday to Sunday 9 – 9. Call 702-263-0136

Photos: Sam Novak, SERVED via Facebook

Mott 32 – Asian Fusion on a Global Scale


Palazzo’s fine dining experience is a culinary adventure worth embarking on….

What do you get when you combine the centuries-old cuisine of China with 1800’s NYC industrialism, contemporary Hong Kong’s vibrant culture and the whimsical flair of Sin City? The answer is Mott 32, a gorgeous and glorious new addition to Venetian/Palazzo‘s ever-evolving restaurant family. And this one deserves a place at the top of your must-do Vegas adventures.

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Situated on the north side of Palazzo’s casino floor (next to the popular Grand Lux Cafe), Mott 32 may be one of the most visually striking restaurants in the city. Brought to life by famed Hong Kong designer Joyce Wang, the venue is positively teeming with cultural references, subtle nods and innovative touches.

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From a film tribute to Anna Wong (Hollywood’s first Chinese-American starlet) to a giant metal abacus and artworks of stunning detail and significance, diners could easily get lost exploring the massive 11,400 square foot space. There’s even an exclusive Boom Boom Room private dining area where guests can request a special “Red Menu” designed to conjure joy, happiness and good fortune.

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The name Mott 32 is a nod to New York City’s first Chinese convenience store, which opened at 32 Mott Street in 1891. The fact that the original Hong Kong location took its name from a NYC Chinatown business demonstrates the global scope of their vision. It’s enhanced by a commitment to ethical sourcing and using organic, sustainable ingredients.

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Of course the real reason that you should visit…and will want to return…is for the food, cocktails and service. As you might imagine, all are world-class and exemplary. Recipes are primarily of Cantonese style, with influences from both Beijing and Szechaun cooking.

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After enjoying a couple of Mott 32 Mules from the lounge (more on that later), my party settled into a secluded booth beyond the main dining room. There we had the pleasure of sampling a presentation of dishes selected for us by the Chef.

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We began with a refreshing plate of Marinated Cucumber and Garlic ($9). The Starter Menu includes a wide variety of vegetables and meats like Wild Mushrooms with Black Truffle Sauce in a lettuce cup ($20), Sesame Prawn Toast with Autumn Sauce ($18) and Cubed Australian Wagyu Beef with mustard sauce ($22).

Heading over to the lengthy Dim Sum section, we sampled the unusual but stunning Hot & Sour Iberico Pork Shanghainese Soup Dumplings ($14 for 4 pieces)an absolute must. They were followed by Crispy Sugar Coated BBQ Iberico Pork Buns ($13 for 3), whose tangy flavor offered a marvelous hint of sweetness. If your taste buds long for Chinese barbecue, try BBQ Pluma Iberico Pork ($39). It’s amazingly tender and sweet thanks to a layer of Yellow Mountain honey.

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Mott 32’s astounding meat and seafood dishes are carefully prepared using generations-old cooking methods, seasonings and recipes. The house specialty is Mott Duck, a Peking duck that is air-dried in a special refrigerator, marinated then applewood-smoked in a custom oven.

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The entire preparation of Mott Duck takes two days, requiring that you order well in advance of your meal.

Click HERE to continue reading via BestOfVegas.com.

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Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano Will Drive Your Taste Buds Into Overtime


Italian trattoria brings family recipes and Downtown L.A. flair to the Venetian…

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UPDATE: As of October, Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano is the new name for Factory Kitchen. Here’s a statement from Venetian/Palazzo: 

The Factory Kitchen Las Vegas is now called  Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano. Named for Matteo Ferdinandi, the CEO and partner of Factory Place Hospitality Group, the new moniker speaks directly to the Italian heritage of the restaurant’s founders, giving guests a clear understanding of the cuisine they can expect inside this gem of a restaurant.

Each market has its own nuances, and we feel this new name indicates exactly the type of experience guests can expect when spending an evening at our restaurant here in Las Vegas.

The restaurant’s menu created by Executive Chef and business partner Angelo Auriana continues to deliver approachable Italian dishes using fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced ingredients.

Both from Italy, Matteo and Chef Angelo take pride in sharing family recipes passed down from generation to generation.

Two summers ago I penned a piece on why Palazzo Hotel Casino earned my top spot for high-end Las Vegas resorts. Since then a lot has changed, nearly all for the better. My favorite show (BAZ)) may have left, but plenty of exciting new things have opened up or been announced.

New cocktail lounges like Rosina and Electra Cocktail Club have been added to Palazzo’s entertainment line-up. The casino has been brightened with new colors and a fresh layout. And of course, the waterfall-centric atrium is a glorious, ever-changing favorite for photo ops.

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The biggest evolution, perhaps, is a more intellectual one. Venetian’s sister property has gradually been integrated into a unified operation. Palazzo is still independent and unique but now treated more like a tower of the Venetian. The lines have also blurred with respect to their retail areas. Palazzo’s shopping esplanade has been absorbed into the Grand Canal Shoppes, allowing for greater traffic flow and clarity of identity.

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With all of these updates, I was overdue to start exploring some of Venetian/Palazzo’s updates. My first stop was Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano, an eatery in the famed Restaurant Row. This is only their second location in the country. The original opened in Los Angeles Arts District in 2013 and was an immediate success.

Matteo’s is a collaboration between restaurateur Matteo Ferdinandi and his longtime friend Chef Angelo Auriana. Their shared passion for Italian heritage, hospitality, and traditional recipes is what makes their ristorante so special.

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While details like that might not enter into your decisions on where to eat, consider this…the premiere Italian-themed resort in Las Vegas only welcomes the best…and Ferdinandi and Chef Auriana could have opened their second eatery anywhere they wished. The fact that these two powerful entities decided to team up suggests a match made in culinary Heaven.

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Heaven is indeed what you’ll be feeling when you encounter the wafting aromas from the open kitchen. Influences from their flagship inside a repurposed factory building can be felt here, albeit with designer touches and Vegas flair. Rustic colors, art-deco lighting, an industrial-style ceiling and reclaimed wood offer a masculine and inviting atmosphere to compliment distinctive family-inspired recipes.

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My companion and I arrived at noon for weekday lunch. After a cocktail in the sleek lounge, we were escorted to a table in the heart of the dining room. The server was extremely knowledgeable with their extensive menu, ingredients, and preparation…and had plenty of favorites to suggest.

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We began by ordering a couple of fresh, light salads. I opted for a Cortolana ($14) with field greens, watermelon radish, white onion, dates and goat cheese topped with champagne vinaigrette. On the right is the Cremosella ($15), which features creamy mozzarella, watercress, extra virgin olive oil, and black pepper.

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The next round threw my keto diet right out the window, but it was bound to happen when the Focaccina Calda al Formaggio (Cheese Focaccia) at an adjacent table looked and smelled so tempting. We shared a crisp, creamy Tradizionale ($19) made from imported crescenza cheese, baby wild arugula, and Ligurian olive oil. There’s also a Pizatta ($21) with capers and anchovies and the Tirolese ($23) with Italian-cured smoked ham and peppercress.

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Pasta was on both of our minds for the main course, and why not? With the live pasta station making family recipes fresh on-site, my mouth was watering before the plates even arrived. My companion chose Casonzei ($22), a pork sausage & veal ravioli prepared with cured pork belly, sage brown butter and reggiano cheese. Exquisite!

I had to go with what could be considered Matteo’s signature dish – Mandilli di Seta ($20). This unforgettable delight is a unique “handkerchief pasta”, thin sheets of egg dough tossed with a Ligurian almond basil pesto sauce. One bite (and a few moans later) and it was easy to see why this dish has been a longtime favorite.

While the pasta section of the menu might be a mid-point for some, our appetites were already satiated. I’ll have to return to indulge in Matteo’s great selection of entrees. Dishes such as Gamberoni ($26 – sautéed white shrimp, sunchoke purée, roasted romanesco, vermentino, saffron), Polpettone ($19 – oven-roasted turkey meatloaf, san marzano peperonata, caramelized onion, fresh oregano and seasonal vegetables) and Tagliata ($29 – prime flat iron steak, sautéed winter greens, roasted pepper bagna cauda) along with a list of daily specials should satisfy every voracious carnivore and discerning appetite at your table.

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Despite being full, my companion and I had to, at the very least, dip our spoons into a few sweets from the dessert menu. Once again we stuck to traditional favorites by requesting a sumptuous Cannoli ($13) filled with ricotta, orange marmalade and rolled in pistachio. Somehow an order of Panna Cotta ($11 – served with a pair of soft ovis mollis cookies) showed up at our table, too. Of course, we had to try it…just to be polite! 

Along with your meal, feel free to indulge in a selection from Matteo’s carefully-crafted wine list. It focuses on Italian varieties along with many other European choices. Several signature cocktails boasting whimsical names like Private Eye, Big Swifty, Afraid of the Dark and The Ugly should make for interesting conversation. Check out the beverage and wine list by clicking HERE.

Earlier this year, Chef Auriana debuted a weekend brunch menu, served from 11 am through 5 pm. Offerings include Ricotta Pancakes ($15) with kumquats, mascarpone crema, lemon zest and maple syrup, Egg Raviolo ($18) with braised greens & organic egg-filled pasta, pancetta, and brown butter. There’s also a scrumptious Steak Amore for $28 – pancetta-wrapped filet mignon medallions with mushrooms and parsley. Brunch guests through 2:30 pm can add bottomless Mimosas, White Peach Bellinis and Bloody Mary’s for an additional $28.

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So the next time you’re strolling through the Venetian/Palazzo Resort and the songs of those famous gondoliers whet your appetite for superior Italian cuisine, head to Restaurant Row. Discover the joys of Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano. Just tell them that Sam from Vegas Unfiltered sent you.

Matteo’s Risorante Italiano is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm. The lounge opens daily at noon. For reservations or more info call 702.414.1222.

Photos: Sam Novak, Factory Kitchen

 

 

 

 

Cornerstone Steakhouse: Strip-quality Dining At Gold Coast



Dive into the offerings at this wonderful off-Strip eaterie…

There are dozens of traditional steakhouses along the Vegas Strip and countless more in the outlying areas. The dining possibilities are nearly endless. So how does one choose? The simplest picks are ones near where you are staying. But perhaps you’ve gotten a recommendation from a friend. Maybe you saw a TV special about the latest celeb-chef establishment. Or, you just want to revisit a romantic old favorite.

That last option is the one closest to home for this writer. The Flame at Downtown’s El Cortez was closed a few years ago and the subsequent Siegel’s 1941 failed to win me over (three strikes and it’s out). Since then, I’ve been hopping around the Valley searching for a new “old friend” to fill that beef-and-asparagus void.

So far, each and every steakhouse I’ve visited has been wonderful. Chart House at Golden Nugget, while seafood-centric, offers a gorgeous dining room with excellent service and reliable selections. Ron’s at Arizona Charlie’s is a great budget offering worthy of the drive. Edge Steakhouse at Westgate Las Vegas has “edged out” every other in terms of sheer deliciousness and impeccable…everything. But why stop searching when there are so many wonderful meals yet to try?

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Gold Coast entered the elevated dining arena in summer 2016 with the addition of Cornerstone Steakhouse. Moving into a space previously occupied by long-time (and low profile) locals favorite Cortez Room was a bit of a daring move. A high-end restaurant sharing the casino floor with Subway and TGI Fridays seemed like a shift for Gold Coast, which is known for value and unpretentious offerings. I learned after dinner that this was painstakingly thought out, but more on that later.

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Cornerstone Steakhouse is easily accessible if you’re visiting just for dinner. It sits on the northwest corner of the property, reached via the far left entrance of the building’s front. A two-story parking garage with elevator makes for easy in-and-out when driving.

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The frontage of Cornerstone is contemporary and inviting. The welcome counter is next to a gorgeous circular lounge and bar area that offers a daily “Social Hour” from 4-6pm. Specially-priced selections from the Social Hour menu include $5 draught and select wines, $8 appetizers/salads, $6 on select craft beers and $7 call drinks/shots.  You can see the full wine/beer/small bites lounge menu by clicking here.

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The footprint of the lounge and dining area haven’t changed, but the atmosphere is night and day. Attractive furnishings, fixtures and wall coverings in creams, slate blue and shades of black have replaced bland and dated decor. The lighting is slightly brighter than I’d prefer, casting more light than necessary to allow for an intimate experience.

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My guest (a food-loving Dallas tourist) and I arrived early in the evening, so there were few diners at the time. It was significantly busier by the time we finished 90 minutes later. Our server recommended a few Prohibition-Crafted cocktails like the Sazerac (New Orleans) or Cucumber Southside ($10 each).

We both went with a Hollywood & Vine, their version of a Moscow Mule with fresh lemon and berries ($10). My companion ordered an alcohol-free variety and I went full-throttle. They were delicious enough to opt for a second round instead of post-dinner coffees.

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Our server Michael, who was personable, knowledgeable and attentive without being intrusive, suggested a couple of starter plates (while we sampled the attractive fresh-baked bread platter with olives and baby vegetables).

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               Kobe Beef Meatballs in tomato gray with parmesan creme ($9)…

We went with an addictive Steak Tartare ($10 – filet mignon, egg yolk, arugula, capers, parmesan and creole aioli) and a scrumptious, firm and meaty pair of Crab Cakes ($14 – lump crab, cajun lobster sauce, dijon, mayo and roasted lemon).

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Aside from two soups (French Onion and Craft Beer & Cheese, both $7) and four small salads, the remainder of the appetizer list was seafood-themed. It includes Oysters On The Half Shell ($12 – with citrus, horseradish and cocktail sauce), Escargot ($10 – in a pastry shell with white wine sauce) and a shareable Seafood Platter ($35 – lump crab, prawns, oysters, mussels and clams) that would make a great entree dish.

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     Brick-grilled Organic Chicken with mustard marinade and rosemary ($24)…

For the main course, we decided to pick one steak and one seafood dish. For me, it was the New York Cut ($30), a 14-ounce certified 1855 Angus beef seasoned with herbs, butter, and sea salt. I had it served medium temperature with complimentary peppercorn sauce (Bearnaise, Diane and Cabernet Mustard sauces are also available free of charge…and six chef toppings at various prices). The steak was wonderfully tender, bursting with flavor and cooked perfectly to my liking.

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Other USDA-certified Choice 1855 Angus beef entrees include a 9-oz. Prime Rib Crown Steak ($31), 10-oz. Filet Wagyu Coullot Sirloin ($31) and carved-to-order House Prime Rib ($28 for 14 oz, $32 for 22 oz.).

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                              Pork Porterhouse with polenta and greens ($26)…

Single-bone Colorado Lamb Chops ($33), Pork Porterhouse with polenta and greens ($26) and Roasted Garlic Chicken with citrus marinade and Brussels sprouts ($24) round out the meat selections. A lobster tail can be added to any steak or chop for an additional $23.

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My guest’s seafood dish was Sauteed Scampi ($26 – in lemon, white wine, butter, garlic and pasta twirls, served with artisan bread). He proclaimed it to be the best he’s had, and the various sighs and moans he uttered while consuming the dish left little room for doubt.

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  Baked Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprouts with balsamic and shallots (both $6)…

To me, a steak is incomplete without a nearby mound of Sauteed Mushrooms ($6). Our other picks for shareable sides were Jumbo Asparagus Spears in Butter Sauce ($7) and the server-lauded Lobster Mac & Cheese ($11). While the Texan enjoyed the Lobster Mac, I found it to be bland and unmemorable. I’d recommend one of their various potato dishes or Sauteed Spinach with Garlic ($6) in its place.

Other shareable dinner add-ons include Roasted Root VegetablesCauliflower with panko and parsleyCrisp Bacon Green BeansBrussels Sprouts with balsamic/shallots and Cream Herb Mashed Potatoes. All of those are $6.

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I’m not the type to order sweets after a meal…or anytime, actually. But I’d be negligent to not try something from the brief but satisfying-looking dessert menu. Each selection is $8, and can be paired with one of seven ice cream flavors (they can be ordered as a trio sampler for $6).

Yours truly took a few satisfying nibbles of Limoncello Cake, served with berries, cream and a shot of Limoncello liqueur. A tiny scoop of almond praline ice cream brought my meal to a satisfying and refreshing close.

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My guest was drawn to the house specialty of Plantain Fosters ($8). It’s served in a hefty bowl of almond praline ice cream, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum and banana liqueur topped with whipped cream and plantain crisps. A little too rich for my blood, but the Texan polished it off with ease and smiled the entire time.

After a table-side visit by the General Manager, we headed over to the lounge to meet Head Mixologist Brandon St. Claire. After we complimented him on our cocktails, Brandon shared a little background on preparing the cocktail and spirits selection for Cornerstone’s opening.

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The idea was to bring in the best and most inviting choices without pricing them to discourage current Gold Coast patrons. Brandon believes that Cornerstone’s lounge will become a go-to destination for guests desiring a well-chosen selection of whiskeys, curated beers and specialty cocktails without the shocking prices. He hopes their offerings become a new favorite with locals as well.

Many of Boyd-owned hotels have added new restaurants, sports books and lounges into the mix. California Noodle House at “The Cal” and Alder and Birch Steakhouse at The Orleans immediately come to mind. While I haven’t tried that steakhouse yet, if it’s anything like Cornerstone, that one will be worth a visit as well.

I’ve always had an affection for dining at many of Boyd’s properties and am glad they are adding to (and improving) their portfolio while keeping prices from skyrocketing out of control. Our meal for two, minus cocktails, tax, and tip, was $120.00.

If you’re tired of paying outrageous amounts for a meal on the Strip, I highly recommend visiting Cornerstone Steakhouse at Gold Coast. You’ll feel pretty rich without breaking the bank.

Cornerstone Steakhouse is located at 4000 West Flamingo Road. It operates daily 5 pm to 10 pm. The lounge opens one hour earlier. Reservations: 702-367-7111

This review originally appeared in fall 2016 on another site. It has been updated with more information and photos after a recent revisit.

Local “Pampered Chefs” Bring the Excitement of Italy to Your Home


Chef Piero Barbagallo and his colleagues help you to create a four-star Italian dining experience for your guests…

In today’s fast-paced world, the popularity of TV food channels and cooking classes continues to grow. Now you can experience the best of both in your own Vegas kitchen…with a world-renowned chef assisting you all the way.

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Meet Chef Piero Barbagallo, a manic ball of energy who hails from Palermo, Italy. Chef Piero has cooked at some of the finest restaurants around the world. He’s also been Food and Beverage Manager for a little-known gentleman named Wolfgang Puck, done the same for Trump Tower Las Vegas and has an impressive history of hospitality and management at New York NY, Bellagio and Palazzo.

With credentials like those, it’s hard to grasp that a man of such revered status would be available to cook and entertain in your kitchen, but that’s exactly what Pampered Chef provides. Barbagallo and other members of the Pampered Chef team help you to host parties that spread the word on their products and services while giving you and your friends a true interactive experience.

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While Chef Piero treasures his history with several popular Strip restaurants, the exhaustive hours were chipping away at precious time with his young daughter. “I wanted to try something different that would allow me to be home when my daughter returned from school. I’ve been with Pampered Chef only since December, but I already love it!”

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It’s clear that Chef Piero’s outgoing personality and passion for his craft are ideal for this type of venture. “I love food. I love people. And I love to entertain. Let me cook for and with you” he exclaims.

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Preparations were well underway when I arrived early for a 6 pm party. Chef Piero had already organized the ingredients, which are purchased by the party’s hosts. Special guest Chef Massimilliano Lanzafame of Sicily was hard at working creating a batch of dough. Bottles of wine and Pampered Chef catalogs/pamphlets were spread out on the reception table along with some snacks.

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The host location for the party was the Summerlin home of Marina Johnson. Ms. Johnson is an Advanced Director/Trainer who leads her own team of Pampered Chefs. And she made one hell of an eggplant dish just for me when I revealed that my diet plan prohibited me from indulging in the evening’s featured dish….authentic homemade ravioli with bruschetta.

As the three Italians bantered throughout the kitchen in their native language, the flurry of activity felt like a warm, chaotic ballet. A growing number of arrivals filled the kitchen and were invited to have wine, ask questions and participate in the preparation. It all came together in an evening that was part show, part lesson…and all unforgettable fun.

Pampered Chef offers a lot more than in-home cooking parties. They’re a multi-level marketing company that produces kitchen tools, food products and recipe books for the home. Party guests can order items that they’ve tried, take a catalog home and even host a Pampered Chef party for themselves. That gets you free items and substantial discounts to turn your everyday kitchen into a culinary wizard’s workshop.

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Although Ms. Johnson’s team consists of the finest Italian chefs, that’s far from the only cuisine that Pampered Chef can do. For instance, February is “Wine, Cheese and Chocolate” Month. Perhaps you’d prefer “Fajitas and Margaritas” or “Fast and Fresh Weeknight Meals”. Whatever your taste, there’s a Pampered Chef theme for you.

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Not everyone is a natural-born entertainer (I’m certainly not). And how often do you say “I wish that I (or my spouse) could be a better cook”? With Pampered Chef, your wishes can easily become a reality. They can handle just about any special social event and help you to get it off the ground.

Let Pampered Chef organize your wedding/baby shower, birthday party or fundraiser. Or you can just arrange a traditional Tupperware-style catalog party to introduce your friends to the products they offer…and make a tidy profit for yourself at the same time.

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If you’d like to view one of Chef Piero’s cooking classes remotely, tune to his frequent virtual demonstrations via Facebook Live. Or you can cheer him on in person this February 13th when he competes at CHEF BATTLE LAS VEGAS. The event begins 6 pm at Hofbrauhaus, 4510 Paradise Road.

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To schedule a cooking party with Chef Piero Barbagallo, call or text him at 702-544-3173 and say that Sam from Vegas Unfiltered sent you. To learn more about Pampered Chef products and services, contact Marina Johnson via this link

Photos: Sam Novak, Chef Piero Barbagallo

 

 

 

 

 

Culinary Superstars – Dora Pane: Careers, Fine Dining and “La Famiglia”


In the concluding segment of my series, Fresco Italiano’s General Manager brings the invaluable warmth of family gatherings to her restaurant guests…

Last month I introduced you to a pair of genuine Italians who have brought true authenticity to dining at Westgate Las Vegas. And while I focused on dynamic Chef Paola Bugli in that previous piece, it was with the promise that next time we’d get to know Fresco Italiano‘s general manager Dora Festa Pane.

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It seems fitting that “Festa” is part of this lovely lady’s name. After all, the Italian derivation of “festival” is the sensation you’ll have when dining at this authentic eatery. Each meal is meant to be an experience, something that Ms. Dora (as I like to call her) promises to every guest.

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In order to deliver on that commitment, the native of Naples dined at Fresco Italiano to see what it was like…and determine if she could put her own personal imprint onto the already-successful restaurant.

I came at the end of last year to eat, check things out and see what it was like. I didn’t introduce myself to the server or tell anyone that I was considering a position here. It’s better to just observe, analyze and think about what could be improved.

Honestly, I wasn’t completely happy. When this is your career, you find yourself analyzing so many things. Fresco Italiano is a beautiful place and there were many things to love. But their way of serving the guests could have been carried out much better.

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It’s easy to be a restaurant critic in today’s world of online user reviews, but Ms. Dora was honing her craft (and what makes a restaurant successful) long before Yelp! came along. Years of experience in high-profile establishments throughout the Vegas valley established her as an expert at her profession. So when that evening at Fresco Italiano didn’t quite meet her exacting standards, she accepted an invitation to make it her own.

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It may surprise you that a manager would be so candid about their own place of employment, but Ms. Dora is no-nonsense and outspoken. Fluent in several languages, she’s a colorful conversationalist who speaks from the heart. Her exposure to a myriad of cultures and atmospheres warrants your trust in her abilities.

As soon as I came in, I needed to learn about my crew…as a group and as individuals. It’s tough to do that when a place is already established. You need to be sweet AND sour. There were things to fix, but I didn’t come here to change people. Only to make them better.

When operating a restaurant, Ms. Dora does so with a mixture of passion and skill from the perspective of an actual owner. You might say that operating restaurants is in Dora’s blood. Her father had his own passion for great dining service and was a longtime maître d’ in her hometown of Naples before becoming a food critic. Although he passed away at a relatively young age, Dora credits him with much of her professionalism and knowledge. 

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After high school, she earned degrees in both Education and Psychology from Italy’s Cristo Re Magistral Institute. That unique combination might not be the norm for a career in restaurant management, but she feels it’s given her distinct advantages in this field.

I’m a teacher here at the restaurant…and psychology helps me with my work, too. It’s much easier to teach children because adults tend to resist. Everyone has something that holds them back. It could be their pride, birth sign, background life…whatever. My job is to overcome that.

When I came here in secret, my server clearly had something holding him back. Now that we’ve worked together, he’s the best server in the entire restaurant.

As we spoke in the darkened lounge a little before opening time, Ms. Dora happened to notice a few people standing at the entrance. Excusing herself, she greeted the group and invited them to have some wine at the bar until actual service began.

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“My bartender will probably get angry with me for doing his job” she winked as we resumed our conversation. That small moment of courtesy spoke mountains about Ms. Dora’s character. A lesser host would have simply asked them to return at the proper time. But this professional knows that a good impression lasts a lifetime.

It’s no wonder that Dora Pane has been involved with many wonderful Las Vegas restaurants in the valley. She’s been in the Vegas area for twenty-one years and dove headfirst into the big leagues by starting at MGM Grand.

Ms. Dora eyes lit up as she excitedly shared her history throughout Sin City. While moonlighting at dance clubs, she quickly rose from working as a food server to managing family-owned food shops. That was followed by a position as assistant manager at Terrazza at Caesars Palace. Overlooking the glorious Garden of the Gods, Terrazza was a fine-casual Italian restaurant located in the spot now occupied by Rao’s Las Vegas.

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Remaining within the Caesars family, Ms. Dora opened Voga, a modern Italian venue at nearby Flamingo Casino Resort. Seen above with her epicurean team, she proudly described ten years with Caesars corporation, which also included a stint at Steakhouse 46 (inside Flamingo). Sadly, it all came to a close when the company began doing huge cuts.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

What followed was a vast array of life experiences – running Robert De Niro’s Tuscan-themed AGO at Hard Rock Hotel (“that place was too classy for Hard Rock”), collaborating with Todd Moreau at both Hard Rock and Sunset Station (“we tend to follow each other”) and achieving new career standards at ALLEGRO of Wynn/Encore.

Things didn’t go as well as I would have liked at ALLEGRO. The hours were very bad. I had a young child at the time and no extended family here. Money isn’t everything when your children need you. So I left ALLEGRO after exactly one year.

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Yearning more of an atmosphere and schedule suited for a working mother, Ms. Dora settled in wonderfully at Venetian‘s Trattoria Reggiano (locals flock to the Downtown Summerlin’s flagship location). Spearheaded by Fifth Avenue Restaurant Group, Trattoria Reggiano brought her into a powerhouse that operates over forty establishments….and full circle with their involvement at Flamingo, Venetian and MGM Grand.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

After high school, eldest daughter Daniela graduated from University of Nevada, Las Vegas and moved to Naples. Son Gio has followed in the footsteps of his mother and grandfather by joining the staff at legendary Vegas Italian eatery Battista’s Hole in the Wall.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

And with youngest daughter Alessandra now grown into a lovely young lady, mother Dora has seized another opportunity to make an impact on the ever-changing Sin City dining scene.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

Perhaps the importance of family is why Ms. Pane agreed to spearhead the staff at Fresco Italiano. As I’ve said many times in this column, Westgate exemplifies the principles of dedication, service and commitment to guests that Las Vegas was founded on.

It’s a philosophy that hearkens back to the days of Mob-run Vegas, when the guests were all that mattered (well, maybe a few other things, too…). With the recent downturn in stock values and profits for Caesars and MGM Resorts properties, the current business model for Las Vegas has been put under intense scrutiny. Westgate was already ahead of the curve on a customer-based ideology that’s sorely in need of a city-wide renaissance.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

                     Sharing the Fresco Italiano family experience with my own…

It’s true that attractions, restaurants and even entire resorts come and go in this city. But the priceless importance of its people will remain. What makes any organization work, at its core, is the dedication and camaraderie of its team.

Ms. Dora Pane understands this. With her in the driver’s seat and Chef Paola Bugli in charge of the kitchen, a journey through the Tuscan landscape via Fresco Italiano is one you’ll want to repeat over and over again. Finisci di mangiare!

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

Fresco Italiano is open for dinner 365 days a year at 5 pm – lunch hours vary by date. For more information or to place reservations call 702.732.5276.

Photos: Sammasseur, Dora Festa Pane, Westgate Las Vegas, Cyber-reef.com