Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Chef Bruno Morabito

Sid’s Cafe’s “Master of Brunch” is serious about the joys of casual dining…

Part Two in my series on the fabulous culinary family of Westgate Las Vegas

Sometimes you talk at length with someone whom you’ve previously encountered only in passing…and they blow your expectations away. That’s what happened during my recent morning sit-down with Chef de cuisine Bruno Morabito of Sid’s Cafe. And it was a surprise that made my day.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

Being a semi-regular diner at Westgate’s casual-dining restaurant, I’d seen Chef Bruno strolling by from time to time, greeting patrons at their table to check on their experience. This mild-mannered gentleman was personable, professional and seemed somewhat reserved. But give Chef Bruno the opportunity to relax for a bit of private conversation and this native of Rochester NY will light up the room.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

Perhaps it’s the dazzling white coat that keeps his bubbly personality in check. Maybe it’s the presence of dozens of diners enjoying his creations. Or the years of disciplined experience in world-class kitchens around the city. Whatever the reason, when this veteran of the Las Vegas dining scene gets a moment away from the focus of responsibility, an entirely different person shines through.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

The two of us got acquainted in a corner booth on the tail end of a Sid’s Cafe breakfast rush. Both of us had just returned from visits to Italy, so it was a nice ice-breaker. I confessed that I’d just watched one of his cooking segments about brunch on a local network affiliate page. “Oh, No! I can’t stand doing those!”, he chuckled with a mild flush. “I’m not a TV kind of guy. But I do like to talk about my food”.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

    Jennifer Jean Snyder of KTNV Morning Blend reacts to Chef Bruno’s creations… 

Indeed he does. As is the case with many artists, Chef Bruno beams when discussing how he began to create delicious dishes…and which inspirations set him on the path to success. For Chef Morabito, it was exposure to a combination of many different cultures.

During his culinary school days at Lougheed College in Kitchener Ontario, this descendant of Italian immigrants was affectionately known as “The Yank”. He was nicknamed that by program director Wolfgang Stutz (one could safely assume that Stutz was German). But it was years of experience at a famous French restaurant that secured his place on the Valley’s list of superb culinary masters.

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Visiting the Amalfi coastline of southern Italy with brother Phil…               

After coming to Las Vegas with his wife, Morabito began a 17-month stint as Sous Chef for renowned Charlie Palmer at Mandalay Bay‘s gorgeous Aureole. Then came his first really big opportunity – a position at Venetian‘s world-famous Bouchon Bistro. Tucked away inside an exclusive area of the resort’s Venezia Tower, Bouchon is where Westgate‘s “Master of Brunch” developed his reputation for morning-meal brilliance.

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Chef Bruno (fourth from right) with Chef Thomas Keller and the team at Bouchon…               

Challenged by Bouchon founder Chef Thomas Keller to create a pork-belly BLT from a sketch, Morabito went “off the menu” and took a detour to the unexpected. With free reign to create any special he wanted, Chef Bruno added a personal “why not” favorite of Chicken and Waffles as a special.

A succulent serving of roasted chicken atop a bacon and chive waffle, sauce chasseur (aka “Hunter’s Sauce”), Tahitian vanilla bean butter and maple syrup, Chicken and Waffles was a runaway hit…and continued to grow in popularity. It became the cornerstone for an entire brunch menu that Morabito urged Kelly to try.

Chef Bruno’s brunch menu remains his legacy there and is now served in every Bouchon Bistro nationwide. It was also Forbes Travel Magazine‘s pick for Best Brunch in Las Vegas.

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                  Chef Bruno flanked by his lovely 14-year-old daughters….

After a decade with Chef Thomas Keller, this thoroughbred horse-racing enthusiast (he’s attended the last eight Breeder’s Cups and owns several horses back in New York) was now the proud father of twin girls.

The increased responsibilities of being a parent and husband to wife Tracy didn’t deter Morabito from taking on a new challenge, though. In 2014 he was recruited by celebrity Giada De Laurentis to be her new Chef de Cuisine at Giada inside The Cromwell.

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Chef Morabito and Giada De Laurentis remain friends…                     

History repeated itself a bit at The Cromwell. Morabito’s reputation for success allowed him to create a brunch menu for De Laurentis at the trendy eatery. If you seem to recall Chicken and Waffles in the Giada line-up, you aren’t mistaken…although he gave the dish a new distinctive Italian twist. It came as no surprise when the new offerings were lauded by Las Vegas Review Journal readers as “Best Brunch”.

Nearly two and a half years later, the visionary “Master of Brunch” joined the ever-growing list of superlative chefs at Westgate Las Vegas. And now he’s serving his award-winning food at Sid’s Cafe.

Sid’s Cafe is named after Westgate founder David Siegel‘s father, who absolutely loved Las Vegas. Sid’s may be the most casual of Westgate‘s restaurant, but the home-style menu is meticulously prepared and served with pride. Chef Bruno runs the entire operation, from kitchen to staffing. He’s a hands-on kind of man when it comes to ensuring quality:

What goes out on that plate has my name on it. I personally answer Yelp! and other guest reviews, both positive and negative. Kindness is an easy way to build rapport with our guests. I want you to be satisfied with what we bring to your table.

Bringing things to the table is exactly what Chef Bruno had planned for me. Being a frequent visitor, I was already familiar with lunch and dinner offerings at the Cafe (Matzo Ball Soup, Free-Range Turkey Burger and Chopped Italian Salad are my personal favorites). So it was with a bit fortuitous that I’d be sampling his brunch creations for the first time during our meeting.

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 Mojito Fruit Bowl with lime juice, mint and toasted coconut…                    

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Smoked Salmon Platter…                 

My host could scarcely hide his enthusiasm when describing each dish that arrived at the table.That carefully-hidden smile of his surfaced frequently…and it continued to grow with each visit back.

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Grande Cinnamon Roll is big enough for the entire table…                   

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Cinnamon Roll French Toast and several hearty skillet breakfasts…                 

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As Chef Bruno promised, everything he creates is fresh, delicious, gorgeous to look at and downright satisfying. Brunch is available at Sid’s Cafe every Thursday through Sunday from 7 am until 2 pm. You can add unlimited mimosas for $10.

Echoing sentiments from other Chefs I’ve spoken to at Westgate, Sid’s chef de cuisine is thrilled with the opportunity to add, fine-tune and elevate his cafe’s line-up. And no doubt the resort is pleased to have attracted another major player to their team.

As with all members of the Westgate culinary family, Chef Bruno Morabito aims to bring happiness to your table and a smile to your face. Be sure to ask for him when you visit…and don’t you dare miss that Chicken and Waffles masterpiece.

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Sid’s Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hours are 7 am to midnight Sunday through Thursday, 7 am to 2 am Friday and Saturday. Call 702-732-5755 for more information. Dress code is casual, restaurant is non-smoking.

Photos: Sammasseur, Bruno Morabito via Facebook/Instagram, KTNV Morning Blend

 

 

 

 

I’m Too Sexy For My…Burger?


Award-winning hunks turned away from Palms poolside cafe…

Sin City. The name alone suggests wild, outrageous parties, outlandish behavior and sex galore. In most cases, the city delivers on that promise. Mobile billboards offer “Ladies Direct To Your Room”. Puppetry of the Penis is a runaway hit at Erotic Heritage Museum. Porno conventions take over entire resorts. But shirtless guys eating burgers at a poolside cafe? That’s apparently too graphic for one Las Vegas restaurant.

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You may be scratching your head and wondering “How could this even be an issue?”. That’s a legitimate question, but don’t get bogged down by the specifics. I’ll elaborate on the details in a moment. Instead, allow yourself to digest this fact: A private luncheon for shirtless Vegas celebs is considered “unacceptable” by Station Casinos…specifically Palms Place.

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If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’ve written many columns saluting the Hot Guys of Vegas. Performers, bartenders, a popular celebrity publicist…even a well-known lawyer. Respected, hard-working gentlemen, one and all. They are great sports and have had plenty of fun with my columns.

Out of gratitude, I thought it would be a wacky idea…and make another great article…if I gathered a few past and future recipients of that series for lunch. My group included performers from the likes of Absinthe, WOW – World of Wonder, DIVAS, Men of the Strip, Jubilee and Men of Sapphire. The idea was to allow them to network with one another, take some photographs and share an “only in Vegas” experience with you, the readers.

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I invited several guys to revel in gratuitous shirtlessness. They’d arrive sans tops and remain that way for a meal, drinks and laughs….a positive social experiment. Every invited guest agreed to join in on the fun and yours truly would pay the bill. The location would be my favorite casual-dining spot in the city: Cafe 6 at Palms Place.

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This awesome, secluded burger joint on the sixth floor of the Palms Place tower is serviced by a dedicated elevator (directly from the parking lot to the cafe entrance). It sits next to a lovely pool and hot tub with only walls of glass separating the swimmers and the diners. The effect is that of eating at the pool deck while remaining indoors.

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Another reason for choosing Cafe 6 is that they have a private meeting room immediately to the left of the entrance. My guests would be able to arrive discreetly with only an infinitesimal chance of being spotted by patrons in the main dining area. Nobody who could be potentially offended would be affected. Perfect, right?

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I then chose a weekday afternoon in the middle of December, historically the slowest week of the year in Vegas. It’s so slow that many shows shut down and restaurants send their staff on vacation. So you’d think that any restaurant would welcome hundreds of dollars of guaranteed business during those days.

With a plan in place, I emailed a known contact at Palms Casino Resort who is involved in food and beverage operations there. I described our gathering, the number of people in our party, our willingness to order from the regular menu and other assorted details along with a few possible dates. For the sake of anonymity, I won’t specifically name anyone involved here.

It never crossed my mind that our lunch party would be denied. After all, Palms was until recently home to the “World’s Largest Hooters”. Because, you know, female breasts sell chicken wings…

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Anyway, the person I wrote to copied another individual on their team when replying back. They informed me that they would discuss my request, then they passed it on to a third person in their public relations department for final disposition.

It should be noted that in the follow-up correspondence, our group promised to be respectful and behave discreetly. I even suggested the name of a particular server who is very outgoing and enjoys male eye-candy. Nevertheless, our party was refused with a curt denial:

“Hi Sam, thanks for considering us, at this time we are going to politely pass on the opportunity.”

That was it. No questions, no offer of alternate conditions., no mention of potential code violations..and most importantly, no explanation of any kind. While it’s safe to assume that bare chiseled torsos were the deciding issue here, how can we know for sure? And WHY is a sexy guy forbidden to show his abs in a poolside cafe?

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View from inside the main dining room of Cafe 6…                   

As you might imagine, I found this response to be quite ludicrous. Cafe 6, as I mentioned earlier, is my favorite lunch place in town. I gave it a stellar review in a previous column, chose Cafe 6 as my “Best Vegas Bargain of 2016” and even hosted my most recent birthday party there. So what gives? And should I have even bothered to describe our reason for gathering in the first place?

Luckily, Dave Wahlen, General Manager of Flair Nightclub and the soon-to-open Hamburger Mary’s on Flamingo Avenue, caught wind of this absurd situation and welcomed us with open arms…and shirts.

Sam, I’d love to have them…anytime you want! The city gave us the final approved plans a week ago Tuesday. We have been balls to the walls. We have a night and a day crew working on the kitchen. It has taken nearly 8 months to get this done. Come see us as we love these guys at Mary’s. I miss seeing you buddy. I hope you’re doing well!

And that, dear readers, is how you do good business and promote healthy public relations. I understand that Cafe 6 and Palms Place are undergoing a transition of ownership and management. But their response to a simple request has successfully alienated an entire group of Vegas influentials…and one beef-loving blogger.

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Thanks for being such a soggy pile of wet blankets, Palms. Let us know when you’ve removed that stick from up your _____. As for me and my guys, it’s “Next stop…Hamburger Mary’s”!

Photos: Sammasseur, CBS Daytime, KTNV.com, Hamburger Mary’s

 

 

Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Chef Michael McNeilly of Fresco Italiano


Westgate’s unconventional Chef de Cuisine infuses every dish with his untamed spirit…

While Las Vegas continues to be a city of re-invention, some resorts in the Valley have been far more successful than others at maintaining their relevance. Westgate Las Vegas (previously the Las Vegas Hilton) continues to surprise with the levels of excellence it’s achieved in restoring the once-floundering property. It’s truly become Sin City’s most daring and innovative destination.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Since taking ownership in 2014, Westgate Resorts has set new standards for lodging, entertainment, gaming, service and fine dining. When launching this site, my very first article was a review of the outstanding Fresco Italiano. I’ve been back to Westgate many times in the ensuing months, enjoying the resort’s hospitality and amenities (you can read my recent review of their new spa here). 

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Now I’m excited to publish the first in a series on the creative and gifted people behind Westgate‘s food and beverage offerings. As I’ve said in the past, there are great reasons why expert chefs leave some of the highest-profile restaurants in the city to make Westgate their new home.

Along the way,  we’ll explore how Westgate has become the new center of elevated dining excellence. More importantly, I’ll sit down with the creative minds behind these amazing dishes and cocktails. The artists will share their backgrounds, the influences behind their unique creations…and the personal drive that makes them some of the best in their fields.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

And they’ll do all that it while serving me their favorite dishes. Bon Appétit!

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Chef Michael McNeilly of Fresco Italiano                   

Nobody can prepare Italian food like a genuine Italian. At least that’s what I was told when growing up in a little town brimming with Italian immigrants. So don’t let Chef Michael McNeilly‘s last name fool you…he is indeed of Italian descent. Just don’t confuse him for a small-town boy. If you forget, his tough-talking uncensored manner of speech will remind you.

Chef Michael and his three younger siblings grew up in the tough areas of New York City. They were partially raised by his grandmother, who taught him her style of Italian cooking…and the importance of food in our everyday lives.

Food is power. It controls your day. Everything you do is planned around when you eat, what you eat and where you eat.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

                          Michael (left) with father and little brother Johnny… 

As part of a hard-working blue-collar family, Chef Michael looked out for his siblings when not lending a hand at his father’s trucking firm. Delivering food and merchandise to businesses taught him early lessons in discipline. And no matter what went on before it, the family meal was always the best time of the day.

With Italians, the party starts in the kitchen. And it ends in the kitchen.

McNeilly admits that in his youth he was very prone to getting into trouble, some of it quite serious. His personal problems sometimes threatened to get the best of him. Developing an appreciation for cooking became a salvation of sorts.

Each corner in New York had something different….it was a melting pot of people and smells. The bakeries, restaurants and outdoor carts had every different kind of ethnic food you could imagine. I could travel around the world by walking through my neighborhood.

Chef Michael’s first professional foray into the culinary world came at age 14…as a garde manger (or pantry chef) for a French restaurant. He amusingly referred to himself as a “soda jerk” at Long Island’s Brown Osprey Restaurant. Watching the methodical operations of fine-tuned kitchens intrigued the young man and created a desire to learn more. Much more. So he absorbed everything he could from each mentor along the way.

Eventually Chef Michael realized he needed a change of location. A bad situation threatened to consume him if he didn’t seek a drastic change, so at 28 years old he headed for Texas and settled in Austin. That’s where his real adventure in culinary arts began.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Despite having no formal culinary degree, the Irish-Italian threw himself headlong into Austin’s dining scene. From Sous Chef at Roux to Chef at Mesa Ranch Bar and Grill, McNeilly learned the finer details on a wide array of food preparation. From “breaking down” large exotic fish to smoking and curing meats, nothing was too big or too challenging.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

“I can do that” was the mantra that got McNeilly into higher positions…and greater opportunities to create. He recounted an amusing story involving a particular job he desired:

I showed up with my chef coat and utensils, let myself into the kitchen and took a place in the line. I started filling orders and sending them out. Others were looking at me like “Who are you?”. So I introduced myself and kept on working…for hours. I did so well that when I was discovered by management, they offered me a job.

Not everyone has the guts and gumption to spontaneously create their own position at someone else’s business. But Chef Michael refuses to follow the rules. His unconventional approach still works for him in his current role:

Whenever I’m told “You can’t do that”, my answer is “Why not? If it makes sense and will improve performance, morale, efficiency and the bottom line, I’ll find a way to make something happen…and prove that I was right.

Life in Austin was a time of constant growth… both personally and professionally. It was there that he met his wife Kelsey, settled down and started a family. From his home kitchen to the grill at legendary Four Seasons, Chef Michael balanced his family time with creating new recipes (and entire menus) and managerial responsibilities of running a kitchen.

The business aspects (like controlling food and labor costs to operations in both front-of-house and back-of-house) were modeled after the lessons he’d learned from his father.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

By fall of 2012, the outspoken N.Y. badass with his signature baseball cap had become Executive Chef of Trattoria Lisinia, a highly-regarded restaurant on the Mandola Estate and Vineyard outside of Austin. McNeilly’s talent for charcuterie was a great fit for the Tuscany-styled eatery, where hand-made pastas and hand-stretched pizzas wrestled for attention with flame-grilled steaks.

Trattoria Lisinia‘s support of various youth organizations also struck a chord. Being appreciative of the opportunities he’d been given, Chef Michael began mentoring other young people that faced difficult situations (more on that in a bit).

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

      “Start them young” says Chef Michael McNeilly, pictured with his children… 

A role as Chef Partner for Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar became McNeilly’s final position in Austin before taking the next big step…to Las Vegas. Much like other noteworthy chefs in the Valley, he was drawn to the unique opportunities at Westgate.

There’s a certain “something” that attracts extremely talented people to the historic property. Culinary artists with successful runs at The Cromwell, Caesars PalaceMGM Grand, Cosmopolitan and Wynn have made this off-Strip resort their home. Chef McNeilly seems to know why:

My worst day here is better than my best day when I’ve worked elsewhere. They (Westgate’s administrative team) allow us to have creative freedom and take chances. I love my bosses because they let me be me.

After a lengthy conversation filled with “colorful” language and plenty of laughter, Chef Michael took me to his dining room to enjoy a wide array of spectacular dishes. As I dove in with fork and knife, he told me about some noteworthy experiences since coming to Westgate.

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Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Fresco Italiano opened two years ago. Chef Michael has been there from the beginning, hand-picking the ingredients, staff and every dish on the menu. It’s a culmination of all the training and exposure he’s had since being a boy. He’s now a familiar face on local talk shows, demonstrating what makes his offerings unique and delicious.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Early this year, McNeilly and several other chefs from Westgate had the privilege to participate in one of the nation’s most prestigious culinary honors – preparing a meal for the legendary James Beard Foundation. This not-for-profit culinary arts organization, created with the involvement of Julia Child, honors chefs who make America’s food culture more diverse, sustainable and delicious for everyone.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Westgate‘s landmark event at James Beard House was called Valentine’s Day with a Vegas Kiss. Seven experts from the resort’s culinary team traveled back to McNeilly’s old stomping grounds in NYC, along with 40 crates of food, dishes, utensils and equipment. They created an epic six-course dinner for over eighty guests, complimented by 132 bottles of wine that also traveled with Westgate’s team.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

The experience was immensely gratifying for Chef McNeilly. The son of a humble trucker had come full circle…and prepared the ultimate meal at the city’s most prestigious venue.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

    Looking over a memory book from the James Beard Foundation dinner….  

It’s in that spirit that he continues to foster the young people of Las Vegas. He’s taken several members of Fresco Italiano‘s staff under his wing, training them in various aspects of restaurant operations. And hopefully grooming them for a lifetime of success.

This is a tough world that we live in. I want to help hard-working young people the way that I was helped. To give them a chance. If they’re willing to put forth the effort, I’ll do whatever it takes to improve their lives. It’s my goal to leave people better than I found them.

Westgate Chef Michael McNeilly

Fresco Italiano is open for dinner from 5pm daily with lunch on select days. Call 702.532.5276 for more information or to make reservations.

Photos: Sammasseur, Michael McNeilly via Facebook/Instagram, Greg C.

 

 

Binion’s Cafe Gets a Menu Upgrade


Fremont’s struggling casino gives you new reasons to visit….

A few weeks back I wrote about the trend of casinos pushing their dining and retail operations to the very front of their properties. In many cases, they even go out onto the sidewalks themselves. Binion’s historic downtown property is one of those I mentioned in the piece.

Binion’s is the best example of how Downtown casinos shifted their focus from interior to the sidewalks. Exploring the property, you’ll find numerous examples of a time when guests stayed and played indoors. On the second floor, a buffet and the Gee Joon Asian restaurant are collecting dust. In the basement, a once-popular 24-hour Coffee Shop is abandoned as well.

As visitor habits changed, the once-popular Binion’s Gambling Hall shuttered their lodging operations along with my go-to favorite, the downstairs Coffee Shop. The casino-floor cafe, which was basically a lunch counter surrounded by slot machines, was best known for its fresh-ground Binion’s Burger and not much else.

Eventually the space was enclosed and converted into a full-service restaurant with improved seating and an expanded menu. That successful expansion was the springboard for another re-invention when Benny’s Bullpen (a cigar lounge/sports bar) became Benny’s Smokin’ BBQ and Brews.

While Binion’s has seen casino traffic dwindle with the closure of a short-lived bingo room and their historic Poker Room (original home to World Series of Poker), Binion’s Cafe continues to draw in long-time visitors and new guests.

Binion's Cafe

                                       Classic Pot Roast with corn bread…

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                                Linguine and all-beef meatballs…

This week, Binion’s Cafe rolled out an updated version of their menu with lots of new items to dive into. Added dishes include Classic Pot Roast ($14.99), Linguine with all-beef Meatballs ($12.99) and Poached Shrimp Alfredo over Linguine ($14.99). Entrees come with a choice of salad or soup.

Binion's Cafe

                                   Shrimp alfredo…

Binion's Cafe

                                       Mo’s Poutine…

If you’re looking for something smaller, try a plate of Mo’s Poutine ($5.99), crispy fries topped with molten cheese curds and gravy. Health nuts like myself will appreciate house-made Fire-Roasted Red Pepper Hummus ($5.99) served with warm pita bread, cucumber slices and celery sticks.

Binion's Cafe

                                                         No more chili….

I was shocked to see one of my favorite Vegas indulgences, Binion’s famous truckstop-style chili, missing from the new menu. That greasy-spoon bowl of tomatoes and beans had gotten this fellow through many a night of partying in the past. I later learned that it’s still available at nearby Binion’s Deli, but only from 12pm-8pm.

Of course, mainstay Binion’s Burger remains ($5.99) on the menu and comes with their delicious potato salad (fries and cheese are extra). Also, the Club Binion’s Player’s Card will get you special discounts on select items.

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          Ham Steak and Eggs is only $8.99 with your Binion’s Club Card….

It’s worth mentioning that meats and poultry at the Binion’s Cafe are cut daily at their own in-house butcher shop. Symbols identify these dishes, along with those designated as “heart healthy” and selections available only during limited hours.

Click here for a PDF copy of the full menu.

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Binion’s Cafe is open daily from 7am to 2am. Be sure to ask for Alicia when visiting…and tell her that Sam sent you.

Photos: Sammasseur, Alicia P., Binion’s, TripAdvisor

Westgate’s Superbook Lands a Slam Dunk at “The Court”


New dining outlet at world’s largest sportsbook is a hit with the fans…

In the past couple of years I’ve reported on the numerous improvements that have taken place in and around Westgate Las Vegas, best known as the former Las Vegas Hilton. Along with renovated rooms, modernized amenities and a new approach to customer service, a big focus of the current owners has been in food and beverage offerings.

Since the inception of VegasUnfiltered this summer, I’ve reviewed Fresco Italiano and Bar Sake, two immensely gratifying offerings along Westgate’s “restaurant row”. Last week I was invited back to experience the new, improved quick-bite outlet in Westgate’s enormous Race and Sports Superbook betting complex.

Westgate Superbook

Unlike those other two meals, The Court was anything but a formal experience…and that’s the idea. Focusing on tried-and-true favorites with elevated quality, moderate pricing and rapid service, the venues that make up The Court aim to satisfy by way of the food as much as the convenience.

Cordovano Joe’s NY-style Pizza, Drafts Sports Bar & Grill Express and Nacho Tacos Authentic Mexican are all created by Westgate’s own food and beverage team. The three share one main dining area and an additional space for overflow, which came in very handy on the Tuesday afternoon that I visited.

Westgate Las Vegas

The Court‘s trio of offerings are overseen by Jeffrey DiVito, Westgate’s new VP of Food and Beverage. DeVito came to Westgate Las Vegas by way of L’Auberge Lake Charles and Station Casinos (and was involved in the design and opening of both Red Rock and Alliante resorts). He joins a growing list of talented execs and chefs who have come to Westgate from other big-league Vegas properties.

Westgate Food Court

Westgate Food Court

            The previous incarnation invoked a truckstop/diner atmosphere…

The Court takes over an area previously known as Superbook Deli. Glaringly-bright diner decor has been toned down with softer lighting and mellower colors, bringing the Superbook atmosphere into the service and seating areas.

Westgate Food Court

Westgate Food Court

Westgate Food Court

                  So long, stadium hot dog stand…hello, neighborhood pub…

To accentuate the tavern atmosphere, pool tables and dart games have been installed at one side of The Court, making it appealing for those who may want to hang out around the Superbook without actually betting.

The Superbook’s unique placement within the resort allows for direct access via the casino or a dedicated entrance and parking lot. Those looking to drop by for casual eats and brews should be pleased by the variety of selections that The Court now offers.

Westgate Food Court

Assistant Executive Chef Aaron Losch, who made a name for himself at both Red Rock and Wynn, invited me to sample some of the new menu items that he created for The Court. We mostly focused on Nacho Taco‘s menu, with an item or two from Draft’s (I’ll have to come back for pizza during my next visit).

Being a fitness buff who tries to eat cleanly, I was a bit shocked by my mouth-watering response to the items that the staff brought over. It’s actually hard to upload the photos into this article without the same thing happening again.

Westgate Food Court

                                             Carne Asada Street Tacos…

My tasting started with selections from the Nacho Tacos kitchen. I began with a trio of Carne Asada Street Tacos ($13), served with cotija cheese and salsa on warm corn tortillas with beans and rice. All main dishes on the Nacho Tacos menu start with the basics ($8 for vegetarian), then are priced upwards according to toppings/fillings.

Westgate Food Court

                   Quesadillas with a side of Philly Cheesesteak, eh?

Grilled Chicken Breast with paprika, cumin and lime adds $3 to your dish, Carnitas (braised pork with chili and cumin) or Al Pastor (pork marinated in orange and pineapple juices) add $4, and Carne Asada (marinated skirt steak with garlic and lime) adds $5 more.

Westgate Food Court

                         Taqueria Fries topped with braised pork carnitas…

Instead of tacos, you can design your plate with a Tortilla Salad, traditional Nachos or a Quesadilla. For really hearty appetites, I’d recommend indulging in Taqueria Fries, a layer of crispy string potatoes topped with queso, pico de gallo, sour cream and jalapenos. All entrees at Nacho Tacos are priced the same way as street tacos, each according to the filling.

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Sandwiches, Caesar salads and chicken wings/tenders are the main offerings at Drafts Sports Bar. My favorite was the Philly Cheesesteak ($14), smothered in melted provolone with grilled onions and peppers.

Drafts also has a NY Pastrami Reuben on Rye ($13), 1/3lb. Grilled Angus Burger ($13) and a Grilled Nathan’s Foot-long Dog on a poppy seed bun ($9). All sandwiches include fries or coleslaw. You can make your meal a combo by adding a 20-oz fountain drink for $4 or a 16-oz draft of Budweiser or Bud Light for $5.

Cordovano Joe’s has sandwiches as well, like an Italian Hoagie ($13), Shaved Italian Beef ($14), Sweet Sausage with roasted peppers and carmelized onions ($12) and Meatball with mozzarella and marinara ($13). Joe’s specialty is individual authentic New York-style pizza. Basic 8-inch cheese pies run $6, Veggie or Pepperoni for $7, Meat Lover for $8 and finally $9 for Supreme.

Losch stated that many of Superbook Deli‘s core customers were regulars, so many favorites have remained at The Court with room for continued tweaking. He recounted how one frequent customer complained when a favorite disappeared…and just like that, they brought it back. “We’re not going to turn away people who helped to keep us going all these years” he said.

Westgate Food Court

The Court‘s newfound popularity might keep sportsbook customers off the betting floor for extended periods, but there could be a simple fix. Chef Aaron told me that they’re looking into various methods for guests to order food from the Superbook seats. “We may be able to provide cocktail servers with electronic pads so you can place a request from your seat”. And there’s always those handy smartphone apps…

Westgate Food Court

The sooner that remote ordering can be set up, the better. It’s obvious from the long lines I witnessed that The Court is serving up just what Westgate Superbook guests want. “We’ve only been open for a few weeks” said Chef Losch, “but we’ve already had some of the busiest days this space has ever seen”.

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Photos: Sammasseur, Deli pics via TripAdvisor

 

 

 

Seek and Discover BAR SAKE

Bar Sake – Westgate’s hidden gem is worth the search….

 


The concept of hotels-within-hotels may be lost on some, but it’s been growing steam. Nobu of Caesars Palace, Delano at Mandalay Bay and SLS‘s new W partnership are examples of the latest in maximizing square footage while blending brand recognition with something new (and hopefully exciting).

Westgate Las Vegas recently rolled out a similar idea with Bar Sake. Tucked away inside “The Village”, Bar Sake was a bit difficult to find. Silly me – it never crossed this writer’s mind that there was more to Benihana‘s themed village than just Benihana.

Bar Sake Westgate

Not having been to Westgate’s location before, I had no idea that there was an entire complex inside the familiar Japanese chain steakhouse. Among the ornate gardens and koi ponds is Rikki Tiki Sushi, with Silk Road Asian Bistro nestled to one side and the relaxing and lovely Bar Sake in the far rear.

Now in its third month of operations, Bar Sake is a bit of a hidden gem. Opened with minimal fanfare, it’s one of those places that you hope just enough people will discover to make it successful…without losing the atmosphere of intimacy that made our “guys’ night out” so satisfying.

Bar Sake Westgate

The small dining and bar area is bathed in rose-colored hues. We took seats around a low table and were offered a welcome sake as once served to President Obama by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. The smooth beverage set a wonderful tone for the prepared menu of food and drinks we were invited to sample.

Bar Sake Westgate

My companions and I started with an assortment of Signature Cocktails, created especially for Bar Sake by Eddie Perales, GM of Beverages at the Westgate Resort. Perales is an award-winning mixologist who’s been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

As a world-reknown flair bartender and ice sculpturist, Perales knows how to infuse his cocktail creations with a hearty slice of fun. He came to our table to share his enthusiasm for the Bar Sake cocktail list…and the excitement of trying out new creations in the weeks and months ahead.

Bar Sake Westgate

Much like Fresco Italiano‘s GM Angelo Cordero, Perales came to Westgate by way of Caesars properties. Whatever is luring these top-level experts to the off-Strip property, Westgate guests are all the better for it. The resort continues to please and surprise with superlative offerings, and Bar Sake is no exception.

As you might expect, the cocktail menu here is built around sake, the famed Japanese rice wine. Perales has whipped up unique creations like the Jaded Midori (Midori Melon Liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and lemon juice) and the Ginger Kamikaze with Tykusoju, Tyku Cucumber Sake, Domaine de Canton, lime and simple syrup.

We also indulged in a Paris To Tokyo (ST-GERMAIN elderflower liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and Mionetto Prosecco) and a Strawberry Coconut Mojito created with Tyku cucumber and coconut sakes, Southern Supreme Mojito Lime and Sweet & Sour. All were light, refreshing and absolutely delicious.

For those wishing to stick strictly to sakes, the list of options is divided into four sections: “Fun”, “Expressive”, “Pure” and “Classic”. The beverage list also includes a wide variety of wines, whiskey, beers and non-alcoholic beverages.

Bar Sake Westgate

Despite the name, Bar Sake isn’t strictly a “sake bar”. It offers a wide variety a sushi and spectacular plates created before your eyes. Based on a centuries-old method of North Japanese food preparation called Robata, Chef Masa Shiga slow-grills his dishes on skewers over a high-heat charcoal “Robata” grill.

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Bar Sake Westgate

Hamachi Kama is Yellowtail Cheek, the most flavorful part ($12)…                  

Robata cooking originated with Japanese fishermen, who gathered to prepare their meals around a communal hearth. Sharing these delicious dishes with my friends carried on that tradition, albeit in extremely different surroundings.

Bar Sake Westgate

TOMATOMAKI ($4) are bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes…           

Robata skewers come three to a plate for $16. Choices include TSUKUNE (chicken meatballs), GYU filet, SAKE (Atlantic Salmon), SHITAKE, NISU eggplant and SHISHITO (a sweet Japanese pepper).

Bar Sake Westgate

Tsukune chicken meatballs and Gyu fillet, each 3 for $16…             

Bar Sake Westgate

Bacon-wrapped asparagus (far left, $5) join two other Robata skewers at Bar Sake…

Small plates are broken up into four categories: poultry, vegetables, seafood and meat. They range in price from $4 vegetable dishes to $18 for the likes of black cod, duck breast and lobster tail. All are presented with color, flair, and delicious seasonings like wasabi, Yuzu pepper paste and sweet miso.

Bar Sake Westgate

Gindara is a black cod seasoned with sweet miso ($18)…                  

Bar Sake Westgate

         Kohitsuji (above right) are soy/garlic-marinated lamb chops ($18)…  

Sushi lovers can choose from a list of five, ranging in price from $12 to $18. Although we were tempted to try a few, our collection of macho gents decided to save any remaining taste buds and close out this magnificent meal with a couple of sweets.

Bar Sake Westgate

Bar Sake Westgate

There plenty of Asian-themed restaurants and bars in Las Vegas, making it difficult for one to stand out so distinctly. Our visit to Bar Sake was magnificent, worthy of the raves.

Unique in location, offerings and atmosphere, Westgate’s Bar Sake is the perfect little venue to gather at with friends, a loved one…or to discover all by yourself.

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BAR SAKE is located within “Restaurant Row” of Westgate Las Vegas, inside the Benihana Village. It is open Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m.  For reservations or info, call (702) 732-5755.

Photos: [Sammasseur]

 

 

      

Fresco Italiano Is A Journey For Your Senses

Westgate’s authentic eatery is the REAL tour of Italy…

Last year, on another site, I did a multi-part piece on Westgate Resort, aka the former Las Vegas Hilton. That series included a visit to Edge Steakhouse, which was so impressive that it’s still my top recommendation for a Vegas “special meal”. Right next door is another possible treasure I’d been yearning to try – Fresco Italiano.

Fresco Italiano

Forget about the restaurant chain that offers a Tour of ItalyFresco Italiano literally gives you a trip through the Italian countryside using sights, sounds, scents….and most importantly, tastes. You’ll be transported beyond dining into a full sensory experience…without the need for a Vespa scooter.

Fresco Italiano

You’ll understand what I mean when you walk into the Tuscan-inspired main seating area. Running across the far wall, to the left of the kitchen, are a series of screens arranged like windows of a vehicle. Gorgeous scenery glides by at a leisurely pace, all in a single direction and consistent speed. The effect is of moving through lush Italian landscapes via a slow boat or train. Click here for a gorgeous peek.

Fresco Italiano

Fresco Italiano

The decor of Fresco Italiano is classy, understated, elegant…yet somehow very warm. A full bar and “wine cellar” situated across the front of the main room offer ample seating that’s even more relaxed and inviting. The open kitchen and outgoing staff will have you remembering visits to Mama’s place for holiday meals.

Fresco Italiano

As the name implies, Fresco Italiano is all about freshness – fresh ingredients, recipes and preparation…along with a fresh attitude towards fine dining. My companion and I found the overall visit to be surprisingly fun and just as memorable as the dishes we enjoyed.

Fresco Italiano

GM Angelo Cordero delivered a selection from the Fresco Italiano wine cellar…

Although we were invited guests of the restaurant (which undoubtedly resulted in PLENTY of special attention from the staff) there’s no question that guests surrounding us were just as enthralled as we were. The atmosphere is a bit infectious, as this video will attest to:

The very colorful Michael will serenade your table…

Angelo Cordero, who recently took over as General Manager (after stints at Rao’s and Carmine’s, both at Caesars Palace), knows how to deliver an immersive culinary adventure to every table. Although he’s only been there a few months, it’s clear that he and the staff have melded together into a wonderful pairing.

Fresco Italiano

No Italian meal should be enjoyed without a proper Fettunta ($4), this one sprinkled with grana padano…

Mr. Cordero greeted our table and was eager to start us with some wine or cocktails. He recommended a gorgeously-prepared Fresco Red Sangria ($12) for myself and a White Sangria (also $12) for my companion. Both were bursting with flavor, color…and of course, freshness. After a small chat about vino, Cordero brought over a new addition to his collection…a 2013 Ferrari-Caranoblack muskat. It made a nice compliment to the entrees that would follow.

Fresco Italiano

Our server Robert recommended that we try his favorite starter – Meatball Flatbread ($16). It’s topped with peperonata (sweet peppers “melted” in olive oil, onions and tomatoes), fior de latte (a mild cow’s milk cheese), black olives and basil. It was as mouth-watering as the above photo would suggest. Other choices included a traditional MargheritaSausage or Proscuitto and Ruchetta, ranging from $14 to $16.

There are plenty of other appetizers to pick from, like meatballs, bruschetta, three varieties of mozzarella and two styles of mussels. Click here for the menu.

Fresco Italiano

Before the flatbread arrived, we tried in a couple of salads. I had an Italian Chopped ($12) combining romaine, arugula, salami, peppers, onion, cabbage and house vinaigrette, capped with flash-fried proscuitto. My companion enjoyed a picture-perfect Classic Caesar ($12) topped with white anchovies and a large slice of Parmesan frico. Both were light, crisp and large enough to be an entree (but who comes to an Italian restaurant just for a salad?). Other offerings are an Heirloom Caprese and two soups – Minestrone ($10) and seafood-based Zuppa di Pesci ($12).

Fresco Italiano

While waiting for our entrees, Sous Chef Larry Morris sent over a stunning Calamari Fritti ($14) marinated in buttermilk and dished up with mouth-watering sweet-and-spicy peppers. For a person who normally avoids calamari, this one was irresistible.

Fresco Italiano

Pasta dishes are offered Modo Mia style (my way). A variety of different pastas and sauces can be matched to make your favorite entree. Fettucini, spaghetti, angel hair, gnocchi, linguini and more can be topped with bolognese, clam, marinara, carbonara, alfredo or arabiata sauces. Prices are based on the type of sauce ($19-$26). Add chicken, meatballs. grilled shrimp or sausage and peppers (at additional cost) to create that perfect dish.

My guest selected Fettucine with Alfredo Sauce and added grilled chicken breast:

Fresco Italiano

There is a list of specialty pastas like Prosciutto and Pea Fettucine with cream and summer truffel ($25), Frutti di Mare Linguine with clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops covered in San Marzano sauce and chili flakes ($28), Agnolotti with pistachio butter, garlic and arugula ($25), and of course, Homemade Lasagne ($29).

Pastas and pizza carry the weight of Fresco’s menu, but there is plenty in the way of Risottoand Carne. Free-range chicken breasts ($27), pork loin ($29) and organic veal chop ($47) are prepared in one of five different styles.

I chose an absolutely stunning bone-in veal chop, prepared parmesan style over a bed of spaghetti marinara. It was enough for two people to fill themselves up on….with leftovers to spare. The overall flavor was out of this world, although the marinara sauce was a little tart for my liking.

Fresco Italiano

Under entrees, Branzino (European Sea Bass – $34), Lamb ($36) an 8-oz Filet ($45) and a 22-oz Prime Rib will vie for your attention. All come with vegetable and a starch. Shareable sides (such as roasted potatoes, grilled asparagus, eggplant and peperonata) are $10.

Fresco Italiano

Dessert fans, take note of the new Spring Menu of sweet and chilled goodies. The General Manager’s family recipe gets top billing with Angelo’s Grandma’s Famous Tiramisu ($9). More signature sweets like Ricotta Cheesecake ($9), seven-layer Chocolate Cake topped with seasonal berries ($9), a double-helping of Cannoli ($8) and various Gelato flavors ($6) should send you on your way with a smile.

Although we were stuffed to the max (with plenty to take home), Mr. Cordero insisted on preparing a Bananas Foster for our table. See the video clip above for the dish being created on a cart by the kitchen. The spectacular flaming effect added even more to the sensory adventure we’d just undergone.

Fresco Italiano

Unfortunately, Bananas Foster isn’t listed on the menus I have, so I can’t quote the price. But be sure to ask Angelo about it…he appeared to be having fun at the flambe pan and will undoubtedly be pleased to whip up one for your group.

Fresco Italiano

There’s no doubt that this writer regrets waiting so long to try Fresco Italiano at Westgate. Like neighboring Edge Steakhouse, this restaurant is a winner for the off-Strip resort…and another new personal favorite.

Fresco Italiano is located at 3000 Paradise Road inside Westgate Las Vegas. Hours are from 5pm daily with select dates for lunch from 11-2. Call 702.732.5276 for reservations or additional information. Group menus and private dining rooms are available.

Photos: [Sammasseur]