These happy-go-lucky eating places preserve the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” lifestyle in this town, where luck and good times are where it’s at.
Hoping some luck would come my way, I attended a big “Money” convention at Caesars Palace, which had recently built a $550 million High Roller observation wheel that goes 500 feet in the air like a Ferris wheel. The entire entertainment center is called THE LINQ and it’s directly across from Caesars Palace, with more than 40 shops and restaurants.
Caesars is finally crawling out of bankruptcy dating back to the great recession and Vegas is now making more money than it did before the great recession hit in 2008.
Gaming is still the largest revenue source, but hotel rooms, entertainment and restaurants are the fastest growth machine these days.
Our three Italian restaurants depict the directions that restaurants with great wine lists seem to be going in Vegas: “legendary” with memories of early-day Vegas history; “authentic,” where they establish a notable reputation in another city; and “celebrity,” when a big-name chef or entertainer spends untold millions on a restaurant in a big-name hotel.
The “traditional” is Italian dining legend Piero’s, for nearly 40 years the hangout for the “Rat Pack” and modern day wannabe’s. The Rat Pack original member was Frank Sinatra and his pals like Dean Martin and Sammy Davis.
Founder Freddie Glusman fit right in with the “local color,” a rich collection of Italian names or “nicknames.” He set up Piero’s into six separate rooms, which gave some of his favorite customers a certain needed privacy. “No one gets bothered in our restaurant,” he said.
“I don’t care who the celebrity is or what they have done, they come here to enjoy the food and wine, and I see to it they are allowed to dine and drink in peace, no exceptions.” And what a collection of 10,000 wines it is! Every Italian wine masterpiece is in that collection, some in the thousands of dollars each. The Vegas hit movie “Casino” was shot in Piero’s for all the restaurant scenes. The stars Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone hung out at the bar for days at a time. More recently, “Ocean’s Eleven” stars George Clooney and Matt Damon frequently dine, as well as ex-presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
When it came to tasting wines with the wine director, she was a 60ish tough talking commander of wine, Pat Rost, who has been with Piero’s since the beginning. She loved Pinot Noir from Cali
fornia and that’s what I got. Her choice of the Paul Hobbs Pinot from the Sonoma Coast was brilliant, to go with the fried mozzarella and burrata, with beef tomato and arugula. Before I could select my choice, they had my main entrée in hand. It was their signature, a big, highly structured Osso Bucco, a veal creation that flaked off the bone.
The wine came from Italian stardom, a Super Tuscan red from Andrea Bocelli, a Tuscan winemaker as well as international singer. Learn more about this legendary restaurant at PierosCuisine.com.
The “authentic” style of Italian restaurant is Rao’s, inside Caesar’s Palace, where I stayed. It recently celebrated 120 years in operation in East Harlem, New York, founded by Charles Rao. In 2006, the family took their Southern Italian cooking secrets and opened a second Rao’s in Vegas.
Rao’s recipes and Italian-style wines were straight out of an Italian kitchen, going back to its beginnings. Try the homemade tasting Caesar Salad, Eggplant Parmesan and Lasagna. I will never forget their “Happy Hour” for an extended three hours, from 4 to 7 p.m., where a menu full of your choice of filling dishes like meatballs, Penne pasta or Portobella mushrooms each went for way under $10.
The wines were amongst the most well known in Tuscany, like Chianti Classico, Rosso Montalcino and many others, also way under $10. Salute to Rao’s. Discover raos.com.
Now to our “Celebrity” Italian restaurant, one of the newest, across from Caesars Palace, GIADA. This Italian coastal style dining room has California influences in color, natural décor, lots of window overlooks and a lighter menu. She is Giada De Laurentiis, a TV network, Italian born chef who has authored best-selling books on cooking.
She has added live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and brunch on weekends with menu items like sunrise polenta waffles and salmon cake Benedict.
GIADA also has a wine series dinner schedule each month. Email the restaurant for details at [email protected]
Wiens Family Cellars in Temecula is presenting a Vertical Tasting Dinner at 7 p.m. July 15. This “Crowded Vintage” dinner includes four vintages of this blend with a nice four-course menu. Cost starts at $80 per person. Call 888-98-WIENS.
Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles will be in La Costa for a winemaker dinner at La Costa Wine Company at 7 p.m. July 12. Wine educator Darren Delmore will speak at this five-course, six-wine dinner. Cost is $75 each. RSVP at (619) 823-3541.
The Chart House in Cardiff has an Alexander Valley Vineyards wine dinner at 6:30 p.m. July 12. The highlight will be main entrée stuffed tenderloin medallions paired with the Cyrus red blend.
Cost is $75 per person. Call (760) 436-4044.