This is for a 2015 Las Vegas trip including Bacchanal Buffet, Bouchon Bakery, Heart Attack Grill, Serendipity 3, Rao's Las Vegas, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, & Mesa Grill.
Living in Philly, I've never felt robbed of a proper Italian meal, thanks to the bevy of South Philly offerings and all that is Marc Vetri's pastas. But when I'm told I'm unable to gain admittance to one of NYC's stalwart Italian restaurants, I can't help but feel the need to sneak my way in. The original NYC Rao's has a 100+ year history in East Harlem and is a celebrity-laden experience that reserves tables for "members." So unless you're a "friend of a friend" as they say, you ain't getting in.
So what recourse does a regular Joe or Jane have? Take a flight to Vegas and stop by the Rao's at Caesar's Palace! The menu is virtually the same along with an attempt to provide the same "in the know" experience. It's also replete with snarky, but experienced servers - a classic old school Italian touch.
You start off with Italian bread, which wasn't served warm, but was plenty fresh. A nice spread of red pepper ricotta and olive oil spread came in place of just your typical EVOO.
Mozzarella Carrozza [$16 / $15 Total Rewards]
The fried mozzarella was smaller than they may appear, especially if you consider that each triangle was $8. Enough for four decent bites in sum. Still, they were perfectly and crisply fried, housing undeniably fresh mozzarella within. A pat of simply sweet and slightly tangy marinara accompanied the mozzarella.
Fresh made pasta, prosciutto cotto, sweet peas, light Parmesan cream sauce
The GF went with the taglioline pasta, which was nicely al dente and fresh. The light Parmesan cream sauce was sweeter than expected, with what seemed to be the essence of corn. The cooked prosciutto provided light heft to each bite, though I think pancetta may have been better served to counter the sweetness of the peas. Still, it helped to make each bite not overly heavy for a cream-based pasta dish.
Uncle Vincent's Lemon Chicken [$30 / $29 Total Rewards]
Charcoal broiled, bone-in chicken, Uncle Vincent's famous lemon sauce
I went with the famed lemon chicken, which featured wonderfully crisp skin and a juicy, moist bird. Keep in mind, there are plenty of bones to pick through with this dish, but hey - that's where the flavor is right? The lemon cannot be denied - sharp and bright.
Traditional Rao's Meatballs [$18 / $17 Total Rewards]
Ground veal, pork, beef, Italian bread crumbs, marinara
You'd be best served by trying their meatballs. In contrast with the fried mozzarella, these were huge. So big in fact that our party of five went with two orders, but one would have sufficed (that's with the belly of this pig in tow). Extremely moist and well-seasoned, there was also a great char developed on the exterior. Wonderful.
We were actually in Vegas to celebrate the GF's brother's 21st, so our server, Russ, brought out complimentary tiramisu (light, with great coffee essence), along with his kazoo. A nice touch.
I'm pretty sure the fuss for the Rao's in NYC is more about the exclusivity factor. Sure, the dishes are very good, but there are plenty of great Italian options in the city without having to jump through hoops. That being said, I can see why members would return. So if you're craving quality Italian while in Vegas, I would definitely give the Caesar's outpost a try.