Olive Loaf, Rustic White, Cheesy Flatbread with Tomato Pepper Cream
Baked Clams – Little Neck Clams with Oregano Bread Crumb Stuffing
Gorgonzola Meatballs – Rao’s Traditional Meatballs in Gorgonzola Cream Sauce with Toasted Ciabatta
Traditional Rao’s Meatballs – Ground Veal, Pork and Beef, Italian Breadcrumbs and Seasoning, Marinara Sauce
Bucatini alla Carbonara – Pancetta, Egg Yolk, Cream, Pecorino Romano Cheese, Sage
Ravioli Purses – Beggar Purse Ravioli with Bartlett Pears and Ricotta Cheese, Brown Butter, Sage, Dried Cranberries
Rigatoni Filetto Di Pomodoro – Pancetta, White Onion, Cracked Black Pepper, San Marzano Tomatoes, Pecorino Romano Cheese
Veal Parmesan – Pounded and Breaded Veal Chop with Marinara Sauce and Melted Mozzarella and Parmesan Cheese
Uncle Vincent’s Lemon Chicken – Charcoal Broiled, Bone-In Chicken, Uncle Vincent’s Famous Lemon Sauce
Duck Cannelloni – Duck Confit, Ricotta Cheese, Sage & Dried Cranberries Rolled in Fresh Pasta
Cannoli alla Siciliana – Deep Fried Pastry Shell Filled with Ricotta Cream, Candied Fruits, Chocolate
Dessert Platter – Peanut Butter Tart with Graham Cracker Crust and Chocolate Ganache, Traditional Tiramisu, and New York Cheesecake
Double Espresso on Ice
Generally unamused by Restaurant Week, an excuse for infrequent diners to eat dumbed-down menus from restaurant’s they’d not normally visit in the name of a charity that would be better served by direct donations, it was only long-standing New York Import Rao’s at Caesars Palace that seemed willing to do something interesting with the $50.15 prix-fixe, a selection of novelties offered in addition to the restaurant’s fabled fare finally providing a reason to check the space off a long-term list of places as-yet unseen.
Currently toqued by Chef Fatimah Madyun with pastry duties assigned to Laura Augsburger, Rao’s Las Vegas was the second amongst three current iterations of the East Harlem classic whose ‘impossible’ reservations and ‘owned’ tables garner far more attention than the food, yet with the Southern Italian recipes of Frank Pellegino presented true to form the menu itself is a well-culled pick em’ of plates to please any palate, the “On-Strip” pricing and stereotyped Eye-talian service an expected footnote probably best ignored.
Dining as a group of five, and as such able to sample widely from a tasting served in four family-style courses despite initial suggestions that the Restaurant Week option could not be ‘added’ to a larger scale meal, it was in a basket of fresh bread in three varieties paired to peppery tomato cream that the meal began and as much as restraint was attempted given all the upcoming carbs, any resistance proved futile as the warm trio was replenished more than once – the bites not topped with creamy spread proving more than amenable to sopping up any sauce gone astray.
Dividing the meal into appetizers, pastas, entrees, and dessert, with a bit of overlap to balance out courses two and three, it was after a short delay that round one was delivered along with glasses of wine for those choosing to imbibe, and although the well seasoned clams proved somewhat skimpy in portion given the pricetag there is little argument that Rao’s signature meatballs more than justify their legendary status, the balance of meat and breadcrumbs somehow dense and dainty at the same time with a spice profile that melded well to both crushed San Marzanos as well as the special cream sauce rife with blue cheese.
Noting that the large space was perhaps 2/3 full throughout much of the stay, and that waiters appeared stretched across sections that saw them working two-tiers of the restaurant at once, there was again a sizable delay paired to empty glasses prior to pastas presented by a pair of back-servers, yet when the three piping hot plates arrived almost all sins were immediately forgiven, the imported dry bucatini prepared perfectly al dente beneath a smooth lacquer of eggs, pork, and cream while the tubes of Rigatoni were equally well textured amidst an aromatic red sauce, the housemade purses a far more mild option that may have benefitted from a bit of salt or grated Pecorino, though the bites taken with dried cranberries were admittedly quite nice.
Seeing secondi arrive in a much more expedited manner than the prior course, each dish served with an appropriate warning that plates were ‘extremely hot,’ it was here that the Restaurant Week special of Duck Cannelloni was presented and although the composition was perhaps a bit reminiscent of the aforementioned ravioli the utilization of confit duck proved a substantial upgrade to the milky ricotta in terms of both taste and texture, the $51 Veal Parmesan a bit overpriced despite good quality and substantial portion while the lemon chicken was moist and surprisingly restrained, the crispy charred skin proving a more than admirable foil to the citrus.
Already selecting a single cannoli as part of the prix fixe, and adding on a $32 platter with three more options to share, dessert at Rao’s no doubt trends towards the classics and as good as both the dense cheesecake and crisp tube of lightly lemon cream were, neither could outmatch the block of espresso-soaked ladyfingers amidst mascarpone, let alone the peanut butter tart that no-doubt tipped its hat to Reese’s while simultaneously meeting the tongue both rich and as light as a cloud.
THREE STARS: While some purists may suggest that such ‘one-off’ concepts are disingenuous to the original others may consider such things to be a benefit providing the cooking is on point, particularly since most lack the political (or mob) ties required to visit the original and would likely be better served eating somewhere else in The Big Apple instead. Setting aside high prices and service that would benefit from a few more hands-on-deck, Rao’s is a worthy dinner for those seeking rustic red sauce on the Strip.
RECOMMENDED: Meatballs, Bucatini alla Carbonara, Peanut Butter Tart.
AVOID: If you are gluten intolerant or on a low-carb diet…perhaps the Baked Clams as well.
TIP: Daily specials, which are recited tableside, are available per Chef’s whim and can be confirmed by a phone call. Additionally, like everywhere else in Caesars, the Total Rewards Card will save a dollar or two per plate.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor