Portofino by Chef Michael LaPlaca
BARREL-AGED MARGARITA- Patron Reposado Mirage barrel select tequila, Grand Marnier, lime juice, shaken with sugar
OLIVE OIL FOCACCIA
CAPRESE SALAD – heirloom tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, basil
MEATBALLS – fried squash blossom, goat cheese, San Marzano tomatoes
GRILLED OCTOPUS – Calabrian peperonata, fingerling crisps, salsa verde
“CRAB CAKE” ARANCINI – lemon saffron risotto, pesto aioli, Fresno pickles
MARKET MELON SALAD – ricotta salata, marcona almonds, minus 8 vinaigrette
BURRATA AGNOLOTTI – lobster, chanterelle mushrooms, roasted corn butter
RIPATELLI – wild boar bolognese, roasted tomato sauce, goat cheese pesto
PORK CHEEK RAVIOLI – sweet peas, guancaile, carrot puree
LINGUINI & CLAMS “ROCKEFELLER” – sautéed, spinach, absinthe crema, spiced bread crumbs
GRILLED ONION GNOCCHI – green garlic butter, charred artichokes, crispy frog legs
VEAL PACINO – farmers market greens, baby heirloom tomatoes, shallot vinaigrette
SILENT RACK OF LAMB – fava beans, forest mushrooms, hearts of palm, chianti essence
VEAL OSSO BUCO – saffron risotto, bone marrow, gremolata
SALMON – grilled corn, pancetta, roasted peppers, crimini mushrooms, potato puree
NUTELLA CRÈME BRÛLÉE – twisted disaronna whipped cream, fudge, crystallized almonds
TRADITIONAL TIRAMISU – cognac crème, lady fingers
CHOCOLATE CAKE – fudge, vanilla ice cream
SORBETTI – market berries, lemon, raspberry
GELATO – strawberry cheesecake, double chocolate, vanilla milkshake
Unable to call myself anything less than an unapologetic ‘fan’ of Portofino, the management by Chris Zadie and cooking of Michael LaPlaca wowing ever since first walking through the wine-wall shrouded door, it was with two friends that the Summer 2016 menu was explored at length this past Saturday Evening, the Chef’s time spent reinventing another Mirage property having done nothing to diminish the quality of Las Vegas’ best Italian Fine Dining concept.
At this point a known entity on several “best of” lists, MGM’s decision to put Michael’s name on the marquee still an unprecedented move that matters more than tourists or locals seem to think, Portofino’s seasonal menu arrived later than intended as a result of several circumstances, yet still managing to reinvent, tweak or fully re-imagine nearly a dozen items the impetus to return remains as strong as ever, not to mention the signatures that continue to be great.
Seated at a different table than usual, but still served family-style at the discretion of Chef LaPlaca and Chris, the meal began with the first of two baskets of Olive Oil soaked Focaccia and opting to indulge in one of the newly launched Barrel-Aged cocktails the Margarita based on Patron Tequila specifically made for The Mirage was a poignant yet balanced classic that slowly changed as ice melted while still maintaining a semi-sweet, citrus edge.
Not really retooling the anti-pasti too much, the case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ perhaps in play, course one saw four Portofino classics presented in demi-portions with the novel Market Melon Salad singing beneath candied Marcona Almonds, Ricotta Salata and a splash Vinegar while the ‘Arancini,’ Meatballs and Caprese continued to set a high standard, the Octopus a bit less heated in the past which actually allowed the cephalopod to take on a smoky ‘steak like’ flavor that competes with Carnevino and Estiatorio Milos for the Valley’s best.
Well known for the pastas, “Ripatelli” famously invented by LaPlaca and remaining a signature regardless of the ragu, Summer sees the torn noodles topped in roasted Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Pesto, the Burrata Agnolotti that supposedly landed the Chef his job as rich and elegant as ever while the Linguini and Clams Rockefeller delivers on the promise of its name with Littleneck Clams swimming in a light sauce of Butter, Spinach and poignant notes of Anise.
Continuing to impress with filled pastas, another newcomer to Portofino is Chef LaPlaca’s Ravioli filled with tender Pork Cheek amidst fresh Peas and Carrot Puree, each bite a complex blend of sweet and savory that was only topped in texture by melt-in-the-mouth Gnocchi that saw robust notes of grilled Onions and Garlic mellowed by Artichokes and rich Frog Leg meat.
Slowly learning to accept Salmon, the ‘safety net’ for fussy diners found on nearly every menu in town, Potofino’s new version offers a fun look at the fish with seasoned Popcorn playing off Pancetta, Peppers and Mushrooms while a succulent “Silent” Rack of Lamb continues to speak of a restaurant with a sense of humor, the pounded Veal a far more *serious* plate that rings in several dollars cheaper than an inferior version at Carbone, the braised Veal with Saffron Risotto still the only version in the city that might trump Ferraro’s.
Rounding out the evening with dessert, Mr. Zadie promising that this part of the menu will finally be updated soon, Sorbets and Gelato continue to show well alongside a Tiramisu that seemed a bit underflavored on this particular evening, the pudding-think Crème Brulee faring far better as did a simple Chocolate Cake that is mistakenly listed as Bread Pudding on the website menu.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS: Slowly gaining momentum with locals and outsiders alike, the service under Chris Zadie and cooking of Chef LaPlaca each on par with the city’s very best, one hopes that Portofino’s popularity will continue to grow as time goes on and that MGM brass will realize that the future of the city’s dining relevance lies in embracing local talents rather than New York City imports…and that maybe they’ll even someday hire the restaurant a dedicated pastry Chef.
RECOMMENDED: Meatballs, Crabcake Arancini, Burrata Agnolotti, Spring Onion Gnocchi, Pork Cheek Ravioli, Veal Pacinno, Osso Buco.
TIP: Announcing that they are already at work on the Fall Menu, a launch expected in September, those interested in any of the seasonal updates are encouraged to act quickly, though if last Autumn was any indication there is no doubt the next season will prove equally compelling.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.