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CASA DI AMORE By Vegas Food Nerd

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CASA DI AMORE
By Vegas Food Nerd

When I think of a vintage Las Vegas experience, instantly – images of Sinatra, Sammy, neon signs, and big, cozy, dark supper clubs are conjured up in my brain. 

That is one small part of living here that can be a bit depressing at times. An historic town we are not. When something gets too old here, we just knock it down and make way for the next big mega resort. That makes visiting spots like Casa Di Amore such a wonderful departure from the standard restaurants that you typically find on the Strip – it is so refreshing in a flashback kind of way. I found this place with a friend, completely by accident – and the minute we walked in the door, we knew we had found a true Las Vegas gem. 

The interior is dark, romantic, and feels like you are stepping back in time immediately upon walking through the door. If you are a tourist, don’t worry about getting there – if you call them and book a reservation, they will send a limousine directly to you to bring you to the Casa in V.I.P. style, right from your hotel. When we walked in and saw this intimate little place and its distinctive clientele, we knew we had navigated ourselves into the right place. Personally, it felt as though we had walked smack into a mob movie scene that Scorsese was directing. Dark leather booths, red accents, Sinatra photos, and other vintage Vegas images decorate the brick-walled restaurant. The night we were there, a rat pack throwback singer was on a small stage serenading the crowd for the night. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised to see Joe Pesci or De Niro walk in and sit right down next to us.

The menu is just what you’d expect. They have succumbed to current dining trends and offer Vegan, and gluten-free options for those following specific diets. That’s where the “trendy” ends, with the rest of the menu featuring good old-fashioned Italian-American family favorites, like Osso Bucco, Lasagna, Antipasto, Pasta, Scampi, and much more. You can even opt to get your pasta served “family-style” in a large serving bowl that you can share at the table. 

Over the course of many visits to this Vegas throwback, I’ve tried several dishes and truly enjoyed many of the menu items. Then, upon researching for this article, I learned that a frequent Monday visitor to Casa Di Amore is none other than Paul Bartolotta (only one of our city’s most esteemed Italian chefs!) Monday is a popular day to try this place, because on that day they offer 50%-off of all wine. The restaurant is also closed on Tuesdays, so remember that when you visit. Now back to the food. 

I’m a big fan of their Chicken Française, a thinly pounded chicken breast with a lemony white wine garlic sauce, served with mushrooms, artichokes, and a side of pasta. And a big judge of any Italian cook is their meatball, so it was a must to order the standard Spaghetti and Meatballs. Were they as good as our Nonna’s? No, but pretty darn good. Another standout for us was the Stuffed Pork Chops. They stuff the chops with Italian greens, mozzarella, sausage, and prosciutto, served alongside their signature twice baked potato and some veggies. 

Basically, you are going to leave here in a food coma. And if you don’t, you’ve done something wrong. Oh, but don’t fall into your coma too soon – you don’t want to pass up their dessert menu. They feature Cannolis, a decadent Chocolate Soufflé, a Spumoni Bombe, Crème Brulée, and our personal favorite, their Tiramisu. 

The service, it is important to say as well, was perfect. They were very attentive and on top of their game. It’s the go-to spot for honest Italian food served with care, while transporting you back to the sixties – a time many in Las Vegas miss and romanticize. As their slogan proudly says: “Vegas The Way It Used To Be” – it is a welcome feeling to sit back and imagine you really are back in that era – and to feel a part of it… just a bit, was a pleasure. 

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TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF - CHARLIE PALMER - April Rains Bring Wild Mushrooms

TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF - CHARLIE PALMER - April Rains Bring Wild Mushrooms

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When it comes to spring, I have a kitchen saying for all my chefs: "Not so fast."

An essential part of being a good cook means that no matter how much we crave the brighter tastes that come along with warmer weather, we can’t rush the season. Instead, we should respect the unpredictability of this in-between growing period, especially as in some parts of the country, that same mild breeze luring us out of the house in the morning becomes a blustery force driving us home at night. The availability of produce during this transitional season is an iffy proposition, and as we wait for the weather to stabilize, developing a menu that can change with the wind is tricky.


At Charlie Palmer Steak at The Four Seasons and Aureole in Mandalay Bay Resort, we always start with what we know will be spring’s earliest edible arrival—wild mushrooms. The first to appear is the earthy morel, with its brown, spongy honeycomb-like cap. Morels are particularly cherished, as they have a short, specific growing season: just several weeks in the spring. That’s why I believe in eating them every chance I get, preferring to keep them visible on the plate by featuring them in dishes that put their sublimely woody flavor center stage, like the Washington morels served at Charlie Palmer Steak with a Charcoal Grilled 14 ounce Dry-Aged T-Bone Steak and Carolina pickled ramps. With an exotic yet familiar taste, morels are often described as “meaty,” “oaky,” and all those other words typically applied to the brawny red wines that echo their deep, rich flavor and pair so well with this coveted wild mushroom, like so many of the award-winning Napa Valley Cabernets that appear on our wine list.


The next of spring’s wild mushrooms to arrive are golden-colored Chanterelles, with a delicate fluted shape and apricot-like aroma, and then come the thick stemmed and nutty-tasting Porcinis, which typically arrive as spring turns to summer. Although still in the meaty-tasting mushroom family, they have a lighter taste, which we highlight in dishes such as Sweet English Pea Ravioli with Golden Chanterelles, a spring feature on our menu at Aureole Las Vegas. These lighter mushrooms pair easily with fruitier and spicier wines, like Oregon Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley region, a region that we have an excellent collection of in our four-story wine tower at Aureole.


As there have been heavy rains this year, it’s likely to be an early season for morels, and those that we are lucky enough to get, will come from the damp, mossy ground in the coastal forests of Oregon, Washington and Northern California. The dedicated professional foragers who harvest the highly cherished morels often show up in my kitchen, bringing burlap sacks filled with the wild mushrooms directly to us. Knowing the people who source your food is a part of the reviving American agricultural scene, a trend we all benefit from when we shop at our local green and farm markets.


We’ve come a long way since the days when I was a young chef working at The River Café in Brooklyn, known for its pioneering efforts to source and support local food. Although North America is home to about 10,000 different kinds of wild mushrooms, there was a time when we relied on European imports, rather than those that grow across the country. As the season continues to unfold, we will feature the other benefits of spring: those tender young greens, peppery watercress, and pencil thin asparagus that lets us know summer is on the way. In the kitchens of the Charlie Palmer Group, we’re all looking forward to cooking with the best this capricious season has to offer, and I hope you’ll join us to see what spring brings. — Charlie


Charlie Palmer Steak • The Four Seasons Hotel 3960 Las Vegas Blvd S. • 702.632.5120 • CharliePalmer.com

STRIPLVDINING - SIMON PALMS PLACE by Vegas Food Nerd

STRIPLVDINING - SIMON PALMS PLACE by Vegas Food Nerd

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Chef Kerry simon is the rock ‘n roll chef.

He was knighted that particular title by none other than Rolling Stone Magazine. His impact on our city cannot be debated. His signature culinary style and his partnership with Las Vegas’ queen of dining, Elizabeth Blau, has helped to redefine the way we nosh here in town. He has come a long way from the young kid in Chicago who took a job at his local Little Caesars pizza shop to earn money for an electric guitar. It was at that job his love for cooking was sparked. Caesars by day followed by experimental cooking out of Julia Child’s cookbooks at night. Do you think those pizza customers had any idea that they were picking up their orders of crazy bread from a future Iron Chef? Probably not. How could they have known at the time that this guy was going to create the perfect hamburger? That burger went on to help him defeat Cat Cora and ultimately give him the Iron Chef win. He is such an important figure in Las Vegas. My husband has met the dynamic and engaging chef several times, and in turn, has also dined at his restaurants several times. He would come home and rave about what the chef had created for him on each visit. Food nerd that I am, I was floored and honored to have him follow me on Twitter.

Sadly, now after conquering the culinary world and garnering a slew of celebrity friends and fans worldwide, our rock ‘n roll chef is now battling something that few are able to conquer, MSA. Multiple System Atrophy is an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease that affects multiple parts of the body, causing slowness of movement, muscle rigidity and poor balance. Chef Simon and close friends had known about the diagnosis long before he went public with the news. Now, while being treated with stem cells and battling MSA, Kerry has decided to go public, to help raise awareness for others who have it, and raise money for research. He has given a new voice to the disease, and his courage and bravery inspire not only myself, but also the many others who are going through the same thing as he is right now.

So it was only natural that I had to write about one of his restaurants this month. Simon at Palms Place, long known as a hot spot to view a celebrity or two, is also one of the coolest places to eat at night. I’d heard of the fun, come-as-you-are pajama brunches, but word of its nighttime ambience was what I wanted to experience. The vibe inside of this place is sleek, dark, romantic and cool. The tables across from the sushi bar look out onto the pools and some really fun-looking cabanas. Our table was situated in front of the outdoor fireplace that was outside by the pools. The effect of the light made for a very romantic vibe to the night. I loved the modern feel to the restaurant. It was modern done right – not cold and stark – but futuristic and warm. Even if you don’t get a meal here, it is a pretty sexy spot for a martini or two.

As I mentioned before, my husband had been to Simon many times and his experience was with the sushi menu, on which he had tried just about the entire menu. A big sushi lover, he told me that there wasn’t one that he tried that wasn’t prepared to perfection. So on this visit, it seemed only fitting to try some of his comfort food that Simon is so well known for creating. We shared an Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad, the Lobster Macaroni and Cheese, and finally the Steelhead Trout. We asked that each item come out separately and that is where the only mistake was made in our service. Our waitress was young and seemed to be a newer addition to the staff, and she interrupted us while enjoying our salad, which before I continue, I have to say is hands-down the best Burrata Salad in town. It’s one of my favorite things to order, and this version was the best I’ve had in Las Vegas. There was a slight char on the tomatoes, which intensified their sweetness next to the creamy and decadent cheese. Now back to the story about our server. Immediately after we were served the first course, she brought out our Lobster Mac and Cheese. It was immediately then sent back to the kitchen to be kept warm. The rest of the staff took quick notice of this, and we had the best service for the rest of the night, along with the manager coming by to check on our dining experience, as well. The Mac and Cheese was a bit of a let down, but I know part of that was it sitting under the warmers, giving it a grainy texture. The final course however was just impeccable. Our Steelhead Trout was served on top of a horseradish crème fraiche with bacon, greens, and a creamless cream corn. The skin on the fish was deliciously crispy and the sauce and greens underneath were just happiness on my tongue.

Chef Simon: We will be back, again, and again, and we at STRIPLV applaud not only your impeccable cuisine, but your courage and strength. You can help Kerry Simon donate to his fight against MSA at KeepMemoryAlive.org.

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STRIPLVDINING - FERRARO'S - by Vegas Food Nerd

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Locals and tourists alike have been visiting and devouring the tasty offerings of the Vegas Italian restaurant mainstay, Ferraro’s, for close to 20 years now.  And after finally getting to visit this longtime beloved establishment, I truly understand their staying power.   

Originally located in an off-strip location on Flamingo, Gino, Mimo, and Rosalba Ferraro have crafted “the” place to go for authentic Italian cuisine with a sophisticated flair.  The new location on Paradise across from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is opening up their clientele from loyal locals, to tourists and late-night dining for industry workers.  The menu is largely the same as at the previous location, with a few tweaks here and there, but the big addition is their 36-foot long wine cellar, which features approximately 10,000 bottles of wine.  The interior is warm and inviting, and the bar and patio make a great stop for a quiet drink away from the casino uproar.

We dined there on a busy Friday night, starting with a few martinis at the bar.   The bartender was very funny and made some mean martinis.  (It was a bit sad to leave her when our table was ready), though our waiter was just as much fun, and we settled in to deciding what we’d be ordering.  I’m a sucker for antipasto, so we started with that.  This “daily selection of meats and cheeses” was a perfect combination.  I was particularly fond of the hunk of creamy Gorgonzola, of which I ate more than my fair share.  Next we chose (not surprisingly), Ferraro’s Italian take on the classic wedge salad.  Their Cappuccina con Gorgonzola was incredible:  a wedge of butter lettuce topped with sliced toasted almonds, crumbled Gorgonzola, and drizzled with a ranch-balsamic dressing.  Next up was the Bucatini Carbonara e Tartufio Nero – a house-made bucatini pasta, with egg, pancetta, speck shallots, parmigiano reggiano, and seasonal black truffles.  The sauce was creamy and rich with amazing flavor.  The only part of the dish that was slightly amiss for us was the shape of the pasta in combination with the sauce.  While tender and delicious, its tubular shape didn’t seem to fit a Carbonara.  Next up, we couldn’t leave without trying their famous Osso Buco.  This tender “fall-off-the-bone” veal shank was just that.  The meat is literally falling off the bone when it is served to you, bathed in a red wine reduction sauce and served with faro.  I liked the faro side as a replacement for the standard pasta side – its nuttiness was a nice complement to the veal.  An added bonus is the meaty delight of marrow in the bone to slather on your bread.  These guys have been serving this stuff way before the trendy guys started hopping on the marrow wagon.  If you are a meat lover and you haven’t tried it, now is the time.  The only real disappointment of the night was the fact that we ate so much that we left little room for dessert, which is somewhat of a comfort, because it gives me an excuse to go back.

Although the food and service were excellent, there is another aspect to Ferraro’s that makes going there a treasure.  You feel as though you truly become a part of the Ferraro’s family, with Gino greeting you and welcoming you right from the beginning.  Then Mimo walks out from the kitchen to visit with customers and check on their food.  The best part for us:  on the way out, after Mimo’s son offered up a high-five, and my friend thanked Mimo and told him about his opinion of the pasta shape, to which Mimo replied:  “I know, I know, but my dad won’t change his mind.”  I love this place.  I’m a believer, Gino.   

Ferraro’s 4480 Paradise Rd.  Las Vegas  702-364-5300

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STRIPLVDINING - CENTRAL BY MICHEL RICHARD - by Vegas Food Nerd

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High-end cuisine with comforting familiarity available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at this newer addition to the Caesars Palace restaurant lineup.  

Located in the bustling lobby of Caesars, this offering from James Beard award-winning Chef Michel Richard is a blessing for those looking for high quality gnosh at anytime of the day.  Gayot rated his new Vegas version of his legendary D.C. restaurant of the same name as one of the top ten restaurants in the country this year.  

We experienced it late night after a show, and the first thing that struck me about the place was its prime positioning for a grand view of people watching.  You can either dine inside the restaurant with its bright shiny interior, or choose to sit where we did, at the strategically placed lobby bar, where we could view the tourists in their natural habitat.  Either returning from a night out, or just venturing out for the first time, it was a highly entertaining display that added to the night tremendously.  The next thing that struck me was the quality of service we received.  Our waiter was charming and attentive, and was quick to notice when my companion was not pleased with his order (onion aversion), and promptly removed his dish and immediately took it off our bill.  Hands down, it was some of the best service at a Strip restaurant that I have had in a long time.

Now I have to talk about the food.  Central’s menu is comfort food with an air of sophistication.  If you’ve got non-food-nerd friends, they will feel very at ease with the menu choices, but the food-nerd in you (or in this case, me) will not be disappointed.  The deviled eggs, for example, have that “just like mom made” quality, with a foodie twist of white anchovies as its topping.  The clean, fresh vinegar taste of the white anchovy (not at all the same as its brown, hairy, salt-packed cousin) is a perfect complement to the long Easter dinner staple.  The Matzo Ball Soup came and it was mistakenly switched to the Matzo Onion soup, that we didn’t order.  As I mentioned earlier, the waiter took care of it on the spot, took it off our bill, and brought us the standard Matzo Ball soup, which was the biggest Matzo ball I ever saw, and tasted tender, light, and airy, just the way you’d want it to be.  The Asian Style Tuna Carpaccio was next up (which my waiter was kind enough to split and do an onion version for me, and a non-onion version for my friend (see what I mean about the service?).  It was delicately sliced and seasoned perfectly.  The Rib-Eye with Sautéed Mushrooms was cooked exactly to our specifications and had a perfect amount of char, yet was tender and juicy.  My personal favorite for the night, next to our dessert, was the Crab Burger – crunchy yet tender and topped with a tasty ginger aioli.  Finally, we had to try the legendary signature dessert that Michel Richard is know for – his Chocolate Bar – layers of creamy chocolate, crushed hazelnuts and crispy wafer, served on a bed of heavenly creamy hazelnut sauce.  It was simple flavors with an artful presentation. 

The prices did seem a bit high, but that was hardly surprising, based on its location.  All-in-all, it’s a very welcome concept to have a late-night dining option that isn’t served to you in a greasy paper bag.  

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