After having cocktails at VooDoo Lounge, the group of bloggers and I headed to Cafe Martorano for what would be a three course, multi-plate, how-many-times-can-I-’mmm’-and-’aaahhhh’-without-causing-a-scene dinner.
Martorano’s is a self-proclaimed ‘old-school’ Italian eatery in The Rio Casino, Las Vegas. Chef and owner Steve Martorano is the mastermind behind the swanky supper spot, a throwback to his roots in South Philly.
The interior is chic, clean, and modern. Classy and cool, just what you’d hope for in a place that celebrates classic gangster films. Dimly lit with cold-hued shadows, the walls are a clean, crisp white and each boasts framed black and white photography and a dozen or so plasma screen televisions playing an endless loop of my favorite film, The Godfather II. The music, too, is old-school, and it falls in line nicely with the iconic nostalgia.
Steve Martorano describes his kitchen style as “dinosaur cooking,” referring to the emphasis he places on tradition, quality, and the preservation of classic Italian cuisine. Each and every sauce that blankets the dishes is prepared individually, and to order. There is, in fact, a staff member in the kitchen whose responsibility is to cook pasta al dente. I have nothing but respect for such meticulous preparation. I can’t help but celebrate chefs who value older world simplicity and quality.
The menu, which I’m told was recently revamped, slightly bends the classics. Meatballs, pork gravy, and risotto are a few of the popular staples. But then there are more innovative ones, like fried calamari paired with sweet and spicy chili sauce. I was glad to see such a balance of traditional and modern tastes. Because as much as I love highly finessed, unique creations, I do love the comfort of a meatball or four.
Portions are pumped up and definitively decadent, with each plate being enough to feed four. It reminds me of my mother, and my grandmother before her, hell bent on stuffing me for ever-impending famine. Martorano’s, like Mom, believes food is love.
We were treated to a three course family-style meal, each course containing three or more separate and complete components. This allowed us to taste a bit of the best Martorano’s has to offer. I don’t know about you, but I just adore family-style meals. Beside being able to serve yourself just the amount you intend to eat, they create a sense of shared experience. They’re the big Sunday dinner table, all comforting and warm.
The meal began with this sweet, fruity martini, The Dean Martin.
The Best Meatball
Choice veal, beef, and ground pork in signature Martorano’s gravy. I’ll be bold and say it was among the best meatballs I’ve had. Each bite of the enormous ball I was served was deliciously moist, well-seasoned, and the savory flavors of each of the three meats used really came through.
Alongside the meatballs was a mixed green salad with tomato, red onion, cucumber, imported red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and parmigiano reggiano cheese. I really enjoyed this salad. All ingredients tasted fresh, crisp, and lightly dressed. A properly balanced blend of acidic vinegar and fruity olive oil.
The three white dollops in the picture above are the house-made ricotta, a creamy complement to the meat.
Eggplant Short Stack
Layers of homemade mozzarella, vine ripened tomatoes, organic arugula, and aged balsamic vinegar. The eggplant was crispy and just the right thickness, without being greasy or heavy. The mozzarella was the standout though- pure, rich, and creamy. The tart acidity of balsamic cut the heaviness of the other ingredients in the most delightful way.
South Philly Calamari
Fried to a crisp, then smothered in San Marzano tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, and aged balsamic vinegar.
Chicken cutlet covered in ricotta cheese, spinach, mushrooms, vine ripened tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella.
Rigatoni with Sunday Pork Gravy
Fresh pork, San Marzano tomatoes, ricotta cheese, and parmigiano reggiano cheese.
Cold water lobster tail, white wine, lemon, butter, and jumbo lump crab meat, served alongside risotto.
Carnegie Deli Cheesecake and Homemade Ricotta Canolli
This cheesecake was one of a kind, and quite possibly among the best I’ve tasted. It was thick and satiny, the kind of thing that melts on your tongue. Gently sweetened and intensely rich.
The food at Martorano’s is special, with a fantastic balance of old world meets new. After having read about the restaurant’s focus on using only the best quality ingredients, I had high expectations. But the dishes I tasted last night far exceeded them. The house-made mozzarella and ricotta cheeses are stand-outs. I’d revisit the restaurant just to taste those creamy, rich white cheeses again because each was as lovely as the ones I enjoyed while living in Italy years ago.
I highly recommend dining at Martorano’s if you’re in Las Vegas and looking for authentic, fine quality Italian. The portions are generous, meaning you’ll be able to feed a big, hungry family with just two or three menu items. But don’t limit yourself- the tender, giant meatballs, the crispy eggplant stack, the sweet and spicy calamari, and that thick slab of cheesecake, are all on my list of things you must try. Your taste buds will thank you.