By Vegas Food Nerd

There is not a shortage of Italian restaurants in Las Vegas.  Whether it is the residual effects of the mafia or just an overwhelming amount of people who find comfort from the food that comes out of the boot, the bottom line is we have many choices that go beyond that of a classic red sauce joint.

Salute, located inside of the Red Rock Hotel and Casino with its newly revamped menu is a modern take on some of the classic dishes that we have all grown to love.  I was invited to the new menu unveiling with Salute’s new chef Luke Palladino.  Walking into the restaurant for our dinner, I was struck with the décor.  It was a contemporary space with some classic throwback elements to it.  There is a carving station on the right for antipasto, and freshly sliced prosciutto to order.  Then as you venture farther in, you see the open kitchen with an impressive pizza oven.  There is a  warmth to the design that helps to get your palate going for the offerings ahead.  You can opt for a cozy leather booth, tables that have nice comfy chairs, or their patio if weather permits is a nice option as well.

We were guests of the new chef, and he gave us a sampling of the entire menu.  He started off with impressive choices from both the cold and hot antipasti items.  The ahi tuna crudo was a tender and flavorful raw offering, and it was unique in its flavors with the blood orange aioli, calabrese chili oil, olives, and crispy shallots.  The other cold dish served was thin Italian breadsticks wrapped in freshly sliced prosciutto with Parmesan and white truffle butter.  These were the least favorite of the bites we were offered during the night.  Moving to the hot portion of the appetizers we were served a baked taleggio cheese with wild mushrooms, a cheese scaloppini, wood oven-roasted clams casino, and crispy stuffed and fried squash blossoms.   Theses were all flavorful and all accented with innovative tastes like the Sambuca accent in the scaloppini.  The smoked chili garlic butter on the clams was tasty, but the highlight was the squash blossoms.  They were a delicate bite stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan accented with a pistachio pesto.

Chef Luke then brought a couple of pizzas out for our table to enjoy.  We sampled the prosciutto and their Bianco pizzas.  Both were tasty. The prosciutto pie was adorned with a Pomodoro sauce, prosciutto, of course, arugula, shaved parmesan all drizzled with an aged balsamico.  The Bianco was pecorino and buffalo cheese with circles of sun-dried tomato pesto and topped off with toasted pistachios.   Both were so good, and the crusts had an excellent taste and texture and a good 

chew to them. 

The pasta course was up next, and we were treated to three different signature dishes from Salute.  The first was truffle ravioli, stuffed with ricotta and truffles and topped with a Foie gras cognac crema sauce.  These pillowy pasta delights were a delicate, yet decadent experience.  Next was tagliatelle Bolognese, a veal, pork, and beef ragu topped with shaved parmesan.  Chef Paladino told us that he spent years in Bologna, Italy perfecting the component to his sauce for this pasta dish.  The final and most dramatic pasta was the restaurant’s signature dish:  their take of the famous Roman cacio e pepe.  They present this creamy spaghetti table side.  They pour some vodka in the center of a large wheel of parmesan cheese, set it on fire creating a cheesy pool in the center, and they immediately toss some hot pasta inside, swirling it around to make the sauce right there in front of us.  It was a unique and fun way to be served, and its simplicity made it one of our favorite bites of the evening.  

Next, we were served three of their meat, and fish dishes.  First was their grilled 16 ounce veal chop.  Next was the porterhouse steak for two, and then their acqua pazza (a whole roasted fish cooked in “crazy water.”)   Served along side were crushed fingerling potatoes, roasted root vegetables, and crispy brussel sprouts.  The meats were grilled to perfection.  I especially loved the wild mushroom, prosciutto, and sage crema that was served with the veal, and the black garlic porcini butter on the porterhouse was so excellent.  The fish was presented whole in its bath of garlic, chilies, fennel, Ligurian olives, tomatoes, potatoes, marjoram, and parsley.  The waiter then took the fish and deboned it tableside.  The result was a tender and delightful seafood offering.  

Finally, we couldn’t roll out of our amazing experience without a little dessert right?  Served were cannolis, warm Nutella cake, and their take on zeppole (Italian doughnuts).  The cannoli shell was crisp, light, and thin with an orange scented ricotta filling, dotted with pistachios and dark chocolate.  It was one of the best I’ve sampled in quite some time.  The Nutella cake was a warm, chocolatey delight sure to satisfy any chocolate lover.  The doughnuts were just the right amount of sweetness with two different custardy sauces to dip them in; a perfect end to such an elaborate tasting.  

I’ve decided to add a new sidebar to my column each month as a public service to our STRIPLV readers.  Guys, there is nothing sexier than a man who can whip up a hot dinner for his partner.  While most of us ladies to enjoy a romantic night on the town, cooking in can result in some of the best deserts that you’ve ever had, and I’m not talking about the sugary variety.  I will highlight a new recipe each month that even a trained gorilla could pull off and get some action at the end of the night.  Here we go with our first one. 

Orange Ginger Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 cup flour

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon peeled grated ginger

3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

Pound the chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap to an even thickness.  Then salt and pepper both sides of the meat.  Heat a pan, and add the butter and oil to it.  Cover the chicken with flour, and place in the heated oil and butter.  Cook the cutlets on both sides until they are a nice golden brown color, and remove them from the pan.  Deglaze the pan with the orange juice, then stir the remaining ingredients in to complete your sauce.  Reduce the sauce, thickening it slightly, and return the chicken to the pan.  Let the chicken simmer in the sauce for 10 to 15 minutes or longer to soak up the flavors, then serve.  It can be served over rice or alongside potatoes.  If you want to jazz up your presentation, line your serving platter with fresh orange slices and zest some fresh peel on top of the chicken.