An Italian Institution

Ferraro’s turns 25, and for the occasion, our food critic gives the locals favorite a thorough exam

Photo by Anthony MairGino Ferraro

Photo by Anthony MairA Ferraro’s crowd-pleaser: osso buco.

It’s Sunday, when many local restaurants are so empty you could shoot a cannon through them. But Ferraro’s is fully booked. I wish I knew the secret.

Owner Gino Ferraro is celebrating his 25th year in Las Vegas on Nov. 5, and he is doing so at a handsome new location across from the Hard Rock. His son, Mimmo, a culinary school grad, runs the kitchen, ably assisted by longtime Ferraro’s chef Hercules Mantel.

I walk into a crowded room where the diners—mostly locals, it seems—are enjoying dishes that made the restaurant’s fine reputation: meaty osso buco (priced at $41, which is hefty by any standard), creamy risotto with lobster and truffle, and one of the best Caesar salads in town.

New-generation Italian cooking this isn’t. No one seems to mind.

I settle into a comfortably upholstered booth, with a sweeping Italian designer fabric to rest my back on. Immediately, hot, crusty rolls and delicious pesto swimming in a pool of extra virgin olive oil laced with balsamic vinegar arrives. It’s a good beginning.

Then comes my three-ounce taste of Treana, an excellent blend of Viognier and Marsanne grapes from Central California. Ferraro’s has long had one of the best wine lists in the city, heavy with big Italian reds such as Barolo and Brunellos of prime vintage. The prices are quite fair.

Looking around, I must admit this is an improvement over the Flamingo Road location. It’s done in earth tones, divided into a series of rooms public and private. A glass wall separates the bar area, where patrons can do a number of antipastini (small plates). The lighting is spiffy, including a pair of molded glass fixtures that look like sea anemone.

That night, chef Mimmo is in the kitchen, and everything works just fine. I’ve never been a fan of pasta e fagioli where the beans are whole in the broth, but this version still manages to be delicious, thanks to a healthy dose of pancetta. My vegetarian friend settles for the Insalata Mimmo, a hearty blend of heirloom tomato, avocado, fresh mozzarella and red onion, cut up into bite-size pieces and splashed with vinegar.

And the main dishes are their equal. I choose coniglio brasato, rabbit perfectly braised and served with polenta, a staple from northern Italy (far from Gino’s native province of Calabria) and a bargain for only $26.

My friend, meanwhile, has two of the evening’s specials: pumpkin ravioli with brown butter and sage, a sweet and delicious treat from Piedmont, next to the French border, and gnocchi with asparagus, which the kitchen turns out with aplomb. Gnocchi are often gummy, but Mimmo’s gnocchi melt in your mouth.

But not everything I’ve eaten here made such an impression. Trippa Satriano (tripe in a tomato bath) was unpleasantly gamy, as if the tripe hadn’t been soaked long enough. The chopped salad had too much lettuce and not enough mix-ins, and the lettuce looked a bit past its prime.

Still, the antipastini are mostly terrific, such as a fine fritto misto of calamari, shrimp, fennel and zucchini, nicely crisp pizzette—really full-size pizzas masquerading as appetizers—and good meatballs and baby lamb chops, the latter served on a savory caponata.

After 10 years in this town, a restaurant has to be called a success. If you stretch it to 25, you’ve got yourself an institution.

Ferraro’s, 4480 Paradise Road, 364-5300; brunch 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon-Fri, dinner 4-11 p.m. daily, late-night menu 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Dinner for two, $65-$118.

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