A Texas-size Surprise

The Lone Star-themed Station offers quality, affordable old-Vegas Italian

Some locals restaurants remain under the radar, no matter what they have going for them. That seems unjust, not to mention impractical. I spend my own money—not my Vegas Seven allowance—a few nights a week, and so just like any normal consumer, I like to get the most for my dollar.

Enter San Lorenzo, an unassuming Italian restaurant at Texas Station. What, you already knew about Austins, the hotel-casino’s fine steak house? San Lorenzo is considerably less grand but no less accomplished.

The muted, slightly drab décor features several mock Italianate frescoes on its walls and the odd wrought-iron fixture. But young chef Thomas O’Neill is cooking old-Vegas Italian dishes with gas, adding a personal flair to make them more complex, tastier and colorful than you have a right to expect so far from the Strip.

Take his flavorful minestrone, which comes (without extra charge) with pastas and entrées. It’s chock-full of Swiss chard, three types of beans and several vegetables, closer to a classic Tuscan ribollita (“reboiled,” a hearty pot of simmering leftovers) than a supermarket minestrone.

Or how about incredibly satisfying penne with sausage and peas, a natural combination that turns his light marinara a hot pink, thanks to a heady dose of cream. Share one as a mid-course if you plan to have an appetizer.

I was surprised by the appeal of artichokes Francese, six artichoke hearts with an egg batter that are pan-fried and given a light drizzle of lemon butter before serving. Lemon, butter and garlic play a role in the scampi, six huge shrimp for $10—a loss leader for sure.

The only misstep, really, was an overenthusiastic use of balsamic vinegar on bruschetta (pronounce it “broose-KET-ta,” please), which made the crostini soggy. Otherwise, the chef sources ripe tomatoes and good olive oil for the dish, a great prelude to an Italian dinner.

A competent Caesar is offered at no extra charge with your main course, or get a thick, heavily pureed but delicious pasta fagioli soup instead for a $2 surcharge. Just about every entrée is less than $18 and portions are huge, so prepare to take food home, or bring a large dog.

We tried rigatoni Bolognese, noodles topped with a deliriously meaty ragu composed of veal, beef and Italian sausage. An Italian might balk at the amount of sauce the chef lays on and call it too much of a good thing. I call it lunch; this is one sauce that tastes better the next day.

As to secondi, if you liked the artichoke Francese, you’ll probably love orange roughy Francese, two enormous filets prepared similarly. I also had a lamb chop special, which consisted of three large chops served with a side of pasta.

We even tried the chicken parmigiano, two nicely breaded cutlets layered with gobs of melted cheese. I scraped half the cheese off, as the waiter looked on disapprovingly. “The customers like it that way,” he volunteered.

O’Neill makes his own desserts: a fat tiramisu, crème brûlée and impossibly rich cannoli, with thick shells and a sweet cheese and chocolate-chip filling.

The one aspect in which San Lorenzo takes a back seat to its big brother, Austins, is the wine list. But the servers are happy to go next door and retrieve it. Our Newton Claret ’09 was such an excellent value at $48, we had a second bottle.

Turns out there’s much more to Italian dining on the north side than pizza and a six-pack.

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