First Food & Bar’s Sam DeMarco, a.k.a. Sammy D, virtually launched the small-plate concept in New York, and he might have the most creative mind of any chef on the Strip. Now add the talents of noted set designer Antonio Ballatore (the wacky host of HGTV’s The Antonio Treatment), visual graffiti artists such as Tokyo’s Aiko and iconic street artist Defer, and then shake—violently. The result: Rattlecan, the strangest restaurant to open on the Strip since Ben Siegel walked the casino floor at the Flamingo.
Imagine if the Neon Museum went 21st century, grew wings and splattered itself on the walls of a newly developed space at the Venetian. Rattlecan has machine guns sticking out from its walls, Jackson Pollock-on-steroids wall art, and an abundance of sculptured, color-splashed pieces that defy description. Rattlecan refers to those spray cans that street artists use to deface—er, adorn— bridges in large cities, or paint Diego Rivera-like murals. This place, simply stated, is a trip. Members of my generation would just call it psychedelic.
My Rattlecan experience was the chef’s version of Girls Gone Wild. Sammy sent me just about every dish on the menu, in waves of three or four dishes at a clip: a dozen burgers, pickled vegetables of assorted color and shape, variations in the key of fried potato, a box of MoonPies.
Things got a bit complicated by the fact that one of my guests was a strict vegetarian. But after the fourth burger or so, he’d just shout a hearty “Oh, yeah” every time another one hit the table. That Sammy is some jokester.
I see what he’s trying to do here. This is, first and foremost, a bar—one where patrons can ride a mechanical pickle, sort of like Debby Winger did in the film Urban Cowboy. The pickle plays a major role on the menu, as well, but the creativity is a sneaky vehicle to get customers to try cocktails such as the Rattlecan Pickleback, a hipster staple consisting of a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey with a pickle-juice chaser. But try as he may to make this restaurant crazy and fun, DeMarco is a serious chef, so be prepared to go where no burger joint has taken you before.
Burgers begin with a custom-blended Angus beef patty, griddled to pale pink. And they are utterly delicious. My favorite is The Burner, with roasted green chilies, jalapeños, pepper-jack cheese and spicy sauce, slapped onto a sesame-seeded brioche bun. Another good choice is the All-City, topped with Nueske’s bacon, aged white cheddar (or Maytag blue), onion rings, homemade ketchup, pickle and the option to add a fried egg, Euro-trash style.
Did I mention that there are also turkey, veggie and ahi tuna burgers here? There are, all done with various and sundry toppings. The best pickle could be a delicious green tomato with a long finish, or perhaps the pickled cauliflower, which is sneaky sour. Try them all by ordering Sammy’s Pickle Sampler, if you dare.
If you fancy an appetizer, the barbecue pork-filled doughnut is just plain evil. Red Hot Chili Poppers are bacon-wrapped shrimp with jalapeños and a cool ranch dip on the side. The best fries might not be fries at all, but the crispy green beans. And if your server offers you something called the Hot Mess—not on the menu—run, do not walk, to the nearest exit. There’s a sensory deprivation chamber just down the hall.
Well, not really. But there is Brioschi antacid at the Walgreens on the Strip side of the Venetian.