Most top restaurants and their chefs have special dishes for which they are known, signature plates upon which they build their reputations and which often follow them throughout their careers in one form or another. Las Vegas abounds with such delights, and here are three that stand out in particular.
Baked Lasagna Napoletana at Allegro
The iconic Italian casserole, lasagna, comes in many forms, from the ricotta-filled, thick-noodled Southern Italian version that dominates in most of our Italian restaurants, to the more elegant, thin-sheeted, multilayered style enriched with béchamel sauce that is eaten in Emilia-Romagna, the province that gave the world ravioli and tortellini.
At Wynn, chef Enzo Febbraro serves a third style in his casual dining room, Allegro, and it may be the best of them all. Essentially Southern Italian in style, the chef first makes a sugo, or sauce, using beef shank and baby back pork ribs, stewing them a half-day before adding tiny meatballs to the mix.
He then takes four or five sheets of medium-thick pasta and layers meat and sauce onto them, adding scamorza, or smoked mozzarella, to the top layer, before baking. It results in dense, complex lasagna, one simply impossible to stop eating. Febbraro also does amazing Clams Casino, killer spaghetti alla Carbonara and a great osso buco. He’s a wonderful chef, and he’s transformed Allegro into a great restaurant. $28, in Wynn, 770-7000, WynnLasVegas.com.
Riserva Prime Beef at Carnevino
Mario Batali’s Palazzo steak house, Carnevino, has a beef program supervised by superstar New York butcher Adam Perry Lang, and cognoscenti insist that this is quite the best beef program on the Strip.
That’s open to debate. But what is not is that here, chef de cuisine Nicole Brissom serves ultra-aged Niman Ranch beef from California, aged up to seven months, or 210 days. The result is a faintly nutty, beguilingly intense cut of meat best described as an acquired taste, although completely great when sprinkled with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt.
The chef thought it might be fun for me to experience a normal New York steak, also aged an impressive four months, against the Riserva, for comparison. The Riserva was richer so I was satisfied with less, and the four-month aged steak had a more familiar beefiness I preferred, as do, according to the chef, many of her colleagues. Either way, this is beef you won’t soon forget. $68 for the four-month New York, $75 for the Riserva, in the Palazzo, 789-4141.
Nam Kao Tod at Lotus of Siam
Saipin Chutima’s Lotus of Siam might just be the most popular Las Vegas restaurant for visiting chefs, foodies and journalists. Part of the reason is undoubtedly a wine program that caters to beverage professionals, but the main reason is the chef’s sterling Northern Thai cooking, including the signature crispy rice salad, the ultimate finger food.
It resembles golden Rice Krispies, mixed with bits of sour Thai sausage, green onion, peanuts, green chili and long shreds of fresh ginger. Also a great beer-pairing dish, it is eaten in the hollow of fresh cabbage leaves served on the side, taco-style. One bite and I predict you’ll be hooked for life. Also hard to resist here are dishes such as nuah dad deal (Thai beef jerky), sai ua (Chutima’s homemade sausage) and garlicky fried head-on shrimp in the shell. $8.95, 935 E. Sahara Ave., 735-3033.