Playing Tourist, Pasta Champions, and an Anniversary to Remember

Ahi poke tower

Ahi Poke Tower

It’s no secret that I tend to avoid chain restaurants, and even more so the tourist traps found on the Strip. But when the new Rainforest Café (3717 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-891-8580)—which opened early last month after moving from MGM Grand—was dropped into random conversations around me, I took it as a sign, figuring that thousands of seemingly happy tourists couldn’t be wrong. Rainforest Café, if you’re not aware, is a jungle-themed, family-friendly restaurant enshrouded with lush faux foliage, where animatronic gorillas and panthers occasionally come to life from their habitats on the wall, and thunder reverberates from prerecorded “storms.” I got to taste the new Aloha Adventures Menu, appropriate for Las Vegas, which is often called Hawaii’s Ninth Island. The Ahi Poke Tower—seasoned with soy, sesame and wasabi oil—was as fresh as can be. The real surprise was the Maui Meatloaf, a play on Moco Loco, with a hard-boiled egg encased in ground beef on a bed of mashed potatoes and dressed with some of the richest brown gravy I’ve had in a long time. Now I can see what all the fuss is about. But you still won’t ever catch me at the World’s Largest Chili’s.

I don’t put much stock into food-marketing holidays, either, but I can dig that during National Pasta Month and on National Pasta Day (Oct. 17), the first ever Martorano’s Masters World Pasta Eating Championship will be held under the Arc de Triomphe at Paris Las Vegas. Twelve professional and amateur competitive eaters will pound as much of chef Steve Martorano’s Sunday Gravy pasta as possible in eight minutes. No. 1 ranked competitive eater Matt Stonie will step up to seek the championship title, but faces stiff competition against women’s champion and third-ranked eater in the world, Miki Sudo, who also happens to be a Las Vegas local. Pasta is a challenging food on the major league eating circuit as it’s super filling, but with Martorano’s hearty red sauce studded with chunks of pork and ricotta coating the rigatoni, at least these eaters know it’ll taste good going down. The competition is free to the public. If you can’t make (or stomach) the competition, celebrate Martorano’s one-year anniversary in the Paris later that evening at 8 p.m. for a family-style dinner including wine pairings ($100, 702-946-4656).

Moving from Philly-style “eye-talian” to true Italian, NOVE Italiano (in the Palms, 702-942-6800) celebrates its ninth anniversary with a new menu. Check out decadent pastas, such as spaghetti carbonara or pea tortellini, both with truffles and pancetta, or have a little taste of the home country with veal Milanese served with green peppercorn, aged balsamic, broccolini and cherry tomatoes. Don’t worry; now that fall is here, you’re totally allowed to load up on carbs. All the better to fill out your leggings and riding boots.

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