In a town full of flashy celebrity chefs, it’s easy to overlook some of the corporate executive chefs who run large, quality local restaurant groups from a little further behind the scenes. Brian Massie has long been one of those chefs. For years he helmed kitchens at many of the restaurants within the Light Group empire, including Fix, Stack, Red Square, Diablo’s Cantina and Citizens Kitchen. Clearly he didn’t run the day-to-day of each space, but he oversaw a phenomenal team. And I don’t recall ever having a bad meal in any of them.
Today, Massie is a partner in Clique Hospitality Group, running the dining show for the rapidly expanding restaurant and bar group that has already been successful with its Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar at Red Rock Resort. There are also several other irons in the fire, including the eponymous Clique lounge in the Cosmopolitan and a few others about which they are keeping mum.
One project the partners are not keeping secret, however, is their second Red Rock offering. Salute by Luciano Sautto soft-opened in mid-September, and despite limited reservations, it’s off to an impressive start. Sautto was raised in Southern Italy, becoming the third-generation pizzaiolo in his family’s restaurant, which is the oldest in the region. He later attended culinary school before honing his craft as a chef in kitchens throughout Europe. Sautto moved to the U.S. in 1994 and made a name for himself in Miami and California before coming to Las Vegas.
Make no mistake about it, Sautto is the star of this show. But seeing Massie constantly on hand during my first few visits inspired a confidence that did not disappoint. The pair make an extraordinary team.
Salute is just the latest addition to what’s been nearly a complete overhaul of Red Rock’s restaurant program over the past few years. The restaurant occupies a space that was formerly home to Terra Rosa, another Italian eatery. The renovation isn’t overwhelming, but it is significant. The room is still open and inviting, with an antipasti station now located near the entrance. The ceiling boasts modern finished wood beams and elegant glass light fixtures, and the outdoor patio is particularly inviting this time of year.
The restaurant sticks close to the basic formula for trattoria cuisine, which means if you were lucky enough to have an Italian grandmother (or, like me, one who married an Italian), the menu will likely hit very close to home. But there are also a few fancy touches that Nonna might not have had time for. The eggplant Parmesan appetizer, for example, is more of a rollatini, with the vegetable wrapped around the cheese and delicious San Marzano tomato sauce. And the signature pasta, fettuccine with vodka sauce, is prepared tableside in a hollowed out Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel set alight with vodka.
Some of this extra-fancy prep can be overkill, however. An albacore crudo was so piled up with avocado, Calabrian chili, orange and what seemed like vinaigrette that it smothered the delicate fish flavor. That was the only dish I’ve tried here that I wouldn’t order again.
One of my favorite dishes is an appetizer: large zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, quickly fried in one of the lightest batters I’ve had in a while and visited with just a touch of pesto. If I have one complaint, it would be that there’s almost too much cheese in them—but I’m not sure how many people would ever think too much cheese could be a bad thing. Also in the appetizer section you’ll find the antipasti misto, a surprisingly diverse selection of pre-meal snacks.
Among the pastas, the meatballs in the spaghetti and meatballs are well seasoned, with a very nice bite of pecorino cheese. The tomato sauce served with the gnocchi is lighter and fresher tasting than most pink sauces, although the pasta themselves were a bit inconsistent in their texture. And the pappardelle Bolognese, made with veal, pancetta and red wine, had a mild, unexpected sweetness to it. From the entrée section, I enjoyed the grilled snapper, which was beautifully plated on a bed of marinated tomatoes and romesco sauce.
Service has been great so far, but as I mentioned, during the restaurant’s first three to four weeks of operation, it was running at about half capacity. While that gave the staff some leeway in making their customer feel welcome, it also made it nearly impossible to get in without a reservation. So while the place should be running at full capacity now, you should still call ahead if you want to share a table with this clique.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Crispy zucchini flowers ($13)
- pappardelle alla Bolognese ($20)
- gnocchi alla Sorentino ($17)
- and grilled snapper ($23)
Salute by Luciano Sautto
Red Rock Resort, 702-797-7311, SaluteVegas.com. Open for dinner 5-10 p.m. Sun-Thu, and 5-11 p.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $45-$125.