Earlier this year, I embarked on an indulgent adventure to discover the city’s most famous, and exclusive, pastas—yes, luxury macaroni. There’s a certain irony here, because noodles are traditionally among the cheapest options when dining out. I also set up a parameter to eat these “fancy” dishes in the most casual way possible: at the bar, with cocktail pairings, as opposed to expensive wine. This experiment disproved the old adage, “Why order it at a restaurant when I can make it better at home?” Chefs Mario, Scott and Giada definitely do it better. Here’s how to navigate the creme de la carbonara around Las Vegas.
Illustrations by Cierra Pedro.
Carbone in Aria
Best known for: Spicy Rigatoni Vodka, $27. This is my favorite all-time pasta for its creamy, rich, quality: extruded rigatoni in cream, butter, onions and Calabrian chili. If there was anything that should be bottomless, it’s this dish, which causes elation when it arrives and depression when it’s gone.
Price per noodle: 41 macaroni at 66 cents per noodle (and worth every penny).
The low-end: Angel Hair AOP (aglio, olio e pepperoncino, $21) is the simplest and most traditional of pastas as well as the most affordable at Carbone. It doesn’t get more authentic than delicate noodles tossed in garlic and oil, and it gets a kick from the peppers.
The high-end: Lobster Ravioli ($36) is squid-ink ravioli pillows plentifully filled with the good stuff: shrimp and lobster in a vermouth-cream sauce.
The bar scene: The aesthetic of the three-room restaurant—from the ’50s and ’60s-era soul and R&B music to the decadent crystal and velvet laden décor—just makes you happy to be there. That tone is best shared among new and old friends at the 14-seat bar. A pairing that goes well with all of Carbone’s pastas is a vanilla-kissed gin-based White Lady.
Scarpetta in the Cosmopolitan
Best known for: Spaghetti with tomato and basil, $24. The secret here is really the butter, which makes it more buttery than your average pomodoro. Also, the olive oil is infused with basil and garlic so the ingredients come together on the palate. Plus, the noodles, aren’t really spaghetti, they are more flat like a linguine.
Price per noodle: 30 macaroni at 80 cents per noodle.
The low-end: Spaghetti with tomato and basil is the least expensive pasta item on the menu—budgetary bliss.
The high-end: Like Carbone, the most expensive of all the noodles at Scarpetta involves lobster. The pici (fat spaghetti; $38) gives the plump, pink crustacean meat a bath in tarragon, almond and chili pesto.
The bar scene: Rock stars mix with locals and hotel guests on any given Friday night. Bartenders here make it a point to know their customers by name at the 10-seat bar and are as knowledgeable about the dishes as the food servers, creating custom cocktail pairings for every taste and whim. A partner in crime with all of Scarpetta’s pastas is the San Remo made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, elderflower liqueur, orange liqueur, orange juice and lime juice. The inherent sweetness brings out the juiciness of the tomatoes in the spaghetti and the nutty overtones of the almond and tarragon in the pici.
Giada in the Cromwell
Best known for: Pasta Spaghetti (“spah-GEH-tee”) with shrimp, lemon and basil, $34. This is the lady of the house’s most famous dish: al dente noodles dressed in a light lemon basil cream and topped with shrimp. Be sure to request a side of fried capers for an extra salty kick.
Price per noodle: 50 macaroni at 68 cents per noodle.
The low-end: There are two dishes from which to choose: bucatini with Calabrian chili pomodoro and fresh ricotta, or tri-color fettuccine with tomato carpaccio and herb emulsion, each for $25.
The high-end: The ravioli (pronounced “rah-VEE-OH-lee” in case you didn’t know; $36) is stuffed with a generous heap of lobster and drenched in a tarragon butter sauce, so have bread handy to sop up the excess.
The bar scene: There are 18 seats at the bar and it’s always packed. Let the bartenders do the work, creating off-menu pairings based on your order or they can help you make selections from the iPad cocktail guide—either way you are assured a spot-on libation.