If anyone in town cooks Italian food better than Luciano Pellegrini, we’ve yet to meet them. It’s true that some places – Batali’s joints, Circo, Fiamma, Sinatra on a good night, can give his restaurant – Valentino – a run for your money, but year in and year out, since 1999, no Italian restaurant in Las Vegas has performed at such a high level for so long.
Pellegrini was a James Beard Award winner in 2004, and the man is a master of pasta. In all its guises — thin, flat, rolled or stuffed — what this kitchen turns out is nothing short of fork dropping.
November is white truffle season, and every top joint in town is loaded with them right now. David Werly at Le Cirque showers them on his very good risotto, Rene Lenger at Switch incorporates them into his new fall menu to great effect, and Eric Klein at Spago even makes vanilla ice cream with them. But for my dinero, it’s Pellegrino’s bucatini that shows them off at their best.
Bucatini is thick rolled spaghetti with a whole in the center. “Buco” means hole in Italian. Pellegrini hand makes his thick strands, and stuffs them with Parmigiana-Reggiano, and then thin sheets of proscuitto. The taste, when served with a light cheese and butter sauce, is toothsome, and deeply satisfying. And when white truffles start getting festooned atop the pasta – the effect is downright intoxicating.
White truffles – tuber magnatum – have entranced the human palate for thousands of years. The Greeks and Romans thought they were an aphrodisiac (of course the Greeks and Romans thought everything was an aphrodisiac), but there’s no denying there’s a certain smell of sex to the funky tubers.
The good ones come from Alba, Italy, and they are very expensive – generally wholesaling for over $6,000 a pound. Stanley Ho – the Macau casino owner – once paid over $300,000 for a softball-sized one. What this means for the diner is that four grams of paper thin shavings will add forty bucks to your bill – which is a small price to pay for a taste of heaven.
But even atheists who eschew ethereal eats will admit there’s no denying the charms of whatever Pellegrini is cooking up. From his raw fish crudo appetizers, to his snails over polenta, to any pasta in the house to Alessandro Stoppa’s divine desserts, Valentino is that rare restaurant that you always leave with a small sense of awe and wonder over what you’ve just been served.
Dinner for two will run at least $200 with a modest bottle of wine. Bottles for under $75 are few and far between on the broad, deep, rich, and very expensive list. That, and the rather dark decor, are the only things we don’t like about the place.
In the Venetian Hotel and Casino
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109-8941