Celebrity Chef Takedown – OTTO ENOTECA
ELV note: We’ve been consistently disappointed by Mario Batali’s more affordable offering at the Venetian ever since it opened. (A lunch there a little over a year ago had us longing for the enforced mediocrity of Canaletto — literally a stone’s throw away in the same shopping mall.) After a succession of paltry and pathetic pasta performances, we had a face to face with Molto Mario and his partner Joe Bastianich last fall and gave them details. In return, they made all the right noises and assured us that things would change. By the looks of things, they haven’t. Below, uber-foodie and Official Friend of Eating Las Vegas David Ross explains (in a tone more reasonable and less hyperbolic/venomous than you are probably used to at this web address) why this is just another celebrity chef money machine — to be avoided by anyone with anything but a company credit card and low expectations. (ELV wonders if, with their busy schedules, Mario and Joe ever actually taste their restaurant’s food)
A partnership between Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, (you know his Mother, Lydia, she cooks Italian on PBS), Otto Enoteca should be a soft introduction to guests of the marriage between Italian wine and quality ingredients crafted into familiar, yet authentic dishes. That’s one of the better aspects of what this restaurant should be. Yet the expectations of dining in the restaurant of a former “Iron Chef” is quickly tempered by reality. Otto Enoteca is both the best and worst of the Celebrity Chef culture in Las Vegas.
One of the alluring aspects of the restaurant is the literal tower of salumi that is the center foundation of the bar. As you pass through the entrance onto the dining patio, the wood and glass butcher’s case tempts you with a variety of hand-crafted, perfectly aged meats and cheeses. Haunches of pork “prosciutto,” all manner of salumi hanging from racks and cheeses aging in a climate-controlled nest. You just believe it must be good at the house of Batali, it’s in his blood. Heck, Mario’s Father Armandino is the poster-child for Salumi at his sandwich shop up in Seattle, so his boy must know how to pair cured pork with fruit. Musn’t he? Up to this point, all seems well as you anticipate a memorable meal at the hands of a Celebrity Chef. Yet sadly, like so much of Las Vegas, the anticipation is far more tantalizing than the actual experience.
The menu at Otto includes sections for Formaggi-Cheese, Fritti-Fried, Carne-House Cured Meats, Verdure-Vegetables, Pizza, Insalate-Salads, Pasta, Piatti-Entrees, Contorni-Warm Sides and Gelato. There’s also a daily special of Bruschetta (savory little spreads on bread), Pasta and Pizza.
Like so many restaurants in Las Vegas, the wait staff is not always hired or trained under the auspices of the Celebrity Chef who lends his or her name over the door. They may be well-schooled and experienced working for the mega-Venetian/Palazzo resort, but they don’t know the difference between Spanish Jambon Iberico Ham and Italian Prosciutto. Does it matter? To the average tourist, maybe not, but if the server knows the delicate nature of cured, preserved hams and salumi or the nuances between a strong sheep’s milk cheese and a mild cow’s milk cheese, they’ll do better justice to their customers and one hopes, take greater pride in their service. A Celebrity Chef’s name is only going to carry a place so long—these famous folks of the food world know better and they are selling us short by not providing their employees with proper training.
As the service staff goes, so often goes the kitchen crew at the Celebrity Chef joints. Cooks trained only by rote have been trained to do a task and to do it quickly, there’s no focus on putting any personality or flair on the plates and it shows. As such, the type of dishes you expect from Mario Batali fall short again and again.
I started with the Melon and Prosciutto Salad with Ricotta Salata and Mint, ($14). The salad was stunning in terms of presentation, and I don’t mean stunning in a good way. Large slabs of cantaloupe and honeydew were stacked in layers reaching upwards of 6 inches off the plate. A literal tower of melon that could feed at least four. The melon was cut in what I call the “buffet-style,” three sharp-angled cuts that are the quick and easy way to chop the rind off a melon. It looked sloppy and my taste buds were telling me it would taste sloppy. Properly cut melon takes a bit more time to gently shave the rind off the melon yet preserve the natural curve and shape of the fruit.
The shredded prosciutto glopped on top of the melon lacked flavor and texture. One shouldn’t have to add a dash of salt to good prosciutto. The ricotta salata, had it been noticeable, would have provided a bit of tang and the salt that was lacking in the prosciutto. Other than a few threads, the fresh fragrance of mint was missing and to add insult to this sad composition, parmesan was coarsely-grated over the top of the mess. (Properly cut wide, thin ribbons of prosciutto evoke the salty characteristics of this fatty ham and give perfect texture to this classic dish)As they say, the devil lurks in the details. (There happens to be a James-Beard Award-Winning Chef a few doors down from Otto. An unassuming guy who doesn’t probably have the word celebrity in his vocabulary. He happens to get prosciutto and melon right).
The salad was followed by the pizza “Romano” ($18), a good sized pie for one with tomato, mozzarella, anchovy, capers and chili. The thin crust had good texture, all chewy and charred, but lacked flavor and tasted no better than store-bought flatbread. The spicy tomato and chili sauce was very good, but the anchovies were a disappointment. Six little fresh anchovies, one per slice. As Americans, we’ve developed a flavor for salted anchovies preserved in oil and in the case of pizza, those are the flavors I prefer. Salted anchovies sort of melt into the pizza, giving a salinity and hint of the sea. Otto’s stinky anchovies had a strong, fishy taste typically favored by cats.
What should have been a delicious, leisurely Saturday lunch watching the tourists pass through the mall at a restaurant created by the empire of a Celebrity Chef turned out to be an over-priced disappointment. We so wanted to like you Otto. – David Ross
In the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian (Remember what ELV’s father — Anthony John Cutsumpas/Curtas (1926-2006) — always said: “When they spell it “Shoppes,” they see you comin.”)
3377 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109