John Curtas is …

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)

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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

OTTO ENOTECA

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

702.677.3390

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15 Responses to Celebrity Chef Takedown – OTTO ENOTECA

  • “Otto’s stinky anchovies had a strong, fishy taste typically favored by cats.”

    Well, not This Cat but what a well written review, both in terms of delicious writing and enough information to keep me from every dining at Otto.

  • wtf- no pictures of the food? i dont believe you, unless you show us. Mr. Ross, what celebrity chefs’ restaurants have you worked in? that you know how the staff is trained. It must be easy to be a food critic- i think i’ll quit my day job. what a joke– res ipso loquitur

  • Thank you fear and loathing, at least Mr. was put in front of my last name.

    Visual depictions of the sad food at Otto would only have supported the words in the review–this is one sorry Enoteca. As a duty to my readers, I openly admit the following:
    -I have not worked in any Celebrity Chef restaurant.
    -I have not undergone training in any position, culinary or otherwise, at The Venetian or Palazzo resorts.
    -I do not like creamed corn or stuffed green peppers.
    -It is not easy being a food critic so please, don’t quit your day job.

  • Well said Mr. Ross, well said. Sadly, your review just reinforces my views regarding celebrity chefs and their rip off of consumers seeking a dining experience outside of the norm. Most, but not all, of these Las Vegas “named’ venues are overpriced and offer inferior food gussied up to evoke the Celebrity chef’s original restaurant offerings. These restaurants are located in very high cost rental/lease casino locations and thus they “charged what the traffic will bear”…plus an upcharge for their name recognition. They can rope a dope the tourists and the uneducated culinary novice. It is good to call this cuisine for what it is…food fraud.

  • The Celebrity Restaurants, have survived in Las Vegas, with a simple premise that Forty Million tourists and local Gourmand’s will visit a new restaurant at least one time.

  • Spot on – not quite sure I get what Mario’s team was doing.
    Carnevino A+ (been 4x), B&B – from all accounts including JCurtis seems like an A+ ( have not been – lamb’s brains just aren’t my thing).
    I ate here twice and food was no better than any hometown mom & pop. The service was terrible. I walk past every time I’m around and literally, every time the hostess station is empty, and employees appear to be walking around in a haze. As for the whole ‘celebrity chef’ thing – my only criticism is for Joe B. – he appears (on Masterchef and in interviews) to have that pompous holier-than thou, I know better than you, you suck – state of mind…..cannot do that when your own shit is not in order, as is the case of Otto

  • Isn’t this the same Otto that is at One Fifth Avenue in NYC? That was very good in the beginning. Haven’t been to it in quite a while but the basics were done very well there, i.e. pizzas, salads, antipasti. So the rip off satellite is apparently very different than the original. Gee, that never has happened before!

  • Hilarious.
    It’s not easy being a food critic?? (Pimpin’ ain’t easy…)

    “Cooks trained only by rote have been trained to do a task and to do it quickly, no focus on putting any personality or flair on the plates and it shows.”

    No chef, celebrity or actual, wants their cooks putting flair or personality in their dishes. The food is bad. The recipes are bad. Are you really trying to blame the local cooks/service staff for Batali’s bullshit?

  • Curious – one of my favorite travel blogs endorsed this place right as my favorite LV food site rejected it: http://gallivant.com/scarf/otto-enoteca-pizzeria/

  • I must be going blind. The short review about Otto posted on gallivant.com doesn’t really tell me if the writer ever dined there. In fact, I don’t even see the name of the person who wrote the paragraph.

    You can trust that ELV will deliver on his promise of providing readers with unvarnished opinions backed-up by years of experience rather than a few lines of type lifted off a travel brochure.

  • Jan, you raised the same point that I was going to do. Otto in NYC is not at all like the one in Vegas. Portions are smallish and the salads and contorni, in particular, are terrific. The pizzas are OK and the pastas simple but good. The desserts are more than serviceable, especially the gelato. And the prices are reasonable. The melon prosciutto appetizer, as described above, would be anathema to Otto in NYC. Service is consistently a problem at MB/JB places, but Otto in NYC has one of their better staffs.

  • Tired of getting ripped off by overpriced celebrity chef restaurants? Why not try a great little local place with low prices and a large local following– even voted #1 in a local weekly magazine. Firefly!!! — idiots. If B&B is good and carnevino is great, batali must not be that bad, right? Sounds like something else is going on at Otto and I still don’t understand why we don’t have photos of the offending food– something fishy here besides the anchovies–

  • The Batali restos are the ones I frequent the most as far as celeb chefs go. Bobby Flay’s places are particularly bad. Bobby Flay Burger is a complete joke. Ive had three really good meals at Otto Enoteca but I mainly get salads and pasta. Osteria Mozza in LA is a favorite and serves the best Caprese Salad on the planet. This was a surprising review for me, but sometimes things change.

  • The Future of the Industry…is Food Trucks. Even gourmet food trucks, since the cost of opening and sustaining a casino based eatery is prohibitive. Both the investors and the patrons are watching their pocket book. This is the beginning of the end-for Celebrity Chef ‘s.

  • Certainly there are changes going on in the world of food and I would cede that the Food Truck culture has influenced how some people eat. However, I’m not so sure that means the end of the Celebrity Chef era.

    My review of the sad lunch at Otto and the unfocused attitude of Batali and Bastianich wasn’t a blanket statement that all “Celebrity Chefs” are dumped into the same pot. Based on my experiences, Emeril and Wolfgang Puck establishments consistently serve quality dishes and deliver on service. Heck, Wolfgang serves good pizza and salads at the airports in Denver and Seattle and his company manufactures a good can of soup.

    Boulud and Robuchon may not be as visible in the public eye (or present on a regular basis in every kitchen around the world), but you can rely on the staff and cuisine to meet exceptionally high standards. For decades, the celebrity status of the Maccioni family hasn’t prevented them from recognizing the value of their customers. The problem is when the celebrity personna literally consumes the self-absorbed ego of the Chef and they refuse to recognize the people they serve.

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