Before we get to explaining the headline, a question:
Why are all cannoli shells as hard as a rock?
Are they supposed to be that way?
Does Mama Leone go out of her way to teach her bambinos: “Nowa youza gots to make-a these-a sosa they break-a your teeth-a each-a and every time-a, capiche?”*
It must be so, because Buddy V’s does nothing to disabuse you of the notion that these cylindrical tubes could double as Bangalore torpedoes should another land war break out in Europe.
This is a bit surprising since Buddy V is, like-a a cake decorator/pastry chef or something, who one might think would pay a bit more attention to the safety of his customer’s bicuspids. (Before we get to explaining things further, you should know that ELV regards cake decorating — the baton twirling of the culinary world — with the same contempt he usually reserves for fast food pizza, Republican presidential candidates and the Kardashians.)
Those shells may have been harder than trigonometry, but they did nothing to dissuade us from concluding that if red and dead Italian-American cooking is your thing, you can do a lot worse than this newbie in the old First Food & Bar space at the Venetian.
The origins of this Elizabeth Blau/Kim Canteenwalla production started with Sheldon “Call Me Shellie” Adelson — who apparently commissioned an Italian wedding cake of appropriately over-the-top proportions for one of his relatives from Buddy Valastro. So enamored was he of Valastro’s talents (and of the revenue he might regain from this hidden corner of his property) that a deal was inked to have the Cake Boss’ brand (and the family recipes!) affixed to this enterprise.
So, with all of that as its pedigree, Buddy V’s launched a couple of months ago. If you know anything about us, you know that ELV was absolutely, positively underwhelmed by the whole idea.
“Vegas needs more red sauce like Chris Christie needs another cheeseburger,” is what he thought to himself as he walked through the open portal:
We were hoping to sneak in, but sneaking in just doesn’t happen for ELV on the Strip anymore, so we were seated and got the full, intensive-care treatment. (Most of our loyal readers know that we rarely mention service for this very reason. But the waitron assigned to us was a real pro – attentive, briefly chatty and solicitous, but also mostly invisible.)
Once seated, we did the p.r. thing and chatted up the chefs (more on that later) and Katie Conway (one of our favorite p. r. gals in the world) before getting down to business — that business being plowing through about a third of the menu.
To our amazement, almost every dish was a clear winner. The eggplant parm (yeah, that’s all the dignity this menu gives to the word parmigiana – in accordance with all the dignity Italian-Americans have brought to these shores) is a double layer of twice baked eggplant both crispy and creamy, and so good you’ll be tempted to order another portion. (This from an avowed eggplant-hater, so you know it’s good.) Grandma’s meatballs may not challenge Rao’s recipe for local meatball hegemony, but they disappeared quickly after a number of dips and dustings in a vivid tomato ragu and some sharp Pecorino Romano. Those meatballs made another appearance in Valastro Sunday Gravy:
…and amalgam of every popular protein — meatballs, sausage, lamb shank and pork — simmered until they’re falling-off-the-bone tender and then simmered some more in the family marinara sauce. It’s quite the meat and red sauce-fest, but also quite toothsome when served with a big plate of al dente rigatoni.
Almost as good was the linguine and clams:
….and a veal Marsala:
….that showed some real care in the kitchen.
We joked with Canteenwalla that a Canadian-Indian (dots, not feathers) chef shouldn’t be cooking Italian this well, and that’s when he trotted out Bryan Forgione (he of the Italian-American Forgione restaurant dynasty), and that’s when it all made sense to us. Forgione has this food in his blood and it shows. His substantial chops are probably being wasted here, but as long as he and Canteenwalla are paying attention, you will be surprised by the vibrancy of this food.
John Mariani has said for years that there’s nothing complicated about Italian-American food. All it needs, according to the author of The Italian-American Cookbook, is to be seasoned and cooked with care…and good ingredients. Then and only then can it really sing.
ELV’s dinner for two, which could’ve fed four, came to $130+$30 tip, and included several glasses of wine.
BUDDY V’S RISTORANTE
In the Shoppes at the Venetian/Palazzo Hotel and Casino (Remember: when they spell it “shoppes” they’ve seen you comin’.)
3327 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
* For this bad Italian accent (and any and all offensive references to Italians) we hereby apologize to John Arena and John Mariani…but necessarily to all Italians.