Osso Buco Throw-Down – PORTOFINO v. LAGO

Osso buco means “bone in the hole.” It is Italian slang for a veal shank braised in red wine. Lots of Italian restaurants brag about having “the best osso buco in town,” but none in our humble ‘burg (and yes, over 30 years, we’ve eaten them all) are in the same league as these two.

The one at the top of the page is from Portofino — the old Italian restaurant in the Mirage with a new chef (Michael LaPlaca), and an awesomely updated menu.

This one:

…comes from Lago — a spanking new joint in the old space formerly occupied by Circo in the Bellagio.

Lago’s comes over creamy polenta, while Portofino’s saffron risotto is also a worthy accompaniment. Both take the wine-infused-meat thing to a whole new level.

Neither scrimps on the gremolata (the chimichurri/pesto-like relish that many cheaper versions skip), and both are so tender they can be eaten with a plastic baby spoon.

If we had to parse the differences between them, we’d characterize Portofino’s as slightly tangier with more bite, while Lago’s was the denser and richer of the two….but only by the thinnest of margins. John Mariani (a man who knows a thing or two about Italian food) told us the Lago version seemed a tad dark, and was lacking the finely chopped vegetables essential to the braising liquid/sauce.

The lighter/tangier Portofino version might be ascribed to a few more of those veggies, plus a less dense demi-glace, plus a soupçon more tomato in the braise. Lago’s denser/darker rendition might be the result of Julian Serrano and Nico Chessa trying to put forth a more refined (i.e. strained) version of the sauce.

Regardless of which one you prefer, we can’t think of a better dish to compliment a bottle of Barbaresco or Barolo.

Here’s how we at ELV break it down:

Category                                   Advantage

Price                                            Portofino $48; Lago $45

Tenderness                                Toss-Up

Color                                           Portofino (so sayeth Mariani)

Beefy/Meaty/Richness            Lago (by a hair)

Beefy/Meaty/Winy-ness         Lago (by a very thin hair)

Gremolata-ness                        Portofino (more of it, more lemony)

Balance of Flavors                    Portofino

Starchy Support                       Portofino (we’re just mad about saffron….risotto)

Saucy Authenticity                   Portofino

Overall Slap-Your-Ass-And-Call-You-Sally-Osso-Buco-Awesomeness   Toss-Up

THE BEEG WEENER:              You Make The Call!

Yes, it’s a throw-down, but it’s also a toss-up.

If we had a gun to our head, we’d probably give the nod to Portofino by a whisker, and then we’d say….

Osso buco lovers have never had it so good.


In the Mirage Hotel and Casino

3400 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109




In the Bellagio Hotel and Casino

3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109



2 thoughts on “Osso Buco Throw-Down – PORTOFINO v. LAGO

  1. I LOVE osso buco – but those prices are steep! I’d rather spend my money at Raku – $4 for Kobe beef live, $3 for pig’s ear, $4 for a half portion of tofu – need I go on?

  2. The version at Portofino, to this gluttonous fella who sat at both tables, was at least 4oz more meat and more starch as well.

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