The Savory Swagger of Café Martorano’sJul 15th, 2011 | By Cloutwomen | Category: Featured
By Tim Polk
In my humble opinion, two types of folks visit Las Vegas. The first are the dip-the-toe-in-the-water types; they play the nickel slots, feel like winners when they use the $5-off coupon at the breakfast buffet, and attend the early shows to avoid the (rowdy) crowds.
And then there are those who go to Las Vegas with attitude. Play hard, then play harder. The kind of folks who say (usually to all those in earshot), “It’s not gambling if you know you’re going to win!”
Café Martorano’s, located in the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino west of the Las Vegas strip, sits squarely and unmistakably in the “with attitude” camp. Owner/Chef Steve Martorano’s rally cry is, “My food, my way!” He comes right out and says that he isn’t a celebrity chef, but rather, “I’m a cook whose food is famous.” The Martorano Experience, in other words, is old-school Italian all the way, with Frank Sinatra music in the background and continuous loops on big-screen televisions throughout the restaurant of movies like The Godfather and A Bronx Tale, and the hit television show The Sopranos.
“Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?”
Paulie, from The Sopranos
And what killer food it is! I had the opportunity to dine here twice during a recent Las Vegas jaunt, and loved every minute of both experiences. I can go old-school with the best of them, so on my first visit I had Martorano’s (do I call him ‘chef’?) signature dish: Spaghetti and Meatball.
First, the pasta was fantastic; perfectly cooked with just the right amount of chewy tenderness. The sauce, made with Italian San Marzano tomatos, was fantastic: a hint of sweetness yet earthy and meaty. But the meatball—wow! Without question it was THE BEST MEATBALL I HAVE EVER EATEN. About the size of an orange, the meatball had a wonderful combination of spicy/salty with a firm, sticks-together-yet-isn’t-dry texture. But what completes the dish, and even transcends it, is the large dollop of snow-white ricotta cheese that accompanies the dish. This allows each guest to customize their experience: take little swipes with certain bites, or mix completely into the sauce, making it richer and creamier.
For dessert, my party shared two: a New York style cheesecake and (again, old school) a tiramisu. Both were delicious. The cheesecake was dense yet light, while the tiramisu had a delicious buttery creamery taste accented with fresh berries. Neither dessert was, to me, too sweet (a pet peeve of mine).
“It was 1960 and doo-wop was the sound on the street.”
Calogero, in A Bronx Tale
Café Martorano’s interior plays dual roles. Immediately inside is the bar, with a sensuous and sleek curving granite bar top and dim, lean-close-to-whisper lighting. The main dining room, on the other hand, has one wall with bright windows, and everything has a black-and-white sleek chic look and feel.
Our server, Yuri, was impeccable: professional, funny, and knowledgeable, with perfect timing. I felt like he played along with us, and did what only the best servers can do: enhance a great meal, rather than inhibit it.
My only little “hmmm” was that the suggested wine on the menu to accompany the spaghetti and meatball, A Da Vinci Chianti, was…sold out. Really? We ended up having a Ferrari-Carrano Sangiovese (an Italian red grape variatel), which was fantastic, and paired very well, especially with the sauce. (On my second visit, I tried several different glasses of Syrah, which I thought paired better with the meatball as opposed to the sauce, so the choice is yours.)
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
Clemenza, in The Godfather
We heartily recommend Café Martarno’s; and if you go—Yo Cuz!—you HAVE to try the spaghetti and meatball—no questions, no substitutions. What’s more, we like the Rio. It has a young, carnival vibe, yet because it is located off the strip, has a more upscale/less frat house feel. And it certainly attracts attractive women. On one Saturday night, I saw not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE different bachelorette groups throughout the evening, which I found a bit strange – until I realized that the Chippendales perform at the Rio! (For you ladies, there is plenty of “male eye candy” too, particularly during May, June and July, when the Rio hosts the Annual World Series of Poker).
Look who’s visited Café Martorano’s recently
The Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
Tim Polk is a Northern California food & wine writer, marketing consultant, and poker player. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.