When you hear B and B you think of some charming Victorian farm house in a beautiful and peaceful setting. There is nothing beautiful and peaceful about Las Vegas so as you might expect B and B means something absolutely different. The B & B here is part of the edible empire of Mario Batali and his partner, Joseph Bastianich. These two have created an intertwined empire that includes restaurants, wineries, books, television shows and consumer products.
Their two newest ventures are located in the massive Venetian Hotel on the Vegas strip. I was prepared to hate these corporate eateries packaged in the faux glitz of the casinos, but I was won over by the food. The prices as you would expect are painful unless you just hit the jackpot.
Located in Piazza San Marco itself is Enoteca San Marco, the more casual version of the two. In the photo above Proscuitto di Parma is thinly sliced while the pageant that is San Marco rolls on in the background. My meal here started with an Insalata Caprese and this dish was the only disappointment of either meal. Not that there was anything wrong with any of the ingredients as each was wonderful, but they just did not fit together. Instead of simple fresh basil, they used pesto, which, while it was excellent, overpowered the delicate flavors of the spectacular mozzarella di bufala. Some dishes just can’t be improved. This was followed by an almost perfect bavette cacio e pepe. A more simple dish you won’t find and they blissfully left it alone presenting it in all its simple glory. This was like eating pasta in Italy as it was perfectly cooked and sauced. It’s not cheap to eat here, but then it’s not cheap to eat on the real San Marco either. You have to give them credit as they could have offered mediocre food and the tourists would still crowd the tables just for the view, but this restaurant is the real thing and offers better food than most restaurants in Venice itself.
The big show is B & B , which is located just off the Venetian casino floor. Filled to the brim with beautiful people with beautiful bank accounts every night, this would have been another easy opportunity to offer less than exciting food to an audience more interested in the Mario brand than the food itself. Yet this is an outstanding restaurant with food that both challenges and caresses your palate. I started with refreshing marinated fresh anchovies giardiniera, which mixed crisp veggies with delicately flavored anchovies. These kind of anchovies are a revelation for those that have only tasted the canned version. Next was another pasta wonder, spaghetti alla chittara with heirloom tomato and miszuna. The fresh pasta was once again cooked perfectly and the richness of the tomato could not have been challenged by a tomato from your own garden. So few restaurants can resist the urge to over sauce their pasta dishes, but Mario grants his wonderful pasta equal billing with his sauces. It was a tough act to follow such a fine pasta, but the rabbit with baby carrots, pearl onions and carrot vinaigrette stayed true to the essence of Italian cooking in its clean and simple preparation and presentation. The rich caramelized flavors of the meat and carrots were countered by the sweet tartness of the vinaigrette. Once again the dish was expertly cooked arriving juicy and tender throughout.
As you would expect both restaurants have extensive and expensive wine lists. However, there are plenty of excellent wines available at moderate prices for those with a sharp eye. You can also rely on the surprisingly enthusiastic wait staff or one of the sommeliers to find you a bottle if you’ve left a little more money than you wanted at the craps table. However, if you won big there are plenty of big names with big prices to relieve you of your ill gotten gains. At the Enoteca I had the 2005 Bastianich Refosco Rosé and the 2004 Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Maskario, Terre di Gurfo, both were pleasant, but that’s about it. At the Enoteca they offer their wines by the glass by the quartino or quarter bottle, which is a great way to share and try several wines. At B & B we set our sights a bit higher, but still found a reasonable buy in the outstanding 1998 Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis, which is everything a great Barolo should be: unbelievably aromatic, dramatically complex and not ready to drink. This is simply a great wine that should be ready to drink in another five years or so. That being said, it was so delicious we loved and enjoyed every sip.
The bigger than life image of Molto Mario fits in well with glitter of Las Vegas, but it’s no gamble when it comes to eating at his two Vegas ventures.