Zach has some relatives in the Las Vegas/Henderson area, so we called his cousin Alex to invite him to join us for dinner at Bacio inside the renovated Tropicana. This Italian restaurant impressed the three of us on many levels.
The signature cocktails were refreshing. August got the restaurant’s own bellini and Zach their mojito, and Alex’s pomegranate lemonade is a Tropicana signature libation. The Bacio Bellini features prosecco, peach puree, lemon juice, grenadine, and a blackberry garnish; August usually doesn’t go for fruity drinks, but this one was very nice. The Italian Mojito has fresh basil, agave, Bacardi rum, and prosecco; Zach felt the sweet basil flavor was mild but thirst-quenching. The pomegranate lemonade is mixed with Belvedere vodka, pomegranate, Pama, fresh lemon, and pomegranate seeds; Alex’s drink was mixed very well, and even though the vodka was smooth, he could tell it was stiff.
“Deep-fried breaded mozzarella sandwich, marinara sauce” is the description for this appetizer. Our friendly and savvy waiter Anthony explained that mozzarella in carozza is actually more of a sandwich than a stick like we’re accustomed to seeing, in that there is a thin, battered piece of bread layered with the cheese, which was then wholly breaded before deep frying. The bread was very, very thin, but it added a little extra something to make this mozzarella stick memorable. The mozzarella used was particularly creamy, not something you typically experience, but it wasn’t so loose that it melted everywhere. The marinara sauce was house made with fresh ingredients. The tomatoes were sweet and well balanced with garlic and basil.
This platter arrived with prosciutto, salami, sopressata, tomatoes, kalamata olives, grilled zucchini, a lightly dressed arugula salad with vinaigrette, Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, and buffalo mozzarella cheese. Each component was fresh and of the highest quality. The kalamata olives deserve particular praise, as these weren’t shockingly bitter or overpowering like kalamatas can sometimes be.
Diced salami, more kalamata olives, chiffonade basil, tomatoes, mozzarella, and Parmesan were the toppings of today’s “flatbread of the day.” The dough was light, tender, and slightly crisp, a hand rolled and flavorful backdrop to the fresh ingredients. It was an effort to resist eating it all, since we had to save room for our entrees.
Fresh artichoke hearts were nearly mistakable for the pieces of chicken amidst the pappardelle noodles in a cream sauce with prosciutto. The hearts weren’t bitter at all, indicating their freshness. The white meat chicken cuts were tender, and care was taken in their preparation; chicken needs to be cooked slowly to achieve the best texture and flavor. The small diced cubes of prosciutto added a saltiness to the simple ingredients, bringing them together for a light yet filling and savory dish.
August’s favorite pasta is gnocchi. These, though, were the first al dente gnocchi she had had, and they were surprisingly delightful. A bit of texture goes a long way and made these very mouth pleasing; she thought gnocchi were supposed to be a little mushy after years of having it served to her that way, but tonight changed her mind. The tomato sauce was loaded with ground beef, veal, and pork, which were wonderfully rich flavors to top the potato dumplings.
The thinly pounded veal scaloppini in this dish was tender and mild flavored. The wine for the Marsala sauce was high quality, since it wasn’t sickly sweet like cheap Marsalas can be. It was the kind of sauce where you need a slice of bread to soak up the remains. The mushrooms were sauteed and complemented the texture of the veal very well so as not to compete. Zach says, “That’s the best veal I’ve had so far.”
A little almond shortbread cookie and an artful sprinkle of cocoa garnished the tiramisu with marscapone cheese, coffee zabaglione, and Irish cream charlotte (yes, Irish cream in an Italian tiramisu). Light, creamy, and not too much coffee flavor yet enough to know it was there, this was a nice treat personally brought to us by Chef Anastasia.
Pate choux (puffed pastry) was transformed into mini sandwiches with vanilla gelato and warm chocolate sauce. The pastries were delicate, the gelato was smooth and creamy with natural vanilla flavor, and the chocolate was bittersweet (to Zach’s delight). More true to real chocolate, nothing about this was overly sweet. And how much more perfect could you get than three portions for three people?
Out of the three desserts we had, this was the table’s overall favorite. The pastry shell was flaky, buttery, and perfectly golden brown. The apple was tender but still had a slight bite to it. It was sliced very thinly and placed so gingerly within the pastry, at first it looked like a second scoop of gelato. It was definitely a wonderful base for the caramel gelato. Drizzled with a caramel sauce, this dessert was easy to deconstruct and share. We highly recommend this one.
Our waiter Anthony and his server assistant Glen were very accommodating and provided some of the best service we have experienced in Las Vegas. Chef Anastasia coming out to introduce herself was most impressive and demonstrated truly admirable character. Eating at Bacio was a perfect way to wrap up our last night on the Strip.
Steak was on Zach’s brain tonight, but we were out of town and not near anywhere familiar. We found ourselves around San Ramon, so we looked up steak houses and The Brass Door came up immediately. We called to make sure there would be a table for us, and it’s a good thing we did because the place is very popular.
Oysters here are available on the half shell as well as Rockefeller style, with béchamel sauce, spinach, and cheese. We recommend trying these; make sure to squeeze some lemon and add a little bit of the horseradish, but just a little because it is fresh.
Well, we got a bonus scallop somehow, so our trio turned into a quartet. Three were seared and served with lemon butter, and the fourth crispy on a small smear of mashed potatoes. The sauce was amazing – savory, buttery, lemony, a perfect complement to the scallops and the vegetables. The scallops were sizable and cooked well.
We each added on a salad because we felt we needed some roughage. August had the California salad with field greens, craisins, glazed walnuts, blue cheese crumbles, and balsamic vinaigrette. The flavor mix and ratio of the ingredients was appropriately balanced.
We knew one of us would get a Caesar because it’s a favorite. The romaine was very fresh and crisp, and the dressing wasn’t too acidic or bitter like some restaurants make it.
The first meat August had as a baby was liver, so she’s always been fond of it. Tonight she had hormone-free veal liver with bacon, onions, and mashed potatoes. She asked for the meat to be cooked medium, and was happy that it came out neither overdone nor underdone. The onions were sweet and plentiful, and the bacon was crispy and salty to balance out the dish.
Billed as 16 oz. with the bone in, Zach wanted the gourmet cut prime rib for two reasons: a better picture, and to bring a big hunk with the bone back to the dog. It is served with au jus, creamed spinach, and typically a baked potato but Zach swapped that out for house-made potatoes au gratin. He ordered the meat medium, and it came out unequivocally medium. It was very mild in seasoning, so if you’re sensitive to salt and/or spices, this might be good for you. The creamed spinach was really creamy and had a hint of nutmeg, the same as what was used for the oysters Rockefeller. The potatoes au gratin were cheesy and light in texture, and definitely had that house-made je ne sais quoi.
If you’re looking for a long-standing establishment that leans towards house-made fare, this is a good place for it. To plan for an anniversary or birthday, you would want to make reservations well in advance as the following is strong and you wouldn’t want to wait for a table for your special event.
Many components add up to a sumptuous meal. Due to timing involved, it may be best to make this with two people in the kitchen – great for Valentine’s Day coming up this Thursday!
• For the sauce:
24 oz. of Hunt’s whole plum tomatoes
8 oz. of beef broth
1/2 of one white onion
1/4 cup of red wine (like a cabernet sauvignon)
2 tbs. of olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp. of dried oregano
1 tsp. of dried basil
Preheat a medium size saucepan over medium heat with the olive oil. Dice the onion and garlic finely (not together). Add the onion to the heated olive oil, cook for 1 minute and then reduce heat to medium low. Let sit for 15 minutes on medium low, stirring every 1-2 minutes. Add the diced garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes on medium low, stirring every 1-2 minutes.
Add all the other ingredients and stir in. Bring to a slow simmer, then reduce to low heat. Cook for an hour, stirring every 5 minutes. The whole tomatoes will break down naturally through cooking.
After an hour of cooking, run 3/4 of the sauce through a food processor, then recombine the 3/4 processed and 1/4 unprocessed sauces in the original saucepan. Keep warm on the lowest heat possible.
• For the polenta:
2 cups of water
2 cups of whole milk
1 cup of Golden Pheasant polenta
1/2 cup of shredded BelGioioso Parmesan cheese
2 tbs. of butter
2 tsp. of kosher salt
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg
Bring water, milk, salt, and nutmeg to a boil in a medium size saucepan, preferably non-stick. Slowly add polenta, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook, still stirring, for 20-25 minutes. Mix in butter and Parmesan cheese, then cover with a lid to keep warm. Leave it on the burner but with the heat off so as to use the residual heat for warmth.
• For the mushrooms:
8 oz. of whole white button mushrooms
2 oz. of pancetta, finely diced
Splash of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put all ingredients in a baking dish and roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until mushrooms are tender and pancetta is slightly crisped. Stir 1-2 times during its period in the oven.
• For the veal parmesan cutlets:
Prepared tomato sauce (above)
3 veal cutlets, about 1/4 lb. each or less
2 cups of flour, seasoned to taste with salt and pepper
2 cups of panko crumbs
1/2 cup of canola oil
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
Splash of milk
Sprinkling of shredded BelGioioso Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Put the flour, panko, and beaten eggs with a splash of milk in three different dishes with deep sides, to be used to coat the veal cutlets before frying. Pound the veal cutlets and season lightly with salt and pepper. Dredge the cutlets in flour, dusting off any excess. Dip in beaten egg and milk mixture on both sides, and let excess drip off. Coat the cutlets in panko on both sides.
In a large saute pan, heat both oils over medium-high heat. Lay breaded cutlets in pan one at a time with at least 1 minute spacing apart. Each cutlet needs no longer than 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Put a grate on a cookie sheet and place the cutlets on the grate, so that they’re not sitting in the tomato sauce you’re about to pour over.
With a spoon or ladle, portion about 2 tbs. of tomato sauce over each cutlet. Sprinkle the Parmesan, then lay two 1 oz. slices of mozzarella over the sauce. Put in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, until cheese melts. Spoon a bit more sauce over the cheese before serving. Have a green salad on the side to balance things out.