The Strip has officially entered the next wave of celebrity chefdom. In this new world, you don’t even have to be a chef to be a famous food figure. Cookbooks and TV shows are enough to merit your own big Vegas restaurant. Buddy Valastro, a nice guy from New Jersey known best as baker and family patriarch on TLC’s Cake Boss, has arrived with Buddy V’s at the Venetian; Guy Fieri and Giada De Laurentiis are coming soon elsewhere on the Strip.
Buddy V’s also landed just weeks before the closing of Valentino—its last day is November 4. A casual, family-themed restaurant replacing a 13-year-old Italian dining institution with a James Beard Award-winning chef says a lot about what people want to eat on the Strip these days. Is that lamentable? It might be, if the food at Buddy V’s were no good. But it is good, a familiar yet far-from-boring collection of dishes inspired by Valastro’s family recipes, executed faithfully by the restaurant pros who brought us Simon at Palms Place, Society Café and Honey Salt.
The somewhat hidden second-level space formerly known as First Food & Bar—best accessed from the Strip pedestrian bridge leading to TI, or from the Grand Canal Shoppes where Venetian becomes Palazzo—has been brightened up immeasurably. Cakes that look like bowls of pasta glow from a display case fronting the open kitchen, and comfy booths align under monster windows peering out over the Strip.
For lunch, there’s pizza, pasta and parms, but feast on stellar sandwiches instead. There’s the Pat LaFrieda Burger with tomato aioli and provolone, a smashed meatball sub or a classic Italian hero (all $15) loaded with mortadella, coppa and salami. The open-faced BVLT ($16) layers tuna conserva (packed in a jar with olive oil) with pancetta and the seafood salad caponata on the crusty bread known as filone.
You can do a family-style dinner at Buddy V’s with more variety than your average Italian joint. Start with hearty appetizers like a bruschetta of cannellini beans and tomatoes ($10), a carbonara-influenced mac and cheese ($12) or the mini-grilled cheeses called Jersey-style mozzarella en carozza ($12). Aunt Nina’s Upside-Down Mussels are fun, too, with herbed breadcrumbs, bacon, fennel and garlic. For a pasta standout, look no further than orecchiette with sausage, roasted tomato, chili, broccolini and a little pecorino romano.
The early crowds love the bone-in veal chop parmesan ($42), massive and shareable with a baked-crisp buttery crust and golden melted cheese on top. Valastro would likely recommend the vinegar-spicy steak pizzaiolo, a New York strip with lots of roasted vegetables and polenta on the side. From the sea, there’s grilled swordfish ($29) with sweet peppers, olives and artichokes, or the obligatory (and delicious) roasted branzino ($28).
Of course, this is the house of the Cake Boss, so you can’t leave without working through a goblet of voluptuous tiramisu or the infamous “lobster tail,” a huge, crackling, cream-filled cornucopia of pastry. If this is how we do Italian food on the Strip these days, better come hungry.
Buddy V's Ristorante Venetian, 607-2355. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.