Is Italian food under attack in Las Vegas? Kinda seems like it. The great Valentino at Venetian will close this fall, Nove Italiano at the Palms is in a transitional state after the departure of its opening chef, and Bellagio’s Osteria del Circo is reportedly shuttering next year. These are notable casualties, three very popular restaurants serving one of the city’s favorite cuisines.
But I don’t think local lovers of Italian food are worried. Our neighborhoods are stacked with friendly restaurants slinging decent-to-better pasta with red sauce, and even if most of them aren’t as good as the stuff on the Strip, they’re good enough. We’re not talking about cheap chains; there are loads of independent Italian joints all over the Valley.
For example, Cafe Chloe. You know the name of chef Piero Broglia, because he helped open the legendary Piero’s on Convention Center Drive, though he didn’t stay there for long. He’s operated Cafe Chloe since 2000, an easy-does-it favorite at Buffalo and Flamingo. The folks who told me about it hail from longtime local families, the kind that run country clubs and casinos, and they couldn’t believe I hadn’t eaten here yet. I finally did, and came away impressed.
Completely casual yet still white-linen, the Cafe Chloe dining space offers inviting aromas of garlic and tomato. Simplicity is the style, evidenced immediately by an order of bruschetta consisting of fresh-baked bread, chunks of ripe tomato and mozzarella, and a few basil leaves, all swimming in righteous olive oil. The tomato sauce served with most dishes here is more of a fresh, bright pomodoro, not so much a long-stewed “Sunday gravy” marinara. Beloved specialties include a classic, cheese-engulfed eggplant parmigiana ($21) and New Zealand orange roughy Francaise ($28) with lots of lemon and butter.
An order of two large, well-salted meatballs ($10) is a hearty appetizer or appropriate side dish if you want to keep it light with a seafood entrée or a plate of penne with garlic, broccoli and olive oil ($18.50). I tried a special of salmon puttanesca and was blown away by the portion size, the expert preparation of a fish often served overcooked, and the fresh approach to this classic sauce—plenty of red pepper and capers and fresh Roma plum tomatoes.
Italian-American restaurants like this one are often derided by food critics, ridiculed for a lack of authenticity or soul, and yet there are so many of them that do great business and serve their neighborhoods for decades. Go figure, huh? You know what you want to eat. Enjoy.
Cafe Chloe 4155 S. Buffalo Drive #114, 248-7048. Tuesday-Saturday, 4:30-9 p.m.
Try more west-side Italian ...
Any discussion of west-side Italian restaurants has to start with Nora’s Cuisine (6020 W. Flamingo Road, 873-8990), which opened in 1991. The Mauro family has branched out into other local ventures over the years while the original continues to thrive thanks to rustic favorites like the jalapeño and sun-dried tomato-laden “Crazy Alfredo.” Nora’s also serves tremendous cocktails and way underrated pizza.
Another longtime neighborhood fave—established in 1999—is the seafood-centric Mastrioni’s (3330 S. Hualapai Way #160, 367-7511), which operated for a decade on Rainbow before sliding farther west to Hualapai and DI. If you’re not in the mood for lobster fra diavolo or a killer cioppino, you can stick to classics like baked ziti or veal parmigiana.
Variety is also on the menu at the popular Parma (7591 W. Washington Ave. #110, 233-6272), where creative daily specials and stellar signatures like steak el chico and breadcrumb-free eggplant parmesan make ordering a difficult choice. Already an inviting spot for a date or family meal, Parma recently expanded with a second dining room, more space for more mangia.
Restaurant folks from Roma Deli and Il Fornaio got together to create Gina’s Bistro (4226 S. Durango Drive, 341-1800). Just like Cafe Chloe, this is a dinner-only spot with a loyal following. For a can’t-miss dish, check out Gina’s hand-rolled pasta with sausage ragu and tomato-cream-truffle sauce, keeping the neighborhood tasty.