Las Vegas

A Nostalgic New Diner Elevates Pot Roast & Dirt Cups in Vegas

Top Chef finalists play with their food and celebrate their come-up at Retro by Voltaggio at Mandalay Bay.

Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio
Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio
Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio

Believe it-pot roast is cool again. This week, brothers Michael and Bryan Voltaggio open one of the most ambitious new restaurants of the year in Las Vegas, even if it takes a moment to fully absorb what it’s all about. Retro by Voltaggio reimagines classic American staples in a playful ’80s- and ’90s-themed environment that provides both inspiration and a nostalgia fix for sibling chefs who understand the finer points of fine dining.

“We’re gonna bring you food and put it in the middle of the table in casserole dishes,” says Michael, “but modernized in a beautiful presentation.”

Retro was billed as a “one-year culinary residency” when officially announced a few months ago, yet it’s hard to imagine the new place won’t stick around longer. The restaurant takes over the space formerly home to Charlie Palmer’s Aureole-one of the most iconic dining rooms on the Strip. Its famous two-story wine tower is now an exhibit of pop culture artifacts with bicycles, roller skates, toys, vinyl records, board games, and other glimpses of the past on display.It’s a full circle moment as both brothers worked for Palmer early in their careers. “I’ve cooked in this room,” says Bryan of his time at Aureole. “Coming into this space and taking it over is not only an honor, but a reputation to live up to. We have to make sure we’re bringing something incredibly exciting.”

Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio
Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio
Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio

The Voltaggios hope to generate that excitement by combining a great gimmick with even greater food. The brothers, who competed against each other, then finished in the top two of Top Chef’s sixth season (filmed primarily in Vegas), are using elevated, fine-dining kitchen techniques to put a new spin on familiar dishes people already love.The Lobster Thermidor is a showstopper that, like most items on the menu, is designed to share. Beautifully buttered lobster meat tops a perfectly seasoned crab cake, baked with blue crab claw meat and traditional thermidor fillings. It arrives at the table with strings of kohlrabi, which is a vegetable similar to a turnip, and lobster roe pancakes. The brothers recommend rolling the components together in the pancakes to dip in the lobster jus, which is just as good as any you’ll find in the best French restaurants. If you just want to stack the components and slice them with a knife and fork, that works too.The Pot Roast is destined to be another conversation piece, served in vintage white CorningWare with blue flowers imprinted on the side. The team scoured the country to find enough for the restaurant, with some purchased from a Boulder City antique shop. However, the ingredients inside the container are far from your grandmother’s favorite pot roast recipe.

“Slow cookers were a big thing,” says Bryan, referring to an era of Crockpot convenience. “That’s when pot roast became the center of the table for a lot of American homes. What we do is slow-cook beef checks for more than 48 hours, which takes a typically tough muscle and makes it succulent, tender, and juicy. It still has some of that red color, yet it’s fully braised.”

Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio
Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio
Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio

The cheeks are pan-roasted for a nice sear and served in the casserole pot with beef jus cooked separately, roasted onions, and glazed carrots. French-style mashed potatoes inspired by Jo√ęl Robuchon come on the side. Executive Chef Rob Ferris, who carried over from Aureole, along with most of the staff, suggested a sprig of parsley and a pat of butter on top to further lock down the nostalgia.

The menu highlights continue with wild-caught Shrimp Cocktail with coconut crushed ice and shrimp crackers, an Octopus Corn Dog, and “Voltaggi O’s,” a play on the canned spaghetti you enjoyed as a kid. This time around, house-made pasta is drenched in a spicy marinara sauce mixed with brown butter to create an eye-catching orange color. And yes, it’s poured from a can onto the plate. Even the Caesar Salad gets upgraded with Belgian endive mixed with little gem lettuce and presented with a small bag of parmesan churros. The crumbled black olive croutons on the plate are like “dirt” to make the lettuce feel like it was pulled fresh, straight from the ground.

Save room for dessert, especially the Key Lime Pie made of lime curd and grapefruit juice in lime-shaped molds that sit on a beach of coconut sand with coconut sorbet. A dried egg-free yuzu has the texture of meringue but dissolves in your mouth almost instantly. Cookies and Cream, on the other hand, is a play on a Jello pudding cup with super dark, rich chocolate pudding and cookie butter made with ground Oreos.

Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio
Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio
Photo by Anthony Mair, courtesy of Retro by Voltaggio

At first glance, the cocktails wouldn’t look out of place on a TGI Fridays’s menu 40 years ago. However, mixologist Josh Cross, a longtime collaborator with the Voltaggios, gives the recipes a modern makeover to match today’s standards and preferences. An Appletini is made with Midori and shochu (no sticky schnaps here) with an egg white and matcha froth. The Fuzzy Navel is more like a Spritz, and the Long Island Iced Tea utilizes an Italian craft cola with natural plant extracts. Bring a few friends and share an order of Jungle Juice inspired by Tiki-style Scorpion Bowls or Brass Monkey, a bottle of Olde English 800 malt liquor served in a brown paper bag and poured over passionfruit-orange sorbet.The dining room is decorated with pieces by artist Keith Magruder (also known as Baker’s Son), whose watercolors are folded to resemble vintage relics like an old Nintendo NES console, UNO game set, and a Speak & Spell. MGM Resorts pulled a few items out of storage, including serving plates, mats, and glassware previously used at other restaurants, adding an authentic touch to the retro kitsch. The theme continues with elongated serving sporks and porcelain plates that resemble the paper ones you might use at a backyard barbecue.

Photo courtesy of MGM Resorts
Photo courtesy of MGM Resorts
Photo courtesy of MGM Resorts

Retro is incredibly fun and a little bit weird. Still, it’s also a deeply personal project for the Voltaggio brothers, who grew up in middle-class Maryland and became a consistent presence on television cooking shows with a series of acclaimed restaurants, among them the newly opened Vulcania in Mammoth Lakes, California. Retro takes a look into the past in order to celebrate the accomplishments of today and how far the Voltaggios have come. Even the napkins are an Easter egg of sorts, folded in the same manner as the ones at the Holiday Inn that gave both brothers their first kitchen jobs.

“Coming to Vegas is like getting called up to the majors,” says Michael, comparing the aspirations of a chef to those of a professional athlete. “The goal of every chef is to have your name on the outside of a restaurant in Las Vegas‚Ķ It’s a place that can still support dreams.”

Retro by Voltaggio is open from 5 to 10 pm Monday through Saturday, with reservations available online.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than nine years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. His favorite idea for a Las Vegas date is drinks on the back patio with his wife. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.

Las Vegas

A Fresh Take on Italian Dining Opens in Southwest Las Vegas

A first look at Basilico Ristorante Italiano.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

You can’t be all things to all people. Yet a new Italian restaurant strikes an intriguing balance between authenticity and inventive touches while helping to shape the identity of a new community in the booming Southwest Valley of Las Vegas.

Basilico Ristorante Italiano is now open at Evora, a master-planned apartment development still under construction that won’t be finished for at least five years. The 160-seat restaurant follows the vision of chef Francesco Di Caudo, a Sicily native who draws on his heritage and experience throughout Italy to build a compelling menu based on traditional techniques and modern ingenuity.

“I come from a country where farm-to-table is nothing new,” says Di Caudio, while emphasizing the importance of ingredient sourcing and simple, straightforward flavor combinations.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

Just look at the appetizers. Americans are used to eggplant parmesan that’s breaded and fried without restraint. Di Caudo sticks to a traditional Sicilian recipe with the vegetable sliced thin, sizzled in a pan, and layered with tomato and basil. No mozzarella. On the other hand, the Smoked Cigar is destined to be a signature showstopper. Duck, foie gras, and porcini mushrooms are packed inside a thin, cracker-like shell, presented in a box, and dipped into a glass ashtray. The “ash” in the centre is a black sesame and truffle mix. Don’t be shy about double dipping.

The risotto is bound to be another conversation piece. The recipe uses Carnaroli rice, a starchy grain from North Italy that produces a creamy texture, balancing the saltiness of a parmesan broth with a sweet splash of chestnut honey. The real surprise is the inclusion of Lavazza espresso, manipulated to crackle in your mouth like Pop Rocks candy.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

All pastas are made in-house, from a parsnip cavatelli to a lamb and thyme tortellini in a broth filtered from braised prosciutto. Some dishes have a subtle Asian influence, including a hamachi crudo with pomelo (similar to yuzu), Hokkaido scallops with oxtail, and a planned octopus braised in dashi. The flavours come to life inside a sharp, contemporary dining room with deep red chairs and stone, wood, and marble touches. The wine collection is dominated by Italian labels, with a few California and Oregon picks thrown in to round out the list. Bottles are on display near the front entrance and inside illuminated square shelves. “It looks like a fancy restaurant, but when you sit down, I want you to have fun,” adds Di Caudio.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

The bar is the heart of the restaurant, ready to serve up to 16 people inside and dozens more via accordion-style windows that open wide to a covered patio. The outdoor space, temperature-controlled with overhead fans and heaters, effectively extends Evora’s open-air plaza with dramatic water and fire features. It’s a natural spot for tastings and special events with a covered stage for live music. Evora is rolling out in four phases, with the first 342 apartments ready by fall. There could be as many as 1,400 when it’s all said and done. Rent begins at around $1,800 for studios and one-bedroom units and goes up to $4,000 for two-story top-floor residences with a loft and Strip views. The community will include swimming pools, pickleball courts, a putting green, a dog park, firepits, EV charging stations, and pavilions equipped with audio and video features.

“Basilico matches the demographic for our apartments,” says Danny Sorge of Digital Desert Development, the company behind the community. “The term ‘youthful sophistication’ has been thrown around about the restaurant and Evora as a whole. It brings something new to the area.”

Rendering courtesy of Evora
Rendering courtesy of Evora
Rendering courtesy of Evora

The development follows a deliberate strategy to have the commercial tenants in place before the first residents move in, occupying a stand-alone building that strikes a commanding presence on the corner of Patrick Lane and Buffalo Drive. Lemon Tree Cafe & Market is already open as a European-style grocery store with plenty of room to sit down with a sandwich and glass of wine. Keep your eyes peeled for Taps & Barrels (a self-service beer hall), Tachi Ramen, and EVOQ hair salon in the months ahead, with more businesses to come. The timing couldn’t be better. The Southwest Valley is on fire right now, with the Durango hotel and casino and UnCommons mixed-use development taking shape as new attractions in 2023. The Bend, a long-promised shopping and dining district, has been in a holding pattern for years but holds promise in an area where everything is getting bigger and better.

Meanwhile, the team behind Evora is staking a claim with Di Caudio running the kitchen at Basilico. The chef’s recent collaboration with Chef Oscar Amador helped Anima by EDO score a recent James Beard Award nomination and reputation as one of the best new restaurants in Las Vegas. Di Caudio first came to Las Vegas to work at Zeffirino at the Grand Canal Shoppes-a gig he expected to last about six months before returning home. Instead, he stuck around and continued to build his reputation at culinary destinations like Sinatra at the Wynn and Ferraro’s off the Strip.

Ultimately, Basilico will be a restaurant to keep an eye on as it develops under Di Caudio’s guidance. The menu will shift and evolve based on the chef’s preferences and the availability of seasonal ingredients. Di Caudio is also planning a smaller menu and social hour for the bar area and a reasonably priced tasting menu with around 10 dishes served family style.

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Rob Kachelriess¬†has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than nine years. In addition, his work has appeared in¬†Travel + Leisure, Leafly, Supercall, Modern Luxury, and¬†Luxury Estates International’s seasonal publication. Follow him on Twitter¬†@rkachelriess.

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