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RAO'S

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Caesars Palace

3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Las Vegas, NV 89109

877-346-4642

website

$50-$100

Daily 5pm-10:30pm

Italian

B+

AT A GLANCE

What is it?

An upscale Italian restaurant based on the New York City institution.

Where is it?

At Caesars Palace on the Center Strip.

What kind of food is served?

Classic Italian dishes with a "mamma mia!" flair.

What is the atmosphere like?

Several different dining areas give you a bunch of options for ambience.

How is the service?

Very attentive throughout the meal.

What are the prices like?

It isn't cheap. If you get out of here for less than $50 you have done something horribly wrong.

What else do I need to know?

The original in New York City has been in business in the same location, run by the same family, since 1896.

What's the bottom line?

A fine, upscale Italian restaurant in a city that doesn't have many of them.

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FULL REVIEW

Las Vegas loves to appropriate the institutions of other cities. There's the Sphinx, the canals of Venice, and the Eiffel Tower to name a few obvious examples, but there are quite a few restaurant steals as well. Caesars Palace has two of them, with Old Homestead, a steakhouse from New York City that has been in business for more than 150 years, and Rao's, an Italian restaurant that has been operating in the same location since 1896.

Rao's came to Caesars in 2006 so it hasn't had quite as long of a run as its NYC ancestor, but it has become a bit of an institution of its own right in Sin City as one of the few places on The Strip where you can get authentic Italian cuisine that doesn't involve pizza toppings.

The dining room itself is quite nice, with three fairly distinct areas to choose from. There's a "patio" evoking a New York streetside experience although here you're actually indoors and looking at a casino and people lining up for the Bacchanal buffet. Past that is the private club-like main dining room with lots of dark wood, white table clothes, and pictures of famous faces adorning the walls. Go a little further and there's a garden room with big windows that open onto a real patio facing the pool. It's all classy and upscale but not too intimidating.

The menu has the classic first, second, and third course layout. Starters include a few salads (Caprese, roasted beet, Caesar), sauteed mussels, fried mozzarella, and an antipasto plate as examples. Seconds are the pastas that will mostly be familiar to traditional Italian fare including spaghetti Bolognese, penne vodka, linguine and clams, and lasagna but also with some more creative ideas like ravioli stuffed with pears and ricotta cheese or the fusilli done with Italian sausage and cabbage.

Main courses are more recognizable dishes like veal parmesan or picatta, ossobuco, steak pizzaiola, shrimp scampi, and so on. The furthest they go outside of the box here is a pork or veal chop served with in a cherry pepper sauce. But that's okay - if you want adventurous dining, there are about a billion restaurants in Vegas waiting for you with their molecular small plates gastronomy experiments.

We started with the bruschetta - crunchy and very garlicky (in a good way) toasted bread loaded with diced cherry tomatoes drenched (in a good way) with olive oil and a balsamic reduction. The flavors were bold, which I found entertaining but may be a little overwhelming to more sensitive palates. We also ordered their traditional meatballs from the side dishes list as an appetizer. Made with veal, pork, and beef they came swimming in a sea of tangy marinara and were seasoned just right - tangy more than spicy.

Main courses were considered but we were all more in a pasta mood so decided to make the seconds our thirds, so to speak. You don't need to worry about portions - even though they don't consider this to be main courses there is more than enough food there for you to consider them as such. Be prepared for leftovers.

The lasagna was simple and quite good, done with what seemed like a few dozen layers of pasta, beef, rich sauce, ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella. My only complaint is that it didn't age well - the first few bites were great but as it started to cool it became kind of rubbery. Maybe I just wasn't eating fast enough.

The rigatoni comes with pancetta and white onions in a peppery red sauce. The bacony flavor infused the entire dish in drool-worthy ways and the pasta itself was darned-near perfect.

The best of the bunch was the taglione done with prosciutto and peas in a light parmesan cream sauce. It was a great counterpoint to the bright flavors of the marinara and Bolognese sauces the other dishes came in.

Per the note above about too much food, we weren't able to get to dessert but if we had we would've had our choices of things like tiramisu, cannoli, cheesecake, profiteroles, creme brulee, and seasonal gelatos and sorbets. Just typing that makes me want to go back for more.

The service was impeccable from first contact to last - they know what they are doing here and are eager to prove it to you.

The prices are high - this ain't no Olive Garden. Salads are all around $16 and other starters run up to the big antipasto plate at more than $30; pastas all hover within a few bucks either way of the $30 mark; entrees start at around $30 and go all the way up to nearly $60; and desserts are all in the $15 neighborhood. The three of us were going with the somewhat less expensive pastas and still managed to rack up a bill of over $200 once you included drinks, tax, and tip.

Is it worth the cost? As mentioned at the outset, there aren't too many places in Vegas that serve this kind of traditional Italian fare beyond the typical Buca di Beppo type chains so that alone makes it worthy of consideration. Throw in the quality, the fine surroundings, and the excellent service and it just might move it beyond just consideration.

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