With the opening of Riva Poolside at the Venetian, Puck now has six restaurants on the Strip. It's like walking down a street and seeing the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic all within a few blocks of each other. On their surface, they are different ... but not so much.
Still, maybe Riva will usher in a new age of low-key, because the place is actually a little hard to find. It's not in the Canal Shoppes, where a clueless guest-services employee directed us toward Postrio, Puck's other venture at the Italian-themed resort. Nor is it in the little row of fancy restaurants below the shops, at the casino's entrance. And it is not on any of the resort's maps. To find Riva, take the Venetian Towers elevators to the fourth floor and head toward the pool.
Out of the subterranean chambers of the hotel and casino, Riva lounges easily between the pools, looking out to views of T.I., the sky and the mountains, and the tawny concrete of the Venetian Tower itself. Riva is only open for breakfast and lunch -- Puck's first Vegas foray into morning food -- and while the lights of the Strip would beguile, the spry food is a nice fit on a blue-sky day.
The menu is unfussy. Breakfast items include a platter of either sliced fresh fruit with vanilla yogurt or summer berries with strawberry sorbet; a standard serving of eggs, sausage, bacon and potatoes called the All American; and a breakfast burrito, with white cheddar cheese, sausage, guacamole and sour cream.
As for lunch, which begins at 11 a.m., Puck's famous pizzas are here, including four-cheese, Portobello mushroom and smoked salmon. The restaurant also features appetizers ranging from chilled tomato gazpacho to Thai chicken satay. Emblematic of the breezy fare at Riva is the shrimp and halibut ceviche, which mixes the seafood in a light tomato broth sprinkled with mango and minced red peppers. The fresh, tangy dish is not overpowering but has enough clarity of tastes to avoid being bland.
Also worthwhile is the tossed Cobb salad, a light summer concoction of lettuce, bacon, tomato, hardboiled egg, chicken and blue cheese, over a vinaigrette. Blue cheese is often so strong a flavor as to overwhelm everything else. Here it is like a kiss on the cheek.
There are grilled items like salmon and a Black Angus burger, as well as a variety of sandwiches and grilled panini, including a roast beef panino and a curried chicken-salad sandwich. The delicious Dijon turkey panino, paired with a pesto pasta salad, comes with brie cheese and a slice or two of warm Granny Smith apple. It goes down smoothly, like a 21st- century grilled-cheese sandwich, managing to be both comfort food and fairly hip at the same time.
Fittingly, the gelato is uncomplicated and tasty: three smallish scoops of your choice of vanilla, chocolate, pistachio or cookies-and-cream, garnished with a mint leaf.
And when the sun gets a little too hot, Riva offers a variety of cocktails to cool you down, including a frozen apple martini and Wolfgang's Watermelon Crush, which mixes watermelon liqueur, watermelon syrup and a frozen margarita.