The man can cook.
There is no denying that. Steve Martorano, owner of Martorano's inside Rio Las Vegas, brings Italian-American fare to Las Vegas, and he does it right.
His "absolutely no changes or substitutions" policy catches a lot of attention. My take: why change or substitute perfection?
At Martorano's, things are done a little differently. Pastas are cooked al dente, which is the only way pasta should be served, thank you very much. The tomato sauces are made from premium San Marzano tomatoes. These smaller, pointier, less-acidic tomatoes contain a thick flesh and few seeds with a sweeter flavor, great for sauces. Food is well seasoned, bold and affectionately created, although in stark juxtaposition to the thunderous party music. But, you're in Martorano's house, you play by his rules, eat his food, watch his movies like "Rocky" and "The Godfather" and listen to his music.
But, if you can find a way to get past the untraditional atmosphere, Martorano and his posse of chefs and waiters will take good care of you. The Philadelphia talent, who has another restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., serves refreshingly honest fare.
The eggplant stack is thick slices of mozzarella, tomato, basil, and thin-sliced breaded and fried eggplant. It sounds heavy, but the dish is well balanced, fresh, simple, and a perfect way to start the meal.
With his shrimp scampi, Martorano eliminates the step of dunking bread in the sauce by serving the bread in the sauce, with the shrimp on top. Now we're talking. Of course, there is the inevitability that more bread will be used for sopping the last ounce of sauce out of the bowl, as was the case at our visit.
Linguine in white clam sauce is quite simply, in a league of its own. Perfectly al dente linguine is served with fresh clams, olive oil, crushed red pepper and Italian parsley. It's perfection. The dish reminds me of a New York City joint off Mulberry Street, where they would move you out the door if you took too long to eat. You know, the real thing.
A gargantuan chicken cutlet is breaded and topped with ricotta, mushrooms, spinach, provolone and fresh tomatoes, in a tomato sauce and accompanied by homemade gnocchi.
And then we get to the Philly cheesesteak. You know how there are talk show hosts, and then there's Oprah? Let's just call this cheesesteak the "Oprah" of its kind. Served on a perfectly soft, fresh ciabatta-style bread, sliced steak, grilled onions and white American cheese make up the best cheesesteak sandwich I've had in Las Vegas to date.
I could go on about the specials of the day, like a seafood fra diavolo over a bed of linguine. The dish has clams, shrimp and jumbo lumps of crab meat in a tangy red sauce with a chiffonnade of basil on top. Or the other pastas, like a perciatelli, orecchiette, and fussili, but the best way to experience Martorano's is to stop living vicariously through this review and go check it out for yourself.
Oh, and one more thing. Desserts include a decadent Bananas Foster Martorano. Fresh berries, topped with banana in caramel, served with whipped cream and a crispy shell. It's definitely not a small option, so please share (or not) accordingly.
-- Review by Nikki Neu