Monday, November 24, 2008

Buen Apetito - Il Mulino, Las Vegas

I just got back from a trip to Las Vegas which was surprisingly enjoyable. Those who know me know that I'm not a fan of crowds, smoke, noise, gross excess...the very DNA of Sin City, but I must say that while there was all of that there were also bits of charm to be found.

My most enjoyable time was spent at Il Mulino in the Forum Shops at Caesars. This outpost of the famous restaurant in NYC was a bit of culinary perfection amid all the mediocre celebrity franchises.

My best friend, and conveniently enough, brother-in-law and I took a break from our wives and their parents to take a long lunch.

Upon entering Il Mulino at the top level of the mall next door to Tommy Bahama we found that we were transported to another place, forgetting that we were in a mall. The decor was elegant with a long bar and wine celllar flanking the entrance, tables covered in white linens impecably set with stemware, silver, and a single red rose in a simple vase. The lighting came from a great widow at the back of the restaurant with a view of the strip and a patio for dining al fresco and from a collection of gothic inspired chandaliers.

While we perused the menu we drank Peligrino and nibbled on delicious Parmiggiano Reggiano split out of a half wheel table side and fried zuccini with pepers.

We were tempted by an elaborate selection of special atinpasti, fish, pasta, and meat dishes to choose from in addition to the well edited menu of classics.

We ordered wine, the San Luigi Dolcetto di Dogliani, and two antipasti - the escargot with mushrooms and the buffalo mozzarella with proscutto and tomatoes.

Next came an amuse-Bouche of what they called bruschetta, but was really more of a panzanella as the bread was thoroughly soaked, and a single steamed mussel. The flavors were incredible, even if the preparation was a bit unorthodox.

While we were eating the bruschetta the bread basket arrived along with a plate of garlic bread. All the breads were excellent. At this point we were ready to order our pastas. I selected the lobster ravioli and my fried ordered the mushroom and black truffle ravioli.

Our antipasti arrived and were excellent. The escargot were as tender and flavorful as any I had ever eaten, and at an Italian restaurant no less, and the spicey tomoto sauce it was served with was sop-ably great. The winner though was the buffalo mozarella, it tasted of sweet cream and not salt and water like most, and had a soft but not squishy texture. I can honestly say it was the best mozarella either of us had ever eaten.

After a few minutes to enjoy more wine and conversation our pastas arrived. Two things struck us both the instant they arrived: 1) they were too large and 2) they were going to be world class. Upon first bite immediately followed by second bite we both nodded in agreement that we were not disappointed. We made our best efforts, but after 45 minutes or so of doing battle with the pasta I must confess that the pasta won, neither of us could finish.

We ordered an espresso and a coffee and turned down dessert only to be provided a complimentary dessert of berries with zabaglion and garnished with wafer rolls and a thin drizzle of caramel sauce. My expresso had a thick brown crema and a wonderful aroma.

We were also served glasses of limoncello served with a ladle out of a block of ice, this house recipe was excellent with no one element overpowering the bevearage as can often happen with too sweet, too alcoholic, or too bitter (from the pith of the lemon); I've never found too sour to be a problem.

Now we come to the most contentious issue in the reviews I've read of Il Mulino - the prices. Our bill was $300 before tip, and we felt that this was fair (it should be noted that the lunch and dinner prices are the same). The setting, the service, the food, and the beverage made this a fair value proposition. If you were inclined to save a few dollars on your meal an easy way would be to avoid the specials. Our appetizers were 150% of the cost of those on the menu and our pastas were approx. $50 each while those on the menu were in the $30s.
Our wine at $90 for a bottle was at the low end of the well edited list and was definitely NOT a bargain at 4x retail, though it was an excellent wine that paired well with all of our food. The mark-ups at the high end of the list were much closer to 2x retail making them the better value if you don't mind spending $200+ per bottle.

This was the best meal we had in Las Vegas and I definitely plan on going back, though I'm reluctant to recommend to those whose enjoyment of the meal may be dampened by the prices.

Il Mulino at Caesars Palace on Urbanspoon

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