As I said in earlier posts, I've been sort of taking over the dinner plans for the company during our annual trek to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. My colleague, Ian, said, "You've been coming out here almost as long as I have for shows. You know the restaurants, you make the reservations."
The problem is when you have a large group of people and trying to get seated at a reasonable time. I ran into that problem on a number of occasions while I was out there.
One afternoon, we were trying to figure out what we wanted for dinner that evening and someone suggested Italian. I threw out a couple of places - Bootlegger and Piero's. Ian finally said, "What about that place downstairs (at the Las Vegas Hilton)?"
Andiamo was the name of the place. We'd eaten there in the past and it was always good. I said, OK, I'll get reservations made.
Well, it turned out that I couldn't get through to the reservation line. Ian said, "We aren't busy, just go down there and see if anyone's there. There has to be someone."
I went down to where Andiamo was, only it wasn't there any longer. It was a restaurant called Casa Nicola. There was a bartender at the bar outside the place and I said, "What happened to Andiamo?"
She told me they had a small fire in the restaurant area just after last year's CES and they went through an extensive remodeling for both Andiamo's and the Las Vegas Hilton Steakhouse. She said, "Casa Nicola is basically the same thing with a different menu. The same with TJ's Steakhouse. It's an upgraded version of the old steakhouse."
I went around the corner to see if I could make reservations. And, sure enough, I was greeted by the long time maitre d', Mr. Apicella. I asked him, "Can you get a party of seven in for dinner tonight."
He said, "Oh, I am so sorry, sir. We are completely sold out for this evening."
I said, "Oh, boy. Well, we're staying here in the hotel again this year and we've always liked your food."
He said, "Hold on, one moment."
He turned and shouted something in Italian to one of the guys setting up tables for the evening. The guy shouted something back and Mr. Apicella turned to me and said, "What time were you thinking?"
I said, "Oh, around 7 p.m."
He said, "I'll have a table for you. Seven at seven."
Wow! That was kind of cool.
We arrived promptly at 7 and Mr. Apicella motioned us to a table toward the back. We sat down and picked up our menus. Daniel perused the wine list and found a 1996 Los Pagodes de Cos Saint Estephe, a hearty Bordeaux blend from France. But what got him excited is that it only cost $44 dollars. He said, "This is a wine that is $40 dollars in wine shops back home (in Canada)." So he ordered a bottle of the wine.
The decor of Casa Nicola is somewhat different from it's predecessor, Andiamo. Andiamo had more of an old world feel to the place. Casa Nicola is more contemporary and open. The kitchen area is open even more than what it was during Andiamo's day. They refer to it as an "exhibition kitchen". But other than that, everything else seems to be the same. Ray Sansota, who has been the chef at Andiamo/Casa Nicola since it opened in 1987, is still there. Mr. Apicella is still there. It was like walking into a familiar place and feeling right at home.
We started off with a couple orders of carpaccio for the table. The rare, thin sliced beef was just wonderful as an appetizer. Then we decided we'd better order dinner. The menu seemed to be somewhat different from the menu Andiamo had. I'm sure the fire allowed them to be able to change up the menu.
The food at Casa Nicola has a Mediterranean and Tuscan theme to it. There's lots of seafood and cream sauce items, but there's still some classic Southern Italian dishes to choose from. I got one of them.
I ordered the Veal Parmigiana - Caprese di Peperoni. It was thin slices of veal, breaded and baked, then topped with a tomato sauce and mozzarella, finally topped with roasted peppers on tomatoes. It sounded wonderful. One of my colleagues got that same dish, as well.
One other person order the Veal Marsala, while another went with the Veal Oscar. Someone ordered the Spicy Garlic Seafood pasta in a tomato sauce (I almost went with that). Another one ordered a bowtie pasta in a simple cream based tomato sauce. And the last ordered the fish special they had that evening.
In the meantime, we all got salads with our dinner. Nothing special, but I remember the dressing was pretty good on mine. And Daniel was so enamored with the price of the wine that he ordered another bottle. He remarked, "I think they're trying to get rid of it. 1996 is over 10 years old and it's probably getting to the end of it's life span."
After awhile our food was brought to our table. I have to tell you, the Veal Parmigiana topped with the roasted peppers and tomatoes was out of this world. It was just absolutely fabulous. The tomatoes were very fresh, the peppers had a great smoky taste to them. It was a glorious taste sensation.
Everyone else raved about their meal, as well. We'd eaten in Andiamo a couple times before and both times it was wonderful. Casa Nicola definitely didn't suffer any setbacks after they remodeled and retooled their menu.
After dinner, we decided to get some dessert and coffee. I was sort of full and didn't order any dessert, but I did order a espresso. Daniel said, "Wait a minute. This is the guy who doesn't drink coffee and who ate creme brulee all across France. And he orders a coffee and passes on the creme brulee? What is wrong here?"
I don't like to have a cappuccino or espresso after dinner, especially if it's late. But it was just after 8 p.m. and I knew I'd be up for a while, so that's why I got the espresso. There's been times I've got one or the other in the past and found myself wide awake laying in bed at 2:30 in the morning.
I did have a couple bites of one of the creme brulee that one of the guys ordered. I also had a bite of the tiramisu, as well, and it was very good. Casa Nicola certainly didn't disappoint.
As I've said many times before, there's a ton of great restaurants to choose from in Las Vegas. It's turned into one of the leading culinary cities in the world. Whereas restaurants in many of the hotels were after thoughts a number of years ago, they've now realized there's good money to be made in good restaurants. While Casa Nicola is tucked away in the corner of the Hilton, it's worth looking for if you go to Vegas and want a good Italian meal.
(Update - Like many restaurants in hotels, this place has closed and has been replaced.)