With all the different schedules we were faced with at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in January, it was difficult to get everyone in my company together for dinner. As a matter of fact, there was only one night in which everyone was able to be together for dinner. And it happened on that evening that we dined at Zeffirino, a wonderful Italian restaurant in the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian.
I had the pleasure of eating at Zeffirino one time before, about nine years prior to our recent visit. One of the manufacturer's we were representing at the time for the company I was working for back then took us out to Zeffirino for dinner. I remember the food was great, the service was top-notch and the atmosphere was fun and unpretentious. When I was called upon to find restaurants for our group to dine in this year, I remembered Zeffirino and I made a reservation for 10 on a Saturday night at 7:30. Of course, as it always seems to be, we had 12 show up for dinner. But Zeffirino had no problem accommodating the extra people we had in our party.
The foundation of Zeffirino began 70 years ago in Italy when Zeffirino Belloni opened his first restaurant in Genova (Genoa), Italy in 1939. In the previous year to Zeffirino opening the restaurant, his son, Gain Paolo, was born. 9 years later, young Gian Paolo began to work in his father's kitchen, learning the tricks of the trade including making homemade pesto. Gian Paolo's cooking skills were evident at an early age and he soon was working side by side with his father concocting new and wonderful tastes to go along with their traditional Genovese foods. Gian Paolo became renown throughout Italy for his pesto and Pope John Paul II declared Gian Paolo "The Pope's Pesto Maker" which, evidently, is a big thing.
The original Zeffirino is still in Genoa (click here to see their site). Gian Paolo and his family (four generations of Belloni's are involved in the business) have also opened a resort location in Portofino, Italy (click here) and a location in Hong Kong (click here).
When the Las Vegas location was built 10 years ago, the Belloni's wanted the feel of Venice in the restaurant. The elegant restaurant features imported limestone columns, large open Venetian-style windows, a wonderful dining balcony that overlooks the Grand Canal and shops in The Venetian, and a huge main floor bar that was imported from Italy. It truly is like they've taken a wonderful Italian restaurant from Venice and transported it to Las Vegas.
The bar area is where we ran into Geoff Poor of Glenn Poor's Audio Video in Champaign, IL, and who also is the managing partner of Balanced Audio Technology, and his wife, Ann, who were having dinner at the bar. Geoff was surprised to see all of us show up for dinner. He proclaimed, "This is the best food in Las Vegas, guys. We come here once or twice every time we come out for CES."
We met the hostess just beyond the bar and she took us up a meandering staircase, then down a couple of winding halls to the dining area where we were seated at a long table surrounded by heavy antique chairs. The restaurant was vibrant and full. Seriously, it was like we were magically transported from Las Vegas to an old world restaurant in Italy.
We were handed menus and I was amazed at the offerings Zeffirino had. Many of the items were Northern Italian in origin, with the pasta made fresh in house each day. The seafood dishes had a Mediterranean flair to them which included a Mediterranean Sea Bass filet served in three or four different variations. Zeffirino had veal, chicken and beef dishes including a foie-gras stuffed beef tenderloin pan-seared in Marsala wine and Rum and served over Fontana cheese with pan-seared truffles and Porcini Mushrooms. Geoff Poor told me when I visited him in his store in Champaign a couple months after our visit to Zeffirino that the foie-gras stuffed beef tenderloin is probably his favorite meal in the whole world.
While we perused the menu, my colleague Ian picked out a couple different Italian wines for dinner - a red and a white. The wine list at Zeffirino is extensive and reads like a book. After Ian order up the wine, I took a gander through the list to see if they had some of my favorites. And they did. It was a remarkable and impressive list of Italian, French and American varieties.
When it came time to order dinner, I knew that I couldn't have pasta as I was starting out on a pretty strict diet for my upcoming hip replacement surgery a couple months later. Even though some of the pasta dishes were tempting, and I probably should have gotten fish to be real true to my diet, I opted for the Costoletta di Vitello all Valdostana - a breaded veal chop filled with Fontana cheese, pan-seared and served over a Barola wine, Fontana cheese fondue with Amarone wine polenta. I also ordered the Caesar's Salad to go before the dinner.
Had I known how good the foie-gras stuffed beef tenderloin was, I probably would have gotten it. But, to me, there's something fundamentally wrong about getting steak in an Italian restaurant. Oh, I've had great steaks in Italian restaurants before. But Zeffirino was truly authentic Italian and I wanted something as close to Old World cooking as I could get.
It was good to get together with everyone in our company, including a couple of people who we invited to come along with us for dinner. The setting at Zeffirino was relaxing and that was needed after four long days we had previously. We knew the show was closing the next day and other than packing up and shipping our products back to the main office in Montreal, we knew the end was in sight.
About a half-hour after finishing my Caesar's Salad, our food came to the table. The breaded veal chop was large, flavorful and juicy. The Fontana cheese was a great compliment to the chop. I'm not a huge fan of polenta which is basically an Italian corn-meal mashed dish. But with the dry red Amarone wine infused into the polenta, it brought out a number of great taste sensations. I was truly satisfied with my meal.
After dinner, many of the guys in our party had espresso and dessert. I was a good boy in not getting dessert - many of which were overly tempting. I will admit that I did have a bite of one of my colleagues tiramisu, which was absolutely fabulous. But I was determined to lose weight and I needed to exhibit the will power to get the job done. (So far, I've lost nearly 30 pounds.)
Zeffirino is also famous for their gourmet Sunday brunch. It includes traditional Mediterranean and Northern Italian foods, as well as seafood, pastas, homemade pastries and baked-goods, and traditional breakfast foods including build-your-own omelets. It's not cheap - it's something like $55 bucks a person. But I'm guessing it's out of this world.
While Zeffirino was far from cheap, we had a great meal in a great atmosphere. It's hard to imagine that it wasn't much more than about 20 years ago that Las Vegas had a dearth of top-notch restaurants in the city. Now, it seems like there's 20 to 30 world class restaurants to choose from. And Zeffirino is definitely one of them.