Another restaurant that my colleagues Ian and Simon found when they were at a small trade show in Las Vegas last April was an Italian restaurant near McCarran International Airport by the name of Panevino. Ian declared it as one of the best Italian restaurants he'd ever eaten at - and that included restaurants in Italy that Ian has visited over the years. On the Saturday night of the Consumer Electronics Show last month, the guys from Cambridge Audio took the guys from company out to dinner at Panevino.
Panevino is one of those hidden gems of restaurants that are off the strip and sort of tucked away where only the locals and a few hardy tourists will find (see map). The name means "bread and wine" in Italian and it is owned by Las Vegas architect/builder/casino owner Tony Marnell. Marnell's company - Marnell Companies - built the Rio in the mid-80's and Marnell was the original owner and CEO until selling out to Harrah's in 1999. (Both Rio and Harrah's are now under the Caesar's Palace umbrella.) Marnell's firm is also responsible for the construction of such Las Vegas landmarks as Excalibur, The Mirage, Bellagio, Wynn and the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace.
Marnell owns an industrial park on the south edge of McCarran International Airport and in 2002 he built Panevino with it's distinctive architectural design. The building pays homage to Italian architect Renzo Piano, Marnell's favorite designer. Piano's works include the Pompidou Centre in Paris (along with British architect Richard Rogers), the Kansai Airport in Osaka, Japan, and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Piano's style is categorized as "high tech" where form follows function and technology is the focal point for comfort and style. Panevino features ceiling to floor motorized window shades to keep the hot Las Vegas summer sun out in the day time, but opens up for views of the Las Vegas skyline at night.
In the nearly 8 years Panevino has been open they've gone through a number of executive chefs - and not that there's anything wrong with that. Alessandro Minutella was the original chef at Panevino when it opened in 2003, but left after a year to open a restaurant in San Diego. He was replaced by Vincenzo LoVerso who subsequently left Panevino in 2006 to also open a restaurant in San Diego. Sergio Santoro then became the executive chef at Panevino, but left to become the executive chef at The M Resort, owned by Tony Marnell's son, Tony III when that opened a couple years ago. In 2009, Panevino then turned to veteran chef Mario Andreoni who had been executive chef at the exclusive Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic, the Biltmore in Miami and at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas.
But one constant for Panevino over the years has been General Manager Vincenzo Granata (pictured at right with Mario Andreoni). As a 24 year old with a degree in hotel management and hospitality from a school in his native Italy and after refining his skills at restaurants in Europe before moving to Detroit in 1997, Granata was named the daily operations manager for both Le Cirque and Osterio del Circo at the Bellagio a year later. Le Cirque (French) and Osterio del Circo (Italian) are two of the finest restaurants, not only in Las Vegas, but are both world renown for their European service techniques and hospitality. Tony Marnell was a regular diner at both restaurants and got to know Granata rather well. Soon after Marnell opened Panevino, Granata agreed to join his restaurant as the G.M. It's Granata who has firmly put his own stamp on Panevino.
Panevino also features their own gourmet delicatessen and a coffee shop that features gourmet Italian meats, homemade artisan breads, Italian blend coffee, imported cheese, pasta and gelato. Sandwiches are available during the lunch hour and they also feature a number of morning pastries.
We had 7:30 dinner reservations at Panevino and we met the Brits from Cambridge Audio in the very tasteful and comfortable bar and lounge area as we waited for our table to be readied. Panevino wanted us to drink up a few drinks before we sat at the table and I didn't have any problem with that. I had a nice conversation with my friend Paul Masson, who heads up International Sales for Cambridge Audio, and Stuart George, the financial director for Cambridge Audio's parent company Audio Partnership, about English Premier League Soccer - or football, as they wrongly call it. We carried on our conversation to the table as I sat in between the two to learn more about the exploits and history of Arsenal, Manchester United and the Wolves from Wolverhampton. Actually, it was pretty stimulating conversation.
One of the great things about Panevino, other than the wonderful and distinctive architecture throughout the interior of the restaurant, was that they allowed us to order directly off the menu. No prix fixe menu that night for us, so that was an immediate plus. And the menu was very extensive with a number of pastas, seafood, meat and poultry entrees to choose from. My colleague, Ian, told me the osso bucco at Panevino was some of the best he'd ever had and I had it in my mind to get that before I even opened the menu. But after going through the menu, I was beginning to have second thoughts. They had a dish called Ravioli con Gamberi e Campisante - homemade ravioli stuffed with shrimp and scallops with leeks, then served in a lobster bisque sauce with lemon zest. Oh, man! I just about began to cry when I was reading this.
They also has a traditional Tuscan stew - Cacciucco Toscana populated with lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, Chilean sea bass and salmon in a lightly spiced tomato broth topped with garlic bread croutons. Oh! I was beginning to feel woozy. Another thing that caught my eye was the Pollo all Brace - a chicken breast marinated in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, mustard, red pepper flakes and fresh rosemary, then grilled and served on a bed of roasted potatoes drizzle with a lemon oil. My head was spinning. I didn't know which way to go.
I did finally come to my senses and ordered the Osso bucco alla Milanese - a slow-roasted veal shank in a red wine sauce resting on a bed of saffron risotto. I also ordered an appetizer - the carpaccio piccantino, a plate of beef carpaccio, arugula, baby artichokes, grated Grana Padano cheese with a lemon oil dressing. And for good measure, I got a salad - the prosciutto and mozzarella salad with arugula and baby tomatoes drizzled in an extra virgin, lemon-infused olive oil.
Is your stomach doing jumping jacks like mine is right now?
Audio Partnership president, James Johnson-Flint, picked out a couple of moderately priced Italian wines from the extensive wine list Panevino has. I took a look at the wine list and found it to be somewhat overpriced for some of the more familiar wines I like to order. But it seems like wine in Las Vegas is always priced much higher than other places around the nation. Well, except maybe for Denver.
The carpaccio piccantino was just excellent. Beef carpaccio on its own is wonderful, but the addition of the arugula, artichokes and cheese was a great compliment. I should have just had that as the pre-meal appetizer, but I'm certainly glad I got the prosciutto and mozzarella salad (below left). It was even better in overall taste than the carpaccio. The prosciutto was salty and flavorful, but not overpowering. The mozzarella cheese tasted like it was made fresh earlier in the day. And the lemon olive oil gave the greens and tomatoes a very smooth taste on the tongue. It was time to bring on the osso bucco.
Here's what the osso bucco looked like (above right) when it was set in front of me. The presentation looked out of this world with a little sprig of fresh rosemary peeking out the top of the marrow hole. From the first bite, I was in ecstasy. It was some of the best osso bucco I've ever had in my life, and that includes the osso bucco I tried at Restaruant L'Aiguiere in Paris about five years ago. The veal was tender, the red wine sauce was tasty and even the cooked bone marrow was outstanding. A lot of people don't eat the marrow, but I think that's the best thing about osso bucco, as long as you don't think about what you're eating. I did have a couple bites of the saffron risotto and it was OK. I'm not big on risotto so I concentrated on the osso bucco.
Next to me, Stuart got what would have been the second choice had I not gotten the osso bucco - the shrimp and scallop stuffed ravioli with the lobster bisque sauce. Oh man! And he said it was just as good as it looked. It turned out a lot of people at the table got the seafood ravioli. The next time I come back to Panevino - and there will be a next time - I'm getting that.
I was able to finish all the osso bucco and made a small dent in the saffron risotto - the osso bucco was just rich and wonderful - and I was pretty full after the meal ended. But that didn't stop me from taking a look at the dessert menu. And it was a long list of tantalizing and delectable offerings including tiramisu, creme brulee (made with Madagascar vanilla), gelato, and cannoli's. But what caught my eye was a lemoncello liqueur soaked mousse-layered spongecake. Oh, I about fell apart. But I knew I wouldn't be able to eat the whole thing. My colleague, Michael, who was across the table from me, said that he'd help me eat it. We ordered that and Stuart seated next to me got the best of all worlds - a combination of creme brulee, tiramisu and a Napoleon. He said, "You guys will help with some of that, won't you?"
And I have to say the desserts were just as wonderful as the main entree. The lemoncello mousse spongecake was moist and had a great taste sensation to it. The creme brulee was excellent and I had a little of the tiramisu which was also outstanding. It was a first class dinner all around.
Many of the Brits were leaving the next morning so we milled about the parking lot saying our good byes and thanking them for the great meal. Panevino absolutely fabulous, exactly as it was advertised when my colleagues were telling me about it. It's one of those true hidden gems that you've really got to look for when you go to Vegas, but it's certainly worth the time to go there.