There is a saying in Italy, “Only tourists eat bad food.”

So if you are a tourist in Las Vegas, you must visit Fiamma Trattoria at the MGM — no, not because the food is bad, but because the food is excellent, we just don’t want you to feel like such a tourist.

In Italy there are various types of eateries.

Bar food is not what we are used to in the U.S. The Italian bar is actually a café, where you dine on pastries for breakfast, paninis and tremezzinis (sandwiches), and la tavola calda (hot dishes) for lunch, washed down with caffe and cognac as you converse with the locals about the gossip of the day. An Italian bar usually closes about 8 p.m. The enotecas are a wine bar that serves regional tastings and may also serve food. In Venice an enoteca is called a bacari.

Osterias is where we get the word hostels from, because these are the Italian taverns, where you really do feel like a tourist, but locals also frequent them as well.  The osterias offer beds for the night with meals such as meats and cheeses, and wine by the glass, or often regional specialties, with an ample and extensive wine list.

When we think of dining informally in Italy we think of a trattoria, which is a place where friends meet to chat while swigging  down the grape.  A trattoria is usually a family owned establishment where you get only one glass of wine with the meal unless you ask for more at an additional charge; the same goes for water, but which is free.  The difference between a trattoria and a ristorante is that you get two glasses of wine in the more formal ristorante.

So with my friend Chris in tow for conversation, we decided to check out the Fiamma Trattoria and Bar along the Studio Walk at the MGM Grand Hotel, I mean the MGM Grand Osteria, in Las Vegas.




The Trattoria and Bar offers 400 wine
varietals, and 75 specialty cocktails.

What is cool about Fiamma is that you get a bar with lounge (seating 40), a café (seating 60), a trattoria (seating 221), and a private dining ristorante (seating 45), all in one spot. Fiamma has all your Italian dining needs covered. You can also just sit at the bar, which many locals do, without dining, but who would want to do that with all the excellent cuisine choices around you?

I spoke with Kerry, a killer of a bartender that looks somewhat like a young Mel Gibson, and he informed me that Fiamma has the most extensive signature cocktail list of any bar in town — 75 + drinks, with Kerry devising over 50 of them himself, and in fact, he has a new bartending guide coming out soon, titled, “The Las Vegas Bartender’s Guide.”

Chris and I were seated in the lower section of Fiamma’s trattoria in a sort of leather  couch and chair open pod arrangement and we started the evening off with Italian sparkling wines.

We were at the Fiamma for conversation, as any trattoria should be, and we edged toward discussing the ambiance and architecture of the trattoria.

The high ceiling Fiamma (flame in Italian) featured frizzled and spiny bamboo light fixtures, techno hanging metal wire and wood dividing towers, and a split level seating area, with the flame pit, or should I say the Fiamma pit, towards the back past the bar, making it a cozy leather couch and stool spot for sipping wines while waiting for your table. The trattoria also has a private dining area.


Fiamma Trattoria and Bar
MGM Grand
Phone: 702/891-7600   
www.mgmgrand.com

Dinner: served daily
5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m

Price Range:
Antipasti $10 - $18
Pasta $21 - $28      
Main Courses  $28 - $39

The back wall was the subject of conversation because we had never seen anything like it.  Was it a painted mural, stucco, sculpture, or what? Jessica, our waitress, informed us that the layered dripping lava flow was bamboo smoothed veneer and it was the color of light chocolate.  In fact, the entire 7,000 square foot trattoria is made of bamboo or hardwood floors designed by the architectural firm of Yabu Pushelberg. The firm incorporated warm copper and espresso colors around the zebra wood, maple, and antique brown granite.

We didn’t have to ask for our second glass of Italian sparkling wine like in a traditional trattoria, it just appeared. (Wine Spectator upgraded Fiamma’s wine program to the “Best of Award of Excellence”.)

Fiamma came to Vegas in 2003 by a route from Sicily, to Milan, to New York, to the desert, and it was conceived by owner Stephen Hanson and Esquire Magazine’s 2002 Chef of the Year, Michael White, who were joined by Elizabeth Katz and her critically acclaimed traditional Italian desserts, along with Master Sommelier Greg Harrington, who’s 400 varietal wine list we were gleefully drinking from. 

Fiamma is yet another gem in the B.R. Guest company’s line up of 11 fine dining establishments, and the first outside of New York. If you go to the Big Apple don’t travel like a tourist, you want splendid food in splendid surroundings, so check them out:

Fiamma in New York City is the winner of 3-star reviews from the media, and received the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award in 2002.

Coconut Grill is a 150-seat bistro on the Upper East Side.

Isabella on the Upper West Side, and it is a Mediterranean inspired eaterie.

Park Avalon on Park Avenue South, draws in the media intelligentsia and celebrities.

Blue Water Grill is located across from Union Square, and it is the city’s ninth most popular restaurant, serving seafood.

Ocean Grill is located on the Upper West Side, a lively café that was featured in the hit movies, “You’ve Got Mail”, and in “Changing Lanes.”

Atlantic Grill on the Upper East Side, a Cape Cod inspired room with a bistro, raw bar, and sushi bar.

Ruby Foo Dim Sum and Sushi Palace on the West Side, the first non Italian eaterie from Hanson, a 10,000-square-foot, 400-seat restaurant that was named one of the “50 New Tastemakers” by Nation’s Restaurant News.

Blue Fin is the place for sushi and seafood, inside the W Hotel at Times Square.

Dos Caminos is a a multi regional Mexican kitchen on Park Avenue South.

After all those gustatory successes, we were eager to turn our forks over to Fiamma’s Executive Chef Michael White, who conceived the original Fiamma at 206 Spring Street at 6th Avenue; 212/653-0100.

After culinary school White launched his career in Italy with nine years of specialized training under Chef Valentino Marcattilii at Ristorante San Domenico in Imola, Italy, and it was during this time that White developed his passion for the simplicity and freshness of indigenous Italian ingredients.




Executive Chef, Michael White.

White enhanced the familiar Italian foods with heightened flavors because they were grown locally, such as fresh ricotta cheese still warm from the dairy, hand-rolled garganelli, and freshly roasted purple Roman artichokes. 

White regularly traveled between Italy and Spiaggia in Chicago where he was Chef di Cucina for two years and, in the process, gathered experience, knowledge, and a deep respect for the genuine, honest, and earthy flavors of Italian cooking.

In January 1999, White rejoined Chef Marcattilii at San Domenico in Imola to command the post of Chef di Cucina, an appointment rarely granted to an American chef in Italy. 

In this role, White was responsible for developing new recipes, running the kitchen, and managing the staff.  No longer considered a foreigner, the Beloit, Wisconsin born chef was even featured on Italian television.

While in Europe, White also spent time in the Michelin-starred French kitchens of Roger Verge at Le Moulin de Mougins, and Chef Stephane Raimbault at L’Oasis in La Napoule.




Fresh regional ingredients
from Italy grace the table.

At Fiamma, White's years of training means a menu drawing from all the regions of Italy, served with  premium Italian ingredients like the superior Taggiasca olives from Liguria, tasty bottarga from Sardinia, and high quality lentils from Castellucio.

Fiamma’s menu also includes selections of Mediterranean fish like the Branzino (sea bass), Triglia (red mullet), Orata (sea bream), and Ricci di Mare (sea urchins); and olive oils from Tuscany, Umbria, and Liguria, as well as artisinal cheeses from throughout Italy. I was amazed when Jessica informed me that the mozzarella is hand made in southern Italy and flown in fresh daily.

With no further ado, Chris and I perused the menu selection and started off the evening with the Antipasti specialty: Insalata, made of fresh baby lettuces, shaved fennel, heirloom radishes, served with white balsamic ($10). Jessica also suggested that we try that flown-in Mozzarella Di Buffala, with  Prosciutto Di Parma, Pepperonata and Vincotto ($16), and we are happy we did.

Instead of the Polipo — char grilled Octopus Livornese — I opted for the Crispy Semolina Dusted Calamari with Lemon-Basil Tocco ($14) and it was the perfect choice for an appetizer.

I noted that the Strachetti is served with grilled Kobe beef! Chris is a big Italian food fan and he ordered the Carpaccio, made of thinly sliced Prime Filet of Beef, Black Truffles, Arugula, and Parmigiano ($17).




Tortelli with Roman's Sheep
Milk, Ricotta, Ravioli, Smoked Prosciutto, and Tomato Basil.

For the  La Pasta selection we agreed on a split of Tortelli made with Roman Sheep’s Milk Ricotta, Ravioli, Smoked Prosciutto, and Tomato Basil ($26). Other dynamite choices included: Rigatoni made with Prosciutto Sausage Bolognese, and Parmigiano Reggiano ($21); Raviolini, which is Braised Short Rib Filled Ravioli in Barbera Wine and with Pecorino Cheese ($23); Gnocchi, made with Maine Lobster, Cremini Mushrooms and Truffle and Leeks ($29); Penne, which is Semolina Pasta Quills, Black Truffle Prosciutto, Peas, and Parmigiano ($25); and the Spaghetti, made with Fresh Cut Chitarra Spaghetti, Braised “Kobe” Meatballs, and Pomodoro ($28).

I think Fiamma’s high note is the notable fish dishes. The Mediterranean fish stocks have made a dramatic comeback after decades of over harvesting. Check out the Pesci:

Spada, Grilled Swordfish Steak and Putanesca, with Basil Pesto ($32); Aragosta E Gamberoni, or as we know it, Braised Spiny Lobster and Prawns with Sicilian Almond Couscous ($45); Branzino, or Mediterranean Sea Bass, which I tried and it was cooked to flakey perfection and served with Panzanella, and “Salmoriglio” ($29).

The Italian kitchen has made a dramatic impact of late with Le Carni dishes, such as Pollo — Sage Roasted Organic Chicken with smoked pancetta, Truffle Potatoes ($28); Nodino, which is a Veal Sirloin Chop, with fingerling potatoes, Roasted Fennel, Red Peppers, and Thyme Oil ($37); Manzo, or Charred Prime Bone in Ribeye (Chris’ choice) with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Sangiovese ($39); Brasato, or “Piedmontese” Braised Beef Short Rib with Polenta and Caramelized Root Vegetables ($32).

Fiamma also embellishes the dining experience with Contorni Vegetables that includes Black Truffle Potato Puree ($12); Mascarpone Polenta ($8); Briased Chard, Pancetta ($8); Asparagus Pecorino ($8); and Butter Braised Cremini Mushrooms ($8).




The Tasty Tiramisu.

Then Jessica recommended  the Dolci specialties.  I had to try the triple scoop Gelato with my choices of pistachio crunch, the vanilla bean, and the blackberry tea. Each scoop is lined up separately, and I could have chosen double chocolate fudge, toasted coconut, or caramel swirl, as well. Chris chose the triple scoop of Sorbetti or Sorbet, with raspberry, tangerine and lemon as his picks, with other choices of banana, spearmint, and vanilla pineapple.

We will never again be tourists eating bad food because we had the dine of our lives at Fiamma, but we had to squeeze in the Tiramisu and and espresso soaked ladyfingers.

You no longer will be vilified in Vegas as a tourist either, but only if you dine at the Fiamma Trattoria and Bar at the MGM Grand Osteria.

By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.




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