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Desert Companion

The Dish: Brave old world

salt-crusted-sea-bass.jpg

Salt Encrusted Sea Bass
Sabin Orr

Salt-crusted sea bass

Italian kitchen wisdom and modern Vegas savvy join forces at Salute 

Over the summer, there was a buzz of activity at the front of Red Rock Resort — construction crews working heavy equipment, installing metal, wood and wiring. In a marquee spot, craftsmen and designers transformed a hollow space into the gleaming new Salute Trattoria Italiana.

The project was piloted by Clique Hospitality. Clique grew out of the sale of Light Group — once one of the prime movers of entertainment and dining in Las Vegas — to nightlife behemoth Hakkasan Group. In other words, at first glance, Salute seems to be the story of a shiny new Italian-themed culinary venture by a shiny new restaurant-development company looking to expand its footprint.

But Salute promises to be much more than that. Beneath the glammy-sounding Clique name is another name to note: Luciano Sautto, executive chef of Salute. He’s as old-school as Clique is new. Born in Italy, Sautto has the food business in his veins: His family has owned and operated one of the world’s oldest pizza places for more than a century.

Luciano Sautto, executive chef of Salute“My great-grandfather was one of the first pizzaiolo in Naples,” Sautto explains. “Our first pizzeria opened in 1870, and it’s still standing.” That establishment, Da Michele, was making pizza before anyone in the United States even tried a slice. Sautto is bringing that generational restaurant heritage to Summerlin. In that sense, the story of Salute is one of blending old and new methods — Sautto’s Old World pedigree, with his focus on regional specialties and solid classics made from scratch, and Clique’s applied savvy about what it takes to make it in Vegas. (The pizza oven imported from Sautto’s hometown is a nice secret weapon.)

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The old-meets-new design reflects this: glowing Carrara marble — the stuff of Rome’s Pantheon and Michelangelo’s David — gives way to a warm interior with blown-glass lights hanging from lacquered wood beams. The menu: regional specialties from both Northern and Southern Italy as well as Italian American favorites — think go-tos such as baked rigatoni and lasagna, though, in the case of Salute’s versions, the red sauce is powered by luscious San Marzano tomatoes grown on the fertile slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Forty eggplants

The road to opening Salute has been smooth, but it’s still been an uphill one, an effort that’s seen Sautto and collaborator Brian Massie, executive chef of Hearthstone next door, in the kitchen for long stretches of time perfecting and finalizing the full menu.

“I’ve probably eaten 40 eggplants,” says Massie. “Because we do that, we make the perfect eggplant Parm, and we’re continually trying to make it better.”

The proof is in a menu tasting. The gorgeous Caprese salad features unbelievably flavorful and deep-hued heirloom tomatoes trucked in from Abby Lee Farms in Phoenix, rustically chopped with bright arugula leaves grown by the same niche purveyor. The cheese is a supple mozzarella di bufala from the verdant Campanian fields around Naples. (Yes, it’s made from water buffalo milk.) The delicate salmon carpaccio arrives in perfectly cylindrical roulades, sliced a few mere centimeters thick and arranged like flower petals on a serving platter. (It’s lovely, but I tear into it with a fork nonetheless.) A seemingly simple fettuccine with walnut pesto, topped with frizzled zucchini blossoms, has many nuanced flavors. A second pasta follows, but this one is not light at all. Rather, it’s a velvety plate of chewy tagliatelle in a cream sauce topped with an abundance of black truffle shavings. It’s incredibly rich, fragrant and filling.

Salmon Carpaccio

Salmon Carpaccio.  Photo by Sabin Orr

Zing and zest

On the meat menu, the salt-crusted sea bass, adorned with flower petals and accented with lemon slices and aromatics, is sweet and mild. And then there’s a classic: chicken piccata. In Sautto’s version, poultry cutlets are thinly pounded and sparsely dusted with flour before being quickly sautéed. They arrive in a zinging lemon-wine reduction and a scattering of edible micro-flowers. It’s one of the prettiest piccatas in town.

Fresh pastas are a highlight of Salute’s menu. The kitchen is producing house-crafted strings such as tubular bucatini and stuffed varieties like ravioli, agnolotti and pansotti. Among the array of noodles will be a few cuts and extrusions not frequently found in American eateries, including spaghetti alla chitarra, which is cut by a multi-wired contraption that looks like Bo Diddley’s guitar. “I’m going to do long fusilli, which you don’t really see here,” says Sautto of the corkscrew-shaped vermicelli cousin, yet another pasta taking shape in Red Rock Resort.

Beyond pastas, uncommon fish and mollusks are another hallmark of Salute’s menu. Numerous catches of the day are being flown in from the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas that wash up on Italy’s shores. Branzino, orata (sea bream), John Dory and baby octopus will be a few of the seafood stars. Of course, there’ll be daily pizza selections baked in the oven, too. And, for dessert, a gelateria that whips up Italian-style ice creams and fragrant, fresh-made waffle cones. Does such ambition reflect Vegas smarts or Italian pride? It doesn’t matter so much when the food tastes this good. 

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Antipasto bar

Antipasto is traditionally an appetizer, but you might just fill up on what Salute has to offer: The eye-catching antipasto bar is the first thing you see upon walking in. “Some (meats) I’m going to cure here, some I’m going to import.“ A variety of cheeses and vegetables are there for the choosing, too.

Chicken piccata

Plated with a sprinkling of delicate, edible flowers, these lightly sautéed cutlets taste as good as they look, the tender meat drizzled with a pleasantly sharp lemon-wine reduction. GT

 

Salute Trattoria Italiana
Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa
702-797-7311
salutevegas.com

HOURS

Sun-Thu 5-10p

Fri-Sat 5-11p