My guest and I sit within the dim-lit dining room of d.Vino Italian Food and Wine Bar inside the Monte Carlo. Tonight, we are greeted by General Manager Robert Katz, and I couldn’t be hungrier. The atmosphere is elegant and sophisticated, but the vibe is definitely casual. The decor is quietly classic, being tucked away from the noise and activities of the casino floor. After just a few minutes inside, it genuinely feels like an authentic Italian restaurant, from the dark wood accents and Renaissance-style paintings in the private room to the large, intimate booths along one wall. I’m famished because I haven’t eaten since breakfast this morning, and d.Vino’s kitchen, which is right next to our table, sends sweet, rustic, Italian aromas wafting through the air. But this is merely a small precursor to tonight’s tasting.
d.Vino occupies a prime location within the Monte Carlo Hotel and Resort, directly adjacent to The Blue Man Group theatre on the casino floor. The front of the restaurant offers a look at the open pizza kitchen. Guests and casino-goers alike can watch as talented pizza artists handcraft mouthwatering thin crust pies with relative ease. The chefs quickly prepare the ingredients before carefully placing each creation into the authentic wood-fire oven. The red wood logs burn hot, reaching temperatures as high as a sizzling 600 degrees. As we walk past, Rob tells us that a pizza can be completed in six minutes flat, from the initial rolling of the dough to the delivery of the finished product to the table.
There are a few scattered tables in front of the pizza station for those who enjoy the hustle and bustle of the busy gamblers, but to the right, the majority of the front area is dedicated to a large bar and comfortable lounge. This a suitable place to have a glass of wine and relax before a table opens in the main dining hall. The lounge offers open seating on a walk-in basis, and the bar can accommodate up to 10 people easily with four high chairs on one side and six on the other. I laugh a little as I snap a photo of the classic red Vespa displayed behind the bar’s woodwork; it’s a nice touch and offers a quaint reminder of the culture behind this restaurant. At the bar, patrons can order from the all-day happy hour menu or whet their palates with one of the numerous cocktails from the specialty drink menu while they catch the latest sporting event on the high definition TV. With all the bells, chimes, and rings from the multitude of slot machines, it is nice to be seated back within the calm, quiet dining room, and as we get situated, I find myself anxious for the meal to begin.
With a name like d.Vino, a wide selection of quality wine goes without questioning. This classy eatery boasts an impressive array of Italian and California wines to choose from, and just as impressive as the vast selection of different bottles is the restaurants own Enomatic wine serving system. The Enomatic operates much like a soda dispenser, featuring 16 different wines with 1oz, 2 oz and 5 oz pours. Simply purchase a reloadable card, available in any dollar amount, and begin sampling. “It’s like being your own sommelier,” says Rob, “It allows everyone to taste wine at their own leisure, with no waiting to be served.” This is one aspect that I find truly entertaining, and I imagine the experience is thoroughly enjoyable.
Rob feels that d.Vino is a different kind of Italian restaurant, with unique features and cuisine that help set it apart from many of the other establishments in Las Vegas. It is a relatively small space, so it’s easy to see straight through to the back of the restaurant from the casino floor. Rob believes that this is beneficial to his overall goal, stating, “When a guest is within these walls, we at d.Vino want to make sure that we give them the best experience possible, so that they will come back again and again. Our philosophy is focused on valuable service and quality of product.” He also believes that the new definitive difference, what truly sets d.Vino apart, is his talented, young chef, Michael Shaughnessy. Yes, he is an Irishman in an Italian kitchen, and his passion for the food he prepares is obvious in his work ethic and the innovative new dishes he creates here. He has been running the kitchen for less than one year, but manager Rob has become his biggest fan, assuring us that he is a rising star who is here to stay.
Led by Chef Shaughnessy, d.Vino prepares lunch, Sunday brunch, and dinner, featuring rustic Italian cuisine. “Shaughnessy will be famous one day,” says Rob. “I guarantee it.” The chef believes that the simplest of ingredients can be combined to create a vast and interesting spectrum of flavor combinations; they need only be high in quality and paired correctly. In the short time since taking hold of the reins here at d.Vino, he has completely revamped the menu to focus more on his cooking philosophies and techniques. Needless to say, we can’t wait to try our first bites.
Before dinner officially begins, we are offered a loaf of Rosemary Focaccia bread with the house dipping sauce, compliments of the chef. The focaccia is flavored with a mixture of oregano, parsley, rosemary and minced garlic that has been steeped in extra virgin olive oil. An extra dose of the oil gives the bread its rich taste and soft texture. The rosemary is very subtle; I enjoy the aroma and assertive pine-like notes. Chef Shaughnessy controls the strength of this powerful herb with style and ease. The combination of the focaccia and the dipping sauce creates a symphony of clear flavors that are not overbearing to the palate. “People love this sauce,” says Chef Shaughnessy. “It’s a simple creation, and they are surprised at how easy it is to make.” The dipping sauce is made with parsley, crushed red peppers, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and salt, and as we enjoy our bread, Rob offers us a couple of cocktails.
He returns with his recommended drinks, the Limoncello Margarita and the Basta! Both can be found on the Handcrafted Cocktail menu, which features specialty drinks with genius flavor combinations. Some utilize Italian spirits, like the Costa Esmeralda and Garibaldi, and the Limoncello Margarita consists of azul reposado, limoncello (Italian lemon liquor) and fresh limejuice. The tequila provides a strong, swift kick, followed by tart, sour citrus to soothe the initial sting and create a refreshing finish. The Basta!, on the other hand features Cruzan mango rum, Campari, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. This drink has a subtle, less powerful punch than the margarita, but it’s still nice and strong. Again the lime acts as an aftertaste, balancing out the strong alcoholic flavors for a smooth, revitalizing ending.
After our first few sips, my eyes light up when Chef Shaughnessy presents us with the Meat & Cheese Plate, courtesy of the traditional formaggio and salami bar. “This is my favorite thing to start with,” he says. “I recommend it to everyone.” The meat and cheese plate is packed full of quality Italian salami including San Danielle prosciutto, soppressata, and felino highlighted with a red wine marinade. To complement our charcuterie, the cheeses offered are creamy robiola, taleggio, and a hard, sharp pecorino Romano. All have been hand-picked by Chef Shaughnessy and paired with several intriguing accoutrements like organic honeycomb and a house-made apricot basil jam. The final additions to the plate are pickled cucumbers, made in a white balsamic pickling liquid, watermelon radishes pickled in a red wine and vinegar liquid, and grilled baguette slices drizzled with olive oil. I start on my right, with the bold pecorino Romano, then migrate towards the honeycomb. The sweet honey flavor revitalizes my palate after the sharp cheese for a well-rounded feast of both savory and sweet. Now, I move on to the meat. I begin with the San Danielle prosciutto, which according to the chef, is the best bang for your buck. The rich, salty meat establishes a bold, lingering flavor, so I reach for a pickled cucumber. The acidic taste from the vinegar and brine ultimately creates a refreshing sensation to prepare me for my next venture.
I delight in another cheese, jam, meat and pickled vegetable combination. Then another, and another. The cheese and meat plate offers a plethora of different flavor paths, and allows us to experiment at our own pace. Overall, it’s fun, engaging, and delicious. Before returning to his kitchen, Shaughnessy tells us, “I love just playing around with the flavors and textures of the cheese and meats, this is definitely one of my favorite dishes here at d.Vino.”
For our next course, Chef Shaughnessy selects the Shrimp & Artichokes from the antipasti section of the menu. This section features an array of light and traditional Italian starters to tickle one’s appetite before delving into the heavier entrees. Seafood items like Steamed Pei Mussels with spicy tomato broth and Fried Calamari with spicy pomodoro are available alongside House-Marinated Olives, Stuffed Zucchini and a fried risotto dish called Arancini Alla Bolognese to give us a well-rounded list of options. But, the dish we are about to enjoy highlights Shaughnessy’s favorite Italian vegetable, the artichoke, as well as several jumbo shrimp. The artichoke hearts are poached in olive oil with herbs and shallots, while the jumbo blue tiger shrimp are poached in butter, white wine and house made clam stock with ripe, red and yellow tomatoes. The two mixtures are then combined and quickly seared to add a smoky finish. Before delivery, the dish is refined with another drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. The artichoke hearts absorb the flavors of the accompaniments very well, offering succulent morsels of rich, buttery flavor, and the shrimp is beyond tender. The slow poaching technique creates a final product that literally dissolves as I begin to chew, and the addition of the sweet, acidic tomatoes rounds out the appetizer with a blast of warm, juicy flavor. I am fascinated by the shrimp, because I have never experienced such tender shellfish. It is a brilliant tactic to offer diners a simple, new twist to this versatile crustacean.
Now well into the dinner rush, the atmosphere is becoming quite lively. Diners come trickling in, and just about every table is filled with convention attendees or friends chatting over a glass of wine. Even the private Piedmont room is bustling with a large group of 20 or so, and the staff of d.Vino is in high gear. Despite the growing population, the dining room remains moderately quiet, and although our server is now responsible for more than four different tables, he never misses a beat. This is crunch time, and d.Vino runs like a well-oiled machine.
We patiently await the arrival of our next venture on this epicurean journey through the flavors of Italy. The authentic wood-fired pizzas of d.Vino boast success with simplicity. There are five different choices, and each features only a few different toppings. The Prosciutto & Burrata Mozzarella is no exception, with San Marzano tomatoes, cheese, San Danielle prosciutto, and fresh arugula lightly drizzled with lemon. “This is Italian cooking at its best…” says Shaughnessy, “…five to six ingredients, highlighted and done well.” He then explains why the pizza here is so particularly special. The dough is made with highly refined, Caputo “Tipo 00” flour. Apparently it is the best of the best in the world of flour, and they must import it from Naples, Italy. This is just one more example of Chef Shaughnessy’s firm belief in quality of product, and the proof is in the dough.
Once rolled and prepped, the pizza is covered with a mixture of fresh tomatoes, salt, and pepper then adorned with Gioia burrata mozzarella. After a short time in the 600 degree oven, the creamy, melted cheese is layered with prosciutto, and the pie is garnished with fresh arugula. As I take my first bite, the arugula with lemon acts as a palate cleansing precursor to the other powerful flavors of this pizza. The crust is very light, offering a crunchy platform for the salty prosciutto. The sweet, yet slightly acidic juice of the ripe tomatoes soaks into the bread, adding more dimensions to the flavor, but I must say, the cheese is the most mesmerizing aspect of this dish. Unlike typical mozzarella, burrata is extra creamy and full of rich, buttery flavor. The molten, cheese envelopes all the ingredients as I chew, and turns out to be a completely different experience than I initially expected. Noticing my enjoyment, Chef Shaughnessy tells me, “I had a table in last night that lived in Italy for three years. They said this is the next best thing to a pizza made in Italy.” Now that’s a compliment.
He disappears into the kitchen and Rob approaches our table with a special treat. He has selected two Italian beers, yes I said beers, and as he sets out four large wine glasses, I am slightly baffled. The restaurant only offers a handful of imported Italian beers, and Rob explains that unlike most, these are best enjoyed in a wine glass. The shape allows the beer to breathe and heightens the flavor through the power of smell. He pours the Isaac by Birrifico le Baladin and the My Antonia by Birra Del Borgo & Dogfish Head. The Isaac is quite earthy with hints of citrus and a smooth, clear finish. The My Antonia is full of hops with a burnt orange finish; it is reminiscent of a bitter IPA and immediately clears the palate and the sinus. Authenticity abounds at d.Vino, and the imported beer for those less inclined to drink wine is, in my opinion, genius.
While we relax and examine our new, interesting beverages, our next course is under way. This time we will be sampling an item from the Pasta & Risotto section which features favorites like Fettucine Alfredo, Spaghetti Bolognese, Seafood Rissotto, and traditional Lasagna as well as more unique specialties like Bucatini with Meatballs, Pumpkin Ravioli or Veal Ravioli. Tonight, Chef Shaughnessy has chosen the classic Gnocchi with petite meatballs, pomodoro, toasted garlic, and basil for my guest and I to taste. The gnocchi are hand-made with Russet potatoes, egg yolk, flour and nutmeg. The pasta is dense and buttery. The meatballs, miniature versions of this traditional staple, are made with a blend of pork, veal, focaccia bread crumbs, garlic, shallot, and fine herbs. They are slowly braised in a simple, San Marzano tomato sauce that the kitchen prepares in small batches every day. The meat is moist, tender and full of bold, pronounced flavor from the quality Italian tomatoes. With the addition of the plump, chewy gnocchi, the dish is a wonderful balance of butter, starch, spice and rich tomato.
Before we move on to the main course of the evening, our server surprises us with yet another pasta dish. This one is unique though. It is a veal tortellini, and try as I might, I can’t find it anywhere on the menu. This is because Chef Shaughnessy developed the dish only days prior. With the intent to impress a few favorable clients, he whipped up the recipe on the spot. Each tortellini is filled with ground veal, ground mushrooms, spinach and soft taleggio cheese. The sauce over-top consists of roasted Portobello, cippollini onions, chicken stock, butter, Sherry, garlic, and veal demi glaze. For such rich, savory pasta, he also adds balsamic-glazed shallots to cut the veal with a sweet respite between each bite. All I can say is I can’t believe he just made this up, and it better end up on the menu, soon.
We leave no tortellini uneaten, and as our plates are whisked away, we prepare for the final course before dessert. The main courses at d.Vino showcase rustic Italian entrees with beef, chicken, veal and fish. We will be enjoying the Braised Beef Short Rib, but as I glance at the different options, Seared Salmon, Chicken Pepperonata and Veal Marsala all sound delicious.
The short ribs are presented on a bed of potato gnocchi and broccolini with fresh herbs, butter, and white wine. To finish it off, he tops the beef with a Granny Smith apple gremolata. The gremolata is his favorite part, made with fresh parsley, lemon zest, orange zest, apples, olive oil, salt and pepper. With the same purpose as the arugula on the pizza, this is his signature palate cleanser. The meat is boneless, and to achieve a state of fall-apart, fork-tenderness, he marinates it overnight in mixture of fine herbs, garlic, olive oil, and black pepper. The next day, the meat is pan-seared to seal in the juices then braised in red wine, tomato, and chicken stock for at least four hours, finalizing the tenderization process. When the dish arrives at my table, a knife is not necessary; the meat pulls apart with ease, using nothing more than a fork. The broccolini and gnocchi rest underneath the beef, soaking up the juices and adopting the various different flavors. The apple gremolata is refreshing, and I enjoy a small taste between each bite to soothe my taste buds and help every morsel taste as wonderful as the first. It is definitely an important addition to the dish. The broccolini adds brilliant green color to contrast the pale gnocchi and dark meat, and the chewy gnocchi provide a pleasant variation in texture. The presentation is obviously well thought out and executed superbly.
My stomach is now dangerously close to its limit. So, to end the night, the traditional Tiramisu is right on the money. Chef Shaughnessy deems this a classic. He says that it can be tweaked here and there, but he has a profound respect for the simple, original qualities of this authentic layered dessert. Stacked about three inches high, I count three layers of mascarpone mousse and two layers of espresso soaked lady fingers. The top is dusted with a generous helping of fresh cocoa, and beneath it is a puddle of Kahlua crème anglais for added coffee flavor. I take my first bite and the best words to describe the texture are light, fluffy and airy.
The addition of amaretto and coffee extract helps to settle my full stomach and provides the perfect pick-me-up to get us moving again after so much food. The creamy mascarpone mousse blends with the bold espresso, making it slightly mellow, and the fresh cocoa completes the flavor experience with a lingering, bittersweet finish. With tiramisu, Shaughnessy feels that there is little need to change anything. During one of his trips to Italy, he discovered first hand that originators got it right, so he incorporates the best ingredients possible to recreate and pay homage to the original classic preparation.
With the meal now over, I am confident that I could not eat another bite if the world depended on it. Rob really pulled out all of the stops for this delicious tasting menu, and it has given me a great understanding and earnest appreciation for the many different aspects of true Italian cuisine here at d.Vino. Led by the kitchen captain, Chef Michael Shaughnessy, we have been taken on a culinary adventure, and with consistently impeccable service, mouthwatering delicacies, and insight from the chef himself, I am happy and thoroughly satisfied with my experience here. I sit back and ponder for a moment, almost sad that I cannot continue eating.
In parting, Chef Shaughnessy shares the driving idea behind his innovative style and his constant endeavors to invent and improve. He tells us that the clock is always ticking, and we have to go out and pursue our passions at every turn until our time runs out. For him, this philosophy has created a will to be productive and a determination to succeed. He begins with quality ingredients; he creates unforgettable cuisine, and I do not doubt that one day, this young man will be famous. His commitment is matched by his talented kitchen team and the skillful front-of-house staff led by manager Rob Katz. Ultimately, their combined efforts provide a fun and memorable dining experience, beyond just the meal, and I see a bright future in store for d.Vino Italian Food and Wine Bar.
Insider Tip: While dinner at d.Vino is certainly a must for anyone's to-do list, the revolutionary Enomatic is reason enough to wander in from the busy casino floor and explore the world of wine. The reloadable cards make wine tasting quick and easy, while the bar and lounge offer a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere to just sit around and sip the night away.