Crisp linens, soft music, candlelight, classically attired servers ...
If I'd been blindfolded on the way from the beltway and through the parking lot, I doubt I'd have guessed that this was a strip-center restaurant in a Summerlin suburban neighborhood. The two storefronts have been artfully united with muted colors and bright pops of accent art, and a recurring motif of punched metal adds interest, especially where they interplay with the restaurant's lighting.
Service was smooth and polished, the black-clad servers and assistants running both silent and deep. Wine service was polished, and we loved the fact that the wine list had lots of depth and variety, with some decent lower-priced bottles along with the big labels.
And here's a little taste of the finesse shown by Mastrioni management: When describing the specials to us, our server didn't provide any prices. There are two schools on this one, with one considering pricing unforgivably gauche, the other considering it required information. At the heart of it, a restaurant should position the prices of its specials very much on the level of the prices on its regular menu. So when our server mentioned a starter of beef carpaccio and we bit, I wondered how it would all pan out. And in the end, it was $15 - right in line with the listed appetizers.
All of which is laudable, but all the lipstick in the world wouldn't matter if the food amounted to a big fat pig. That's definitely not the case here, though. Mastrioni's - from veteran local chef/restaurateur Pete Mastrioni - excels right across the board.
About that carpaccio: Our waiter said it would be topped with arugula, which is a common treatment these days. We like arugula and what its bitter/pepper flavor can do when played against the richness of the raw beef, but sometimes it can be too bitter. Somehow, that wasn't the case here. I'm not sure if it was to the credit of the otherwise nearly undetectable truffle-based oil, but the bitterness was somehow minimized. The beef itself was perfect, the shavings of Parmagiano-Reggiano large and plentiful.
Mastrioni's bills itself as a seafood-and-Italian restaurant, which made something from the sea a natural choice. We considered the various preparations of halibut - not too common on local menus - but ended up with the linguine with whole clams ($20; chopped is another option) in white sauce, rather than the also-available red. And wow, what a fantastic version of a dish that is just plain sad in some restaurants. The clams were plentiful - at least a dozen - and tiny, sweet and tender, cooked perfectly and obviously perfectly fresh. The linguine was perfectly al dente and again, plentiful. I seriously considered having most of it packed up for the next day's lunch, but the garlicky olive oil-and-white wine sauce that cloaked it was too good to put aside.
Veal is another thing that's not showing up on as many menus lately, and when it does, it's usually at pretty hefty prices. So we were gratified that Mastrioni's veal Parmesan ($22) was so well prepared, the veal delicate, the sauce and cheese in perfect proportion. On the side we had some rigatoni (sauteed spinach and mixed fresh vegetables were the other options) and while getting rigatoni al dente can be a challenge because of its heft, this was just right, and topped with more of Mastrioni's soulful marinara.
The desserts were so tempting that we made a calorie splurge on the cannoli ($10), two large, flaky, golden-blistered tubes filled with a sweet ricotta mixture deftly flavored with orange zest, and with chocolate on the ends. Perfect.
Readers complain to me, frequently, that Summerlin doesn't have enough good independent restaurants. I'm thinking they haven't discovered Mastrioni's.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.