Fiamma Trattoria & Bar

Somewhere it’s written — and yes, probably in stone — that every Las Vegas hotel must have an Italian restaurant, and that there must be an Italian restaurant no more than 1.2763 miles from the closest Italian restaurant, anywhere in the valley. I feel certain it’s on a shelf somewhere, maybe next to the Black Book.

We sure love us some Italian food in this city (and this country), and no wonder; who among us, surname ending in a vowel or not, doesn’t find comfort in food that tastes as though it were days in the making, all the while stirred by somebody’s grandmother who seasoned it with love and maybe a few tears along the way?

But it’s that popularity that creates a conundrum for Italian restaurants. Sure, they have to love that they’re the high-school jock and the head cheerleader rolled into one, but then again, how does Italian Restaurant A distinguish itself from Italian Restaurant B — especially when any listing would run out of alphabet? Customers come in knowing what they expect, but then again, they don’t want the too familiar — yes to the girl next door, no to a cousin. Or something like that.

Fiamma at the MGM Grand sets itself apart in a couple of ways. First there’s the decor, the flames (fiamma) that are used as a motif on the walls and in actuality in a dramatic four-sided fireplace between restaurant and lounge. And then there are the unexpected touches.

For instance, in the beef carpaccio ($15). This is a standard in most mid-to-upscale Italian restaurants these days, so it was no surprise to see it on the menu. What was a bit of a surprise was that it was served not with the standard capers but fried capers, which were scattered across the artfully arranged, red-and-white tissue-thin slices of meat. It had the usual pile of salad, the usual splash of olive oil, but then there was a drizzle of a fairly assertive citrus vinaigrette, which cut the richness of the meat and balanced the nuttiness of the shaved Parmesan quite nicely. And the fried capers had both concentrated caper flavor but also a component of crunch.

And then there was the ippoglosso — or Alaskan halibut ($32) to you and me. The fish was perfectly sweet, flaky and slightly firm, as halibut should be, and it was served with caponata, which had a few nuances of unexpected flavor in addition to the usual eggplant, celery and tomato. But the real treat was the small pool of basil pesto, a little thinner than most, that paired perfectly with both the neutrally flavored fish and the far more assertive caponata.

Ravioli alla Florentine ($24) was spinach ravioli with butter and sage in a nice autumnal change of pace. This treatment is used so often with butternut-squash or pumpkin ravioli that it’s almost become a cliche, but it worked just as well with the spinach-ricotta filling — which is served so often with marinara that it, too, has become a cliche. The fresh pasta was delicate, the sauce just buttery enough, the sage clearly pleasant without being overwhelming. This was a rather small dish of ravioli, but so rich that we wouldn’t have wanted more.

Another great autumnal touch was the truffle option listed on the menu. We skipped it (our expense account isn’t unlimited, you know), but we could’ve gilded the lily with 4 to 8 grams of white Alba truffle ($45 to $80), if we so desired.

Instead, we indulged in dessert — the bombe ($9), a dark-chocolate dome covering vanilla and raspberry gelato, with chocolate sauce and crunchy raspberries. Crunchy raspberries? Yup, flash-frozen, it appeared, and definitely crunchy — at least until they thawed.

Service throughout was great. Our waiter and the runners worked seamlessly, and we liked the fact that tap water was offered right along with bottled, that our bread basket contained some ciabatta and some rosemary focaccia paired with a dish of olive oil, and that our waiter asked if we wanted anything to drink besides water and didn’t try to shame us into ordering wine. (Which we did, but we still liked his attitude.)

When it comes to service, sometimes the best surprise is no surprise.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.

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