weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

The ’80s are back in with rigatoni alla vodka featuring whole Maine lobster

Penne alla vodka (and its strapping sibling, rigatoni alla vodka) present a familiar food phenomenon: a famous dish whose origins are disputed.

Some sources say the dish — pasta tossed in creamy tomato-vodka sauce — was invented at a restaurant in Bologna, Italy. Others say it was a chef in Rome. New York City offers two frequently mentioned claimants: chef James Doty, a graduate of Columbia University, and chef Luigi Franzese, who worked at famed Orsini’s restaurant on East 56th Street in the 1970s.

What is clear is that by the 1980s, penne alla vodka had become popular in New York and elsewhere in the U.S. And for folks who lived in New York in the 1980s and part of the ’90s, the dish conjures that dolce vita, see-and-be-seen stylishness served up by Elio’s, I Tre Merli, Bice, Le Madri, Mezzogiorno, Il Cantinori and other celebrated Manhattan Italian restaurants of the day.

In the past few years, pastas in vodka sauce have seen a resurgence on U.S. menus. At Rosa Ristorante in Henderson, chef-owner Rob Moore’s rigatoni alla vodka is the bestselling item on the menu.

His take on vodka sauce draws on roasted lobster heads to intensify flavor. Onions cooked down until they’re soft and sweet, San Marzano tomatoes, fennel, preserved lemons, olive oil, salt and sugar join lobster-infused cream and splashes of vodka to create a creamy caress for the pasta. (Vodka molecules carry the aroma and help bind the sauce.)

The regular rigatoni alla vodka includes hot-sweet Italian sausage. Recently, the chef added to the menu a special version of the dish, one that swaps out the sausage for the claw meat and chunks of flesh from a 1½-pound whole Maine lobster.

“I think it vacations on Martha’s Vineyard,” the chef joked. “If you’re going to go for it, you go for it,” he added, explaining his decision to use the meat from an entire lobster.

The standard rigatoni is $24. The lobster supplement is $68. The ’80s are back.

For more information, visit rosaristorante.com.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Top 10 things to do in Las Vegas this week

Concerts by Taylor Swift, Adele and Maroon 5, plus the Las Vegas Sneaker Convention, lead this week’s lineup of things to do in Las Vegas.