photos courtesy Portofino

A Lobster Tale: the story of how an old school lobster dish was recrafted at Portofino

We stopped in recently to Portofino at The Mirage, which a month earlier had been placed on Gayot’s Top 10 Italian Restaurants in the US list, to enjoy the masterful culinary stylings of Chef Michael LaPlaca. Chef never fails to astound me with his creativity and skill and on this visit I experienced for the first time a classic dish that has been served at The Mirage from the earliest days of its existence and harkens back to the days when Steve Wynn built and opened the resort. The dish is Lobster Milanese and it was a favorite dish at Kokomo’s Steakhouse, the signature restaurant of The Mirage when it first opened now Tom Coliccio’s Heritage Steak.

There is a story behind the dish, which may or not be true, but it goes like this. Back in the day, Wynn and his executive chef were walking the streets of Tuscany, Italy when they noticed an elderly woman pounding something. They approached and asked, “What are you making?” The woman responded, “Milanese!” Both men were confused as they knew traditional Milanese as a dish using veal, but this woman was making it with lobster. Wynn tried it and loved it! It was served simply breaded, pan-fried and topped with a lemon butter and fresh sautéed spinach. They decided to bring it to Las Vegas and serve it as the signature dish of Kokomo’s Steakhouse. It created quite a stir, as guests would visit from all over the world just to try it, which for years was the top seller of the hotel. But, through many years of rotating chefs and the closing of Kokomo’s, the Lobster Milanese was never to be seen again.

That is, until 2013, when Portofino Restaurant was born under the creative minds of Chef Michael LaPlaca and GM Chris Zadie. During every visit to their restaurant I find evidence of how they go to great lengths to please and grant the wishes of their customers and create dishes at their request, and here is yet another example. As LaPlaca and Zadie began to meet many longtime guests of The Mirage, they learned about the missing dish, so with an open mind and open heart, Chef Michael decided to take the descriptions of how the original was made and bring it back to life. Chef uses a full-pound New England lobster tail, lightly poaches it in butter and flash fries it in savory breadcrumbs and finishes it with garlic spinach and a brisk citrus-butter sauce. Chef says it’s a matter of timing, for if it’s cooked just a few seconds too long it will be too tough.

Zadie reports that guests that hadn’t been back to The Mirage in years are now coming back for this specific dish. Although not on the regular menu, this not-so-secret menu item has been featured in several publications doing features on secret menu items. Now one of the restaurant’s most requested dishes, it can be had at any time as long as you pre-order it three days in advance so the restaurant can arrange to procure the fresh lobster.

My sincere thanks to Chef LaPlaca and Zadie for allowing me to experience this unique and exquisite dish. I must confess I consider myself to be a lobster purist, thinking lobster should only be poached and served with drawn butter. That is, until now.

Slice of Vegas at Mandalay Place Continues to Offer Local Beer and Great Food

My recent visit to Slice of Vegas reaffirmed my first impression of a restaurant that goes beyond the traditional norms. This casual gourmet pizzeria enjoys a prime location in the Shoppes at Mandalay Place between the Luxor and Mandalay Bay, and Executive Chef George Motsinger, an alumnus of Le Cordon Bleu, dishes up an assortment of traditional and non-traditional pies. We enjoyed the Choked Pig—pesto aioli sauce, mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, bacon, artichoke, basil and whiskey sour cream; and The Hangover—sausage, gravy, green peppers, onions, potatoes, bacon, ham, mozzarella and scrambled eggs. But don’t be fooled by the individual pizza classification on the menu, for only a competitive eater could finish the whole 12-inch pie. If you don’t want pizza, you should be satisfied with the ‘Bowls of Pastabilites,’ an option to choose your own pasta, sauce, protein and veggies; and vegans will appreciate the back of the menu, which lists all of the many vegan offerings.

I’m happy to report that Slice of Vegas still features many beers not found on everyone else’s menu, such as Dragon’s Milk, Old Rasputin, Duvel, Delirium Tremens; and best of all, a collection of no less than 11 local beers, including representatives from Bad Beat, Big Dog’s, Crafthaus, Joseph James and Tenaya Creek.

Show up on Thu.-Sun. and you will be astounded by the magic of Zack Pattee, who will come to your table to perform slight of hand tricks, such as turning a $1 bill into a $5 bill. Unfortunately he declined my request to change my $10 into a $20, but it was worth a shot.