Authentic Italian Dining at Verandah
by john curtas
Between the power lunches and famously spectacular brunches, it’s sometimes easy to forget what a delightful dining room Verandah is. The fact that it’s been dishing great chow for more than 13 years means it’s one of those places that’s so good, people tend to take it for granted, making it a perfect candidate for Yogi Berra’s paradox: “Nobody goes there anymore—it’s too crowded.” During daylight hours anyway: This stylish, poolside retreat off the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel suffers from a reputation for being so expert at the first two meals of the day that people may forget about it when it comes to the third. Thankfully, a young Neapolitan chef with a classicist’s heart and a modernist’s touch is about to change all that.
Antonio Minichiello has been cooking in the Verandah kitchen for a couple of years—the only two years, by the way, this 29-year-old has lived in the United States. Prior to that, he honed his craft in Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy before catching on with the Four Seasons chain of luxury resorts—first in Prague, then in London. In Vegas, under the tutelage of Executive Chef Michael Goodman, he has been allowed to flex his wings and play with the authentic recipes of his homeland—by creating a seasonal menu every three months featuring the cuisine of various regions known for their bold and beautiful flavors. And the many ways he’s tweaking those recipes and traditions are fascinating, indeed.
Italians tend to identify themselves by specific regions, in part because the customs, dialects, and food of each part of Italy are so distinctive. Asking a Venetian to drown his pasta in tomato sauce is as verboten as asking a Sicilian to subsist on risotto. Ask Minichiello where he’s from and unhesitatingly he will say he’s a Neapolitan. But press him a bit, and he will regale you with his passion for the foods of all of Italy. He finished summer and moved into fall with a concentration on the lusciousness of Liguria and its delectable seafood, such as Il Mare Ligure—traditional grilled shrimp, calamari, and scallops—given an au courant touch with accents of black-fig sorbet and Earl Grey foam deliciously composed over finely diced summer vegetables. For late fall he moves to Lombardia and the denser, more meatand rice-centric food of the north. When even colder weather is upon us, expect the spiciness of Calabria to hold forth on his tables.
“I want to do real Italian food, not fake Italian food,” is how he puts it. In doing so, Minichiello has changed Verandah’s nighttime dining room from a “something for everybody” joint to one that now beckons lovers of authentic Italian eats, like the first slice of prosciutto di Parma or the trembling silkiness of a ripe burrata. And he shows his modern chops by injecting that buttery cheese (made by adding cream to mozzarella curds) into the center of a hearty monkfish filet, then slowly deep-frying the porcini-crusted rectangle—the effect being added creaminess and a meltingly tender mouthfeel in a fish that is too often served dry and stringy. It is something of a tiny triumph in fish cookery, and one that speaks volumes about the ingenuity this kitchen now displays.
His facility with meat and pasta is on full display (as is his sense of humor) in the pansotti Genovese, with white Bolognese, red pepper mousseline, and cacio cheese— a dish Minichiello says was inspired by the Philly cheesesteak. To make it, he folds pansotti, a ravioli-like pasta, into triangles rather than stuffing them, and smothers them with a Bolognese sauce that eschews tomato in favor of meaty bits of finely-cut filet mignon. The whole enchilada is given a cheesy kick by the tangy, meltingly smooth sheep’s-milk cacio di Roma. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the sounds of Eagles fans moaning and swearing after a loss.
By the time you read this, the Ligurian cow’s-milk fritters might be off the menu, but they shouldn’t be. These crispy squares of deep-fried, sweet, milky lusciousness are a custard lover’s dream—so good you’d be fighting everyone at the table for them. Speaking as one of those custard lovers, we think Minichiello and Four Seasons Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Luc Daul should have a statue created in their honor (made out of deep-fried, crunchy milk chunks, of course). All of this serious-but-fun food is also being put out at a serious steal—$45 for three courses—making Verandah one of the best deals for serious Italian eats on the Strip. Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, 702-632-5121
photography by beverly poppe