There's always a sense of comfort that comes from eating Southern Italian food. The family-style nature and the hearty, soul-warming flavors of each dish are frequently served with a feeling of satisfaction. Lavo, the restaurant-cumnightclub at The Palazzo, used to feature an array of Mediterranean flavors in the sexy atmosphere of its space, but has revised its menu to focus solely on the Italian dishes that have proven to be a hit with locals and visitors alike.
Executive chef John DeLoach, along with corporate executive chef Ralph Scamardella, is in charge of Lavo’s menu, which includes familiar favorites like fresh pastas, steaks and chops. Pizzas from the brick oven are a staggering two feet long and can be topped as minimally as the margherita, with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil, or as ornately as the lobster scampi, laden with lobster, fingerling potatoes, garlic oil and herbs.
Simple dishes like spaghetti and meatballs are also a big hit with guests. “Not our meatballs!” laughs DeLoach, about the Italian staple typically made with one type of meat. Lavo’s version is made with Kobe beef, veal and sweet pork sausage, all ground in-house daily. And paired with a heaping plate of noodles isn’t the only way to sample the gourmet delight—this beautiful specimen is also available on its own, in Lavo’s sausage ragu or with a green salad and crostini. Our favorite way, however, has the softball-size meatball resting in marinara sauce and topped with whipped ricotta cheese.
While DeLoach was trained in classical French cuisine, his New York and Sicilian upbringing shine in the cooking at Lavo. Pasta dishes such as rigatoni with a sausage bolognese sauce feature a rich, earthy sauce aromatic with red wine and studded with hunks of Italian sausage. Chicken marsala, one of DeLoach’s favorite items, is an outstanding presentation of this classic—at Lavo it’s served with a reduced marsala sauce, resting atop a bed of spinach and wild mushrooms. The chef is also proud of his chicken parmigiana, which he calls “very old-school New York.” Both veal and chicken are served parmigiana-style. “All the breading is made in-house,” he adds. “We grind our own bread [with] fresh-ground garlic and parsley. All cheeses are ground here. Everything is done every single day so it’s very fresh.”
Baked clams oreganata
That handcrafted approach extends to Lavo’s decadent desserts as well. The Oreo zeppole, Lavo’s top-tier version of the deep-fried Oreo one can normally find on Fremont Street, is one of those desserts that appears unassuming until you bite into it. Yes, everything is better deep fried, but the Oreo becomes even more eye-rollingly good when you dip it into the accompanying vanilla malted milk shake.
The attention to detail isn’t limited to the tantalizing morsels emerging from Lavo’s kitchen; the restaurant itself has been designed to ensure every sightline enhances a guest’s dining (and dancing) experience. Ornate latticework throughout the dining room is reminiscent of ancient bathhouses, while low-hanging chandeliers and dark woods create an intimate feel. Chill electronic music floats through the air, a mild introduction to the bass thumping of the nightclub located just above the dining room. The bridge that leads the after-dinner crowd to the dance floor is screened by glass and wood, giving those still lingering after their last bites a front-row seat to the activity upstairs.
It’s this combination of menu and chic atmosphere that gives Lavo its appeal. “It’s easy to sit at the bar, have a drink, have a pizza,” says DeLoach. The convivial aspect of the cuisine makes it a more fun night out as well, as sharing is always encouraged. Well, almost always. “There are dishes that I wouldn’t share, like the Kobe carpaccio,” DeLoach jokes. “Get your own appetizer!”