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August 05, 2004
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VALENTINO
In the Venetian Hotel
414.3000

There's a Piero in town who's putting the other one to shame. The Piero I'm referring to is Selvaggio the owner of Valentino, the pricey, upscale Italian restaurant in the Venetian Hotel. Piero Selvaggio and his award winning chef Luciano Pellegrini are now cooking Italian food the way it tastes in Italy today... not the way it tasted in Las Vegas in 1982.

Truth be told, When I first reviewed Valentino four years ago, I was more than a little tough on it, since it was clearly not up to the standards of the Valentino in Santa Monica. The flagship has, for decades, been considered one of America's best Italian restaurants and on the two occasions I'd dined there, it had lived up to its billing. So I was as excited as the next foodie when I learned that the Venetian had snared Selvaggio with a sweetheart lease. But after 3 very expensive dinners-two with dates who equated Italian food with meatballs-the food seemed dumbed down and overpriced by comparison. Not dumbed down enough to impress my food-challenged dates mind you....but by the end of the meal you can guess who felt like a meatball.

Since then I've returned a number of times, in fact four in the last month, and have eaten some great stuff, including my words. Maybe it's the culatello with honey poached figs -culatello being the rarest and most tender proscuitto, from the inner part of the ham, or the muscovy duck breast with thick syrupy musto cotto-the first cousin to aged balsamico, or the anglotti with manchego cheese, or the tender, perfectly roasted and seasoned rack of lamb; but after every meal, I can't wait to come back and see what Chef Pellegrini is whipping up. Perhaps his recent James Beard Award (for best chef in the southwest) has gone to his head in a good way, and now he and his crew have to keep topping themselves.

Whatever it is, and whatever your price range, Valentino now provides a taste of authentic Italy that feels more real than all the fake frescos Shellie has slapped on the walls. For those lacking in lire, the herb-infused thin-crusted pizzas made by the casual grill make a perfect meal unto themselves....

And wine lovers take note: if you'd like to salivate over the best Italian wine list you've ever seen (this side of Santa Monica), and our best Italian wine bar (thanks to wine director Steve Hua)....then Valentino's is a must stop on any oenophilic tour of our town. Take a sip of an earthy Montepulciano, or crisp Bertani Pinot Grigio, and you will make like a meatball no more.

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