Martorano’s brings South Philly to the Vegas table
By Brock Radke
Photos by Peter Harasty
Although it’s often condensed into a catch-all cuisine, Italian food is one of our favorite fares because of the variation of flavors and ingredients. There are southern Italian classics like Sicily’s veal marsala, Campania’s San Marzano tomatoes and Neapolitan pizza, and northern dishes like risotto, osso buco and, of course, rich Bolognese sauce. And don’t forget carbonara, a Roman signature.
In Las Vegas, restaurants sample from different regions in order to provide a multiflavor festival. But the Rio has the only Italian restaurant that focuses on one of the most specific takes on the cuisine, in the style of—South Philly!
Martorano’s, created by self-proclaimed “cook, not a celebrity chef” Steve Martorano, is celebrating five fantastic years in the Rio’s festive Masquerade Village. This stylish restaurant operates without pretense; it’s a cozy, casual spot for a satisfying family-style meal, yet also a special-occasion dining room perfect for group celebrations. In the early supper hours, easy-swinging Rat Pack standards set the tone, but as the night creeps in, the place is energized with R&B and old-school rock. It matches the feeling of moving from martinis to red wine party mode. All the while, classic gangster scenes from The Godfather and Goodfellas might catch your eye from the flat screen TVs. And the menu is all Martorano: his food, his way, no substitutions. Not that you’ll want to make any.
It always starts with a meatball. Martorano’s family way is to pan-fry these firm, pork-tinged masterpieces before cooking them in traditional “Sunday gravy” for extra tenderness. (Don’t be alarmed; it may be marinara sauce to you but it’s gravy around here.) Whether you sample this famous meatball with a side salad, with extra sauce and ricotta cheese, or with hot and sweet peppers is your choice, but don’t miss it. Another favorite appetizer is the fried eggplant stack, crispy, delicious discs with fresh mozzarella, ripe, red tomatoes and arugula with a decadent splash of balsamic dressing.
Keep in mind that South Philly style means gigantic portions and hard-to-put-the-fork-down flavors, just like Grandma used to make. Martorano’s personal favorite is perfectly al dente rigatoni noodles saturated with that succulent pork “gravy,” with a double dose of sweet tomatoes and ricotta. Many of the signature pasta dishes and entrées make use of this thick house tomato sauce, and you’ll understand why with the first bite.
You can order linguine with clams in red or white sauce, or indulge in the kitchen’s parmigiana-reggiano cheese-laden version of carbonara, over bucatini pasta with pancetta, cream and fresh black pepper. There’s a tasty selection of meat-based entrées, covering classics like chicken parmigiana (again, gravy) or marsala and a few juicy veal options, too. On the lighter side, focus is on the fresh-caught fish of the day or the extravagant, buttery lobster Française, delicately prepared with white wine and lemon and served with jumbo lump crabmeat.
Martorano’s serves the people’s Italian food, the comfortable dishes we want in an environment we love to spend time in. It’s no wonder the restaurant is celebrating; five years’ worth of memorable meals deserves, at the very least, a toast and another round of meatballs.
5:30-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 5:30-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 702.777.7740