Classic dining keeps its flavor

Jun 17, 2003 2:37 AM

A popular adage states, "Nothing ever changes in Las Vegas, except the way it looks and the people who live here." That’s certainly true for the city’s restaurants, which have evolved from sawdust joints to designer bistros that serve the finest haute cuisine.

And while there’s no disputing the superb quality of cuisine and service offered at the new four-star restaurants, it’s nice to be able to dine in a few culinary landmarks that link with the city’s colorful past.

One of the best classic restaurants in Las Vegas is Mimmo Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Lounge at 5900 West Flamingo Road.

For more than three decades, Gino Ferraro operated the restaurant while expanding to other locations in the Las Vegas valley.

But earlier this year, he turned over the operation to his son, Domenico "Mimmo" Ferraro, who will serve as the restaurant’s new chef-owner.

And, while Mimmo has already begun to incorporate some fresh ideas into the menu and other areas, don’t expect Gino to be completely out of the picture.

Mimmo says that Gino will remain as a valued consultant. "I couldn’t do it without him," says Mimmo, who is a recent graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

For those who haven’t visited Mimmo Ferraro’s, it is a classy, traditional dining room seemingly created for romantics. The room is dimly lit with plush booth seating along with glass and polished metal accents.

The piano playing in the background is the perfect accompaniment for a Southern Italian repast, creatively prepared and served by friendly and professional wait staff.

For decades, the specialty here has been osso buco, but there’s a variety of superb seafood, pasta, veal, beef and chicken dishes. Another classic dish is the vitello Saltimbocca alla Romana, made with tender veal, plus a subtle accompaniment of prosciutto and cheese, and the all-important fresh sage.

Another great choice is the simple yet elegant gnocchi, created light and airy and served with a chunky marinara sauce.

A few of Mimmo’s delightful additions to the menu are linguine with a light saffron sauce, julienned vegetables and jumbo shrimp; pappardelle with a butter-sage lobster sauce finished with truffle oil; and several new chicken and veal dishes.

Another of Mimmo’s innovative concepts is the happy hour Pasty Orgy from 4:30 to 7 p.m., weekdays, featuring pasta and two-for-one drinks.

Another classic restaurant is Pamplemousse at 400 E. Sahara Ave., which occupies an old Hollywood Spanish-style house that was converted more than 30 years ago. Inside, the walls are decorated with antiques and photos of old Hollywood celebrities from the 1940s and 1950s.

Owner Georges La Forge was the chef when he first opened the restaurant. But instead of handing out menus, he recited all the food he was prepared to cook that day. The routine hasn’t changed, although waiters are now charged with remembering and reciting only the day’s specialties, a nice blend of French and Continental dishes.

"People like the homey feel here, away from the glitter of the Strip," he says. "This is why it has always been a favorite place for people with special dates and anniversaries."

Another French restaurant that has remained vibrant over four decades is Andre’s at 401 S. Sixth St., which can be found in a converted wood-frame house on a downtown side street.

Owner/chef Andre Rochat admits the location is not ideal, but superb food, attentive service, an impressive wine cellar and a number of separate dining areas decorated in country antiques have generated a loyal clientele.

"Every city has a little place out of the way this is special," Rochat said. "When people come here, we want them to feel at home."

The downtown area has a few other landmarks that have stood the test of time, including Hugo’s Cellar in the Four Queens Hotel at 202 Fremont St. The intimate brick-lined dining room is a flight below the casino and features gilded-framed paintings, soft lighting and comfortable booths for a club atmosphere.

For each meal, a waiter prepares a salad table-side from a well-stocked cart, and delivers an intermezzo of bottled water, cheese, Melba rye, seasonal vegetables and a choice of potatoes. Also included in the a la carte meal is chocolate-dipped fruits served with fresh whipped cream for dessert. The main course entrees include steaks, chicken, prime rib of beef, rack of lamb, and a signature veal T-bone.

One of the nice touches that has contributed to the dining room’s classy ambiance is the offering of a single, long-stem rose to each female customer.

There aren’t many restaurants with a view downtown, but the Center Stage at the Plaza (One Main St.) is the exception that makes the rule. Located on a second floor deck that once had an outdoor swimming pool, the Center State restaurant has a spectacular view of Fremont Street and all its glittering neon.

Pleasantly surprising is the dining room’s prices, which are moderate at best, while the quality of food and service is first rate. Expect to dine on fine steaks and seafood, plus Continental specialties.