Click Photo For Zeffirino Reservations




The Zeffirino logo appears in
beautiful ceramic floor tiles.

Traditions are like roots: it's hard for them to become established when the ground is being plowed up and rebuilt as quickly as it is here in Las Vegas. Zeffirino, however, is grafted from a bistro that was planted in Genoa, Italy in 1939 and became as strong as an ancient oak. In fact, the restaurant's symbol is a Z-shaped tree once cultivated by Italian monks. Now that's tradition.

Overlooking the indoor Grand Canal in the Venetian Hotel Casino, Zeffirino exudes Italian authenticity in its décor. Darned-near everything was brought from the Old Country, including the antique furniture, the floor tiles, the gorgeous Murano glass chandelier, and even a genuine marble water well. The atmosphere is comfortable enough for nice jeans and a collared shirt, yet classy enough to make you feel like dressing up. There's even an elegant "royal table" (opening photo) in a secluded alcove that can be reserved for private dinners for up to 14 people. With these surroundings and the attention of General Manager Jerry Mannino and his knowledgeable staff, you'll feel like you're dining in a lavish castello.




The two-story lounge looks out
on a dining patio and the
Venetian's indoor "main drag."

If you're not staying at the Venetian, you might consider taking a taxi to this restaurant, because great Italian cuisine is best enjoyed with wine. Captain Marco Iaccarino brought me a glass of Vermentino, from the Italian island of Sardinia, to accompany my lunch. The white wine was fruity but crisp and dry, with a long, smooth finish. It complemented my appetizer perfectly.

Zeffirino takes its seafood seriously: the sea scallops were perfectly seared and topped with asparagus and pieces of fresh king crab soaked in lobster-reduction broth. I could have made a whole meal of this dish, but I had to save room for other items, including my favorite pasta.

Zeffirino's "Paffutelli" is made of large, oval ravioli shells filled with veal, Parmesan cheese, and bits of green apple. If you're not a fan of pesto, as I am not, you must try the pesto cream sauce served with this dish. Nobody does pesto like Zeffirino; theirs contains lots of genuine Genoa basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, and garlic. The cream tames the garlic and adds body to the sauce.




An Italian marble water well
and Murano glass chandelier grace
the main dining room.

In 1939, Zeffirino Belloni established his family restaurant in Genoa, with his son Gian Paolo soon becoming the chef. The restaurant has been attracting Italy's glitterati ever since with its fresh ingredients and Gian Paolo's creative recipes. The Las Vegas restaurant proudly displays three lovely chairs used by Pope John Paul II, Frank Sinatra, and Luciano Pavarotti on special visits to the original Genoa restaurant. Frank was a particular fan of Zeffirino's pesto, and Luciano's favorite is "combed maccheroni," a batch of which he special-ordered for his return journey after a recent concert visit here. Now that's takeout!

Zeffirino's Las Vegas PR Director, Rino Cola, explained that some adjustments had to be made to fit American tastes. This means, among other things, steak! My tenderloin, aged to delicate perfection, was served with a rich Barolo wine sauce containing bits of chopped truffle. Taking another cue from the New World, the restaurant also offers a pan-seared fillet of the popular Chilean sea bass. This fish is too mild for the traditionally tangy Italian tomato sauce, so Zeffirino adds cream to smooth it out. The flavors were almost too subtle, but that may be necessary for a fish this mild. See the entire menu at www.zeffirinolasvegas.com. Do try not to lick your computer screen.




Zefferino presents an elegant, yet
comfortable dining atmosphere.

If you want to try something more traditional, you're in luck. Every Saturday evening, Executive Chef Francesco Schintu offers a full old-fashioned meal from one of Italy's 22 regions. You can select the entire meal or combine individual items with modern selections from the regular menu. Chef Francesco, a native Sardinian, is big on such tradition. Having been handpicked and trained for this job by Gian Paolo Belloni, he handles the responsibility with great reverence. It requires lots of study and the ability to find the freshest foods. As Rino explained to me, "Las Vegas is a difficult market; to compete successfully here requires great experience and education." With all the Italian restaurants in this city, there is no easy niche to fill. "You win with great service and quality ingredients." The authentic décor and Grand Canal view don't hurt, either.




Acres of delicacies await
you at Sunday brunch.

Zeffirino's in-house bakery produces wonderful bread, as you would expect, but I limited my intake to save room for one of their fabulous desserts. The torta cioccolati Milanese featured light, delicious chocolate cake topped with wafers and smooth chocolate mousse. Surprisingly, it wasn't too rich for me to finish. I hate wasting food - especially anything containing chocolate.

Zeffirino opened in Las Vegas in 1999, and in 2000 it was voted "Best Italian Restaurant" by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and "Best Brunch" by the International Press Association. Judging by the quantity and appearance of the brunch offerings, I'd suggest allowing several hours for the occasion. Oh, and wear loose-fitting clothes. Zeffirino's large dining space easily accommodates wedding parties, and with their high-powered bakery, the staff can produce a grand wedding cake in addition to a fabulous meal and tasty hors d' oeuvres. Party coordinator Cecilia Liotine can arrange everything for a romantic, unforgettable event. Heck, my lunch alone was a memorable experience. You can also stop in for drinks and people-watching in the spacious ground-level lounge area, with its high ceilings, lovely art, and comfortable chairs. No matter what your plans, allow lots of time to savor the experience - theirs and yours. -
Feature and most photos by Robert LaGrone, Las Vegas Correspondent.

SILK HANDKERCHIEFS
WITH PESTO

Dedicated to Frank Sinatra by Chef Gian Paolo Belloni

Serves 6

Pesto Sauce:

12 bunches Genoese basil
4 cloves garlic
5 tbsp. pine-seeds
2.5 tbsp. peeled walnuts
4.5 tbsp. Parmesan cheese
1 oz. ripe sheep-milk cheese
1 cup olive oil
Coarse salt

Dough:

3.5 cups flour
3 eggs
3 egg-shells of water
1 tsp. olive oil
1 pinch of salt
Dry white wine

Wash basil and drain without squeezing. Blend together oil, Parmesan, salt, pine-seeds, walnuts, garlic, and basil. Add water from boiling pasta as necessary to thin the sauce.

Combine dough ingredients except salt and mix into dough. Spread with rolling pin and cut into 18 shapes like small ladies’ scarves. Boil a few pieces at a time in salted water. Lay 3 pieces on each of 6 dishes, alternating layers of dough with layers of the completed pesto. Enjoy!



Above: Chef Gian Paolo Belloni
meets a loyal customer, the late
Frank Sinatra, at the original
Genoa restaurant.
Below: Party Coordinator
Cecilia Liotine & PR
Director Rino Cola
accommodate wedding parties
& other special events.



Zeffirino Ristorante

Grand Canal Shoppes
Reservations: (702) 414-3500
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Mon-Sat
11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays

Photos, left, clockwise: Great seafood is found in abundance at Zeffirino; Quality and presentation live in harmony. Fruit salad, anyone?; in-house bakery turns out tempting desserts.





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