Maggiano’s Little Italy – Las Vegas, NV


Maggiano’s Little Italy
3200 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 732-2550

This gambling and entertainment mecca probably has the best and worst of what America has to offer from a culinary perspective.  From absurdly priced, high end celebrity chef fronted establishments to the ultra cheap diners and fast food stands, there is no shortage of food in Las Vegas.  It all depends on what you are wiling to pay, the level of your palate, and perhaps even the level of success (or lack of) you’ve had in the casinos.

Strangely enough, I’ve dined at Maggiano’s in an entirely different city – Orlando, FL, just last year.  By chance, I came across it again on a hurried trip to the Fashion Mall to pick up something before jumping in a taxi to head to the airport and leave town.  I had some mates in tow who were also in a rushed state to do some last minute shopping for the folks back home, and so we dipped in for a late lunch.  As I wasn’t feeling overly hungry and did not want to feel bloated while sitting in an airplane for the next few hours, I chose just from the appetizers list.

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Sciue Italian Bakery – Vancouver, BC


Sciue Italian Bakery
800 W Pender St
Vancouver, BC
(604) 602-7263

A spacious and bright space benefiting from the fantastic natural lighting that floods through the large glass walls, Sciue Italian Bakery is perhaps best known for two items.  The first being the Pane Romano, described to me as a crispy flat bread/pizza like slice adorned with various Mediterranean-influenced toppings.  The other is the Paninoteca, traditional Italian sandwiches.  I’ve seen many a public transit rider carrying one of this place’s branded to-go cups of hot or cold liquids as well over the years.

Several types of the Roman-style pizza were laid out on the counter ready-made.  I wasn’t sure if they were to be re-heated slightly upon ordering but apparently mine was not.  You can essentially dictate how much you want as a serving, asking the server to cut off as small or as large a piece as you desire.  Prices were calculated by weight.  Despite the seemingly heavy layering of toppings covering the slices I chose, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they did not soak into the base layer, thus keeping the bottom intact.

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Famoso – Edmonton, AB


Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria
1417 99 St NW
Edmonton, AB
(780) 468-0000

O-toro previously wrote about this now five-location strong pizzeria based in Edmonton known as Famoso that is trumpeting some true ingredients that go into a classic Neapolitan pie.  So on my recent visit to the Alberta capital, I knew I had to give it a try myself, as there is no sign of it coming to the west coast any time soon, and I don’t have immediate plans to visit Calgary (where they have one of their five locations).

As it was on the city’s south side and thus closest to the airport that still is way too far for my liking from the city’s downtown core, the South Edmonton Common location was visited for this lunchtime meal.  [I did manage to see the location for the one downtown later during my stay].  It was quite busy for a mid-week day, although I’m sure the pending holidays had something to do with it, but the access to this shopping area wasn’t as bad as it ended up being days later (and of course for Boxing Day).  First impressions were positive.  Bright, clean, with a nice buzz about the place.  The centralized glass display that housed many of the desserts and drinks anchored the room, with the pizza cooks working in the open towards the back where I could also spot the wood burning oven.  Everything fit the “fast casual” claim they spout out in their marketing.

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Cioppino’s – San Francisco, CA


Cioppino’s
400 Jefferson Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 773-9311

Big groups require big spaces to eat.  Case in point, our party of eight needed ample space to stretch out as well as to be grouped together for a final farewell dinner in San Fran.  With many of us wanting to do some walking around just to see more than the downtown core where we’d spent most of our week, we ended up trekking along the water front and ended up at Cioppino’s for our evening meal.  This place fit the bill as we could see other large parties inside and even got a space up on the top level tired ares that seemed more suited to diners in tables of five or more.  It had a kind of mess hall feel to it, but we were not that close to the other rambunctious gatherings taking place but not too isolated so that we felt neglected, it was a perfect balance.

Apparently, this establishment has a decent history serving up hearty Italian and seafood cuisine.  I’m sure it falls into the realm of the tourist lot, given its location.  But turns out, it didn’t feel that kitschy at all and could have been even better if on a smaller scale with more focused service and attention.  There are times when ambiance and scale really do make a difference in the whole dining experience – and this was one of them.  Perhaps they were smaller when they started, but now are a full fledged, large scale operation.  A decent choice of draft beers (including the local Anchor Steam, and Big Daddy IPA) and red wines (Sonoma, Napa Valley) gave us a good way to get our appetites going further.

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La Posta Vecchia – Santa Cruz, CA


La Posta Vecchia
538 Seabright Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
(831) 457-2782

California has a long tradition of Italian immigration beginning in the 19th century.  Although New York is probably more closely associated with this wave of newcomers, in the mid-1800s California had the most Italian immigrants of any state.  In Santa Cruz and elsewhere along the coast, northern Italians quickly became very prominent in the fishing industry.  They also played important roles in developing California’s vegetable, fruit and wine industries.

Even today, one can see the imprint of this immigration (e.g. Del Monte foods, Ghirardelli chocolates).  Perhaps this explains this state’s strong ties to Italian cuisine – indeed, California cuisine in my mind is primarily rooted in Italian sensibilities with French, other European and some Asian techniques and ingredients thrown in for good measure.  Despite this, it’s only been in the last decade or so that authentic regional Italian food has been widely available.

Zibetto Espresso Bar & Manhattan Gourmet 56 – New York, NY


Zibetto Espresso Bar
1385 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY

&

Manhattan Gourmet 56
1377 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY
(212) 246-4410

A sunny 86F day in NYC with nothing to do in the morning.  A perfect setup for a casual walk in Manhattan and to grab a simple breakfast to enjoy on the benches of Central Park.  As a die-hard addict in need of a stiff cup of coffee in the morning, my first stop after bypassing those dreadful Starbucks outlets was Zibetto.  Essentially a long narrow space that couldn’t be more than eight feet wide and anchored by a sleek looking, white tiled and similarly colored marble counter-top bar accented with some metallic touches, it fit with my mental image of an Italian espresso bar.

Staffed with some slick looking, white shirted gents efficiently buzzing around behind the bar, there was already a strong lineup in place, as well as some other customers enjoying their cups of hot liquid at the tiny armrest like shelves jutting out from the walls.  Clearly, its a place to have your drink in a jiffy, no lounging around here sucking up free wi-fi or anything and generally disrupting the business need of turnover on the part of the proprietors.

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Lattanzi – New York, NY


Lattanzi Ristorante Italiano
361 West 46 Street
New York, NY
(212) 315-0980

My experiences in New York City are very limited and thus the confidence and knowledge I have about where the good places are to eat is still very much a work in progress.  So much so that I didn’t even realize that I’d stumbled upon “Restaurant Row”, a stretch of 46th street in the theater district, which is home to a compact area of assorted restaurants.   With no set plan and aimless wandering on a photo walk just to get a feel for this part of town, we came upon this area with empty stomachs and just as the sun was setting and the scene was turning dark.   It was later that I learned that there is a general consensus that this area is not considered the best of what NYC has to offer, but I did appreciate the look and feel of this strip, especially for its cozy setup and ease of access to several restaurants to eat at.  For the lazy visitor to the city, its a welcome arrangement.  And in the mood for Italian, Lattanzi appeared before us and we stepped inside.

Without a reservation, we were asked to have  a seat at the bar just down the stairs from the street side entrance, and it was about fifteen minutes before a table opened up.  Typical New York, as the other patrons enjoying a drink included a pair of talkative and flirty cougars who were pounding back martinis and clearly were inebriated, and a trio of artsy-types going over some sketches of what looked to be an interior design project.  To complete the Italian experience, the bartender was a greasy, slicked back hair fellow, with a notable Italian accent.  While waiting, it was interesting to see the clientele of this place dining inside –  some older couples and groups, obvious casually dressed tourists, and then several really attractive models and their entourages had overtaken the second floor area.

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