Vegas Trip, Part I: Augustus Tower and Rao's in Caesars Palace

— by Caroline on Crack

I swore off Vegas ever since that extremely annoying bachelorette party I was forced to take part in three years ago. “Vegas is for smokers, gamblers, people who can’t hold their liquor, loose men/women and senior citizens anyway,” I said. What sort of fun could I possibly have in Sin City when I don’t fall into any of the above categories? Well, OK, maybe one.

But then I got invited to be part of a hosted media trip to Caesars Palace. “Too bad I don’t like Vegas,” I Twittered. However friends then proceeded to badger me and call me names and since I cave under peer pressure I cashed in some vacay hours, borrowed a car from work, enlisted Sarah of The Delicious Life/TasteSpotting as my road trip companion and off we went.

And…it was THE best Vegas trip ever. Not only in the history of my life but probably the history of the world. Yeah, it was pretty awesome.

The Caesars people booked us in rooms in the new Augustus Tower with a view of the Bellagio fountains and the Strip. So gorgeous! My room on the 32nd floor was the size of a really nice one-bedroom apartment, minus a kitchen. This room normally runs about $160 a night during the week.

I walked into it for the first time squealing and jumping up and down. Ooh! There’s a TV in the bathroom! Ooh! Check out the jets in that bathtub! Squeal! a comfy magnificent queen-size bed! Joy! My own living room and dining area! I loved it so. I had to Twitter this. Had they not set up a really packed itinerary I probably would have happily spent my time just lounging in my awesome room. (More pics of my room.)

But they wanted us to meet at Rao’s (pronounced Ray-ohs, not like how you’d say Mao’s) in the Palace Tower for a happy hour followed by a family-style Italian dinner. Unfortunately there’s no happy hour on Tuesday, only Wednesdays through Fridays 5-7pm where you get a free appetizer buffet and drink specials. There really isn’t a specialty cocktail menu here but there is a decent full bar. I went with my standard, a Maker’s Manhattan. Everything was comped but they said cocktails here usually run you $10-$15.

The dinner itself, prepared by Executive Chef Carla Pellegrino (wife of fourth-gen owner of Rao’s, Frank Pellegrino Jr.), was everything you’d want in an Italian dinner — savory, rich, high-quality ingredients, and populated with lots of Italian waiters. As this restaurant is based on the 110-year-old family-run Rao’s in New York, it has a long tradition of high standards to uphold.

Unfortunately we had many dishes to cover and a short amount of time to enjoy them in (we had a Cher show to catch within the hour), so rushed through our lovely dinner that should have been savored slowly. The quick highlights of the meal for me were the creamy risotto ai Gamberi ($29) with Vialone rice cooked in white wine and served with jumbo shrimp and the Piselli and Proscuitto ($11) — a pile of sweet baby peas sauteed with diced proscuitto di Parmo and white onions.

Everyone else couldn’t stop talking about the Costoletta di Vitello in Agrodolee ($48), pan-seared veal topped with sauteed hot and sweet cherry peppers. That veal still managed to haunt the dreams of my fellow bloggers two nights later.

I also loved the huge savory meatballs, Le Polpette di Rao’s ($13) which are served in tomato sauce. They usually arrive as two big meatballs but they cut them up so that we could share them. Everything was so decadent especially since they were accompanied with Rao’s own wines like the Chianti Classico.

I really loved this restaurant. Even though it’s faux old New York, it’s still charming with autographed celebrity photos adorning its walls (visiting stars are asked to send their headshots after dining here), its Christmas decorations hanging 365 days of the year and its furniture replicas taken from the original New York location.

But what makes this place even better than the original restaurant is that it has two small dining rooms, a 70-seat Feast Room, a 50-seat lounge and even a poolside terrace with a seating area for 62 guests. Compare that to the mere 8-10 tables of the NYC restaurant! The only way you can get a seat at that East Harlem institution is to be invited by one of the table’s owners. Here, guests just walk up to the hostess stand or call in to request a table. But that doesn’t make it any less special.

Entrees here have what I like to call “special occasion” prices ranging from $19 for the San Marzano tomato sauce served with your choice of pasta to $48 for that dreamy veal. Enjoy a special romantic dinner for two here over a couple bottles of Rao’s vino, do family style with a bunch of your friends or even enjoy a cocktail and a meal at the bar in the high-domed central room.

More pics of Rao’s Las Vegas.

Next: Part II, Vegas Nightlife with Cher and the Pussycat Dolls.

Caesars Palace Las Vegas
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109 (map)
Reservations for Rao’s: (877) 346-4642
Hours: 5pm-11pm