I have to admit I’m a little afraid of Carla Pellegrino. Don’t get me wrong, she’s probably the most fun-loving chef in town, and if I were looking for someone in the culinary world to party with, she’d be near the top of my list.
But there’s something about that fiery personality, her manic laughter and the way she shouts everything in her heavy Brazilian accent that makes me pretty sure I don’t want to cross her. (If you’ve never met Carla, check out Bravo’s Top Chef Seattle to see what I’m talking about — at press time, she was still in the competition.) So I’m a little nervous about reporting that, as good as the food is at her new restaurant The Meatball Spot, the place still needs a lot of work.
Pellegrino, for those who don’t know her, is the former head chef of Rao’s in Caesars Palace, and Bacio by Carla Pellegrino in The Tropicana. She’s also the woman behind Henderson’s Bratalian, and recently teamed with infamous nightclub impresario Steve Davidovici to create The Meatball Spot in Town Square. The new restaurant occupies the space that formerly housed the restaurant/lounge Nu Sanctuary. But it’s had a total renovation, and now feels like a casual Italian café.
The new restaurant offers a dozen salads in either half or whole orders ($5-$14), pizza ($10 and up), an interesting assortment of side dishes ($6) and a mouth-watering array of desserts ($6-$7). But as the name implies, meatballs are the stars here, occupying half of the single-page lunch/dinner menu.
When ordering meatballs, guests can choose between beef, pork, chicken, turkey, a blend of pork, veal and beef, or a vegetarian blend of vegetables, lentils and herbs. A specialty meatball is also available each day. A plate of three (more on that later), is $7. Once you’ve chosen your meatballs, you choose one of six sauces that range from classic tomato to parmesan-cream. You can then add a fried egg or melted cheese for a buck more.
As I expected, all of the meatballs and sauces I tried were flawless, and a panzanetta salad was exceptional. The pizza is mislabeled on the menu as Roman, presumably because of its square-ish shape. It’s actually Neapolitan, and extremely good — assuming you like greasy New York street pizza (which I do).
My problems have to do with service — or management policies that impact service. The first time I visited, I was very annoyed that the menu stated guests couldn’t mix different meatballs. When I returned the next day, and saw other guests enjoying a sampler platter, I was pissed my first waiter hadn’t told me about that off-the-menu option.
Strike two for the restaurant came when I twice returned an order of a daily special because it didn’t remotely look like what my waiter had described. That waiter looked at both orders, and a manager looked at the second, both agreeing I’d gotten the wrong dish. When a frustrated chef (not Carla) came to my table to tell me I’d gotten exactly what I ordered, it became apparent the restaurant hadn’t bothered to properly brief its staff on the specials, which is standard practice in any serious restaurant.
Finally, Carla apparently changed the size of the servings from four meatballs to three before my first visit. Unfortunately, nobody updated the menus. (They’ve been corrected.)
To be fair, my daily special of turkey and bleu cheese meatballs was great, and the portion was too large for me to finish. But a lot of confusion and discomfort could have been avoided if the restaurant operated a bit more professionally. I know it’s new. But it’s been courting media attention, and management spotted me as a critic when I entered. So it’s hard to cut them a lot of slack.
I really have no complaints about the food at Meatball Spot. It’s a bit limited for a chef of Pellegrino’s talent, but it’s a nice fit for the crowd catching a movie at the Rave Theater next door. However, even a simple menu should be handled in a professional manner — and The Meatball Spot is not delivering. Carla will probably kick my ass for pointing it out.
The Meatball Spot Town Square, 641-7768. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.