The Rat Pack era lives on in the dining rooms of Wynn, in sumptuous dishes and cocktails—traditional or updated—that Sinatra’s posse would have loved.
SW Steakhouse’s porterhouse, a cut chef David Walzog says is historically known as the “rich man’s steak.”
In its heyday, the Rat Pack loved spending time in Vegas not just to drink, gamble, and perform, but also to indulge in leisurely dinners that lasted into the wee hours. As an assistant to Frank Sinatra at the old Samuel Goldwyn Studios in West Hollywood in the 1980s, I would wonder what they discussed around the table over martinis after a few rounds of blackjack, but even more, I wondered where they dined.
Sinatra started coming to the desert with his crew—Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford—in the 1950s, and over the years he developed a close bond with Steve Wynn. So it’s not surprising that the old-school Rat Pack–style conviviality has found its way into Wynn’s restaurants. Although the Strip has been rolling out special menus and tributes for the 100th anniversary of Sinatra’s birth, Wynn’s restaurants have never lost touch with the magic that made the Rat Pack special. In a number of them, you’ll find classic dishes from that era or new twists on the Rat Pack’s favorites.
“Like Frank’s songs, classic dishes have become classics because they’re timeless,” says Steve Weitman, Wynn’s Senior Vice President of Food and Beverage. “Today some visitors come to Las Vegas and are reminded of the Sinatra era and decide to choose indulgent dishes like clams casino or a perfect porterhouse—dishes that have become emblematic of Las Vegas.”
Porterhouse at SW Steakhouse
Chef David Walzog oversees SW Steakhouse, the wildly popular restaurant that’s home to one of only three certified-authentic Kobe beef programs in the United States, as well as a show-stopping porterhouse— a choice cut that’s really like getting two steaks in one, with a filet on one side and a strip loin on the other (why have to choose?). “People love this steak,” Walzog says. “The difference between textures or characteristics is that the filet mignon melts in your mouth while the strip loin side is super rich and marbled, with a great bold flavor and a bit of tooth to it texturally.
The filet needs to be at least an inch and a quarter thick to be classified as a porterhouse, he adds. Because it’s cooked on the bone, one challenge for this cut of meat is maintaining the correct temperature on both sides. And because it’s served for two, the chef prefers to give the meat a great char, then take it off the bone and cook each side separately to the guest’s specification. With 40 ounces of this baby per order, there are only six portions to be gleaned per cow, so it’s super premium and exclusive.
Allegro’s clams casino seems aptly named for its long-standing popularity here, but the dish wasn’t actually invented in Las Vegas.
“This is a classic and known as the ‘rich man’s steak,’” says Walzog. “The big double cut does command a certain dollar value and prestige.” And why mess with a good thing? SW keeps it simple: “We let it lie on its own and serve this dish with roasted root veggies, like carrots, fennel, and onions, that prop it up and give it more depth of flavor.”
To pair with this bold menu choice, Wynn and Encore property mixologist Damian Cross suggests a variation on the Manhattan, with rye, aged mescal (which gives a smoky note to the char on the steak), St. George raspberry liqueur, and cherry bark bitters, providing enough backbone to stand up to the intense flavors.
“The portions are large and the flavors are rich—this is opulence— yet everything in moderation,” says Walzog. “You just need to respect that this is probably not a seven-night-a-week endeavor. But when you’re ready, we’re here for that big celebration.”
Clams Casino at Allegro
“Allegro” means “cheerful” in Italian, and Allegro chef Enzo Febbraro, a native of Naples, fits the bill. Febbraro can nightly be seen happily making pasta in his open kitchen. His veal parmigiana is the size of a small pizza and suits the restaurant’s bright atmosphere and red leather chairs.
When considering the clams casino he would certainly offer at Allegro, Febbraro didn’t see any reason to alter this classic dish. “This has been an American-Italian dinner staple since the 1920s and is typical all throughout the United States,” he says. “You will see a version of this dish just like oysters Rockefeller.” Febbraro refutes the urban legend that the bread crumb–topped clam dish, most often served as an appetizer, originated in our casino-driven city. It was created almost 100 years ago at the Little Casino in Rhode Island, he says, by a maître d’ taxed by a female customer demanding something a little different.
According to the jovial chef, “If something is a classic and you are doing it with passion and love, you don’t have to change anything.” All the dish needs, he says, is prime ingredients. In this case, those include the best clams—East Coast littlenecks, the perfect silver-dollar size—white wine, house-made Italian bread crumbs for the crust, premium olive oil, roasted red pepper, Parmesan, garlic, and diced bacon. The secret? “We make it crunchy and discard most of the fat, but leave a little bit for the flavor,” he says. “Keep it simple as it was and do the dish justice. It was so creative back then to come out with a dish like this, and it should still be good now. Just prove them right.”
Cross suggests pairing the dish with an herbaceous cocktail—made with muddled basil, gin, Dolin Blanc vermouth, thyme-rosemary syrup, lemon juice, and bitter lemon soda—that cuts through the richness of the clams and bacon and gives the briny bivalve the perfect complement of citrus.