This is part 3 of the Winter in Vegas Series. Other posts in this series include The Wicked Spoon.
Crowded tables, unpredictable service, difficult-to-score reservations, crazy high prices, huge portions, and fantastic food.
These are words commonly used to describe the original Il Mulino in New York - a tiny, Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village that's been open since 1981. Founded by brothers Fernando and Gino Masci (who grew up in the Abruzzi region of Italy), Il Mulino aims to reflect the true Abruzzi experience: fresh, rustic vegetables and meats cooked in simple ways to allow the ingredients to shine.
The food, no doubt, has been bringing diners back over and over throughout the years. Heck, it's even the place where Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama chose to meet for dinner.
Reservations are notoriously hard to obtain. Even if you get one, you may not necessarily be seated at the allotted time. Space is at a premium, and diners are packed closely together.
Because Bryan absolutely loves Italian food, and because we didn't know whether we'd ever be able to visit the New York location, we made a reservation at the Las Vegas Il Mulino to see what all this hype was about.
First, the interior of the Las Vegas location looks nothing like a crowded, jam-packed Italian spot. Probably similar to another famous New York Italian institution with an outpost in Vegas, this Il Mulino was downright spacious, with plenty of elbow and walking room.
We were seated immediately.
Within a minute, servers dressed in tuxedos started coming by our table and giving us all sorts of interesting free antipasto appetizers! Pieces of Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese scooped straight from a huge wedge (delicious), very garlicky garlic bread, salami, oven roasted zucchini (fantastic!), thinly sliced olive-oil toasts (so addictive!), bruschetta, and even a little bit of steamed mussels!
Bryan and I were floored and slightly overwhelmed at the flurry of activity going on around us.
Apparently this is standard at Il Mulino, but we had totally not expected this. It's awesome if you are hungry. I still think all restaurants should have something that they can give you the moment you sit down. It's so nice to be able to much on something while perusing the menu.
It actually took a little while, but eventually our "Captain" for the evening came by to help us pick out our dishes for the evening. He suggested a bunch of specials, and we also asked him about his favorite pastas. We eventually decided to share everything, and ordered one appetizer, three "half" primo sized pasta portions, and one main course (secondi).
Prices for the specials tend to be much higher than the other items on the menu, so be sure to ask. Otherwise, don't be surprised if you see a $60-80 bill for your special on the menu!
We started with a beautiful Bresaola of beef served over arugula and a lime-based vinaigrette (poured table-side). Bresaola is air-dried, salt-cured beef that is typically aged for 2-3 months and served thinly sliced with arugula, salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar.
The bresaola was soft, tender, and wonderfully flavorful. I loved how the peppery arugula, bright acidic vinegar, and meaty bresaola balanced each other out.
Next came our small portions of pasta. The Captain had highly recommended the Bolognese, saying it was one of the best dishes on the menu. I am a huge fan of Gnocchi Pesto in general, so I really wanted to try their version. Finally, Bryan really wanted to try one of their specials, a Porcini Ravioli tossed in a cream sauce of Parmiggiano, champagne, and black truffles.
We both absolutely loved the gnocchi. Pillowy soft yet with just a tad of resistance, they were absolutely perfect. The accompanying pesto sauce was classic yet excellent. This was definitely my favorite pasta dish.
The Porcini Ravioli was way too thick, creamy, and rich for my tastes. I've never been a fan of any cream-based sauces (with the exception of tomato-cream sauces), so perhaps I'm a bit biased? Bryan enjoyed it, and definitely loved the truffle-flavored cream sauce. However, he also agreed it was not his favorite one.
The Bolognese was top notch, with a deep, rich meat sauce and fresh handmade pappardelle, which had just the right al dente texture.
We ended by sharing a salt-baked Branzino. This is a classic Italian dish. Even though the Captain said it was meant to serve just one, I am so glad we chose to share it. It was not until later that I learned that Il Mulino is known for its huge portions. People are often advised to share entrees. I now see why!!
The salt-baked Branzino came with a side of peas and prosciutto. Although the peas were not farm fresh peas, we were surprised at how delicious this simple side tasted. The fish was sweet, tender, and quite enjoyable.
For dessert we shared a tiramisu, which was fine, but nothing particularly earth shattering.
After the entire meal, another server came and gave us each a glass of grappa, a strong, grape based Italian brandy that contains anywhere between 35% to 60% alcohol! It was quite sweet and super strong. I sipped a little, but I really could not finish it.
Bryan and I had an excellent time at Il Mulino.
The service was solid, the space was comfortable, and the food was really, really good - in some cases, some of the best we've had. We especially loved the pastas, and definitely would consider returning and getting slightly bigger portions of some of our favorites.
The prices are high, and you may be appalled to pay such crazy prices for seemingly simple, Italian fare. However, there's something about the high quality ingredients, well-tested recipes, and superb execution that continues to bring people back again and again and again.
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