Chef Scott Conant doesn’t like the word concept when referring to restaurant style. It’s too sterile, he says. His new dining spot Masso Osteria is a simple Italian restaurant that offers “place of conviviality—a place for guests to have fun and enjoy themselves.” That includes the ambience of an inviting open kitchen supported by food with aromas and flavors that make you feel right at home. Just about everything is made in-house and with a whole lot of love. Case in point, he has a team with only one goal: sauce making.
There is no better way to enjoy a taste of Masso than with the $65 tasting menu. It’s a tremendous value for the experience and for dishes that ring true to Conant’s style. Start with warm house-made focaccia bread and stromboli with salume and smoked mozzarella, served with eggplant caponata, broccoli rabe pesto and roasted garlic with Parmesan accompanied by kale salad and tuna crudo. The creamy polenta boscaiola is a dreamy entree that could easily get you lost in the Tuscan woods where native mushrooms are foraged. Next up is the tender wood-roasted octopus, which alone is a generous serving alongside guanciale and smoked potato aioli. This is also served with Conant’s famous pasta al pomodoro. Squid ink rigatoni makes way to cedar-roasted whole sea bass with tomato glaze and grilled vegetables. Be sure also to try the wood-roasted chicken.
While you’re eating all this, why not go for a few Italian wines (perhaps ones you may have not tried before)? Masso makes it easy with by-the-glass selections. For white, Le Monde Ribolla Gialla, from Italy’s Friuli region, is an un-oaked white wine made entirely from the Ribolla Gialla grape—it’s fresh, elegant, enjoyable and capable of taking you from start to finish. But if you’re here for the tasting menu, you’re going to want more than one glass. So move on to Ronchi di Pietro’s Schioppettino, also from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. This wine is made from the Schioppettino grape that was nearly destroyed by phylloxera in the late 1800s. Then along came a medical doctor with a passion for horticulture, who found three surviving plants and recultivated this lost variety. The wine is rustic, with florals and berries and distinct peppery notes.
Speaking of sweet, there is the story of two sisters, Iman and Ayat Hagag from Egypt, who decided to open Pots, a small and casual spot serving up popular Egyptian street food such as Koshari. The origin is debatable, but it’s considered a national dish. Layers of rice, lentils, chickpeas and pasta are cooked individually, then tossed together and topped with cumin-scented tomato sauce and crunchy fried onions. Spice it up with a choice of garlicky vinegar and a peppery hot sauce. Another option is the cauliflower shawarma—the garden plant gets the crispy-and-spiced treatment and is served in pita bread with a choice of labna or tahini dressing.
The vegetarian/vegan restaurant also serves up ful mudammas, made from fava beans, specifically bath fava (ful hammam). There is an interesting story about how these bath beans came to be: In the Middle Ages at public baths, attendants used to heat water in huge pots. According to author Clifford Wright, wood was scarce, so garbage was used as fuel, and eventually the public baths became less favorable places to visit and eventually closed. But the red embers of the fires continued to burn, and to take advantage of these precious fires, these pots were filled with fava beans and were simmered all night to provide breakfast for Cairo’s locals. It’s a fascinating piece of history and why the owners named their place Pots, which are still widely used today to slow-cook beans. 1745 S. Rainbow Blvd., Suite A, potslv.com
Finally, it certainly was timely that José Andrés’ Jaleo started offering a preshow menu around the time Opium opened. Show or no show, the 3 to 7 p.m. tapas menu offers a delightful two for $20 offering that is more than enough to get you through the evening. Highlights are José’s tuna salad, a skinny flauta of preserved tuna, mayo, shallots and hard-boiled egg; gildas, banderillas of green olives, anchovies and pickled guindilla peppers; pescado frito, chunks of fried swordfish with lemon zest; and cachopo, a crispy, breaded strip loin with quail egg and San Simon cheese. While you’re there, you should be tempted to try a flight of wine. Choose from white, red or sherry. I recommend you go for the sherry to explore the beauty, diversity and food-friendliness of this style from the sun-baked corner of Jerez, Spain. Inside Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, cosmopolitanlasvegas.com/restaurants/jaleo
Photo of Scott Conant taken by Krystal Ramirez