It’d be easy to dismiss the Italian-American Club as a throwback, just another attempt to cling to a time best viewed through rose-colored glasses. Take a closer look, though, and the vintage prints and slightly schmaltzy touches take on a softer patina that reflects an appreciation for the history of our fair city, shaped by the finely honed sense of irony held by most of us today.
It’s a nod to the past/appreciation for the present that extends to the food — which, quite simply, rocks.
Not that it was ever thus. I’d bypassed the Italian-American Club for all these years; certain aspects of the rumor mill are almost unerringly accurate and it long was clear that there was no reason for a restaurant critic to wander into this private club with public dining room, expect for fodder for a few cheap shots at the expense of an easy target.
That, however, has changed. Recent management shifts brought big improvements in both the menu and food quality, and when you add the low-overhead prices, members-demand-it polished service and live entertainment, you have a formula the Rat Pack could only dream of.
The good signs started early in our dinner. The hearty white bread — Italian-style, of course — was served with three rosettes, one of plain butter, one with tapenade and one with pesto, all of them very nice.
And here’s another example of the deft blending of old and new: the Caesar salad ($8), which is a staple in pretty much every restaurant in town but in none executed as well as here. The cold, crisp Romaine was a given; what impressed us was the old-school-style dressing, brightened by the acidic tang of anchovies. What impressed us further was a very contemporary touch: The salad was served in a bowl constructed of a frico, a wafer of Parmesan cheese that had been melted and shaped. Breaking it into shards and eating it along with our salad was a rare treat.
And, yes, the hits just kept on coming. IAC Amatriciana ($16), the name of which stands for the club, was prepared with strozzapreti, the “priest’s choker” elongated double tubes that were perfect for carrying this sauce. For, while the menu indicated that the tomatoes and onions mixed with the pancetta would be in slices, everything was actually diced, the better for tucking into those S-shaped pasta nooks.
A stuffed artichoke ($10) was huge, the vegetable crowned and stuffed with buttery, herby breadcrumbs, with aioli on the side just in case it wasn’t already rich enough. This one turned out to be awfully messy — it ought to come with extra napkins — and awfully good, right through to the center.
Fried mozzarella ($7) wasn’t those stiff frozen sticks but creamy broad triangles, napped with a deeply flavored marinara.
And the pork chops ($24) practically drew a cheer from our waiter when we ordered them. For good reason, as it turned out; the double chop was as moist as it was flavorful, both of which tends to be the exception in these days of extremely lean pork. But perhaps the best part was the very Italian, very well-prepared pile of sauteed escarole and white beans served with it. Again, the balance was superb, the flavors soul-satisfyingly deep.
While we were there on a weeknight (note that the restaurant serves only Wednesdays through Sundays), there was live entertainment from a couple of performers, whose music leaned more to Norah Jones than Frank Sinatra.
And if the Rat Pack were around today, that’s an updated touch that we think they’d approve.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.