Vintage Vegas vibe plus no-frills menu defines casino’s Italian room.
Throughout the property, Golden Nugget Atlantic City boasts an old-school-Las-Vegas vibe unmatched by any of its competitors. So it’s no surprise that Grotto, the bayside gaming hall’s upscale Italian restaurant, is the kind of place in which Frank Sinatra and his turn-of-the-‘60s “Rat Pack” buddies no doubt would have felt right at home.
With its sexy, muted lighting and panoramic view of the casino floor which it overlooks – the only AyCee eatery so situated – Grotto offers a cool, grownup space that gives patrons a feel for what downtown Vegas must have been like in its mid-20th-century heyday.
That refusal to kowtow to contemporary fads and trends carries over to the bill of fare. If “nouvelle cuisine”, “fusion” and other foodie buzzwords are your cup of Amaretto, then Grotto probably isn’t for you. But if you are a red-gravy-and-pasta type, it certainly should be on your radar.
The comprehensive, but not overwhelming, menu focuses on traditional southern Italian fare. Among the available items—generally served in generous portions--are to-die-for meatballs rivaled only by those at Café Martorano inside the Nugget’s next-door-neighbor, Harrah’s Resort; a wide selection of pasta dishes including Rigatoni Siciliano (fried eggplant, ricotta cheese and pomodoro sauce) and Lasagna al Forno (meat sauce, mozzarella and ricotta); a variety of pizzas; fish, beef, pork, chicken and veal dishes (the latter two can be ordered in the popular Francese, Picatta, Marsala and Parmigiana styles)and just-like-Mama-made sides like roasted long hot peppers and sweet Italian sausage.
According to executive chef Dennis Carabello, a former Navy cook whose resume includes working under Philly-based uber-chef Jose Garces, Grotto’s is a Sicilian-inspired menu whose recipes are “handmade from scratch. We use all fresh ingredients.”
Not surprisingly, the wine list is heavy on Italians (the bar also serves as a repository of classic cocktails).
While Grotto’s kitchen holds its own against any casino rivals, what sets it apart is its location. It sits in a raised area surrounded by a forest of Technicolor video poker and slot machines that provide a kaleidoscopic tableau. And the non-stop milling about of folks on the floor lends the space an energy not found in any other casino dining room.
Add to this a service staff that is attentive and genial, and Grotto stands with any gambling den Italian outlet in Atlantic City. Or as Carabello put it. “We go out of our way to make sure our guests are happy.”