This is the last Christmas Luke and I will spend in Las Vegas. Before we move, we are trying to fit in all of the restaurants we have always wanted to try, but haven’t gotten to yet. We aren’t really “Strip” people, but you can’t deny that Las Vegas houses dozens of world class restaurants, owned by famous and accomplished chefs, all within a couple of miles from each other. As far as casino and hotels go, I have always loved the Bellagio. It just seems classier than other hotels; from the dancing fountain in the front, the constantly changing garden displays, and the piano lounges on the casino floor, it is one of my favorites. All of the restaurants inside the Bellagio also look amazing. One that we have always walked by, but never walked into, is Todd English’s Olives. So for Christmas Day dinner, I made a reservation for me, Luke, and our friend Matt, and decided to do it up.
Olives is located in the “Shops” part of the Bellagio. The atmosphere inside is fun and energetic- but in a normal, trendy restaurant way. Not a trying too hard to be a nightclub way that you sometimes see in Las Vegas restaurants. It is the kind of place that is geared more towards the people who are interested in eating and appreciating a good meal, and less interested in drinking as much as possible before hitting the clubs. But it is also more on the modern side, and less on the stuffy, white table cloth fine-dining, side of things. It also has a gorgeous view of the Bellagio Fountains and offers outdoor seating- but sitting in 40 degree weather while being misted with water does not equal a good time. We chose a table inside, which is still pretty fun.
Olives offers a number of well executed classic Italian dishes
Before I go to a restaurant, I have a habit of researching the location to a crazy extent. I check out the menu, read the Yelp reviews, and have a strategy before I ever walk through the door. After perusing Yelp, I noticed that a wide range of reviewers raved over the Beef Carpaccio. I don’t have a lot of experience ordering raw meat, and I feel like where you decide to try a dish is important- it very well may make the difference between whether you fall in love with a something new, or decide it is disgusting and never try it again. Since it was so highly recommended, I suggested to our table that we give it a try.
And I am so glad that I did. If you can only order one thing from Olives, this is the thing to try. Served on a giant platter that is plenty large for at least 4 people, the beef is pounded paper thin. But the thing that really sells this dish is everything else that comes with it. The beef is served on a mound of gorgonzola polenta, the meat is drizzled with three different sauces, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and a mound of arugula is piled in the center. I know some people have an aversion to eating raw meat, but if you are looking to step out of your comfort zone, and aren’t sure where to take a chance, this is the place. Between the polenta, the salad, and the sauces, there is so much going on, you won’t be fixated on the fact that you are eating raw meat. My Italian husband said it reminded him of the carpaccio his grandmother used to make. If you know anyone with Italian blood, you know that is the highest compliment that they can give to a chef.
Seriously, a must order.
Olives is billed as a Mediterranean restaurant, but the menu is really more classic Italian. The menu heavily features a variety of both flat breads and pastas. Our table didn’t order the flat bread, but the tables surrounding us did, and I have to say, they looked amazing. Our friend Matt ordered the Crazy Mushroom Paparedelle, which is a delightful mix of mushrooms, peppers, and parmesan cream. The bite I had was full of flavor; I would be tempted to order it myself if I ever came back. My only irritation with the dish is that it has truffle essence in it- I have already ranted about my hatred of truffle oil in great detail elsewhere. Still, a fantastic dish. And I love when a vegetarian dish is so full of flavor, a meat eater could happily order it and not feel like anything is missing.
On special occasions, Luke enjoys a good steak and lobster combination. Olives has a grilled sirloin steak, that comes with a surprisingly yummy piece of garlic bread and more sauces bursting with flavor. The lobster tail is an extra that can be added to any entree, and was cooked perfectly.
Luke and Matt’s dishes were both off of Olive’s regular menu, and between their entrees and the appetizer, a theme emerged- Olives specializes in sauces full of flavors, and presents classic Italian dishes that have a number of complex flavors happening at one time.
Stay away from ordering off of special event or holiday menus
That’s the regular menu. But it happened to be Christmas. And I am a sucker for all things holiday related, including “special holiday menus.”
I really should have known better. The Strip doesn’t like holidays. Every day in Las Vegas is business as usual; don’t expect the dealers to dress up in costume on Halloween, or for Christmas carols to be pumped through the casino on Christmas. People come to these restaurants to eat the menu that the restaurant is known for. “Holiday dinners” aren’t something the fine dining restaurants on the Strip are known for.
And yet, I got sucked in. On the Bellagio’s website, I was delighted that almost every restaurant in the building had constructed a “Christmas Menu.” I pictured each chef taking the opportunity to take classic holiday dishes and put their own special spin on the dish.
What probably happened is some top level executive at the Bellagio sent an order to all of the executive chefs in the building telling them that they were required to provide a holiday menu for foreign tourists who wanted the “American Christmas Experience,” and each restaurant grudgingly complied.
Either way, I clearly ordered the weak dish on Olives’s menu that night. It sounded promising- Macadamia Nut Crusted Swordfish with crab and acorn risotto and grilled green beans. The waiter actually steered me towards the swordfish, pointing out that I could order prime rib any time, but this dish was unique.
The problem was two fold. One; the entire dish was bland and one note (to borrow a commonly used Top Chef critique). Compared to all of the other dishes on the table, with such amazing and flavorful sauces, it was a huge letdown. The second, more frustrating problem, was it bordered on not what I ordered. I could neither identify crab or squash anywhere in the risotto. The “grilled green beans” appeared to be chopped up into tiny pieces and mixed up into the rice. Not what I was expecting at all, and it left me seriously coveting everyone else’s food.
I have to say, I was disappointed. Like, puppy dog face, disappointed. It isn’t that there was anything technically wrong or inedible with what I was served, but compared to what everyone else ordered, it was clearly way below the bar.
I give a lot of credit to our waiter. I asked him if there was crab or squash in the risotto, and mentioned that I couldn’t really see it. He immediately comped the meal, which I truly appreciate. I think a lot of people feel hesitant to speak up in a nice restaurant- I know that I do. I don’t go to a restaurant to complain about my food, and feel truly bad if something needs to be sent back. So I do really appreciate when a waiter makes you feel comfortable enough to speak out if something isn’t up to standard, and who takes steps to correct the situation.
We all had dessert as well, and I am ashamed to say I didn’t learn my lesson. I ordered the chocolate mouse cake off of the holiday menu, and again, the cake wasn’t anywhere near the same level as the other two options. It had the texture cake gets when it has been frozen and mass produced. However, Luke had a peanut butter molten lava cake and Matt got a banana tiramisu. Both were amazing and completely unique.
So to sum it up, my final thoughts on Olives are as follows:
Worth a visit? Yes
Would I go back? Yes
Vegetarian Dishes options? Yes
Must try item? Beef Carpaccio
Stay away from? Anything off of the holiday menu or any other special event menu
Final thoughts? Great for anyone looking for well-executed, classic Italian food, people who want to eat at the Bellagio but don’t necessarily want to sit through a multiple course tasting menu, or tourists looking for a restaurant that strikes the right balance between contemporary and fun, yet, not Vegas-style over the top.