Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 | 9 a.m.
A chance meeting three years ago between “Cake Boss” superstar Buddy Valastro and Venetian and Palazzo owner and mogul Sheldon Adelson has led to an unlikely and unique partnership. Sheldon’s son wanted a bar-mitzvah cake created by Buddy, whom he watched on TLC shows.
It was about the same time that Buddy flew to Las Vegas to film “Cake Boss” at the hotel. Perfect timing? A meant-to-be coincidence? Buddy thinks it was destiny because they sat for an hour and told each other a similar rags-to-riches story.
Sheldon delivered newspapers as a kid, and Buddy took over his father’s bakery as a teen when the patriarch died suddenly. Both had the same self-starter attributes and built successful businesses.
“We had similar stories and hit it off,” Buddy said. “I told him that my dream was to one day have a restaurant in Las Vegas. The stars all lined up, and I couldn’t have better partners.”
The rest is history. Buddy teamed up with Las Vegas restaurant consultant Elizabeth Blau and her husband, chef Kim Canteenwalla, and Sheldon agreed to invest and assist with space at his Palazzo. The new restaurant, Buddy V’s Ristorante, his first, opened Monday in the space formerly occupied by First Food & Bar.
Who was the first guest to test the menu at dinner before the restaurant opened? Sheldon and his family.
Buddy flew in with his wife and their extended family for the opening, and for three days beforehand, he oversaw last-minute polishes and test menus. It was a whirlwind because he shot segments for his friend chef Rachael Ray’s TV show and hosted a kids baking class, teaching them how to make cakes his way.
Like me, the children marveled at the extraordinary cakes Buddy crafts in unusual shapes, sizes and lifelike re-creations, including a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. He intends to use the new restaurant for his own TV shoots. His “Cake Boss” in 2009 led to “Kitchen Boss,” “The Next Great Baker” and the new “Bakery Boss.”
First up, though, is to open a bakery directly opposite with takeout and catering to supply those fabulous cakes for weddings and other events. Buddy told me that with six bakeries on the East Coast, including one at sea on Norwegian Cruise Lines, he wants to do similar Buddy V’s restaurants across the country.
“I’m not a chef; I’m a baker,” he told me. “I love home cooking, though, and that’s what we’re serving. It’s my family’s recipes. It’s my wife Lisa’s recipes. She’s far more a cook than I am.”
Family friends introduced the couple during what was supposed to be a date-free night, and the rest is history there, too.
“He didn’t propose with a cake,” Lisa said. “But on our 10th wedding anniversary, he asked me to marry him all over again with an amazing cupcake display. We have four children, and they love his cakes, too.”
Buddy, with his arm wrapped warmly around his wife, said with a laugh: “We’ll add more restaurants and bakeries in the years to come, but the family is now complete. That part of the kitchen is closed.”
In addition to Sheldon, other notable names receiving a sneak preview at the Palazzo location included Elizabeth, Kim, Elaine Wynn, Sirio Maccioni, Brad Brennan, Jaymes Vaughan and James Davis. Kim is the executive chef of Buddy V’s, and Matthew Fresinski chef de cuisine.
Forty members of Buddy and Lisa’s family flew out from the East Coast for the inaugural weekend. Buddy introduced me to aunts, uncles, cousins and his mom, who told me proudly that her Sunday Gravy (meatballs, sausage, lamb and pork) with pick your favorite pasta is one of the menu favorites — and with her recommended bowl of rigatoni is $25.
Buddy is the first to tell you that his father was the best chef in the family, but he so values the food and recipes made by his mother, mother-in law, aunts and sisters that he flew his kitchen crew back to New Jersey for two days of working with them before they turned on the stoves at the debut.
Lisa scores with her mom’s cappellini shrimp scampi, and don’t miss out on her own sensational eggplant parmigiana. His dad’s bucatini (pancetta with egg and cracked black pepper on spaghetti), Aunt Nina’s upside-down mussels, Buddy’s favorite spiced sausages and his caprese salad with burrata, Grandma’s lasagna al forno and sister Madeline’s cannellini bean and tomato bruschetta are all on the menu.
“It’s home cooking just like I cook for my own family. We cook from the heart,” he said.
Buddy’s rise to culinary stardom has been swift partly because of his talents: His XL lobster tail dessert looks like the real thing but is a flaky pastry shell filled with custard cream and seasonal fresh fruit. Don’t miss his Italian birthday cake with Rosolio liqueur sponge cake, cannoli filling, chocolate pastry cream and toasted almonds.
Even though he films more than 10 months of the year with his top-rated TLC shows, Buddy still loves to bake.
“It’s what I enjoy the most,” he said. “I like the television programs we do, and I think there’s more to come in that area. I’m thinking of my own TV production company seriously. Eventually, more Buddy V’s and maybe other restaurant ideas.”
I took a tour with Buddy of the 11,000-square-foot restaurant and patio, which seat 220, with 70 more in the bar and lounge. The ambiance is akin to having dinner at Buddy’s grandmother’s house with rustic wood flooring, distressed brick and wood-topped tables. The entrance is in metal and glass inspired by the Lackawanna Train Station in Hoboken, N.J., near his grandmother's home.
“We wanted it to give a complete feel of our family gatherings back home along with our classic Italian-American and family-favorite meals. We’ve stayed true to our baking roots. Look around and you’ll spot photos of my family, rolling pins turned into hanging panels and light fixtures made from old whisks and water jugs. Our theme is the best of everything from raviolis to cannolis,” he said.
My favorite was the charred octopus because I eat it daily in Italy every summer and always wonder why more restaurants in Las Vegas don’t have it featured on the menu. Passers-by spotted Buddy touring his restaurant and began lining up in hope of meeting him for a photo or autograph — even before the official opening. He obliged and then, settling back at my table, summed up:
“It’s all a dream come true for the kid from Frank Sinatra’s same N.J. hometown. I still can’t believe it. I’ve looked up all these years to Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse, and now I have a restaurant alongside them in the same hotel. That says it all.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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With top accommodations, first-rate entertainment, high-end shopping and a slew of acclaimed chefs, the Palazzo has positioned itself as one of the most luxurious resorts on the Strip.
More than 3,000 all-suite rooms start at 740 square feet and are decorated in a modern, yet classic, Italian style. Each room features a sleeping area, with a king or two queens, and a sunken living room area with floor to ceiling windows.
A cathedral ceiling tops the Palazzo casino, while a second 80-foot dome brings natural light to the property's lobby. The 105,000 square foot casino features more than 2,000 slots and 80 table games but lacks the stale smell of cigarettes, as the property is LEED certified with smoking off limits in most of the Palazzo — including 50 percent of the casino floor.
Dining at the Palazzo is among the best of the Strip, starting with Wolfgang Puck's CUT. Chef Simon To serves up authentic Chinese cuisine at Zine, while Sushisamba combines Brazilian and Peruvian flavors with Japanese techniques. At LAVO, club-goers can dine on Mediterranean dishes before heading upstairs to the bath house-inspired nightclub.