By Michelle Railey
In the North Hemisphere, the last day of summer, 2020 is September 22. So here is a summer rerun from August, 2016.
Now, I’m a fancy art history major and I can tell you that the Trevi fountain and the actually-in-Italy-Trevi Fountain of the Gods do not actually look alike. Your preferred search engine will tell you the same.
But one over-priced art history degree later, I can also tell you: if you decide to eat at the Trevi restaurant by the Fountain of the Gods at the Forum Shops, Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas,  you will experience a lunch that you just can’t duplicate at home .
Sure, Italian food is plentiful everywhere. You, your own self, dear Reader, statistically-speaking, probably live very near to either an Olive Garden or a Sbarro’s or a Fazoli’s or a Carabba’s. If nothing else, you may have experienced Chef Boyardee or maybe even made spaghetti at some point, as one does when one is just too damned tired to actually cook  so you, your own self, dear Reader, are not a novice when it comes to Italian-American cuisine.
But eating it at the Trevi in Las Vegas is a different sort of thing. And, as it turns out, while it is twenty times more expensive than that jar of Ragu and dollar pasta in your pantry, it is also a mere three to four dollars more expensive than eating at your local Olive Garden.
It’s better food than Olive Garden, certainly, just for the record, and it’s right-freaking-next to the coolest fake-Roman-fountain in all of Caesar’s Palace. So eat there. You can’t get a better picture of Neptune or Minerva if you don’t eat there. That’s one thing. For another, while you eat, you can relax under the changing “sky” of the world that is Caesar’s Palace. My boy (aka FDC, World Famous) and I enjoyed two sunsets and three sunrises in our time at the Trevi .
Now, someone (it might have been me) had wandered through the Forum Shops multiple times because Fat Tuesday has $10 refills and is located there and it’s fun being buzzy in Fake Rome. (Thank God that wasn’t me. That other girl is a hot mess.) And that same hot-mess-someone-else-sort of girl thought she couldn’t possibly eat at the fancy Trevi, what with its proximity to the fantastic fountain.
But there’s a lunch special: an app (soup or salad) plus an entree for $20. And so FDC and I said, what the hell, it’s vacation.
FDC ordered Minestrone and the Bolognese with meatball ($20). I ordered the chopped salad ($18). We gawked at the awesome fountain; we were attentively waited on by Rikki, and we enjoyed very fresh, crusty bread (served in an adorable fake-Italian-newspaper wrapper) with olive oil and herbs and garlic.
We ate in the heart of Caesar’s Palace for around $40.00 on a Sunday afternoon. It was delightful and unexpectedly affordable.
The minestrone wanted a bit of citrus or brightness or salt and I longed for some anchovy paste or additional garlic in the chopped salad. But the minestrone also tasted garden fresh like it had just been made by Nonna’s loving hands. The chopped salad was surprisingly dense and meaty and if I wanted some umami, well, the non-skimping on artichoke hearts made me feel I might be greedy for finding any fault. It was a hugely satisfying salad. FDC enjoyed his Bolognese. I thought it was a bit sweet but enjoyed the straight-from-home meatball on top, which reminded me strongly of homemade meals when I was a kid. It’s possible that the star of the show was that crusty-outside, bubbly-inside masterful bread, with it’s olive oil and crushed garlic and pepper accompaniment. Sometimes you just can’t beat really good bread and oil. There’s never beating the garlic.
Or the experience of eating in the heart of the Forum Shops. It’s not in the least like eating in the middle of a mall, which, technically, it is.
It’s like eating in the middle of a stage set of Italy and you’re the star. Plus you get to eat– at the same time. For some of us, this is a version of heaven (pasta and stage lighting? At the same time? Plus a fountain? Squeal!).
Here are the downsides of eating at Trevi: (A.) service can be spotty. FDC and I had a great time, wonderful food, and warm, attentive service. Our friends who stopped and ate there 45 minutes after us were completely non-plussed and they received their bread and oil after their meal. Inexplicably. Their food was so-so, they said, and the service was lackluster. (B.) It is, occasionally, awkward to be eating your food (and it’s good food, so your mouth is full and your cheeks are bulged) right next to one of the key photo ops in Las Vegas. I can’t imagine how many families have my salad and/or my big head eating said salad in their vacation photos. This is sort of weird. But what can you do? (C.) For whatever it’s worth to you, Trevi is part of the Landry family of restaurants and not independent. There is no Nonna  in the kitchen. It’s a damned chain. This will bother some of you. For myself, it was a quirk, and probably the reason all of our food needed salt. But FDC and me still had a capital time. After all, we know how to work a salt shaker.
And we just can’t eat by Neptune at home.
It’s a really sort-of special (if camp-y and theme-y thing). For folk like me, eating in that blue-to-red light by Neptune and waterfalls and Minerva was magical. The fact that the food was good was a definite plus.
I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Next time I go to Vegas, though, I’m going to remember that happy hours from Sunday through Thursday include half-price apps and half-price drinks. Between Fat Tuesday visits, it’ll be Trevi. For Happy Hour, anyway. Plus that twenty dollar lunch.
- Mall open-air, which is not quite the same thing as true open air, because, mall.
2. It’s like a memory game, really: the restaurant by the thing at the thing in the other thing in this particular place.
3. Unless you live in a mall. Or at Caesar’s Palace. Or if you have stage lighting and a faux-stone Romanesque fountain hanging out by your kitchen table. And I’d bet you don’t.
4. No judgment here. And actually, making spaghetti counts as cooking (you’ve got to boil the water and open the sauce jar. It’s chef-level-stuff, really.)
5. If you’ve never visited Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, the sky changes colors like it’s moving through the day: a day lasts roughly 15-20 minutes. It’s pretty genius. One wishes that Fake-Italy-in-Epcot would do the same. Or, well, can we make the lighting in the house do that? It’s totally fake and pretty neat. But you have to be a sucker for theatrical lighting and stage effects. Even if you’re not, though, it was just lunch until the lights…
6. Nonna is, allegedly, Italian for “grandmother.”