Francesco Di Caudo was part of the opening team at Anima by Edo that helped earn this year’s James Beard Award finalist status for Oscar Amador in the Best Chef Southwest category. (Winners will be announced June 5 in Chicago). But that’s just one of the recent accomplishments for Di Caudo, who has without question left his impression on the Las Vegas dining scene.
He has served in the kitchens at many of the best Italian restaurants ever to do it here, including Osteria del Circo at Bellagio, Sinatra at Wynn, Canaletto at Venetian and the legendary Ferraro’s off the Strip. Now, the Sicilian-born chef is breaking new ground in the southwest neighborhood cuisine scene and unleashing the full spectrum of his creativity at the months-old Basilico Ristorante Italiano.
“When I took the [executive chef] position at Ferraro’s [in 2015], it was a more experimental situation for me, about how much I can push myself and how much I can push the menu there after 30-plus years of existence in this city,” Di Caudo says. “Ferraro’s is famous for its traditional dishes, and it was fun for me to merge those with my ideas, mix the old and the new worlds of Italian food.
“I’ve learned from all the experiences I’ve had, but at the end of the day, you have to be yourself on the plate. You learn how to run a kitchen and mix ingredients and all that, but at the same time, you forget about it all because my food has to be me and not something someone else can duplicate.”
In the new master-planned community Evora, Basilico’s menu is stocked with uncommon dishes. Gnocco frito (fried bread) with Stracciatella cheese, prosciutto Adobbo di Parma and red onion balsamic jam ($21) starts the experience, along with an eggplant-based twist on caprese ($18) and the “foiemisu” ($25) with fig jam and mascarpone. Di Caudo says the Smoked Cigar ($19), a duck mousse rollup with sesame truffle “ash,” is catching diners off-guard in a pleasant way.
“They don’t expect something like that, or the foie gras with the custard flavor of tiramisu,” he says. “You will see a lot of dishes that people know, eggplant Parmigiana or beef carpaccio or carbonara, just done in a different way. You know what you’re getting but you don’t expect the way it is served.”
There’s pizza, pasta—tarragon fazzoletti ($33) with lobster, burrata, Calabrian pepper and lime zest leaps off the menu—and meat and seafood entrees, just like your previous favorite neighborhood Italian joint. But have you seen a veal chop version of steak and eggs ($62)? Di Caudo adds a truffle sauce flourish to the 16-ounce chop with Fontina cheese, fried eggs and Cotto ham, a showstopper. Elevation is the only way to go, especially when you’re trying to make something familiar and essential stand out in the exciting, evolving southwest restaurant landscape.
“This area is growing like no other in Vegas,” he says. “In the next few months, other Italian [restaurants] are going to open in this area, but we are positive and proud of the product we are going to serve, and giving people a new, modern Italian. It’s no problem. The more Italian restaurants we have, the more excited I get.”
BASILICO RISTORANTE ITALIANO 6111 S. Buffalo Drive #100, 702-534-7716, basilicolv.com. Wednesday-Sunday, 4-9 p.m.