Inadequate Italian

It seems a trend is developing in local casinos: Italian restaurants. Monte Vigna opened at the Atlantis six months ago. The Peppermill added Romanza to its list of culinary offerings Dec. 22, and Circus Circus just added an Italian restaurant. Western Village has also entered this rush to please its guests and the dining community with Italian cuisine.

Inside Vineyard, red flowers weave through the wooden beams on the ceiling. Rustic tiles are arranged effectively, creating a sense of an Italian villa’s rooftop. Mosaic style lamps hang low over the middle of the tables.

Vineyard offers a simple selection of appetizers from an antipasta plate ($1.75) to fried calamari ($5.99). My dining partner, Erin, and I decided on the calamari.

Before our appetizer arrived, we ordered our entrees. I always like to sample an Italian restaurant’s piccata sauce, so I decided on the chicken piccata ($7.50). Erin was eager for seafood, so she chose the seafood Firenze ($9.75), a blend of seafood tossed in linguini with garlic, white wine, butter and Dijon mustard.

Vineyard also offers lighter fair, including pizzas ($4.75-$6.50), sandwiches and calzones ($4.50), along with a reasonably priced children’s menu.

Properly prepared calamari is hard to find in restaurants. It is easily overcooked, and when this happens, it is ruined. The fried calamari served at Vineyard wasn’t very good. The breading was too thick; it tasted stale and burned. I could tell the calamari wasn’t fresh—and the chef did overcook it. The marinara sauce served for dipping was bland.

The salads are nothing special. After the bus person removed the half-eaten calamari, the waiter promptly placed a mixture of iceberg lettuce tossed in dressing with black olives and a pepper in front of Erin and me.

The waiter’s timing was almost perfect. Entrees arrived a few minutes after we finished our salads.

Erin’s seafood was soaked in butter. Too much Dijon mustard overpowered the flavor of the seafood, and the butter made it too rich. It was disappointing, and my meal wasn’t that good, either.

I could tell I wouldn’t like the chicken piccata as soon as it was set in front of me. A chicken breast covered with capers and scallions lay on the plate soaked in butter. The butter was overwhelming—it was almost like a soup. I took a few bites and then pushed the dish aside, hoping that maybe Vineyard’s pastry chef’s talents would shine in a mouth-watering tiramisú for dessert.

But that didn’t happen. The tiramisú simply wasn’t up to par.

One thing remarkable about this place was the attentive, friendly and knowledgeable service. Even the best restaurants in town sometimes lack in a solid waitstaff—but not Vineyard. From the smiling hostess to the bus person who told me the dates when Pancho and Willie’s closed and Vineyard opened, they have done a wonderful job in selecting their staff. Most restaurants don’t even come close.

The food, however, needs attention. The prices are low, but the food doesn’t need to have a correspondingly low quality. Good Italian food sold for a reasonable price is possible—it’s done all the time. Maybe they should raise the prices on the menu if that’s what it takes to increase the quality of the food. If they want to compete with all the Italian restaurants in town, Vineyard had better make some changes.