By Jason Harris
Some people have flashbacks to their times in war. I have flashbacks to my time in trenches of a different kind. There are nights where I shiver and shake, thinking to myself of all those hours I spent in the battlefield known as… dinner theater.
So, when the assignment came down and I found out I’d be covering Superfrico, the new dining plus entertainment experience at The Cosmopolitan, I shuddered, thinking back to my days of playing over-the-top Italian stereotypes and trying to get your Aunt Gertrude out of her seat to join the conga line.
As it turns out, though, Superfrico is not dinner theater. It’s elevated but familiar, a part of the “everything old is new again” trend but with a spiffy, buzz-word type name: immersive dining. This is where your evening meal converges with entertainment of some type. The show here is built to enhance your dining experience, not be passive and observational.
Here, the acts happen all around the guests. These are the performers who star in Opium, the Spiegelworld show taking place in an adjoining room. Diners can build their meals around going to the show or skip the show entirely and focus on the food, which itself, could use a bit more focus.
Superfrico fits well with Opium. It’s a natural extension of the wild, futuristic, circus-style show. The room has LSD inspired panels, showcasing things like a skull shooting star-lasers out of its eyes, penguins in some type of cupcake factory, and plenty of other trippy designs. The walls have paintings like the one with the elephants carrying giant donuts on their backs or the one of the dog looking like a military general. It’s all very New York postmodern 70s and 80s.
As you sit on a velvety, upholstered chair, contortionists show off their flexibility around you. For someone like me, who no longer has an ACL, I quickly became more envious than amazed at the body movement. Then again, I’d be happy if I could just play tennis again.
Speaking of tennis - check this segue out - there were volleys of a different kind between performers. Two sat down in the middle of the dining room and were served some of the venue’s Detroit style pizza, causing them both to go full When Harry Met Sally. I expected someone at another table to yell out “I’ll have what she’s having.” Instead, one member of the duo expressed his orgasmic elation through the form of magic, removing the tablecloth whip fast from underneath the plates and silverware, which stayed on the table.
Some type of throwback music would have been appropriate for the stunt, and Superfrico has just the guy to do it. A roving saxophone player wearing shorts and a sparkly Vegas appropriate jacket hit the right notes as he blew his horn on a station attached to a booth full of eaters.
As for the food, some dishes work really well. The aforementioned Detroit style pizza is some of the best in Las Vegas, courtesy of “Pizza Czar” Anthony Falco, who made his pizza bones at Roberta’s in Brooklyn before becoming a pizza consigliere to restaurants throughout the world. The pistachio mortadella pie features pistachio pesto, mortadella, house mozzarella, house stracciatella, parmigiano reggiano and is reinforced with pieces of pistachio. Beside the natural melding of flavors, the dough here is a star. Crunchy, cheesy edges and a pillowy soft middle makes me hope that Czar Falco will join our growing pizza community and open a slice shop somewhere.
Another big success is the lamb ragu babbaluci. Rigatoni type noodles are bathed in lamb sausage, tomato, mint, and parsley. A lemon labneh (yogurt cheese) adorned with a za’atar spice blend sits on top of the pasta for the diners to mix in and get the full complement of Mediterranean meets Middle Eastern flavors. (Interestingly, “babbaluci” is Sicilian for snails, which are neither present nor necessary for the dish, so the name is confusing, but other than that, no complaints.)
The last high note comes from the appetizer section. Grilled calamari with yuzu kosho, tangerine honey, aleppo pepper, and basil oil is a fresh and current take on the tried-and-true squid appetizer. This is the type of fusion the rest of the menu needs to elevate itself to – diverse ingredients working for the greater good to create something harmonious on the plate.
On the other side, the lack of clarity in the menu and the execution of certain dishes brings the entire experience down. The restaurant’s own description of the cuisine makes having no clear focus, and no rhyme or reason for the decisions made in some dishes, sound like a thought out and dynamic style:
Italian American Psychedelic cuisine pays tribute to generations of Old World Italian cooks by reimagining a treasure trove of classic dishes and family heirloom recipes with the planet’s best, most mind-blowing flavors, textures and techniques.
For example –the chicken parm. I’m all for creativity, but if you’re going to riff on a classic, you better make sure your cover version is at least in the same league as the original. In this iteration, the spicy marinara overpowers every other flavor on the plate, rendering the dish rather useless.
Perhaps worse than that is the Prime New York Strip, a 10-ounce steak that somehow goes way off the beef flavor profile and texturally is full of gristle and tough on every bite. I’d like to think it was just prepared incorrectly on my visit, because it was a complete miss.
In the end, this immersive dining experience was a little more about the immersion than the dining, which is too bad, because the show next door pretty much covers that.
SUPERFRICO, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas. 702-534-3419. superfrico.com
Chicken Parm, Mary’s Free-Range chicken breast, spicy marinara, house mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, basil oil, parsley, lemon zest, sourdough breadcrumb.
Pistachio Mortadella, pistachio pesto, house mozzarella, mortadella, house stracciatella, parmigiano reggiano, pistachio.