Focusing on seasonal cuisine, as well as ingredients and dishes inspired by the Italian Mediterranean Coast, Balla Italian Soul takes your senses on a journey rarely found on the Las Vegas Strip. The restaurant opened in October 2022 inside SAHARA Las Vegas.
The best casino restaurants – regardless of cuisine – make you forget you’re in a casino. They provide an excursion from the sensory overload and money traps and transport you to a land far away. That’s the case with Balla Italian Soul at SAHARA Las Vegas, where the only neon is a sign letting you know that “Italians do it ‘bitter,’” a nod to the love of digestifs in Italian culture as well as a prominent ingredient in many of the house cocktails. Otherwise, the decor conjures the Italian countryside and classic Italian architecture. Olive trees with twinkling lights, a beautiful half-barrel vaulted ceiling and large backlit art featuring Sophia Loren, Vespas and wine all catch your attention as well as the long marble bar that makes for a perfect start to your evening or a cozy place to enjoy your meal.
The spirit program at Balla Italian Soul features signature spritzes as well as cocktails with Italian ingredients like prosecco, amaro or limoncello. The Madonna is a vodka-based drink with an Italian liqueur, chamomile syrup and lime bitters. The presentation is beautiful. The vodka hits the tongue first and the chamomile syrup quickly goes to work, creating an extremely smooth drinking experience. The cleverly named Ciao Felicia features Flor de Caña Gold rum, mint, lime, Licor 43, lavender and prosecco.
Wine is cherished in Italy, and Balla Italian Soul holds the nectar of the Gods up with similar reverence. Wines by the glass are separated into rosé, red, white and sparkling. There are almost 20 wines to choose from, but the bottle selection is where Balla shines. The wine list is separated into vino bianco and vino rosso then further broken down by region. Focusing heavily on Italian wines, there are both popular grapes and producers as well as hidden gems. Altogether, there are hundreds of bottles to choose from and that list will probably only grow as the restaurant matures. Italian beer and other beer selections are also available.
When one of the owners of the restaurant is a James Beard Award winner like Shawn McClain, who Las Vegas foodies know from Sage (RIP) and Libertine Social, the attention to detail and desire for perfection extends to the kitchen. The menu is divided neatly into antipasti, Roman-style pizzas, house-made pasta, wood-fired selections and contorni (sides). There is also a family-style tasting menu available for $75 per person with an optional wine pairing for $40 per person. The tasting menu provides an excellent opportunity to share some of the most popular dishes from each course. Each wine pairing is carefully considered and brings the best out of both the individual dishes and each glass of wine.
The cardinal rule of Italian restaurants is “don’t fill up on the bread.” Balla Italian Soul really challenges that rule with their house-made focaccia bread. The hint of salt on the crust makes an already addictive bread impossible to put down. The olive oil and herb dipping sauce is the final nail in the carbohydrate coffin. Just keep reminding yourself – if the bread is this good, imagine how incredible the dishes still to come will be. Fortunately, when you do the tasting menu, the other antipasti selections arrive soon after the bread so you can turn your attention elsewhere.
The marinated octopus is complemented wonderfully by Calabrian pepper and has an enjoyable texture that sometimes evades octopus dishes. The burrata with roasted peppers, tomato conserva and pine nuts is also made in-house and the freshness is immediately apparent. It’s not as creamy as some burrata but that works to the dish’s advantage as the other ingredients stay crunchy and the balance creates big flavor.
The pasta featured on the tasting menu are the cavatelli and the casarecce. Lasagna is also available in limited quantities as an add-on dish. The cavatelli is served with braised lamb, toasted fennel and pecorino. The generous chunks of rich lamb pair incredibly well with a bigger wine (in this case, a 2018 Barbaresco). The cavatelli pasta provides the perfect vessel with its spirals and hollow interior to carry enough sauce in each forkful. The casarecce is a bright, simple dish, with seasonal tomatoes, garlic and Calabrian pepper. The sauce absolutely shines here and this selection alone qualifies for return visits to enjoy by itself at the bar.
The fire-roasted entrées range from sea bream to a 22-oz. bone-in ribeye, with chicken, veal and pork as additional options (and a NY strip). With the tasting menu, you get to enjoy the aforementioned sea bream with lemon, capers and Sicilian olives. This fish is more popular in Europe where it is considered a traditional option but should be more appreciated in the States for its mild flavor that allows other ingredients to step up and not be overpowered. Also featured on the tasting menu is the veal Milanese, which is served piccata-style with shaved turnips and wild greens. The sauce is poured tableside, keeping the house-made breading fresh and crisp. The pounded veal is delicate and tender and while the dish looks overwhelming, it is a simple and flavorful entrée. Available only via the tasting menu as an add-on option, the Piedmontese flat-iron steak served with a bone marrow gremolata is an indulgence worth skipping the bread for (we told you not to fill up on it!). The rich cut of steak practically melts in your mouth. Like every other dish, the preparation results in a selection that isn’t overpowering or too heavy.
Traditional Italian desserts like tiramisu and bomboloni are on the menu as well as a selection of gelati – which is what is offered with the tasting menu. Dessert cocktails, wines and after-dinner liqueurs are also available.
Balla Italian Soul is currently open Wednesday to Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m., and starting March 13 will be open seven days a week.
For more information or to make a reservation, visit www.saharalasvegas.com/restaurants-bars/balla.
2535 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109