My internal monologue: (Deep echo effect)  Good Lord!  This is SO much FOOD!  And it’s all so GOOD!  There’s no WAY I’ll be able to finish this!  I hope they can pack it all up for me to take back to my room.  It’ll certainly make a great midnight snack!

I’m dining at Buddy V’s Ristorante in the Canal Shoppes at the Venetian Hotel.  Buddy V is Buddy Valastro, otherwise known as TLC’s “Cake Boss,” and while he is best known for his skills as a baker, the menu at Buddy V’s shows that he’s equally adept with classic, hearty Italian fare.  This is Grandmother food!  One thing to know about Valastro, is that family; la famiglia, is of supreme importance, and at Buddy V’s, it shows.  Many dishes are named for members of his family, and indeed it feels as though he, his father, or his Nonna might actually be in the kitchen putting their love into every order.

Located just inside the northernmost entrance to the Canal Shoppes, Buddy V’s is a warm, comfy space, with wood accents everywhere, red leather banquettes, red & white checked napkins, forest green paneling in the dining room, pictures in quaint old frames on the walls, and a bustling open kitchen.  Large windows look out over the Strip and the entrance to the Palazzo, while a live band provides lively, yet unobtrusive musical accompaniment, making you feel you’re at a wonderful Italian wedding reception or birthday party.

I tend to eat dinner rather late, but later that evening I was meeting friends for a new show at the Paris, so my reservation was set for 5:30.  I arrived early, but the hostess sat me immediately.  My server introduced himself and took my drink order: the Drago Rosso - ruby red grapefruit vodka, pomegranate liqueur, Serrano chili, and mango nectar.  This surprising concoction had a spicy kick that was countered by the cool, tropical mango, making for a well balanced cocktail.  A nice way to wake up the palate!

I thought I’d try a couple appetizers and a main course.  I also asked if I might be able to order a small portion of one of the pastas.  I started with Grandma’s Meatballs - juicy little meatballs made from beef, veal, and pork, in a simple, marinara sauce, with grated Parmesan cheese.  The 3 meat combo gave the dish a lighter flavor than beef alone, yet it was still nicely full-bodied.  Next came the Grilled Octopus - tender braised octopus with fingerling potatoes and a fennel and orange salad, all swimming in a spicy tomato broth, with a touch of white wine and garlic.  One of my favorite dishes of the evening, this was the Mediterranean on a plate!  The octopus was complemented perfectly by the spicy, garlicky broth, and the fennel and orange provided a bright pop of citrus flavor that made the entire dish sing!

My main course, the Veal Marsala arrived.  The veal was tender, smothered in a sweet Marsala wine sauce, with mushrooms providing an earthy contrast.  To my palate, the sauce could’ve used a hint of black pepper, but that’s a minor criticism.  Then, things got a little out of the best way.  The server brought the side dish of pasta: My Dad’s Bucatini Carbonara, with pancetta, cracked black pepper and egg.  The smoky flavor of the pancetta, combined with the black pepper, gave the pasta an amazing, comforting depth of flavor.  The thing is, this “little side dish,” in an oblong bowl about 8 inches across was practically a meal in itself!  Then another pasta dish appeared, which the chef wanted me to try: the Chicken Rigatoni Alla Vodka - equally hearty, with chunks of chicken, pancetta, and a slightly tart, classic tomato cream sauce.  This was that grandmother food I was talking about!  Simply delicious!  On top of all this, my veal had its own little side of Linguini with Garlic and Oil, another excellent pasta, if only for its simplicity!  Add to that the side of fresh, lightly sautéed Broccolini, with garlic and chili flakes, and I found I had six plates of food in front of me!  Much as I wanted to devour it all, it was simply too much, even for me!  I sampled every dish for the purpose of my review, and had the rest packed up to go.

Since I had kept my admittedly wonderful meal to a few bites here and a few bites there, I had room to try one of the tempting desserts.  Buddy Valastro IS the Cake Boss, after all.  It would be impolite not to sample his baked goods!  I chose one of his signature desserts, the Italian Birthday Cake - Rosolio liqueur-soaked sponge cake, cannoli filling, chocolate pastry cream, and a coating of toasted almonds.  Out came a cute mini-birthday cake, all for me!  Although the dessert itself was rich, the flavors were quite subtle, and not overly sweet.  Paired with a terrific Cappuccino, this was the perfect way to end the meal!

Buddy V’s Ristorante is Valastro’s first restaurant venture, and it seems to be a big hit - when I first arrived, the place was practically empty, but by the time I left, it was packed!  I think the secret to its success can be found in a quote from Mr. Valastro: “It’s home cooking, just like I make for my own family.”  Not only was I treated like family, but when I looked around, everyone from the hostesses, to the servers, to the managers were checking up on all their tables, making sure everyone was happy, comfortable, and enjoying their food!  We were all part of Buddy V’s extended famiglia!

And by the way, my TWO BAGS of leftovers did make for a fabulous midnight snack!