Chefs Bryan and Michael Voltaggio Showcase Pop Culture & Food of the ‘80s and ‘90s | Retro by Voltaggio, Las Vegas, NV

By Bob Barnes

Nostalgic Times at Retro by Voltaggio

Las Vegas, July 2023

EDITOR’s NOTE: Bryan and Michael Voltaggio’s Retro by Voltaggio has concluded its one-year culinary residency at Mandalay Bay effective Saturday, June 29, 2024.

GAYOT’s rating: 14/20
Cuisine: American
Open: Dinner Mon.-Sat. 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Retro by Voltaggio is on GAYOT’s:
Best Las Vegas American Restaurants
Best Las Vegas New & Hip Restaurants

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (Tropicana Ave.) Las Vegas, NV 89119
702-632-7401 | View Website

Iconic chef Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, after a run of more than 20 years, had pretty much become an institution at Mandalay Bay where it had opened along with the resort in 1999. In many ways, Aureole was an homage to wine with its four-story wine tower storing 10,000 bottles and gravity-defying angels who floated up to retrieve wines selected by its guests. After the oenophile haven completed its final dinner service in April 2023, and following a quick rebrand less than a month later, its replacement, Retro by Voltaggio, has been unveiled. The new and first Las Vegas restaurant by the celebrity chef brothers has transformed the space into a shrine to the ‘80s and ‘90s through its nostalgic décor, music and food and beverage menus.

Celebrity Chef Brothers

The namesakes of the new restaurant are brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, natives of Frederick, Maryland, who have made quite a name for themselves both through frequent TV appearances on the Food Network. Most noteworthy was when they competed in Bravo’s Top Chef and in season 6 went head-to-head against each other as both made it to the final two spots with Michael besting his brother. They went on to build restaurant empires of their own and together opened modern seafood restaurant Estuary in Washington, D.C., and fine dining steakhouse Voltaggio Brothers Steak House at MGM National Harbor in Fort Washington, Maryland. While this marks their first Las Vegas restaurant, they tested the waters for a Vegas residency when they hosted two pop-up dinners at Harvest at Bellagio in 2021 and 2022.

Celebrating the Pop Culture of the ‘80s and ‘90s

As you enter the 9,000-square-foot space you could opt for an elevator ride to the restaurant floors below, but trust me you’ll be rewarded if you instead descend via the stairway wrapping around the previous wine tower. It has been repurposed to a museum-like display inspired by the ‘80s and ‘90s filled with nostalgic memorabilia the brothers grew up with. Much care went into the recreation, with bikes, skateboards, basketball hoops, old landline phones, roller blades, guitars, boom box, VCR player, Lite-Brite, board games, vintage Nintendo NES video game, and a record player complete with vinyl albums. Inside the lounge and dining room there are sounds of your favorite songs from the period playing and some elements to make you think of home, like some seating featuring couches with pillows and walls adorned with album covers and color photographs of Bryan and Michael as children growing up.

Nostalgic Celebration Through Food

The nostalgic celebration continues in the food and beverage menus and most items are served family-style and ideal for sharing. The VoltaggiOs, a take on SpaghettiOs, is a new school version of the old school canned favorite and is housemade O’s, arrabbiata butter, giant meatball and, of course, is presented in an aluminum can.

Not surprisingly, there are some intriguing uses of ingredients and presentations as one would expect of the innovative chef siblings. Like Wagyu Beef Pot Roast, which like the version your mother and grandmother might have served, is presented in white Corning Ware with blue flowers imprinted on the side, but the non-traditional aspects are the use of Wagyu beef cheeks slowly cooked for 48 hours transforming the meat into succulent and tender bites; and the glazed carrots accompanying the beef are prepared separately and bathed in an emulsion of sweet carrots. Other noteworthy dishes are Deviled Eggs topped with caviar, the Blackened Octopus with ink aioli served in a cafeteria-style lunch tray, and the playful and fun deconstructed Key Lime Pie with coconut sorbet on a pie crust crumble.

More examples of homecooked fare being elevated into luxury comfort food are the Joël Robuchon-inspired Mashed Potatoes loaded heavily with creamy butter; Chicken Pot Pie spruced up with black truffle coulis, croquettes and buttery cracker crust; and Green Bean Casserole with haricots verts, shitake mushroom broth, crispy onions and mushroom hay.

Reimagined Popular Drinks

The beverage menu features popular ‘80s and ‘90s staples with modern takes made with high-end spirits, house-made syrups and fresh pressed juices. The Appletini is a mix of Midori, gin, green apple juice, egg white and matcha; the Fuzzy Navel has Lillet Blanc, Montenegro, orange, peach, honey and prosecco; and the Blue Hawaiian is made with rum, coconut, pineapple, lime, Blue Curaçao and Absinthe. As sharing is a bit of a theme here, it also extends to the cocktails with the rum, Cognac and gin-infused Jungle Juice with honey, orange and orgeat; and Brass Monkey with a 40 oz. Olde English 800 malt liquor in a paper bag poured tableside atop individual glasses of a passionfruit-orange sorbet. Each are large enough to serve 3-4. 

Thoughts on the Concept from Chefs Bryan and Michael

Regarding the new concept and the menu he and his brother have created, chef Bryan says, “The tail end of the ‘90s was when we first started cooking. [The menu] is looking back at what we grew up with but with elevated twists.” Chef Michael adds, “It’s a legit residency and we will spend time here. The menu will evolve and we’ve already made changes since opening.”

Although it was initially announced that Retro by Voltaggio is slated as a one-year residency, based on the fun environment, elevated American staples, nostalgic accoutrements and huge popularity of the Voltaggio Brothers, we certainly won’t be surprised if that year turns into a much longer time period.

Bob’s tips

Not staying at Mandalay Bay? If taking the Las Vegas Monorail (not free), the closest exit is at MGM Grand. After exiting, take the overhead pedestrian walkways to cross the Vegas Strip to Excalibur and then hop on a free tram that will transport you from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay. If you have a Nevada driver’s license, you can get three hours free parking in the Mandalay Bay self-parking garage.

For entertainment while you dine, there’s a table filled with Slinky toys, Rubik’s Cubes, Magic 8 Balls and Classic View-Master. Your server will also amuse with questions from Trivial Pursuit cards which you are allowed to borrow for your own table competition.

Interestingly, both brothers worked for Charlie Palmer early in their careers at the NYC Aureole and consider him a great mentor.

What you see is not always what you get. The Pepperoni Rolls look like cinnamon rolls, but actually mimic the oven-baked after-school snack, and are in the form of pepperoni brioche filled with fennel pollen, basil, mozzarella, gooey stracciatella cheese, San Marzano tomato marinara sauce and espelette pepper.