Friday, September 25, 2009

Carnevino, Las Vegas NV

Alright, I admit it - every time I travel I go out of my way to find excellent Italian food, yet outside of New York the experience always seems to lack something - the service at Spiaggia was terrible, the dishes overpriced at La Botte, etc. That said - I can honestly say I've never had a bad dish at a Batali and Bastianich venture. Sure the service at Babbo and Otto is fast paced and the music downright audacious, sure the service at Mozza was aloof and pretentious – but really, never a dish that didn’t impress or wow me. With that said, during my most recent trip to Vegas with two Steak loving friends the decision to give Carnevino a try was a no brainer – two days after a good lunch at Enoteca San Marco I scheduled a lunch for three in the main dining room and asked a few simple questions of the manager, Mr. Josh Feit regarding items on the dinner menu – items he stated would be no trouble to prepare at lunch.

Arriving toward the end of the lunch hour we entered Carnevino dressed casually – a tad out of place compared to the all black and white clad service staff. Seated promptly and greeted by Josh nearly the moment we were seated the service never faltered throughout our stay – water was refilled rapidly, dishes served impeccably, and bread service…we’ll get to that later. Browsing around the large room and high ceilings, dark woods, and white tablecloths covering widely spaced tables the restaurant definitely felt very Batali – and the soundtrack of Beatles, Eagles, The Who, and Stones coming from the front of the house left no doubt.

My buddies having already begun their daily drinking at the tables and myself a non drinker we all opted for water – water with ice and multiple refills. After taking orders and heading to the kitchen we were brought the first of a couple rounds of dinner rolls. Tasting the incredibly complex sweet yet salty and crisp exterior which yielded a pillow-soft interior not unlike a croissant I inquired of our server what exactly constituted these delicious pieces of carbohydrate – lardo, butter, flour, yeast, and “a bit of parmesan” I was informed.

Allowed to sit and chat for a while before our mains arrived I joked with my buddies about the fact that we had gone to, arguably, the best steak restaurant in Vegas and neither had ordered a steak – one opting for the Tuna caponata, cocoa agro dolce and the other choosing The Burger with pancetta and onion cheddar and arugula salad. Stating that steak was a “dinner food’ I clearly realized that I needed more epicurean friends. All joking aside, both of them loved their meal and their dishes looked and smelled excellent - while my one friend didn’t prefer the cocoa accents to his tuna he loved the fish and my other friend stated the burger was the best he’d ever tasted.

For myself, the decisions for this meal were based on previous Batali experience and both dishes wowed – as expected. Served together since neither of my friends opted for an appetizer the first dish was from the dinner anti-pasti menu and was entitled “House-Cured Pastrami” with local duck egg and emerald butter lettuce. While I generally don’t prefer beef textures, particularly “lunch meats” such as pastrami I was told by Mr. Feit that this dish was more like beef bacon and was made from the dry-aged stock of BBL beef. Trusting his judgement I have to admit this dish was very impressive with the pastrami truly being like a clean and spicy pork bacon in texture – great fattiness and almost melt in the mouth texture despite its somewhat dehydrated nature. Accompanying the pastrami – a single duck egg sunny side up alongside a delicate and dare-I-say “buttery” lettuce. Atop the dish was a combination of aged balsamic, olive oil, cracked pepper, and pan juices from the slight pan-kissing of the pastrami. Breaking the yolk of the egg the dish was given a creamy contrast to the other sharp, spicy, and acidic flavors and truly impressed.

The second dish, also requested from the dinner menu, was entitled Sweetbreads “al boscaiolo” which according to my server meant “lumberjack style.” Served with pan seared mixed/chopped mushrooms, fresh peas, spinach, and a reduction of honey, rosemary, and perhaps sage the sweetbreads were perfectly flash fried to retain their creamy texture and without a bit of brine. Clearly using a bit of salt, pepper, and perhaps cheese in the crispy coating the sweetbreads on their own would have been superb – but pairing their creamy and spicy preparation with the crisp yet mildly sweet greens, woody and smooth mushrooms, and heavily accented honey made the dish a truly one of a kind experience – while not as “refined” as Guy Savoy’s preparation the night prior these may have actually been my favorite sweetbread preparation all time – or at least on par with the versions at Alex, Savoy, and (as much as I dislike admitting it) Michael Symon’s Lola.

Finishing up our meals we were told that the dessert menu at lunch was limited to cheeses and ice creams and as such we deferred – too bad since the peach fritters and roasted spiced dates sounded excellent. Settling the tab the meal was actually my cheapest lunch or dinner in Vegas yet extremely rewarding. While I could’ve certainly done without the Eagles (I hate the f&%ckin’ Eagles Man! – Lebowski) the service was excellent and accommodating from e-mail all the way to leaving the restaurant and the food was superb. Leaving the restaurant we stopped for pictures by the enormous carved bull and made our way back to the casino floor – my friends for more gambling and myself for some shopping and a nap before dinner.

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