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Carnevino 5/15 - the full review

Discussion in 'Restaurants & Buffets' started by JillyFromPhilly, May 26, 2012.

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  1. JillyFromPhilly

    JillyFromPhilly Tourist

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    Let me start off by saying this - I'm usually on a full RFB comp whenever we're in Vegas - and for the last several years, Carnevino - along with Bouchon and the original, now closed Andre's downtown - was one of the few restaurants in Vegas that I've gladly been willing to pay my "own" money to eat at over and over again, if that gives you any indication how good I think Carnevino is [though this time it was finally on a comp].

    And let me continue by saying that I travel a lot for business - so I've eaten [literally] hundreds - if not thousands - of meals at steakhouses all over the US & Canada on a regular basis since I get to write the dinners off - so when it comes to steakhouses, I've been to them all - the highest-end of the high, the mid-and-south-western honky-tonk sawdust ones that are casual but serve up some killer beef, all the top chains and probably ever major city's "signature" unique steakhouse as well - and I still look forward to my dinners at Carnevino more than at any other single steakhouse I've ever been to that I can think of.

    So what makes Carnevino so great, you ask? Is it just that they dry-age their beef in a city [and country] where inferior wet-aging has sadly become the norm? Yes, but that's just one part of it - what truly makes Carnevino stand head & shoulders above the rest is that while technically it's a steakhouse, it's also an Italian place - and we're not talking Olive Garden Italian, either - we're talking seriously authentic Italian, from a menu put together by one of the country's pre-eminent authorities on Italian cuisine, Mario Batali. Got a wife [like mine] who isn't a big steak eater? Take her to Carnevino - if she's anything like my wife, she'll absolutely go nuts for Carnevino's pasta dishes - and you'll still get to have that steak you're craving at the same time - it's a kill two birds with one stone restaurant in that respect.

    The setting is great, too - a big, high-ceilinged room with more than adequate spacing between the tables so you don't feel like the people next to you are eating on top of you and eavesdropping on your conversation. And then there's the fact that while Carnevino is still a white-tablecloth joint with the excellent service you'd expect when dining at this price point - it isn't in any way stuffy - rock music plays in the background, and the servers are refreshingly laid-back and unpretentious, yet still knowledgeable and schooled in the art of great service.

    But anyway - I'm sure you're thinking by now - but Jilly, how's the food? Well, let's see - on this visit for starters, we split a plate of the Iberico ham - if you like things like Prosciutto and Serrano ham, you definitely have to get a plate of the Iberico - trust me, it will knock your socks off. Next, I went with the grilled octopus - beautiful big pieces of octopus with just the right amount of char yet still incredibly tender - the wife went with the arugala salad - a refreshing change from just your ordinary salad, as she put it.

    Then came the main event :licklips: - a beautiful, 2-inch thick "riserva" bone-in ribeye that had been dry aged for an incredible 9 months [if you want to get a "riserva" steak, you need to call ahead the night before or morning of your dinner and reserve one - they go fast - and also be warned they cost $100+ an inch, which is how you order them - by the inches of thickness you want].

    Oh my god I was in heaven - my "riserva" ribeye was seriously phenomenal & worth the near-pornographic fantasies I'd been having about it for weeks leading up to our trip - perfectly cooked the way I like it, "black & blue" [charred on the outside, very rare - almost raw - on the inside] and exploding with so much flavor that I wasn't sure if I was going to cum in my pants or burst into tears of joy at the taste of it - if I still smoked, I would've needed a cigarette afterwards, that's how good it was :drooling: [another note: Carnevino is one of those steakhouses that will normally slice your steak up before they serve it to you - but if you're like me and prefer to dig into that charred, beautiful hunk of meat with your own fork & knife, just make sure you let them know and they will leave it whole for you to cut as you go yourself while eating it]

    Meanwhile - LOL - the wife went with a dinner portion of her favorite Carnevino pasta dish, the black fettucine with crab & jalapenos - I've tasted it when she's had it before, and it is really different - tons of fresh dungeness crab meat served over luscious black squid-ink-dyed fettucine - and just the right amount of jalapenos for some kick.

    Just as we were finishing up dinner, my host showed up & joined us for dessert - he & I both had the warm chocolate cake [get it!], while the wife got the peanut butter tart - which is served with a whimsical smear of grape jelly. Finally, I finished off the meal with a glass of 1990 Signatory-bottled Laphroaig single-malt Scotch, chosen from an extensive menu of liquors & cordials - and it was exceptional - if you're a Scotch aficianado who particularly likes Islay malts - definitely find your way to Carnevino to try a glass of this - it's still smoky & peaty, but also with a complex layer of vanilla nutiness rarely found in younger Islays - to say it took my breath away is an understatement. [Side note: we're not big wine drinkers - but if you are, Carnevino has an extensive wine list with one of the largest selections of Italian wines in the country].

    I know Carnevino has its detractors on here - and I'm sure this review will bring them out of the woodwork to tell you how much they didn't like it. Personally, this always shocks me when I think about the consistently excellent experience we've always had while eating there. I don't know if people have gone on off nights or what - maybe the fact that we're almost always in Vegas Sunday through Friday has something to do with it, maybe when things aren't as rushed they do things better - maybe the staff at Carnevino gets flustered on busy weekend nights. Maybe some people go to a Vegas steakhouse and expect [or actually want] the same boring menu - comically oversized seafood towers, a bunch of big but characterless slabs of beef, the same boring armada of hash browns and other sides - and aren't receptive to or appreciative of a steakhouse that mixes up the formula by serving food with an Italian flair from a menu that is missing many of the tired old steakhouse standbys and instead offers up something unique - and perhaps even a little challenging - in their place.

    Or maybe some people have just gotten so used to the bland, flavorless wet-aged beef that is offered up at ridiculous prices by pretty much every other one of Vegas's "top" steakhouses that they've actually come to prefer it that way - and when given a piece of truly dry-aged beef - beef done the right way, the old-fashioned way, the more expensive way - they are taken aback by the complexity and almost blue-cheese like flavor profile of prime beef that has been hung to dry for several weeks or longer - who knows.

    I guess it has to be one or the other - because once again the place exceeded our already high expectations - a truly fabulous meal & great service as always. Carnevino may not be for everybody - but if the next time you're in town you want steak but have tired of the same old steakhouses and are willing to dine with an open mind - you really should check Carnevino out.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2012
  2. KellyLovesVegas

    KellyLovesVegas certified personal trainer/retired space nerd

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    Whew! That was a tantalizing review :thumbsup:

    Two questions:
    -Are all cuts generally available as "riserva", or only the ribeye?
    -What is your favorite area/table?

    Thanks!
     
  3. JillyFromPhilly

    JillyFromPhilly Tourist

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    Thanks for the compliment :nworthy:

    To answer your questions:
    - it depends on the night - some nights several cuts will be available, some nights only certain cuts, and some nights none will be available at all - and, as is [unfortunately] the Vegas way, often times the entire night's allotment of riservas are being held for regular customers and high-rollers [in fact, the riserva I got this time I only got because my host requested they hold one for me, as I had forgotten to call ahead on my own]. You almost always need to call ahead to get one. But even if you can't score a riserva, even the regular steaks are still dry-aged - just not for as long - but they're also not as expensive, too [though make no mistake, it's a pricey place even if you don't go for the riserva]. Whenever I can't get a riserva, I usually go with the lamb chops, though - they're absolutely terrific too!

    - We like the tables by the window - not for the view, per se - but rather because I prefer to be off to the side/up against a wall or window as opposed to out in the middle of the room with people on and moving around on all sides of you. They have some tables that are off in little curtained alcoves, but so far we've never scored one [though next time I'm asking my host to make sure we get one!]
     
  4. JillyFromPhilly

    JillyFromPhilly Tourist

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    The bread & the sides!

    Also, two things that I realize I forgot to cover in the original review:

    1) The bread & spread they start you with - wonderful, fresh & warm Ciabatta - and an absolutely fabulous spread that looks like whipped, seasoned butter, but is actually herbed pork lard - it might sound gross, but it's really quite delicious & something unique - most people will probably have never tried anything quite like it before - but once you've tried it you'll likely want it again [and it's included free with the meal!]

    2) The sides - I mentioned that you won't find the usual hash browns & such, but I neglected to mention which ones are our favorites - well, there's the broccoli rabe with smoked pork, the roasted cauliflower with pine nuts & capers, The fregula (think Italian cous-cous) with pecorino, corn & pancetta. The only one the wife & I disagree on is the mascarpone mashed potatos with guancale - they mix an egg yolk in tableside, and the wife's not big on egg yolk. But see what I mean about not your normal slate of steakhouse sides?
     
  5. Royal Flusher

    Royal Flusher Savvy Gambler

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    What an enjoyable read!

    What made it great was your wonderful descriptions of the food, but more importantly, the passion you have, and show, for this place.

    I could read any sort of review that is passionate about something and enjoy it.

    You should send this to them.

    Really.
     
  6. Joe

    Joe VIP Whale

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    OK, I've been to plenty of steakhouses, but never heard of this. What do you mean, they "slice your steak up"?

    Take it off the bone, or something even worse, like cutting it into pieces?

    Slicing into a good, tender steak is part of the experience of dining out.

    btw, sounds like a great meal.:thumbsup:
     
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  7. JillyFromPhilly

    JillyFromPhilly Tourist

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    They cut it into strips, almost like a London broil - I think the reason they do it at Carnevino is because people often share the steaks and also because they like to slice it, then drizzle some olive oil & sprinkle some coarse sea salt & fresh ground black pepper on it as a finishing touch.

    But I agree, I much prefer to cut it myself - plus I think slicing it all at once both dries & cools the meat too much - and while it's not a common practice at most steakhouses, some do it for similar reasons and possibly for the added flair of tableside carving too is my guess.

    I've had it done to me enough times at different places around the country though that now whenever I'm eating at a new steakhouse for the first time, I look around as other people's steaks are being served so I can make sure that if they're doing it, I can make sure to let them know not to do it to mine.
     
  8. Joe

    Joe VIP Whale

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    Oh, that's just not right.:nono:
     
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  9. jvferg72

    jvferg72 Low-Roller

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    This must be a relatively new practice. My wife and I dined at Carnevino two years ago and they did not cut our filets (thank goodness).

    While we did not eat riserva, it was still the best piece of meat ive eaten to date.
     
  10. JillyFromPhilly

    JillyFromPhilly Tourist

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    Perhaps they only do it with the riserva then - I've always either gotten a riserva or the lamb chops. But I've seen/had it done at other places, too - Peter Luger's in NYC is another very good steakhouse that does it for some reason, too - and I'm not a big fan of the practice anywhere that does it - but if you know in advance they do it and ask them not too, problem solved - that's why I'm warning people about it.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2012
  11. dankyone

    dankyone VIP Whale

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    The staff at Carnevino does not get flustered. Unfortuanately, some people do not like the place for the other reason you explain carefully and correctly.
     
  12. Marky147

    Marky147 High-Roller

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    I said that I would try Carnevino after your posts in the other thread, if those weren't enough then wow this review should have people who have been multiple times and not enjoyed it to go again. I can almost taste the food from your descriptions and am actually excited to try it again now.
     
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  13. BeeeJay

    BeeeJay President of The Red Lobster Hostess Satisfaction

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    I too have seen this as common practice at a few steakhouses, not yet the majority. I am required to complete this "table side" cutting myself for the kids, therefore we grill steak rarely.:wave:

    Thanks for another great restaurant review. These are a nice add-on to your trip report. I had been on the receiving end of the "bad comments" you mentioned and now know not to dismiss Carnevino.
     
  14. Joe

    Joe VIP Whale

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    I am LOL on that one. When I was growing up my mother cooked so many things in lard. If you made bacon, of course you saved the drippings, to cook another meal in.:wink2:

    Funny it is now served in a fancy restaurant as a spread.:poke: Granted seasoned and made to look fancy, just funny to me.:peace:

    I grew up eating German/Polish/Slovenian dishes.
     
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  15. MangoPort

    MangoPort Low-Roller

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    I'm very torn about this review.

    On the one hand I truly appreciate the detailed description of both the restaurant itself and your appreciate for steak.

    On the other hand I somewhat take offense to your reference to the other 'same old' steakhouses - Jean George, Prime, CUT, SW, StripSteak, Botero, Craftsteak, STK - in such a manner. Thees have been some of the best steak experiences of my life.

    But in all seriousness I love reading about the experience from a true steak lover. Only thing that would've made it a little better is pictures, but I myself always have to rely on my other-half taking them.
     
  16. JillyFromPhilly

    JillyFromPhilly Tourist

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    I'm sorry you took some offense, as it wasn't my intention to offend anyone - I'm just very passionate about Carnevino because of the consistently excellent experiences we've had there - in addition to being passionate about dry-aging versus wet-aging in general. For example, I know it wasn't a much talked about place in recent years - probably because it had been around for decades & didn't have a celebrity chef - but I always loved Nero's at Caesar's because they did their own custom dry-aging as well.

    But honestly, The only ones of the others you listed that I Personally feel are in the same league as Carnevino are Craftsteak and to a slightly lesser degree, Cut - I have happily eaten at both & no doubt will again in the future, as I agree that both do great food & also have some innovative menu items, but they still stick much closer to the "traditional" steakhouse model - remember, in addition to the great "riserva" steaks, what I'm also touting as making Carnevino a favorite of mine - and why I feel it's unique among Vegas steakhouses - is how far it manages to deviate from the standard steakhouse "formula".

    Sadly, I was not at all impressed with Prime or Jean-Georges - and that was a personal disappointment to me because I went into both with very high expectations owing to the fact that I'm a big fan of JGV's NYC restaurants. Likewise, I've never been particularly fond of SW either - in the case of all three - and I know this is a "controversial" assessment from when I've stated it in the past - I didn't feel the food at any of them really stood out in comparison to what I could've gotten at any number of high-end steakhouses anywhere else in the country - just dressed up in glam Vegas settings. Not that this means that they're bad, per se - you'll get a good meal at any of them - it's just that I didn't find them to deserve the exceptional reputations they have.

    To be fair, I've never been to Stripsteak - primarily because I've mostly heard bad things about it. I've never been to STK either for the same reason - but then again, I don't hear it mentioned too often period - so I guess it's kind of off my radar.

    But I understand steakhouses are a very subjective thing - these are just my opinions, feel free to agree or disagree - My only motivation in writing this review was to share what I have always found to be one of the premiere steak restaurants in North America and express why I feel so strongly about it - and that as a result, hopefully others who haven't yet will try it & experience what I have - and hopefully enjoy it as much as I do. If anything, I fear that such a glowing review can only set expectations so high that anyone who tries it after reading this review could wind up let down because of all my glowing praise.

    And yeah, I'm not a "take pictures of my food" kinda guy either - I actually always find it kind of funny when people post pics of their meals on facebook & such - it just seems like such an odd thing to do to me LOL
     
  17. mjames1229

    mjames1229 VIP Whale

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    I love Peter Luger's steak. Not as much the ambiance. The waiter did tell me that the reason the cut the steak is that they bring it out slightly more rare than ordered, and the sizzling platter that the steak is served on helps to complete the cooking process.

    All that explanation did was make me wolf down the food before the meat got too done for my liking.
     
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  18. cloudi63

    cloudi63 MIA

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    Okay Jilly I don't wanna make waves with you again...lol! Can or will you please tell me, if just good old italian pasta is served, no squid and no octopus! Bleh! I remember years ago Jilly we went to San Francisco "Fisherman's Wharf" to dine, along the way keep in mind I was in about 2nd or 3rd grade, I purchased an octopus in a jar of some type of liquid to keep it looking as good as new and as if it were alive and yeah it was real, anyway I let a classmate hold the jar, she dropped it, it broke and shattered on the cafeteria floor, I refused to pick that thing up, it was put into a container for me to take home and my mom said we needed to bury it, I could no longer keep it. Just picturing the octopus I had, I wouldn't nor couldn't ever try eating one ::::going into major convulsions thinking about it::::::::bleh! We've dined at Delmonico's at the (Venetian) and Prime (Bellagio), of which I'm surprised you weren't happy about it, I loved it!, among other places, Carnevino may be a place we would like to perhaps try.
     
  19. JillyFromPhilly

    JillyFromPhilly Tourist

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    I would say no - Mario Batali's authentic style of Italian cuisine would probably be a bit challenging for you then [you might want to avoid B & B Ristorante too for the same reason - if you're the kind of person who thinks the Olive Garden is "good old" Italian food, then definitely no [as an Italian, I won't even set foot in the Olive Garden, LOL] - but yeah, I guess things like squid & octopus can scare some people - I've been eating them since I was a little kid [my grandparents used to tell us kids that calamari was onion rings, and then by the time we learned it was actually squid we already liked it, so we didn't care] - but while it's generally an acquired taste, you should give it a try sometime - things that look or sound scary can taste surprisingly good if you open your mind to it.

    Or go to B & B Ristorante - order the tripe & the lamb's brain francoboli, tell 'em Jilly sent ya! :poke:
     
  20. jrinct1

    jrinct1 VIP Whale

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    I have heard of higher end places slicing the meat. Now to my question,what was the total cost for the meal, and if someone wanted to go less expensively what would be average pp price. For me it just sounds waaaaaay out of my price range.
     
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