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Carnevino: The Place I Really Want to Like But Just Can't - Mike's Review

I don’t think there is a restaurant in town that I want to like more than I want to like Carnevino.  I want to like Carnevino because I really dig what Chef Mario Batali is all about.  Not many of the superstar chefs out there come even close to public adamant support of using local ingredients and making sure that everything from the spinach on the plate to the lights in the bathroom are done responsibly.  Carnevino was the recent host of the documentary, The End of the Line, so all of Batali’s battalion could learn about the dangers of over-fishing.  And, Carnevino is a nice space, easy to get to (I heart the Palazzo for access) and has an open kitchen till midnight.  I want to love it.  But then I eat there….and I don’t.

Carnevino

Carnevino

Confessions of a Restaurant Writer / Budding Critic: I’ve never eaten at Carnevino until last week.  There’s good reason why I never ate at Carnevino until last week, the place is just way too damn expensive.  When it first opened a couple years back along with the Palazzo, the pricing put it smack dab in the center of Outrageous Town.  Since then, we’ve been massacred by The Great Recession and while prices have settled at the Batali Meat Joint, it has merely gotten married, knocked up and moved to the ‘Burbs of Outrageous Town where there are better schools and white picket fences.  However, they still commute into Outrageous Town for work, especially with the $70 per person Porterhouse for Two and the Super-Aged “Reserva” (methinks dry-aged in the neighborhood of 6 – 9 months) will cost you around $100 – $150 per steak.

Don’t let me make it seem that this is the only place in town that I won’t go to because of the price.  Bar Masa / Shaboo and Jöel Robuchon ain’t going to see my broke ass anytime soon either.  As many of you know and have seen by the tagline I put on each of my posts, I’m professional musician / amateur blogger, which translates to; I make a decent living, especially when you consider I only have to work 20 hours per week, and I do the Writing / Tweeting / Facebooking thing because I love it (time will only tell what develops professionally down the road, I really do like this a lot).  I only say this because why yes, a $300 – $400 meal for two should be treated as a special event, some places (like the ones mentioned above) cross the line into abusing corporate expense accounts and people with more money than they know what to do with.  There are far too many great restaurants (while these gougers may very well be excellent in their own right) in this town at a fair price for me to piss my money down the drain for the sake of saying, “Yeah, I’ve been there.”

With Carnevino now offering 20% off the entire bill from 10pm-midnight every night, I figured this was the opportunity to seize the chance to eat what dry-aged beef tastes like cooked by a man in Orange Crocs.  We’ve now been twice, with polar opposite experiences in service each time.  The first time we had a server named Michael, who was a personable seasoned pro and brilliantly controlled the meal from the first glass of water until the last bite of a fabulous Devil’s Food Cake dessert was eaten.

The second time out, (last night) was a complete disaster.  Some of the worst service I’ve had since my horrible experience at Sage.  But in this instance, I can’t point my finger solely at the server as most of my finger (and you know which finger that is) is pointed solidly at management, for several reasons.

Unfortunately, Not the Only Statue in the Room

Unfortunately, Not the Only Statue in the Room

Firstly, at some point, someone had to hire this guy.  This server was obviously still wet  behind the ears and had the deer-in-the-headlights look about him the entire evening.  Based on how clueless this guy was about the standard flow of a dinner service found in any restaurant in this country, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is his first gig.  As I can only compare it to the musical realm, I’ll say this; nobody’s first gig is the New York Philharmonic.  Ok, maybe comparing Carnevino to the New York Philharmonic isn’t fair, but nobody’s first gig is with the Los Angeles Philharmonic either.  You spend time learning in youth orchestras and college orchestras.  You play in bottom tier orchestras like the Peoria Symphony for shit pay.  You work your way up the ranks, occasionally subbing in with higher tier places until you finally get your big break into the big time.

Everybody has had their first day at work, and no matter how seasoned you are at your craft, you’ll always have butterflies.  But, it is through the experience of working in the lower ranks that guides you through your first few days on the main stage.  When a restaurant has the balls to charge $51 for a 14oz New York Strip and is billed by some in this town as the Second Coming of Peter Luger, this is not the place for an eager boy to wonder if it’s in yet.

So not only was the server himself a nightmare, but there were a whole bunch of guys in suits standing around watching it happen.  They stood there and witnessed it as it took 25 minutes to get a glass of water, 30 minutes just to place our food order and by Michael’s count, 47 minutes to get bread.  They seemed to huddle together quite a bit to discuss how dreadful it was, but nothing was done about it.  Bad form, men in suits. Bad form.

Blood Orange Cosmo Poured Tableside

Blood Orange Cosmo Poured Tableside

With inconsistency in service, also comes inconsistency at the bar.  The first time The Wife and I came to the Carnevino late night, she ordered the Blood Orange Cosmo, which I went on record saying it was one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had.  The aroma that washes over your face as it is poured tableside, the perfectly sweet citrusy taste, even the beautiful color of it was simply magnificent.

After raving about this drink, it played a role in why The Wife and I were joined with Michael, The Dave, and The Dave’s Mom and her companion.  The Dave’s Mom and her companion flew in from Maine to have a visit with her boys in Las Vegas, and they wanted somewhere special to go.  With them staying at the Palazzo, Carnevino was (at the time) a perfect choice.

Blood Orange Cosmo from Carnevino

Blood Orange Cosmo from Carnevino

But even after my high praises of this beverage, it was only The Wife and I that ordered it.  While the cocktail was one of the most memorably delicious ones I’ve ever had just a week before, this night it tasted like the ass end of a frat house’s Jungle Juice Bucket.  How is it even possible this drink could have been so significantly worse?  Not good, and at $14 a pop…really not good.

The problems at the bar sadly didn’t live and die with the battery acid Blood Orange Cosmo.  The drinks took forever to come out, the server was confused as to which drink was what, there was a drink that was flat out wrong, and The Dave’s second round that he ordered was completely forgotten.   That kind of Mickey Mouse crap is not even tolerable at a place with drinks half that price, let alone here.

Steak and Eggs from Carnevino

Steak and Eggs from Carnevino

The food is also very hit or miss.  The Steak and Eggs ($23) are quite good, and unique in that you get your choice between chicken, duck and quail eggs.  They slice their 60-90 day dry-aged beef and all is well.  The meat is indeed flavorful and tender, and I would call the Steak and Eggs a definite win on the Taverna’s (where this whole 20% off from 10pm-12am thing happens) Menu.

The Burger from Carnevino

The Burger from Carnevino

However, The Burger ($19) was pretty rough.  Good meat is in it, but it is coarsely ground and far too lean for my burger tastes.  If I want a steak, I’ll order a steak (which I did on the 2nd visit), and if I want a burger, I’ll order a burger.  The burger patty itself was also way too salty, especially when paired with the Pancetta and Cheddar Cheese toppings.  I had to use a good deal of the provided Truffle Aioli (very good) to even it out as best I could.

Beef Carpaccio from Carnevino

Beef Carpaccio from Carnevino

The Beef Carpaccio ($16) may very well be the best thing on the menu because it magnificently showcases the excellent grade of beef they use.  Silky and divine, the carpaccio comes with crostini slathered in lardo (cured pork fat infused with garlic and spices) and is a total umamgasm (I’m trying to figure out a way to combine umami and orgasm, patent pending).  I’m going to say that the Beef Carpaccio is a must get.

Bone-In New York Strip Steak from Carnevino

Bone-In New York Strip Steak from Carnevino

If there was ever a time to get a $51 dry-aged 14oz. New York Strip Steak, it would be the time when it is offered at 20% off.  While many will scoff at the New York Strip and deem the Ribeye as the only way to fly, I say nonsense.  The New York Strip to me is the best cut of the cow that can show off the quality of the cow itself, the skill of the aging processes used, and the cooking techniques of the chef.  A monkey with a Zippo can make a fatty ribeye taste good. A well-cared for cow and good kitchen skills are needed to make a New York Strip sing.  The Carnevino New York Strip gets a mixed review.

First the good news. The flavor was great.  Again, a testament to the cow and partially the aging process.  Now for the bad news, it was cooked poorly.  It could have been from a poor butchering process, but the ends of the steak seemed thinner than the middle portion, and the steak was curled a bit.  The end result was an unevenly cooked piece of beef that was overdone (a solid medium-well) on the outer thirds of the steak, leaving only the center third the way I like it.

I’ll take some of the heat for the cooking process as I ordered it medium.  Now I’ll tell you why I order my steaks (sometimes) medium.

I’ve found over the years that in real steakhouses, the steaks are typically cooked at a half a level, if not a full level below what cheapy steakhouses or general food places that also serve steak will cook them at.  The perfect doneness of a steak to me is on the medium-rare side of medium, where in my opinion you still get the full juices and flavor from the steak, yet it is cooked just enough to bring the piece of meat to its maximum tenderness point.

At $51, this would be an insta-send back, but at 20% and a table of tired and weary diners, I powered it down, with me trying to remember how tasty that middle third was, forgetting about the dry outer portions.  And one other quick note, for $51…can’t that buy you a little sprinkle of parsley on the plate or something to add color to the dish?  Of course, steakhouses are rarely known for their exquisite plating efforts, but the poor charred and shriveled up piece of meat looked like an unwanted puppy on the oversized plate.

It is at this point that I come at a crossroads.  For one, you can’t totally let a restaurant live and die by its late night menu.  You get late night food cooked by late night chefs, served by late night servers with drinks mixed by late night bartenders.  The easier way to say that is; people get tired.  But, (and you know there’s a but) if you are going to offer this late night dining experience with this 20% off deal clearly to entice industry people who eat at this odd hour so then they will speak the good fortunes of your establishment, you should do it well, and do it well consistently.

I was also kind of shocked that a late night menu in an Italian Steakhouse only had rabbit stuffed cannelloni on the menu for a pasta selection.  Not looking for anything complicated, just something in any easy pomodoro to twirl around my fork in between bites of beef.  I wound up getting the Tuscan Fries ($6) which were a bunch of Fingerling potatoes cut in half and roasted in a cast iron pan with garlic and parmesan flavors prevalent.  They were good, but initially forgotten by the server and not brought to me until half the steak was gone.

While some deem Carnevino as the best steakhouse on Earth, from these showings, I don’t even think it’s the best steakhouse in the same building, with Wolfgang Puck’s CUT down the hall and Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico just a few steps past that.  Some will argue that Carnevino offers a super-aged steak not found anywhere else on Earth, to which I can’t justify paying that kind of price for a piece of decomposed moo cow.

It almost pains me to say it, because I really want to love Carnevino; but, I just can’t.

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Carnevino

Palazzo Hotel Casino Resort
3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702) 789-4141

http://www.Carnevino.com

Follow Carnevino on Twitter at @Carnevino

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Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.

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