New York’s Carbone is a spectacular, surreal restaurant, a place you could imagine being in Tom Wolfe’s next novel. It’s the type of establishment that could be derided as an example of extravagance gone mad, but it’s so damn good and fun that you just have to give in to the experience. If you can afford it, that is.
Let’s get the first part out of the way: You can spend $200 a person at Carbone on cocktails and a dinner of pastas, veal, and langoustines, and maybe—okay, definitely—the carrot cake for dessert. This is not a place for the budget-conscious. But it is a place that stands atop the Italian-American dining scene in a city full of neighborhoods with red sauce coursing through their veins.
Carbone, in Greenwich Village, is both an homage to those neighborhoods—the Bronx and Brooklyn and Manhattan, of course—and also a modern reimagination of old-school Italian-American dining, complete with art curated by Vito Schnabel and waiter tuxedos designed by Zac Posen.
All of this is to say that while Las Vegas has no shortage of fantastical restaurants, Carbone should stand out when it opens at Aria later this year.
In New York, Carbone is where you might see Jerry Seinfeld celebrating his birthday by holding court at a big table or Jay Z and Beyoncé having a quiet, romantic dinner. It’s a hot spot where NFL team owners and the biggest entertainment and real estate moguls eat garlic bread, meatballs, $21 Caesar salads prepared tableside and $58 plates of excellent veal parm. Two jet-setting, food-loving women I know refer to the high that comes with snagging a tough reservation anywhere as “getting a Carboner.”
Carbone is like New York’s Rao’s with an even more A-list crowd and food that’s personality-driven and refined. It’s brought to you by a crew of true New Yorkers who have become dominant operators in their city with their mix of fine-dining experience, art-world and society connections, and their singular balance of excess and whimsy. Their empire includes a chain of Parm sandwich shops (including an outpost in Yankee Stadium) along with Dirty French in the Ludlow hotel and the seafood-focused Santina by the High Line.
Chefs Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi learned from the best, cooking under guys named Batali and Boulud before moving on to make Italian food that’s distinctly American. Their partner, Jeff Zalaznick, is one of the most voracious and inquisitive eaters and drinkers you’ll ever encounter. All three men think about food and the spectacle of eating out as much as anybody in the business. Their company is called Major Food Group, because they think big and execute just as big. Which is to say, Carbone is the type of restaurant that could make even Steve Wynn swoon.
There’s already a highly regarded Carbone in Hong Kong, and the fellas at Major Food Group have so much momentum to spare. Now that they’re coming to Vegas, don’t be surprised if they end up with more than one restaurant here. Parm is their most easy-to-replicate concept, something that could fit into fancy casino food courts or Downtown Summerlin.
But it makes sense that their first Vegas endeavor is Carbone, an outpost of a restaurant that’s part of the spectacle circuit as much as going to Art Basel or Cannes or the Super Bowl or, you know, a Floyd Mayweather fight or XS during Electric Daisy Carnival weekend. After a little while in Vegas, it might be easy to forget that Carbone wasn’t born here.