One of the biggest restaurant openings of the year on the Strip, Carbone effortlessly fulfills its promise to provide a distinctive experience. The building blocks that come together to make it unique—dramatic design, warm service, favorite Italian-American foods, tableside service for several dishes—can be found at a handful of other Vegas eateries. But it’s the collection of all these, and the confidence and style with which Carbone does business, that set it apart. The staff somehow creates a big smallness, a pervasive feeling of special-occasion dining that fits within an intimate space.
First you have to decide which beautiful room is better, the bustling, bar-fronting blue room, with its shiny tile and golden accents, or the more formal red room in back, with its sexy, shimmering chandelier and perfect two-top booths set into the walls. There are no disappointing tables here.
The lack of descriptions on the menu plays perfectly into Carbone’s service style as you’re compelled to chat with your captain about the finer details of intriguing dishes, something you should be doing anyway. Sure, he’ll point you toward signature offerings like the giant veal parm ($64) and the perfect, slightly spicy rigatoni vodka ($27), but dig a little deeper and you’ll be recommended treasures like Chicken Massimo ($35), named for the proprietor of Villa Manodori balsamic vinegars. It’s sticky and rich, broiled crisp and tender and served with a bit of parmesan and artichoke.
Carbone’s food is mostly well-honed, affectionate renditions of classics, from minestrone ($18) to linguini and clams ($28) to market-priced lobster fra diavolo. It’s big on meat, too, with mighty, shareable steaks and an incredible, rich pork chop with peppers ($39). But mix some new flavors into your meal. Baked clams ($21) is a must starter, trios of clams oreganata, clams casino and a fresh, new creation topped with ginger, scallion and sea urchin. Spaghetti Julian ($25), named for the restaurant’s art conspirator Julian Schnabel, also works uni in, a decadent twist with tomato, garlic and herbs. There’s a lot to get through, but try to save room for some of the terrific vegetable sides ($15), especially the creamed escarole or duck fat-laced Potatoes Louie, as well as the carrot cake and tiramisu for dessert.
With Carbone and Bardot Brasserie aligning here in 2015—the hottest Italian and French restaurants on the Strip, just steps away from each other—and the promising Herringbone on its way this month, a question must be asked: Is Aria the best restaurant resort on the Strip? Cool neighbor the Cosmopolitan has held that position in the minds of many, and now it’s beginning to undergo the kind of culinary changes that Aria has just about completed. Wynn, Bellagio, Caesars Palace and Venetian/Palazzo have a place in the conversation, too, but with its elevated quality and diversity, Aria might have earned the title today.
Carbone Aria, 702-590-2663. Daily, 5-10:30 p.m.