Sunday, October 7, 2012

Carnevino - Las Vegas

Allow me to paint the scenario. After a three year hiatus, I had once again touched down at McCarran International Airport and arrived in the grand city of Las Vegas. However this wasn't a casual visit to the pacific time zone, I was in town for the ever clich├ęd but near sacred rite of passage known as the bachelor party. Who else was attending this occasion? Months of planning and a flurry of last minute cancellations had trimmed the group to a svelte six members, all fraternity brothers.

Interestingly, I had been charged with choosing a location for the grand Saturday night dinner. Almost immediately I looked to the Michelin guide and I was heartbroken to hear that both Joel Robuchon and the Atelier would be closed for renovations and summer holidays. Turning to the next best thing, I made reservations at 2 and 1 star establishments such as Picasso and Michael Mina as well as a few steakhouses. Waiting to the very last minute, I ultimately decided that Michelin star finery might be a bit much for a bachelor party. In the end, it was the allure of six to eight month dry aged reserva beef that made me choose Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s Carnevino for our grand dinner.

After an alcohol fueled day at the pool, our motley group had showered, sobered up, and dressed for the occasion. A short cab ride later, we made the trek through the Palazzo casino floor and arrived at the entrance to Carnevino. Once we were seated in our semiprivate, curtained room, it was time to get down to the business of steak.

However, before any cut of beef would make an appearance, I decided that a pasta appetizer was in order.
If there has been one recurring theme in every Carnevino review that I’ve read, it’s been that the food is rich and this ricotta and egg ravioli in brown butter was no exception.
Topped with fried sage,  this pasta was deep brown on the edges and nearly swimming in a staggering amount of nutty browned butter.
From the first bite, I was looking for an acid to cut through the richness of butter and ricotta but then I came across the egg yolk. Some might say this three pronged attack of cheese, butter, and yolk was too much and they would be right, but it paled in comparison to what was next.

Typically the combination of bread and butter is the first thing on the table, but after an hour and three separate requests, the beginning of the meal arrived.
On one hand was a perfectly delightful dinner roll complete with a nicely developed flavor and a good crust.
On the other was little more than a monument to excess, a duo of whipped butter and whipped lard.
From pie crusts to fried chicken to carnitas, I’ve enjoyed lard in many forms but, as far as I can remember, this was the first time I have seen it served as an equal to butter. While it did melt beautifully in the hot roll and each bite was tinged with a delightful hint of pork, it was all too much of a good thing. In my mind, this sort of fat is best savored like lardo, served sparingly and used to provide a little silkiness for something like a charcuterie platter. In this instance it was simply lard for the sake of lard, and it was far too much.

But that’s enough about pasta and lard, it was time for steaks to arrive, starting with a ribeye.
Having requested medium rare +, I was a little surprised to see that Carnevino took a more black and blue approach. Little matter as this dry aged steak was still deeply charred, a bit too salty, and lightly flavored with rosemary on the outside while the interior was tender and quite beefy. While there wasn’t much un-melted intramuscular fat, I would have preferred the steak to be a little closer to medium.

However the ribeye was an opening act to the main attraction, two inches of reserva sirloin.
With the beef fat glistening in the light, it was plain to see that this was steak unlike any I had previously encountered.
Large enough for everyone to have at least one piece, I was shocked at the initial flavor. Deep, salty, and a bit musty, it reminded me of mushrooms and a cross between salty genoa salami and a full flavored steak.
Others in our party weren’t particularly impressed, with one comment about the reserva’s similarity to tar being quite memorable.

Despite the reserva sirloin and the bit too rare ribeye, I would have called Carnevino an entirely too rich yet unique meal and be done with it, but that would leave so much unsaid. Although I rarely mention service in these write-ups, the waitstaff at Carnevino left much to be desired. Outside of a very accommodating sommelier, it was an evening of missing dishes, overcooked but quickly replaced steaks, and general inattentiveness. I understand that a waiter may not want to dote on a group of six guys, especially with the tip already built in from the group size, but I expected better from what some publications call the best steakhouse in Las Vegas. Sadly, I don’t make it to Vegas as often as I should but the next time I catch a Delta flight out west, I can be certain that dinner at Carnevino will not be on the itinerary.

Carnevino Address & Information
Carnevino  on Urbanspoon

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