One of the most buzzed-about restaurant openings of the next few months is Carbone, which is slated to open its doors in Aria in October. The restaurant is a spinoff of the popular Greenwich Village restaurant of the same name, which is known for its Italian-American cuisine and tableside preparations, and which was a finalist for the James Beard award for Best New Restaurant in 2013. I recently spent some time chatting with chef-partner Mario Carbone to find out the history behind the hype.
Born in Queens, Carbone began his cooking career in a neighborhood restaurant at the age of 15. The cuisine was far from elevated, and included such staples as fried calamari and red sauce. He went on, however, to educate himself about high-end dining. He attended the Culinary Institute of America before working for Mario Batali and molecular gastronomy pioneer Wylie Dufresne. Carbone also traveled to Italy to experience authentic Italian cuisine firsthand, and learn how it differs from the Italian American food with which he was familiar.
With Carbone, however, he returned to his roots; the food is Italian-American cooking. But what really sets it apart, he says, is the captain service and tableside preparations.
“Captain service means that this is a person who takes care of your table, and also knows the restaurant, the menu, the concept and the culture inside and out,” Carbone says. “It’s someone who can answer any questions that you may have, but more importantly, can take control of your dining experience and can curate your experience after just a small conversation.”
Carbone adds that this is an older style of service, from a time when servers took more pride in their job and their knowledge. But I have to admit I’m a bit skeptical of how impressed I’ll be by this aspect of the restaurant. Las Vegas already boasts a lot of servers who take incredible pride in their work. (Then again, as a professional food writer, I tend to receive superb service in restaurants.) So only time will tell whether Carbone succeeds in elevating the level of service on the Strip, especially for the average diner.
I’m a bit more interested, however, in the restaurant’s focus on tableside preparations. It’s a topic I covered in these pages earlier this summer [“Bring It to the Table,” July 17], and is sadly becoming something of a dying art. It’s integral to Carbone’s concept. And the chef says that historically, it fits hand-in-hand with captain service.
“Tableside service does two things,” he says. “First, it puts on a show for the customer. But also, because these captains were historically so well-
educated and good at what they did, they were alleviating the pressure in the kitchen. They were taking the last 25 percent of the preparation of that dish and finishing it in the dining room. And for the customer, they get not only the entertainment of it, but they also get to inspect the product.”
Whether it’s a flambé, a salad or the deboning of a fish, I’m always one for the spectacle of seeing my meal created in front of me. So that aspect alone is likely to get me through the doors at Carbone to see whether it truly lives up to the hype.