It’s another Monday afternoon at Carnevino Italian Steakhouse’s off-site warehouse, located near Dean Martin Road. From the exterior, it looks no different from the other relatively unremarkable units in this business park. But inside is where staff of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Las Vegas arrives weekly with one purpose in mind: to move 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of beef into the dry-aging room.
On this day there are three massive cardboard boxes, standing four-feet high, each weighing approximately 800 pounds, containing gorgeous slabs of quality meat curated by universally respected meat savant Adam Perry Lang. The proprietary BBL (Batali Bastianich Lang) beef comes from small family-owned ranches that are committed to sustainable and humane practices. To have arrived here—at this very facility—is an honor for these meats, as they will continue to be cared for and dry-aged under absolute quality control.
Photos by Krystal Ramirez
Eventually, they will be served at one of the nation’s most celebrated steakhouses, Carnevino, located inside The Palazzo. Culinary director Nicole Brisson says they plate approximately 5,000 pounds of steak a week. And since opening 10 years ago, they have served more than 400,000 steaks. While she is the first to say that the quality starts with the rancher (true), Carnevino’s premier dry-aging program makes them a cut above the rest.
Before walking through the meat locker’s plastic vertical air curtain panels, everyone who enters the dry-aging room slips on a crisp white lab coat, blue shoe covers, cotton gloves and nitrile gloves. Joined by Carnevino’s executive chef, Arnold Corpuz, and two front-of-house volunteers who have been assisting with “meat throwing Mondays” each week since they started about 10 years ago, the staff shows the love and dedication to providing the best product, bar none.
With one hand in the box pressing on a rib piece, Brisson says, “These come direct from slaughter” as she explains about the freshness and quality of the meat, which is hung for a week prior to being shipped direct to this warehouse. “Our meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free certified Angus beef that is often beyond regular USDA standards for marbling and flavor.”
Carnevino’s dry-aging program started when the restaurant opened in 2008. And not because it was stylish by any means—because the popularity of modern dry-aging didn’t gain traction until years later—but because Carnevino set out to do things right from the start, to provide the most exceptional-quality meats for its guests. Essentially they obtained a lot of meat and waited, with a singular plan to make it work and to do it right. They have since redefined the steakhouse experience, drawing clients from around the world who make the Italian steakhouse a must-dine spot during their Las Vegas visits.
Clearly, it’s an expensive proposition for any steakhouse to have its own off-site aging facility. And while the steak may arrive in all its glory, served tableside in Carnevino’s dining room, the process in the dry-aging room, located eight miles south, is far from glamorous.
Photos by Krystal Ramirez
The labor of love involves backbreaking work, moving massive 50-to-70-pound chunks of rib eye and short loin in a matter of 90 minutes inside a 38-degree meat locker. Removing each piece from the box takes some wrangling and determination. The slab is then placed on a scale, hoisted and set in a specific orientation on a nearby rack. The final step is tagging with an assigned number and date of slaughter.
The origins of dry-aging date back to meat preservation prior to refrigeration, when natural bone and fat protected the meat. By exposing the naked beef to precise temperature and humidity for weeks to months, it alters, shrinks and forms a hard outer shell as a result of a combination of bacteria, enzyme breakdown and oxidation, concentrating flavor and tenderizing muscle.
While walking through the locker, Brisson identifies the varying ages of beef. The ones exposed to air longer develop a gnarly, dark appearance which, upon touch, is dryer and harder than jerky. Carnevino ages its porterhouses and rib eyes a minimum of 60 to 90 days, twice as long as the industry standard.
At the table, the texture is melt-in-your-mouth tender. To further enhance the rich flavor, the classic Florentine porterhouse and ever-popular dry-aged bone-in rib eye are massaged with sea salt and fresh rosemary, then made to perfection with a slightly charred crust.
Deeper in the locker is where the rare riserva cuts are kept, distinguishable by their double tags. The ash-gray exterior color truly reflects their extended residency here of 180 to 240 days. But only select cuts are worthy of becoming riservas. On any given Monday, typically a single cut out of 800 pounds is destined to become one.
After carefully scanning the rack and probing with her fingertips, Brisson says, “Do you see how this one has marbling throughout? And surrounding it is a good layer of fat, which it needs to withstand that long dry-aging process. This one will be a riserva.”
To request the off-the menu riserva steak is a rare exception to the Las Vegas maxim that anything can be had for a price. They aren’t easy to come by, but if you should be so lucky, it’s the pinnacle expression of dry-aged beef with a deeply hued flesh of supple texture with intense, lingering, umami-rich beef flavor.
Brisson then looks to the floors and ceilings and talks about the consistent climate of 85 percent humidity and 38 degrees Fahrenheit in this aging room. Over the years, the room has evolved into a natural living environment that contributes to the quality of these super-aged beauties and sublime flavor profiles that exist deep within the outer crust. The aroma in the room is reminiscent of salumi.
Photos by Krystal Ramirez
“We’ve never introduced chemicals in here,” Brisson says. “It’s the natural flora that breeds and lives here that contributes to the flavors and texture of our meats. The meat actually tastes better today than it did when we first opened, as a result.”
At the end of the day, the dry-aging program at Carnevino is just one of the hallmarks that they don’t go out of their way to make public. Rather, it’s more important for them to obtain the highest-quality meat, starting with the rancher, and treat it with the utmost respect from the moment it enters the warehouse, through the aging process, straight through the kitchen and finally alongside a steak knife.
Indeed, for Carnevino, 10 years of doing things their way in the culinary world never felt or tasted so good.
Carnevino turns 10
Celebrate Carnevino’s 10-year anniversary on December 9 with chef and restaurateur Mario Batali. “A Decade of Deliciousness” begins with cocktails served at 7 p.m. in Carnevino’s taverna, followed by a five-course meal, which will feature dishes prepared by Batali and his closest friends.
Esteemed Italian butcher Dario Cecchini will join Batali, along with an all-star culinary lineup, including Michael Symon, Nancy Silverton and Paul Kahan.
Each chef will incorporate seasonal ingredients, such as white truffles flown in from Alba, Italy into their respective dishes. Extraordinary Italian wine selections, exquisitely paired by beverage director Kirk Peterson, will complement the meal.
This culinary experience is $380 per person, inclusive of wine pairings, taxes and gratuity. Seating is extremely limited; guests are encouraged to reserve their spaces early. For more information, please visit venetian.com/carnevino10thanniversary.