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by catherine de orio | October 10, 2013 | Food & Drink
La Fiorentina, a porterhouse carved tableside, with a drizzle of premium olive oil.
Carnevino’s dining room evokes an old-world palazzo, with soaring ceilings, Italian marble, and antique furniture.
She may be only 5-foot-2, but Executive Chef Nicole Brisson supervises a staff of 120 at perhaps the best steakhouse in America.
Carnevino’s handblown glasses.
Carnevino’s menu features the restaurant’s exclusive brand of organic “super-prime” beef.
Tagliatelle with porcini trifolati and beef cheek agnolotti with sweet onion ragu.
The bronze statue of the bull Bodacious.
Carnevino regular Luke Wilson.
The char-grilled octopus appetizer.
High-end steakhouses with gorgeous cuts of meat and delicious sides are a dime a dozen in Vegas, in a good way. But then there’s Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, which opened at Palazzo in 2008 and redefined the steakhouse dining experience. Its one-of-a-kind dry-aging program, exceptional wine list, and house-made pastas are just a few of the qualities that place Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s first steakhouse endeavor a cut above the rest.
To design the premier dry-aging program, they brought in universally respected meat savant Adam Perry Lang. The proprietary BBL (for Batali Bastianich Lang) beef is sourced primarily from family-owned farms and ranches throughout the Western US. “Our meat is hormone-and antibiotic-free certified Angus beef that is often beyond regular USDA standards for marbling and flavor,” says Nicole Brisson, the restaurant’s executive chef and the Strip’s only female butcher. Carnevino is the only place in town that ages its own meat, at an off-site location. The vast 5,000-square-foot, climate-controlled aging facility checks in 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of meat a week (the restaurant sold more than 200,000 pounds last year), all moved and hand-tagged by Brisson and her sous chefs to ensure absolute quality control.
Doubling down on the industry standard of 30-to-40-day dry-aging, Carnevino ages its porterhouses and rib eyes a minimum of 60 to 90 days. “After 40 days, there is a plateau of flavor profiles until you hit the 60-to-90-day mark,” Brisson says. “At this point, the texture is melt-in-your-mouth tender, with a deep, rich dry-aged beef flavor.” To further enhance the flavor, the meat is tempered; massaged with sea salt, butter, fresh rosemary, and garlic; then cooked in 1,400-degree broilers to give it a beautifully charred crust.
The menu gives a nod to the owners’ Italian roots with items like La Fiorentina, Carnevino’s version of the classic bistecca Fiorentina, a porterhouse for two carved tableside and finished with a drizzle of premium olive oil and a dash of sea salt. But the favorite of the restaurant’s carnivorous clientele—which includes funny guys Jimmy Kimmel, Carrot Top, and the Wilson brothers—is the bone-in rib eye for two. It’s rich, heavily marbled, and packed with flavor; one would be hard-pressed to find better. Diners who don’t wish to limit themselves to just one of the stellar meat options may opt for the six-course Beef Tasting Menu, which includes tartare, bresaola, beef agnolotti, Wagyu beef cheek, BBL dry-aged rib eye, and dessert.
As if that weren’t enough, enter the one-of-a-kind riserva steak program—a rare exception to the Vegas maxim that anything can be had for a price. Given the difficulty, scoring a riserva steak—aged six to 11 months—is as gratifying as beating the house. Even calling ahead won’t guarantee one. Brisson selects cuts of rib eye and short loin to undergo extended aging based on eye size, marbling, and fat content. “It needs to be able to withstand that long dry-aging process,” she says. “I won’t select cuts just to have it.” Out of 4,000 pounds of meat, she may choose only four or five cuts. Should you be so lucky as to snag a riserva, be prepared for supple, deeply colored flesh that provides intense, long-lingering, umami-rich beef flavor. The long aging adds a touch of funk, like that of an aged Gorgonzola or black truffles, making it an acquired taste for some.
Sublime steaks call for equally exceptional accompaniments, and here is another way Carnevino sets itself apart from its competitors. An obsessive dedication to quality ingredients led the restaurant group to set up a farmers market to support its farm-to-table philosophy, as well as to build relationships with leading vendors, like farm forager Kerry Clasby. Even a simple steakhouse staple like mashed potatoes is elevated with the addition of creamy mascarpone cheese, crispy bits of Heritage Foods guanciale, and a tender poached egg from California’s Chino Valley Ranchers.
Char-grilled octopus, kissed with chilies and a limoncello glaze, is a favorite way to start a meal here. But the house-cured salumi—lonza, coppa, and bresaola in the affettati misti—and the homemade pastas showcase the artisanal talents of the kitchen. Rich agnolotti stuffed with braised dry-aged beef and ricotta cheese are topped with sweet onion ragu, while the porcini trifolati pairs the earthy mushroom with tagliatelle. “Where else in town,” Brisson asks, “can you get beautiful greens from Kerry Clasby, move on to orecchiette handmade that morning, and finish with the best steak of your life?”
Nothing is an afterthought at Carnevino, including the décor. The voluminous space, with soaring ceilings, oversize windows, and antique furnishings (many sourced from Italy), is reminiscent of an Italian villa. But it’s the life-size statue of the legendary Bodacious, the world’s most dangerous rodeo bull, greeting diners at the entrance that lets you know what you’re in for: big steaks, big wines, big space. And when in Vegas, it’s go big or go home. Palazzo, 702-789-4141
photography by kelly campbell (steak, brisson); sabin orr (dining room); sabin orr (tagliatelle, menu, glasses)