I stepped back in time tonight. I entered a dim lit room where red lights hang on the wall and small tables are neatly dressed. There is mismatched china all perfectly lined up. The restaurant appears to have been asleep and with a flick of a switch as the clock stroke hit five-thirty, it became alive for another evening. A Sunday evening in fact, this is the perfect setting to try a new iconic Italian restaurant in this city, my city, New York City.
Carbone opened its doors last year and is the brainchild of chefs Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi. This duo is infamous for their work in the restaurant world. The hype behind this venture seemed to be in my path every waking moment. I first read about it in The New York Times and then I opened my December 2013 Travel and Leisure magazine and behold it was there too. The universe knew this was a place I must try. That’s when my efforts first began. It has taken me thirteen months to accomplish it but that is not for a lack of trying.
Last December I purchased a gift card and gave it to my brother for a Christmas gift. I wanted to add this new, exciting, place to the list of institutions we take on. I knew that if I set the stage just right I would have the tastes of Carbone in my mouth sooner than later. Ah, but that was not my fate. It turns out 2015 is the year of food for me.
Busy schedules and the insanely hard task of achieving a reservation to Carbone have led to this delay. You can only make a reservation one month to the day from which you call. Then you need to call as soon as possible that morning. Trust me if you wait til the evening of January 15th, there will be NO reservations available for February 15th. It is a complicated song and dance but I figure only the hot spots are worth the effort. And I definitely get an E for effort.
Despite the fact that it took thirteen months to get a reservation that actually worked within the confines of our busy schedules didn’t make me want to go any less. In fact because it got put off I wanted to make sure it was a night where it was the focal point. I got my wish.
So this past weekend I was preparing for a good meal and an equally good time. I had eaten light all day assuming I would be stuffed to the gills after our dinner. I got dressed up (so not me on a Sunday) and headed into the city.
Before I describe my evening I want to brief you on the prevalent takes regarding Carbone. As always The New York Times is crucial when I am deciding what to see and do. Of course I will do what I want but I am always curious to see what others think especially since I usually agree. This is even more enjoyable when I reading a review written by Pete Wells.
Pete Wells is a food critic who has changed my life. One of the first reviews I read of his discussed the opening of Guy Fieri’s New York City restaurant, Guy’s American Kitchen. I was so taken back by the witty, brutally honest, and clever way he wrote that review I immediately looked up to see the author and then find out more about him.
Pete Wells was a bit more muted about his review of Carbone. Mostly notable (I admit I read it several times) was that this is a “red sauce joint”. For those of you not of Italian persuasion “red sauce” is the gravy we pour on our pasta. In English that means marinara sauce. You know the good stuff that comes on the side of mozzarella sticks.
The dishes to eat here were to have red sauce on them like chicken parmesana or what I really wanted to try, the lobster fra diavolo. I heard the lobster would be spicy and contain both claw and tail meat. It would also be over two pounds. I didn’t know how I felt about that. I was undecided up until the last second. That’s when I went for the lobster ravioli.
The final result is partially my fault and partly Carbone’s. My big mistake was that I did not order a meal with red sauce!! It sounds so stupid now especially after that was the name of Pete Wells review. But that night I really didn’t feel like it and thought what I ordered would be close enough. Turns out I was wrong. I can only sit back and wonder now would a different more signature dish of theirs made a difference?
The lobster ravioli came in a cream sauce and the ravioli were green so I assume they were spinach. There were chunks of lobster in the sauce but I am still not sure what was inside of the ravioli. It tasted a bit like sausage to me but I don’t think that’s what it was (the menu contains no descriptions of the dishes). If it had lobster in it then maybe I really don’t like claw meat. I have only ever eaten lobster tails and loved them. Luckily I was pretty full from my appetizers so after a few I was over it. But something definitely was a miss. I wish I had tried to spicy rigatoni alla vodka but again seemed too hot and familiar to me. But I guess that’s the point.
For an appetizer I had the Caesar salad. Finally something that Mr. Wells recommended. He was right the freshly shaved ricotta salada was melt in your mouth good. This was much better than the heavy doses of parmesan usually accompanying this plate. Even better there was a table off to the side in the middle of the restaurant where they were being freshly prepared. It was a huge portion and I barely made a dent despite trying my hardest. We had asked for the anchovies to be placed on the side because I had never tasted one before. Turns out they weren’t too bad but I only could eat one or two. As for the croutons these were really mini garlic breads, crunchy and soft all at the same time. They were masterpieces, each and every one of them. Those I was able to finish.
My brother had the Caesar salad too and for his entrée he got scallops francese. Those were not bad. I had never had them cooked that way before and I am not a huge scallop fan but all and all not too bad.
For dessert I got the lemon cheesecake, again as per Mr. Wells recommendation and my brother got the chocolate cake. The lemon cheesecake was okay it was light but rich at the same time. Cheesecake is one of my favorite things and I should know better than to try it too many times. More often than not I am not in love. Here I was just in like. The chocolate looked good but also tasted moderately delicious.
For those of you wondering what the best part of the meal was, here it is: the bread. Yep the bread and toppings that comes on every table. They were other worldly and I had eaten my fair share of bread so I know what I am taking about. There was a pizza version, plain bread, and pieces of garlic toast that would be similar to the croutons in my salad. My God was that toast good! I would go back just for that and maybe you know something with red sauce.
Lastly I want to mention the service. I wasn’t impressed. Honestly the last time I went out for a big dinner was when I was in Pittsburgh (blog coming next week) to Hyde Park Steakhouse. They were certainly memorable, here too but for a different reason.
I know this restaurant has a signature look and attitude. Even though I know it was all done on purpose but i could have done with less schitck because it came off rude and not charming. Even the hostess could have feigned politeness.
I am almost tempted to ask Pete Wells where he ate dinner. I felt like i was in an old boys club, a real Italian atmosphere indeed. It brought back visions of similar scenes happening in many homes I know of with older, now deceased members, generations of my family.
Overall, I am always satisfied after being able to cross something off my to do list and in this case that comes from fresh from my 2014/2015 to do list.
Despite the seeming stark review I present, I was really excited to go. I guess the irony is I wanted to tell it like it was too, just like Mr. Pete Wells.
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