I have wonderful friends. Somehow, at every stage in my educational career, I managed to make at least two amazing friends — people I speak to regularly and know I can depend on, even if they are a whole coast-line away. My high school group is still very close (and the super-smart doctor of the group just moved back from Wisconsin!) and every year for each other’s birthdays, in lieu of a gift, we take the birthday guy/gal out to eat at their place of choice. Mine, this year, was Carbone (2 months later but SO very worth the wait). I posted earlier about Torrisi Italian Specialties, where my boyfriend took me on my actual birthday. Carbone is another restaurant brought to NYC by the dynamic duo Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi. How in the world I got a 7PM reservation for a Saturday night is beyond me, but I did. I’d heard great things: about the amazing mafia-Sopranos-style decor to the meatballs to the $50 veal parm. Yes, $50. A steep price, but, as you will see below, one that I deemed worth-it, for very rare occasions.
The service at Carbone was excellent. As soon as you sit down you are greeted with hunks of parm straight from the wheel, toasted herb and tomato focaccia, and thinly sliced prosciutto (The prosciutto was good, but not my favorite. Carbone owners use all domestic items, and maybe my love for Italian-Italian prosciutto couldn’t be overcome, idk). I think the waiter was taken aback at how ridiculously excited I got about being served cheese from the wheel. I tend to get very excited very easily when it comes to good food, and it takes people a minute to get accustomed. Anyway, whether because of my ear-to-ear grin, or because he wanted to get out of there quickly without my attacking the wheel, the waiter piled all of our plates with a heck of a lot more cheese than fellow diners and made haste.
Appetizers were an event. I mentioned that I heard great things about Carbone’s meatballs and, when I did not see them on the menu earlier that day, I actually called the restaurant to ask if I could order them. The hostess, amused, assured me that I could. So I ordered the meatballs, my boyfriend ordered the carpaccio, my friend Kevin had the caesar salad and Michele had the baked clams. I cannot review the baked clams because, sadly, I am not a clam person and I did not want to steal one of Michele’s. The reason I say the apps were an event is two-fold. First, because the waiter came to make the caesar salad table-side. It was an extremely involved process, taking about 7-10 minutes, and thoroughly entertained us — or me, in any case. The croutons were homemade and the salad topped with more of that wonderful parm. While caesar is not my favorite, I prefer a light arugula with lemon and pepper and parm, it was very tasty and Kevin, who loves caesar, pronounced it one of the best or the best he has ever had. The second reason for the “event” status was the meatballs. Just the sheer size of them. My aunt and I make relatively large meatballs, but Carbone’s were easily 3x the size. I should have put a penny next to the pic so you could see the ratio. And there were 3 of them. Aside from my grandmom/aunt’s meatballs, these were the best I have ever had. Many places only use one type of meat, or don’t use herbs/parm in their meatballs, and so I am always left searching for flavor or freshness. Carbone’s definitely used different meats and a mix of herbs and parm, and I think sliced bread instead of the breadcrumbs I use, although I am not sure. I shared these with my boyfriend, but really only because I couldn’t shovel them all into my mouth myself. The gravy was the perfect accompaniment — tangy and garlicy with chunks of tomato. I am picky with my gravy, as I am with meatballs, and I had no complaints. The carpaccio was likewise delicious, though much lighter than the meatballs. Aside from the oil/herbs on the meat, the meat itself was lightly seasoned and so thinly sliced it melted the second it hit your tongue. I love carpaccio and this was one of the best I have had.
Everyone but me got a pasta for their entree. The spicy rigatoni vodka is all over review pages, and my boyfriend and Kevin got that. Michele chose the lobster mezzaluna. I opted for the veal parm, because how could I possibly not try something that gratuitous? The rigatoni was homemade, a rarity for that type of pasta, and the vodka sauce was much lighter than you see at typical American-Southern Italian places. It was creamy with just the right amount of spice, and the garlic bread they provided was perfect for sopping up the sauce. The lobster mezzaluna was likewise delicious. I am not a huge seafood in my pasta girl, but this dish was absolutely loaded with huge chunks of lobster meat and fresh parsley, and Michele downed it with a vengeance. Now, the main event, the veal parm. It came out and was huge and served with the bone. It was so big that you can order it for 2 as the entree and just have apps to start. And, it was amazing. The veal was super crisp and stayed that way, even though it was covered with fresh-pulled mozzarella and basil. Oh, and it was topped with the perfect amount of that same super-fresh and delicious gravy the meatballs were bathed in. Plus, there was still meat on the bone, and you know I definitely did not leave that behind. The waiter even came over a couple of times to marvel at my ability to eat the meatballs and veal. I did share a bit, but it was still a valiant effort. (Pictured below is also the trio of grilled mushrooms we ordered. They were good, but next time I will opt for the escarole or grilled corn instead).
By that point I was so stuffed that I thoroughly regretted the less than forgiving dress I chose. But, I’d heard rave reviews about the carrot cake, and Kevin wanted to try the chocolate, so we forged ahead. I confess I only had one bite of the carrot before tapping out, but the icing was somehow light, and you definitely tasted a mix of cream cheese, cinnamon and maybe lemon? The cake was moist but slightly crunchy on the edges because of the pan they bake it in. Fantastic. It was also served with a ginger ice cream that I enjoyed but thought overpowered the cake just a bit. The chocolate cake was moist and filled with a cherry filling. Usually I am not a lover of cherries unless they are fresh, but this dessert surprised me in its lightness and in the fact the cherry filling tasted like cherries and not some overly sugared fake-cherry version of the fruit. I would still order the carrot cake first, because Carbone’s was special and one you won’t get anywhere else.
The evening ended with espresso and complimentary limoncello. The espresso was good, the limoncello great. When I lived in Italy I spent a week in Sorrento, where they make limoncello, and it’s consumed with lunch, dinner, after dinner and basically whenever your heart desires. It’s sweet and tart and a great digestive. The ones in America are usually way too sweet for my liking, unless they are homemade. The one at Carbone, whether homemade or not, took me right back to Sorrento, and was a perfect end to the night.