As parenthood has struck in earnest, the chances to actually – well, find a new restaurant – is of course rare. As such, when a trip to Las Vegas became reality, the chance to have a top flight dinner at a Mario Batali joint was very interesting. Batali of course is only one of the myriad of celebrity chefs who have places around town – and with the reputation Las Vegas has gotten as the frontier being conquered by the best of the best – I was really excited. Indeed Carnevino by Batali and Bastianich had the reputation of one of the very best places on the Strip.
Now, I have to stop and pause to discuss aspects of the sorts of places commonly blessed with the “best restaurant” sort of moniker – sometimes I wonder if the price and atmosphere sort of imbue the place with a halo. Has there ever been a top shelf steak place which people have not rhapsodized about how amazing their meal was? I’ve been to Smith and Wollensky, I’ve been to Capital Grille. They were both excellent experiences, but does $150 a person sort of force you to make that assessment? There is admittedly something very powerful about the feeling of sitting down to a steak dinner at a steakhouse of that ilk – a very patriarchal, arcane sort of power, the sort where you start calling women “dames” but never mind, but seductive nonetheless. If somebody had a meh steak experience, would they be ready to admit it?
Fortunately, Carnevino was not a “bad” experience – given the company and whatnot it was still a terrific night. Obviously, much meat was going to flow, so we went with a Pinot Noir on the menu – I forget the specifics, aside from it being Oregonian – but it was excellent, a good complement to the meal we were having. That said, it was a bit incongruous with the calamari I had – although the calamari was perfectly fried and the pepper in the marinara made for a spicier experience than the normally banal side. The pasta I ordered was a course of Amatriciana which was excellent as well. I am not sure if they used legit guanciale or just pancetta, but either way that cured pork depth emanated through. There was a little less heat than I was expecting but it’s a minor quibble.
The service was very friendly – and my tablemates loved their cuts. However, the staff got my order wrong and since I am not a functioning adult I did not advocate enough for myself. Thus I was left with a Veal Scallopini with a porcini marsala sauce which was much too sweet. The veal – allegedly a melt in your mouth sort of cut was rather chewy in a less mirthful way. Is this enough to give Carnevino a thumbs down? Well – I don’t know … if someone is putting their hard earned money for an experience like this, I don’t want to deny that to them. If you want a great steak – this seems to do pretty well by the words around the table. But I wonder how much of the praise was driven by the experience – isn’t it a chicken and egg thing sometimes?