The Italian-American supper clubs immortalized in mob movies and sepia-toned photos were never as dreamy as they seemed. And the red-sauce classics still served behind curtained windows at clubby holdouts like Il Mulino and Rao’s are rarely as inspiring as our memories of them. The young guns behind Carbone, though, have moved beyond sentimentality in their homage to these restaurants by flipping the whole genre onto its head.
The new spot, from tag-team chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, is a Godfather hangout on steroids, more fantastical set piece than history-bound throwback. Like Torrisi and Parm, their earlier projects together, it’s a hyped-up spin on a vanishing form, a restaurant where, bread sticks to bowties, everything looks, tastes and feels like much more of itself.
Under brass chandeliers, on navy walls, hangs brash modern art on old-school Italianate themes, curated, like the food here, by a downtown tastemaker (Julian Schnabel’s son Vito). The waiters, a seasoned crew plucked from powerhouse dining rooms all throughout the city, have the smooth steps and cool banter of celluloid pros. But Zac Posen designed their wide-lapelled burgundy tuxes. And the moneyed swells blowing their bankrolls in the entry-level front room or more sedate VIP inner sanctum—out back near the kitchen—aren’t capos or dons but young bankers and food-obsessed hipsters.
Whether you know a guy who knows a guy or simply scored your seat on OpenTable, you’ll feel like an insider as you pass under the antique neon sign hanging above the door, left over from Rocco, the 90-year-old joint this new hot spot replaced. Those swarming waiters ply every table with complimentary extras, swooping in with a hollowed cheese, big as a drum, stuffed with sharp chianti-soaked Parmesan nuggets (aged up the block at Murray’s), with smoky whispers of Broadbent ham carved from a haunch on a dining room pedestal.
The enormous menu, which opens as wide as The New York Times, reads like an encyclopedia of red-checkered classics. But co-chefs Torrisi and Carbone have made such dramatic improvements, you’ll barely recognize anything. You’ve never had a Caesar salad like their tableside masterpiece, a beautifully dressed, nuanced variation on the classic, amplified with warm garlic-bread croutons, two types of anchovies and three types of cheese.
You may have already heard about the restaurant’s exorbitant prices—that salad will set you back $17—but there’s real value in the top-shelf raw materials and gargantuan servings, and in the unbridled excess of the whole dining experience.