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Carbone: Old School Charm and New World Cuisine

March 31, 2013

Ever since it was announced last year that the Torrisi team was taking over the space that housed Rocco, a neighborhood Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, there has been much grumbling and lamenting about the vanishing New York.  After much anticipation, Carbone finally unveiled itself two weeks ago and it immediately became a difficult to secure reservation, mostly because they are only accepting reservations now via a phone line that is consistently busy.  I dialed and dialed (thank goodness for that redial button) and was able to book a table for three this past Friday.

We were seated in the back of the cozy dark restaurant at a setting that is surprisingly spacious and comfortable by New York standards.  What was even more incredible was that the music was tuned to a comfortable volume, churning out some great hits.

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The second we settled down in our seats, our waiter brought over some goodies to kick off our meal.  Included in these pre-dinner bites were shards of savory parmigiano reggiano served from the wheel, smoked paper thin slices of ham, herb crusted slices of focaccia, and a bread basket.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the selections though.  All you need to remember is to dig into the bread basket right away for the garlic bread.

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The three of us decided to progress through the meal family style in order to taste as much of the menu as we can. Our waiter was very accommodating and really put some thought into how to space out our meal.  To start, we ordered the posillipo pan roast and the caesar salad ZZ.  The posillipo pan roast arrived in a red cast-iron pan, steaming hot.  A mixture of little neck clams and mussels were cooked with sausages in a red pepper sauce.  Everything was tender and flavorful, even without the delicious slightly spicy creamy sauce.

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The caesar salad alla ZZ was prepared tableside.  When was the last time you have seen that?  Our waiter meticulously mixed all the components of the a classic caesar salad in a large wood bowl.  I loved how you could taste the pop of fresh lemon, savory anchovies and spicy mustard in the creamy but not heavy dressing.  What topped off this classic was the croutons.  Instead of dry and crunchy pieces of leftover bread, these were pretty much fried in butter before they made it to our bowl of greens.  The outside was shatteringly crunchy yet the inside retained a moist and chewy center.  Now this is how you turn up the volume on a classic.

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Our waiter next sent out half orders of the spicy rigatoni vodka for our middle course.  He was very persuasive so we could not resist saying no to his suggestion of adding on a side of meatballs.  And I am happy to report, we were glad that we listened to him as the meatballs and rigatoni did indeed pair together very well.  The large meatballs were juicy and tender and came out separately in a light tomato sauce, topped with fried basil leaves.  The rigatoni was spicier than expected and cooked to a perfect al dente.  I was not planning on finishing this in order to save room for the rest of the meal but clearly this did not happen.

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For our entrees, we decided to go with the bass Alison and another half order of pasta, linguini vongole this time.  The bass Alison was quite a beauty.  The filet of bass came to the table side in a cast-iron pan, steamed on a bed of limes and lime leaves.  Our waiter carefully lifted the filet onto a bed of braised thinly sliced fennel and potatoes.  All of this was topped off with a basil and mint pesto.  The fish was flaky and buttery, unbelievably light with a hint of the limes that it was steamed on.  Combined with the chilies, the bass carried with it hints of Southeast Asian cuisine.

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The linguine vongle finished our savory dishes at Carbone.  While this might look like your typical linguine with clams, the team here added bites of razor clams in addition to plump little necks.  The spicy bread crumbs are offered table side, ensuring that they remained perfectly crunchy with each bite.  This was another dish that was hard to resist finishing completely.

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While we hemmed and hawed over whether or not to end the meal with something sweet, the waiter swooped by with two bottles.

“Limoncello or fig and fennel grappa?”

We all opted for the sweet thick limoncello and enjoyed it while nibbling a plate of fried dough topped with powdered sugar.

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We were almost ready to turn down a proper dessert when today’s selection arrived table side.  All were house made and complete showstoppers.  In the end, the nutella tiramisu won us over.  Carbone’s take on tiramisu was a beautiful four layer cake with a thin layer of nutella on top.  Even though I had promised myself that I will only have a few small bites, I couldn’t resist as I found my fork repeatedly dipping into the vanishing cake.

Like New York Times mentioned before Carbone even opened, this is the new Italian restaurant that you have seen before.  However, I am happy to say that Carbone is so much more.  The Torrisi team has put their own personal flavorful spin on the classics often found at Italian American restaurants that have become increasingly difficult to find in New York.  While it is unfortunate to see a neighborhood spot go the way of history, we must look forward to the future and luckily it looks like the future, Carbone, is now here to stay.  

Carbone | 181 Thompson Street, New York, NY 10012 | http://carbonenewyork.com/

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