Food: Las Vegas and Travels22 Mar 2010 09:29 am

People at work often ask me why I go to Las Vegas so often. Although I have many reasons, the biggest is that each trip, I leave things undone. There is always another restaurant to visit, or revisit. Another round of pinball on the CSI machine to play. Another hotel room to check out. You get my drift.

This trip, we did a few things I’ve been meaning to do for a while

  • eat a great steak
  • visit the famous Lotus of Siam Thai restaurant
  • hit up a spa

We chose Carnevino as the place to eat our steak. After reading about the insane riserva cut: or super long dry-aged steak they prepare, what better place to check out? I was a bit nervous over the Mario Batali name being attached to the restaurant, but seems like every restaurant on the Strip is a diffused celebrity chef owned restaurant these days. They can’t all be bad, right?

Why did I waste a shot on the menu? WHY??

Unfortunately, my camera died half way through the meal. Sometimes I like that though because it saves you all from sad poorly lit photos and it allows me to eat in peace. However, because I have such a poor memory it makes recalling the meal difficult, and I feel like something lacks in my post when I retell it. So, forgive me for this post.

I think the coolest thing about visiting Carnevino is that for one of the first times we’ve eaten in Las Vegas, we had a good sized group. Mike’s parents had planned a trip to Arizona and drove down from Edmonton. They decided to detour for a night and visit us in Vegas. So five of us, including our friend Evan, ate out that night.

We started with some Grey Goose in Evan’s room. He classily chilled it in the ice bucket for us. The beer in our room had unceremoniously been plunked in one of the sinks.
Still: better than the trash can we’ve used before.
Look how good the boys look!

When I walked up to the podium – without a reservation – the hostess assumed it was just Evan and I since Mike had gone to meet his parents and guide them through the massive Venetian/Palazzo hotel complex. “Twenty minutes,” she said.

“Actually, there will be five of us,” I explained.

“Oh, that changes everything!” she exclaimed, and whisked us away to an amazing six person table in a private alcove. The benefits of a group!

In our dining nook. That bottle in front of Mike’s dad is beer, not wine.

The restaurant is cozy, yet huge. There are actually four different portions, split up across a casino walkway. The place was buzzing with people, including several large groups. And that was after the pre-theatre menu rush.

While the cocktail I wanted (“American Honey”  Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, ginger ale, fresh ginger and bourbon infused honey) was out “we need to infuse more honey,” the server said, apologetically; I sprang for a Japanese beer I knew I liked. Although nothing is draught, they do have a fine selection of beer, which Mike’s dad liked.

Hitachino Red Rice ale and Evan’s focaccia. And that’s all she shot.

We received warm cheese croquettes to start, followed by bread with the most flavourful spread I’ve ever had. I know I say that every time I eat some new topping, but Carnevino’s pork lardo grey salt “butter” takes the cake. Real butter cannot compete with pure pork fat. I could imagine it on popcorn, crackers, someone’s body.

Here’s the trick about Carnevino. They bring you a large menu that from the outset seems easy. Appetizers, and steaks. Add a wine menu (okay, novel) I feel confident in tossing right away. But then, the beef tasting menu arrives. Then the special seasonal additions. Soon, you’re lost in a flurry of “we’re getting this” or “did you order that.” They should consider dimsum style carts.

We started with many different appetizers, including Carne Cruda alla Piemontese (Piemontese style steak tartare, with mushrooms), extremely thin but explosively flavoured beef carpaccio, a selection of house cured meats (you know we can’t stay away from the charcuterie!), and some mouth watering pork fritters. Less inspired lentils with guanciale. A small fort of Caesare’s “Tuscan Fries.”

Because we couldn’t decide on main courses, we also got half orders of pasta, just to try them. (All excellent, especially the gnocchi.) I suddenly became happy we were hidden from the restaurant under our mountain of food.

Not yet half way through our appetizers (making this more of a family style meal) the mains arrived. For Evan, sweetbreads. For Mike’s parents, enormous racks of lamb. Mike and I shared a 9-month dry-aged riserva ribeye, 1.5″ thick.

It’s carved tableside, the server deftly slicing it off the bone, which is presented as well. The server need not have told us to be sure and eat it, I’ve been stripping steakbones since I was seven. Thanks, tips.

The steak is so delicate it cannot even be cooked in the same way as a regular cut of beef. It’s gently warmed to the side of the grill. The first bite was…well, weird. It’s an ancient steak, after all. It’s been gently aging in a warehouse off Blue Diamond Road in south Vegas for months, collecting a fine patina of mold, waiting for this very moment.

Not to get too nerdy, I’ll keep it simple. The texture was slightly springy; nearly compressed – like a cured meat or very firm sausage. It smelled of a thousand BBQs, or like the first grilled meats our ancestors ate eons ago. The flavour? Complex. Hints of blue cheese, a certain gamey-ness wild game shouldn’t actually have and such deep meat flavour, I may not have to eat a steak for months to come it left me so satisfied.

All that for just $100 an inch.

Carnevino is definitely a special steakhouse. Thoughtful touches are evident everywhere: housemade everything (even the soap in the washroom is from reclaimed grill grease) as many locally sourced items on the menu as possible in a desert, attention to detail and (mostly) charming and helpful staff.

I can’t say for sure we will be able to return on our next visit, but it’s definitely on the rotation for future visits.

If, like me, you are more interested in the process of dry-aging beef (something a few places in Edmonton do, for example the newly opened Real Deal Meats) here’s a document you might enjoy reading: Dry-Aging of Beef – Executive Summary by Dr Jeff Savell.

in Palazzo Las Vegas
Taverna menu available noon to midnight.
Monday – Friday dinner only, 5 – 11pm.

5 Responses to “Ancient steak at Carnevino, Las Vegas”

  1. on 22 Mar 2010 at 3:56 pm H.Peter

    I have to start travelling with groups.
    Or not. Not sure what I prefer.

    Batali, though omnipresent as all other celeb chefs, seems a bit more sincere in his offerings.

  2. on 22 Mar 2010 at 7:52 pm A Canadian Foodie

    100 dollars an inch? So, what was the bill? I appreciate this post. I have never heard of this kind of aged beef. It left you satisfied, yet was weird and complex… did the flavour grow on you?
    didn’t you forget the wedding on your list?
    You know I am not going to let up until you overtly let it out.
    I will probably never eat at this kind of restaurant. Would I like to? Absolutely. But, I think you have a partner who shares your love of food and adventure. Mine is a gem, but this is not an interest of his… thus, my own little corner of the world is my website – and I live vicariously though these kinds of posts. Don’t get me wrong. We do a lot of great things… but, this wouldn’t make it on the list… SO THANK YOU!

  3. on 22 Mar 2010 at 8:07 pm Kelly

    Valerie: There is no post about the wedding yet as there hasn’t been one yet. It’s in May. 🙂

  4. on 23 Mar 2010 at 9:04 pm habanerogal

    You would probably find Carrie Oliver of Oliver Meats quite interesting she does beef tastings and workshops. She calls herself a beef geek.

  5. on 27 Apr 2010 at 2:44 pm Huey Shyu

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