Mario Batali's Italian steakhouse Carnevino was a tour de force of a meal from start to finish. I mean, how can you not love a place that serves its bread not only with butter but with a little tub of lardo. Yes lardo, pork fat, whipped up and seasoned with rosemary and salt. It had the texture of a very creamy butter and the taste of a rosemary butter with an underlying porkiness. The stuff was addictive. It made me want to lick out the tub, to take it home with me or to buy a brick of manteca and try to make it myself.
Given my experience at Batali's Osteria Mozza, we expected the pasta appetizer to be good, and it was. We opted for the cannelloni, stuffed with braised rabbit, spring garlic and lemon zest and topped with cheese. The pasta was Batali-perfect and the stuffing was a delightful fusion of sour, salt and garlic.
But beef is the thing here, BBL Beef to be specific. BBL is still sort of a mystery to me. As far as I can discern, it stands for Belgian Blue Lefaivre, which appears to be a proprietary breed; a hybrid between a particularly lean breed and a fattier cow which is both lean and well marbled, if that seeming contradiction makes sense. The menu states that BBL is "often beyond regular USDA prime standards for marbling and flavor and is hormone and antibiotic free."
Whatever the stuff is though, it's tasty. We ordered our favorite cut, the porterhouse, which was stunning. The beef tasted like no other I've had. The marbling, evident in the bone left on the plate (all steaks are carved tableside) was more similar to that of Wagyu steak than any other steak I've had in the US. The flavor was much more beefy, almost gamey, than a standard cut. This was one of the best steaks I've had, ever, and I like steak. And yes, I picked up the bone and tore the last bits of meat from it caveman style, to the amusement of surrounding tables. I'm sorry, but if you're going to give me the bone on a plate, I'm going to eat it.
Dessert was also excellent. Caramel date fritters, were warm and perfectly fried. The date and caramel, which you might think would be an excessively sweet combination, came together perfectly, the date puree adding some texture to the burnt sugar of the caramel.
My only complaint of the meal was that one of the sides we ordered, a fregula pasta (a sort of large couscous) with fava beans and pecorino romano, was too salty. The pecorino, cut into little balls and mixed in with the fregula, overwhelmed with their saltiness and there were too few favas in the dish to make an impression.
The more I eat at Batali restaurants, the more impressed I am that this seemingly class-clown type of a guy with a television, restaurant and cook book empire is still putting out food of this quality. This was a meal that was worth a pilgrimage. If you are a steak lover, you need to check out Carnevino.
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