NEW YORK — Your $400 date at Carbone doesn't begin with anything fancy. No caviar, no foie gras.
Instead, your waiter appears in a red Zac Posen tuxedo, looking and sounding like Joe Pesci in "My Cousin Vinny." He pierces a chunk of parmesan with a blade and lays it on your plate. Then come tomato-softened grandma bread and smoky American prosciutto.
And there it is, all the components of a ham-and-cheese sandwich at a hammed up joint where 1950s rock pipes through the speakers, where the art is curated by Vito Schnabel and the red saucery can cost almost as much as a meal at Jean-Georges.
This all comes courtesy of the team behind Torrisi, a small tasting-menu venue that proved we'll pay as much for the best Italian-American food as we will for the finest French fare.
Carbone, in the dark and clubby space that was once Rocco, is Torrisi's a la carte analogue. Getting in is just as tough and with good reason: This Greenwich Village spot is spectacular.
Veal parm, which commands $12 as a deli sandwich, is a $50 chop at Carbone. Nostalgia may be free, but first-rate veal costs.
Still, Carbone embraces the culinary yesteryear. Servers upsell you with perfectly porky, off-the-menu "meat-a-balls."
Listing the specials takes three minutes; tossing Caesar salad tableside even longer. That salad costs $17 and it's flawless: cool, parmesan-slicked lettuce, anchovy fillets and buttery croutons.
Scampi, $38, swaps out bland shrimp for Scottish langoustines, which become silky sponges for white wine and garlic butter. Carabineros, a regal variety of prawns rarely seen in New York, somehow pack the color and flavor of concentrated shellfish stock. Cost: $64.
Order the $48 per-person antipasti, a tasting of seven or eight dishes that lays down the luxury hard. Fresh mozzarella is anointed with firm sturgeon caviar. A terrine of foie gras appears with chives on top: "Liver and onions," quips the waiter.
Fluke becomes Le Bernardin-worthy as a chaud-froid combo of raw flesh and charred fin, all drenched in basil oil. Sweet sea urchin tops baked clams like seaside whipped cream.
The young Carbone is already one of our city's finest seafood spots. Posillipo is code for Manhattan shellfish chowder, pure red-pepper-and-Worcestershire bliss. "Stracciatella" tastes like a ramp-spiked riff on the best part of any fish shack: the sweet crab meat that gets stuck at the bottom of a plastic butter ramekin. You greedily eat it with a spoon.
All that fat calls for an unusually tannic sparkler (Camillo Donati, $15), or perhaps a Jay-Z-style "Black Label" Gavi, in all its aromatic, $26-by-the glass glory. Torrisi types frustrated by that restaurant's American-only wines can rejoice in Carbone's $200 Barolos and other Italian extravagances.
I might make do with a Godme Pere et Fils Champagne ($85) and pair the bubbles with an $87.50 lobster; the tender flesh becomes an agent for a fra diavolo sauce whose clean red pepper and brandy flavors would merit Michelin-stars in any era, 1952 or now.
That crustacean clocks in at 2 1/2 pounds. This is studied over-indulgence, an ode to the gigantic proteins of post-war America. The $140 mixed grill, billed for two, feeds four. Included: Two whole squabs (appropriately livery), two giant dry-aged lamb chops (powerfully musky), fennel-coated pork ribs (getting full), and sweetbread skewers (make them stop!). And juicy boar sausage, sampled eight hours later from a doggy bag.
Other restaurants hand out parting gifts. Carbone hands out leftovers. Charcoal-grilled veal marsala ($52) tastes even better out of the fridge at midnight, when all the mushroom sauce gels around the fatty meat.
Pastas are Carbone's weak spot. The noodles are reliably cooked but lack a wow factor. Only rigatoni alla vodka, the bane of banquet halls, becomes majestic, with enough Calabrian chilies, tomatoes and butter to make you wonder whether this is how Buffalo wings should be made.
Out comes the marsala-spiked tiramisu ($12). Then fried dough strips appear. And gratis bottles of all-you-can-drink grappa. And limoncello. Look at your bill and have another "complimentary" digestif.
— Carbone is located at 181 Thompson St., in Greenwich Village. Information: +1-212-254-3000 or carbonenewyork.com.