New York Hot Spot Carbone Makes the Leap to Sin City
With his new restaurant on the Strip, chef/owner Mario Carbone offers the same Italian fare that has garnered fans from Kim Kardashian to President Obama — but with Vegas-ready theatrics.
Now that Christmas has come and passed and your family has finally packed up left, you've definitely earned a bit of "me time." The obvious choice for a weekend rendezvous is Las Vegas, especially with the new crop of restaurants being opened by top chefs from across the country. And if you're searching for a spot to grab a hearty meal to fuel your late nights, look no further than Carbone, which opened at Aria in October.
Mario Carbone spoke to Pret-a-Reporter about opening his first Las Vegas restaurant, who he hopes makes a reservation soon, whether his buzzy NYC eateries will move to a no-tipping policy and what is was like cooking for the President of the United States.
When did you first zero in on the opportunity to expand your brand to Las Vegas?
More than one year ago. We’ve been going back and forth talking about ideas and how to best translate Carbone to Vegas, what it was going to be and what our hopes were for it. And [Aria] has been tremendously supportive and really a great partner so far.
The romance of Carbone is encapsulated in the feeling that comes over a patron the moment they walk in the door — the tone, the vibe, the staff and the aesthetic. When you were first approached about opening locations in Hong Kong last year and now Las Vegas, did you have fears about diluting the brand?
You can’t replicate New York even if you were to do another New York. That building, that space, everything worked out so unique and so special. It’s a 100-year-old restaurant to begin with. It had an amazing spirit. Trying to replicate that would have been a huge mistake. What we wanted to do was make a really unique Carbone Las Vegas. I think what’s special about this restaurant is that it’s just a home here as it is there. So I don’t think it reads as a transplant. I think that it makes a lot of sense and it feels very natural here. And hopefully it conjures up Old Vegas the way Carbone New York conjures up Old New York.
What are the principles of the Carbone spirit that are present, no matter the location?
It’s a celebration of mid-century Italian American fine dining, which has a huge thread in both Vegas and New York City. Here, we’re lucky enough to have the space that we don’t have in New York, so we took advantage of that. We upped the theatrics. We have room to do flambes tableside now, and we built marble [carts] that roam around the restaurant. Having big soaring ceilings and chandeliers really add to the wow factor. Walking from the front room to the back room — the back room in New York is really dark and low, and you know it would be a huge mistake to try to redo that. Ken Fulk [who designed Carbone Vegas] is a little wizard. He’s the first designer who we really had a chance to trust and know that he understands us. Even though he was going to make a brand-new Carbone, we had a lot of confidence that he was going do it well and elegantly and still give us the details, the colors and everything.
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A hot-button issue right now with New York City restaurants is the “no-tipping” policy that several big names are adopting. What are you planning to do about it?
We’re having internal talks about it and how it’s going to affect the prices for the customer and the bottom line for the owners. It’s a huge shift that’s going to happen next year. We don’t know what we’re going to do yet, but we need to make sure that we make good sound decisions for the company. We’re responsible for a lot of people. It’s interesting to see what Danny Meyer is doing and others. We’ll make our own decision at some point.
Carbone in New York has been such a celebrity hotspot. Who’s been the most impressive person you have cooked for?
The President of the United States was kind of crazy. Having President Obama in and everything that goes into having the President in your building was surreal, bizarre, proud and awesome. It’s just a night no one will ever forget.
What celebrities do you hope will visit the Las Vegas spot?
I would love to see Mr. Tony Bennett here. He dined with us a couple of times in New York. I’m meeting such great characters. I met a man named Big Al the other night I absolutely loved. He’s the head of gaming for MGM. He’s awesome. Vegas' got their own set of guys, and I can’t wait to meet them all. We have such a crazy cross-section of customers who come to our restaurant. I bet it’s going to be a little crazier here. You never know who’s going to walk through that door.
Would you consider bringing another one of your concepts to Las Vegas, such as Dirty French or Parm?
I haven’t thought about it yet because of the amount of work we have here ahead of us. I really enjoy Vegas. I’ve been living here for a month now and I like it. I’ll love it even more when it’s the deep winter in New York. February is going to be awesome.