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May 25, 2011

Las Vegas - Day III

Onion Bagel and Cream Cheese Dominic Armato

The second full day is usually when I'm consumed by the desire to get off-strip for a bit. Stimulus overload. So after discovering that our first choice, Bouchon Las Vegas, was serving only a handful of cold salads and sandwiches for lunch (bummer), being that we're still searching for a good deli back home, we figured it would be a good time to get a fix while we could, and a little break from the strip while we were at it. Fellow food nerd Pigmon (a fellow whose work I read to put myself in my place whenever I start to think I might know something about food) had talked up The Bagel Cafe a while back, and I made a point to note it. On the western edge of the city, flanked by doctors' offices in a nondescript little commercial development, is a pretty darn good no-frills deli... or so it seems from the tiny little bit I sampled.

French ToastDominic Armato

I love the straightforwardness of the place. There's an extensive carry out counter up front, with bins of bagels and coolers crammed with cured fish, deli meats and a horde of salads. If it's a weekday afternoon (I can't speak for the weekends), you grab yourself a seat and somebody will stop by before long. The menus may be done in kind of a goofy faux-newspaper format, but there aren't 50 sandwiches featuring every combination and permutation of meat and vegetable in the house, all named for New York celebrities, which makes me like these guys immediately. My ladylove's a sucker for French toast, which arrived hot and fluffy and HUGE. I don't think the photo conveys that there's half a loaf of bread on this plate. She only got about halfway through, and the couple of bites I had were pretty tasty. Totally no-frills.

Smoked Fish PlatterDominic Armato

Some manner of brisket is usually my benchmark, but between Pigmon talking up the smoked fish and a carnivorous orgy awaiting us at dinner, I opted for the combination fish platter for one, though if their assessment of the average person's appetite, the combination platter for three must contain enough fish to feed a small township. Chub or whitefish are standard, and the other two fish are your choice. I went with sturgeon and nova. When it arrives, there's nothing fancy on the plate. There's a dense bagel with great chew and cream cheese that's light without crossing into whipped. There are three piles of sliced fish, simply and perfectly smoked. And there's a horde of vegetables, but not a caper to be found. I completely gorged on smoked fish, ordered another bagel, and did it again. Our server remarked that I was "in it to win it." For better or worse, she was right. And I still left enough vegetables to open a stand at the farmers' market. I'm anxious to go back and have a sandwich, but that'll have to wait. Suffice it to say, it's immensely refreshing to hit a deli that doesn’t screw around. Thanks for the heads-up, Rob!

Carnage Dominic Armato

Our dinner reservation gave us plenty of time to process that gargantuan lunch, and after a day filled with movies, Vegas shows and... um... more napping, we strolled into Carnevino for a late meal that I hoped would be half as good as my first.

Grilled Octopus with LimoncelloDominic Armato

I'm a little embarrassed to point out that my second post on Carnevino is going to look pretty much exactly like the first. Thing is, I knew my ladylove would adore this place, and I was simply looking to replicate the experience. Which isn't to say I didn't branch out a touch. The kitchen rescued me from ordering the exact same octopus dish, for example, by altering it slightly. It's the same chilled octopus carpaccio topped by amazingly tender tentacles of charred octopus and piled with greenery and chiles, but it now features the addition of some pickled vegetables, and the citrus has been converted from freshly squeezed to a sweet sauce made with limoncello. It's just as wonderful. Maybe better. It's a little sweet, a little tart, a lot fiery when you happen upon a sliver of fresh chile, and criminy, that octopus... I have a hard time imagining how it could be prepared any more perfectly than this. If you're anywhere in the vicinity, please get this dish.

Beef Carpaccio with Lardo CrostiniDominic Armato

Our server, who didn't exactly endear himself to us by routinely stopping by to ask, "Are we pleasing the palates?" tried to steer me from the beef carpaccio to the steak tartare, but I held firm and I'm glad I did. His claim that the tartare had a little more depth of flavor may or may not have been true, but I was positively delighted to find that Carnevino went the near-traditional route rather than turning their carpaccio into the beef salad it's become just about everywhere outside of Venice. Killer raw beef, dressed with a light drizzle of a mayonnaise-based sauce and a little salt. What more do you need? Some crostini topped with melted lardo isn't a bad addition, as creative takes go. It's certainly more in keeping with

Lobster Anolini with TarragonDominic Armato

The thing I love about Carnevino is that I feel like I'm getting two dinners in one. There are probably other places where you can warm up for an absolutely killer steak with pasta this good, but I'm not sure I've encountered a restaurant that does both this well outside of Italy. My ladylove went with the now ubiquitous lone raviolo, portioned like a hockey puck, stuffed with ricotta and a liquid egg yolk that oozes into a plate full of brown butter when you cut into it. I think it was Michael Carlson over at Schwa who kicked off this particular trend, and I hope we're not quite ready to declare it dead just yet. As for me, lobster and pasta are a combination I always have trouble resisting, and the anolini with lobster and tarragon were just beautiful, light and sweet, and completely focused on the pasta, just as they should be. I could sit down at Carnevino, eat four tasting portions of pasta and leave completely happy without ever touching a steak.

La FiorentinaDominic Armato

But what's the sense in that, really? I tried to go with a different steak. I really did. But I just couldn't get away from the Fiorentina. So I had it again, and loved it just as much as the first time. It's a stunning porterhouse, aged for nearly three months, rubbed with salt and pepper and a little rosemary, charred, sliced and served with a drizzle of killer olive oil and a little Maldon salt. I've waxed poetic about this steak once before, but I'll do it again. I love that it's a little messy, not trimmed too carefully. I love that those hints of fig and gorgonzola come through, though none were used to cook it. And I love that it's sliced tableside, but they still leave you with the bone and... natch... a Berti knife to get every last little bit of edible flesh off of it. I stopped shy of picking up the bone to gnaw on it. I wish I hadn't exercised such restraint.

SorbettiDominic Armato

I didn't even remember at the time that I'd finished with sorbetti the first time, but my brain was obviously in the same place. I can't think of a better finish to such a decadent meal than a few quenelles of light, sweet, impossibly smooth fruit sorbet. This time around it was blueberry, strawberry and rhubarb, and all three were perfect. The only thing that could have made the meal more perfect would have been a bit of amaro before heading out the door, but it was exceedingly late and my legs were already weak with wine. I don't care if Mario Batali has become a caricature of himself. I don't care if this place costs more than it probably should. I've now had two killer meals there. Well... I suppose I've had the same killer meal twice. But it's a really, really good one, and the struggle to try out a new steakhouse on our next visit isn't getting any easier.

Vegas - Day I   |   Vegas - Day II   |   Vegas - Day III   |   Vegas - Day IV   |   Vegas - Day V

The Bagel Cafe
www.thebagelcafelv.com
301 N. Buffalo Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89145
702-255-3444
Sat - Sun7:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Mon6:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Tue - Fri6:30 AM - 8:00 PM

Carnevino
www.carnevino.com
3325 Las Vegas Boulevard S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-789-4141
Mon - Sun12:00 PM - 11:00 PM

Comments

omigosh, i forgot about bagel cafe. i used to go there a lot on weekends when i lived in vegas. carnevino looks so good.

Dom, I actually went to Carnevino because of your previous review. We had great pasta firsts, and ordered the steak florentine. But it was literally the worst steak I've ever had at a restaurant. I got the blue cheese notes that you talked about, but it was so chewy and gristly that it was literally inedible. I felt like a ten year old with canned spinach as I tried to surreptitiously spit it out into my napkin . I'm jealous that yours looks so great. Also, even though we had barely touched the steak, no one asked us if there was a problem. I guess I should have complained but I hate doing that. Anyways, at best I would say it's hit-or-miss.

Maybe if I start taking pictures of my food I'll get decent food next time...

Ally... Ack! That's no good. I wonder to what degree you got a bad one and to what degree we might have divergent opinions on what constitutes edible meat. As mentioned, part of what I love about that steak is that they don't trim it very aggressively and there's a lot of that... stuff. I love that. But from your description, it sure sounds like you got a clunker. I've talked to a number of friends who have eaten there as well and nobody's said anything like that. I'd be curious to hear if anybody else has had a bad experience with the steak there. I know it's hard to speak up... I hate doing it too... but if you find a $150 steak inedible, I can't think of a more appropriate time :-)

Bummer.

Interesting that your second visit to Carnevino was as good as the first. A group of colleagues were entertaining some clients in Vegas and they asked me, resident foodie, where to go, and I said here. To a man, they were all: "meh". And one is fellow Italian-American and he thought the Florentine was "chewy". This review gave me pause. I'm still going here next time I get to Vegas, but good to hear you re-up your endorsement after I got some negative comments (admittedly, some of whom I wouldn't trust to like anything beyond a burger, but also a few whose opinion I would take). I need to get to Vegas again. Soon....

Anon Man... To be clear, whether or not your friends fall into that category, this is a steak that the filet crowd will absolutely hate. Which is exactly why I love it :-)

I like some chew on a steak. It's one of the reasons I hate filet (except for some classical preparations when it's pretty heavily sauced and/or seasoned). Again, I have no way of knowing if this is a matter of divergent steaks or divergent preferences. But for what it's worth, I consider extreme tenderness a negative for this kind of steak. I say ask them if they ever order filet. If the answer is yes, it may just be a matter of preference. If the answer is no, then maybe I've been lucky.

Dom, by "a little chewy" do you mean not at all juicy? I am also not a fan of tenderloin that cuts like butter, but I don't know, maybe I should stay away from steak that's been aged for 3 months (although in the past I've enjoyed aged steak).

Ally... No, if anything it should be the other way around. The loin portion wouldn't be like a filet, but the aging generally breaks down the tissue a bit and makes it more tender. Unless it got totally dried out, of course. I'm definitely not trying to discount the possibility that there are consistency issues. Obviously, some of Anon Man's friends feel the same way. I'm just really curious if this is a matter of inconsistency or, like I say, a matter of preference. It's so hard to tell. It wasn't overcooked, was it? How was the color?

We ordered it med rare and it looked about right. It was just sort of rubbery and devoid of flavor, except for the crust, which had that nice flavor that you described so well.

"Devoid of flavor" would definitely indicate we're talking about two different steaks.

That blows. Both of mine were mind-bendingly good. There's little I hate more then when somebody follows a suggestion and has a bad meal :-/

Don't feel bad, the pasta was great :)

Actually other reviews I read had mixed reactions to the steak, too. So i was forewarned. Maybe it's just not everyone's taste, or maybe they aren't consistent. Or maybe your teeth are sharper than mine. ;)

You're not exactly endearing this reader by using "ladylove" three times in one review. ;^)

Thanks, Dom. Some of them are clearly food simpletons and I wouldn't trust their food tastes to pick a soda out of a cooler. But a few are minor foodies, so that gave me a little pause. I also get the impression their service was subpar, which might be the result of the simpletons being or annoying, or because the dinner was a business-related one, probably leading to an impression from the server that the tip would be mediocre. All hearsay and speculation on my part, mind you.

As for meat generally, there are times I like filet. I'm a beef wellington fantatic for some reason. Or, for holidays if you crust a whole tenderloin it can make for a nice "all pink" preperation, but as you say, very specific preperations. I'm usually a fan of big thick NY Strip, if I don't have someone to share a porterhouse with.

Anon Man... exactly, those are precisely the kinds of ways I enjoy filet.

As for Carnevino, it's a mystery, I guess :-)

Anon Man, if you love a nice juicy NY Strip, I don't think Carnevino is for you. Just saying. If you try it, I'd love to hear what you think.

Thanks for the kind words, Dom.

Carnevino is fantastic. I couldn't disagree with you more, ally.

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