This red-sauce West Village hot spot, from tag-team chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, is a Godfather hangout on steroids, more fantastical set piece than history-bound throwback. Under brass chandeliers, on navy walls, hangs brash modern art on old-school Italianate themes. The seasoned crew of waiters wear wide-lapelled burgundy tuxes designed by Zac Posen. And the moneyed swells blowing their bankrolls in the front room and VIP inner sanctum (out back near the kitchen) aren’t capos or dons but young bankers and food-obsessed hipsters.
Whether you know a guy who knows a guy or simply scored your seat on OpenTable, you’ll feel like an insider as you pass under the antique neon sign hanging above the door, left over from Rocco, the 90-year-old joint this nouveau ristorante replaced. Those swarming waiters ply every table with complimentary extras, swooping in with a hollowed cheese, big as a drum, stuffed with sharp chianti-soaked Parmesan nuggets (aged up the block at Murray’s), with smoky whispers of Broadbent ham carved from a haunch on a dining room pedestal.
The enormous menu, which opens as wide as The New York Times, reads like an encyclopedia of red-checkered classics. But co-chefs Torrisi and Carbone have made such dramatic improvements, you’ll barely recognize anything. You’ve never had a Caesar salad like their tableside masterpiece, a beautifully dressed, nuanced variation on the classic, amplified with warm garlic-bread croutons, two types of anchovies and three types of cheese.
More likely than not you know about the restaurant’s exorbitant prices, but there’s real value in the top-shelf raw materials and gargantuan servings, and in the unbridled excess of the whole dining experience.
Even going a less extravagant route—starting with the exceptional baked clams, say, or meaty grilled octopus—there’s not a meal to be eaten at Carbone that’s not over-the-top. Pastas are so across-the-board rich and intense, they’re best split in half as a shared middle course. The rigatoni alla vodka is like a Gucci edition of the overexposed Italian-American standard, its exceptional house-made maccheroni drenched in spicy cream and sweet melted onions.
You’ll be glad to find bottles of house-infused limoncello and grappa on the table—a luxury offered to everyone at no extra charge. Linger as long as you like, soak up the scene. You’re going to need some time to recover.