Mixing Old World with the New @ Carbone

Get out your wallets. … it’s time for Carbone. Yes, Carbone is a splurge but in a pretty fantastic way. Even though you can’t get out of there with any sort of a cheap meal I will try to give you some tips on what to order to get the best bang for your buck. … and hopefully not (completely) break the bank. Before getting into the food – which is really what you’re here for – I will briefly make note of the ambiance. Think old school Italian without the cheese-ball and add extra class and sophistication. That is the kind of vibe you get from Carbone. White tablecloths, hand-painted Italian serving dishes and dark walls to give the restaurant that sleek finish. All the servers are suited up and fancy with everything neatly pressed  – I do not think I saw one waitress now that I think about it – and everyone acts like you’re part of the family. It’s authentic, not over-the-top and the people take care of you. Italian hospitality. … what else do you need?

Family style is the way to go. Don’t fight it – just do it. If you try to order by yourself you will be disappointed, probably over-order and end up with a bill you’re not pleased with. You’ll want to try a little bit from each section of the menu anyway. The menu is divided into six sections (eight if you include the daily seafood selection and dessert): Antipasti, Zuppa e Insalate, Macaroni, Pesci, Carni and Contorni. Let’s start from the top. Before you even get the food you order there will be a pleasant surprise coming to your table. A fresh bread basket with several varietals, thick chunks of parmesan, a little charcuterie and some pickled cauliflower for noshing purposes. A generous touch and a pleasant pre-dinner snack. Now, on to the main event. The Baked Clams appetizer is great for sharing. You get nine clams baked in three different styles – classic, casino and one variety topped with sea urchin. It was a little much for two people, but don’t worry we cleaned the plate. On the topic of salad, Carbone has a pretty impressive Caesar. Not too much dressing, not too heavy, great croutons and well portioned. I glanced at the Caprese served at the table next to us which looked delicious as well. Fresh mozzarella that the server sliced in front of the table with very ripe and fresh-looking tomatoes. A perfect summer treat and I am sure it tasted just as it would if you were on the Italian coast. OK, maybe not quite, but close enough.

Macaroni, Macaroni! This is no Kraft or Velveeta. … these pastas are far more impressive. There are many options, but I received a lot of menu guidance from friends before going to Carbone and every single person said Spicy Rigatoni Vodka. At first I thought this was too simple. Can’t you get any more original about what is considered the best pasta on the menu? And maybe it’s not THE best. … after all it’s the only one I got to try. … but it was a pretty tasty vodka. First of all, the portion was not overwhelming. Second of all, the sauce was used sparingly. This was no Penne alla Vodka with a sauce that is so thick it’s hard to muster up the energy to consume more than three bites. Carbone’s sauce used just enough cream and the spicy kick really makes the dish come alive. My mouth was a little bit on fire (I am more sensitive to spice than many people), but I think that’s what kept me coming back for more. All the pasta dishes are portioned as a middle courses and, therefore, your meal is not overwhelmed by carbs and you have room in your stomach for the rest of the menu. To round out the meal we went with something off the Carni section. Our server did recommend a number of the Pesci dishes, including the Shrimp Su’modo, but we went with the meat after seeing so much of it floating around us. Now, I am not a beef eater so we did not get to follow up with friendly pre-dinner advice regarding the Veal Parmesan. The table next to us – yes, the same one with the Caprese- got it though and it looked damn good. Huge piece of pounded and breaded meat topped with sauce and plenty of mozzarella. I almost went for it. …almost. In an attempt to not overwhelm ourselves at the end of our meal we kept it simple with Chicken Scarpariello. A classic with plenty of flavor and served with very tender white and dark meat, but it wasn’t necessarily the highlight of the meal. A good way to finish and not over-stuff ourselves.

So, we ended there and didn’t feel compelled to dive into dessert. It was that perfectly full feeling. The one where if you consume one more bite it could take you over the edge. A sage piece of advice. … always stop there. Easier said than done. Anyway, the most compelling sweet was the carrot cake. If it tastes nearly as good as it was displayed I am sure it was thoroughly moist with a perfectly creamy icing and sure to induce a sugar coma. There were other options as well, with the standard Tiramisu not to be forgotten, but Italian desserts never do excite me much so we saved the extra bucks and got the bill.

Speaking of bucks, other than ordering in family style and skimping on dessert, another way to save some cash if you’re on a budget is to go light on the booze. The cocktails and wine are quite pricey so maybe  limit yourself to one hearty glass of wine that you can enjoy throughout the meal. If you’re at a larger table order reasonable (oxymoron) bottles in accordance with that same rule – enough for everyone to have one. I had a red from the Umbria region and it coupled well with pretty much everything we ate. … and more importantly, I was able to stretch one glass throughout the meal’s entirety. It was skillful, but I promise you can do it too. Sorry Carbone, I am sure you don’t like my thrifty advice! If you have a special celebration, work affair or you’re a food fanatic like me, and save up for such decadent meals, then think ahead and plan a trip to Carbone. It took me a while to get there, but I am glad I did. Next one to add to the list. … the latest from this restaurant crew, Dirty French.

Carbone, 181 Thompson Street, New York, NY, 10012. Phone: (212) 933-0707.

When To Book: Carbone accepts reservations 30 days in advance on OpenTable. Yes, you need to book 30 days in advance if you want a shot at a normal eating time. … and even then it’s not a sure thing. You can also call the reservation line at (212) 254-3000. 

A Warm Aloha From Ka’ana Kitchen

I spent the better part of the past two weeks on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. While I did not go out on the town very often – mainly because food there is very $$$ – there was one dinner I had that’s definitely worth mention. Ka’ana Kitchen is one of the restaurants at the recently opened Andaz hotel in Wailea. Ka’ana means “to share” and that theme permeates the dining experience at this chic hotel restaurant. The dining room and guest attire can be described as casual chic, the menu eclectic and featuring local fare while the atmosphere remained lively. I would definitely have to say Ka’ana Kitchen is a very nice change of pace compared to some other more generic hotel restaurants I have dined at in the past.

Let’s dive right into the food. We did a lot of sharing at my table. That’s the point of the restaurant anyway, right? The menu is a little hard to navigate if your server doesn’t explain it upon seating you (luckily ours was right on point). It’s subdivided into six sections: Ka’ana Classics, Surfing Goat Dairy, Kona Cold Lobsters, Craig Nihei and Bryan Otani Local Farmers, Taguma Wagyu and Vegetarian. The initial thought. … what does this all mean? Each section corresponds to the local farm or food producer that provides the ingredients for each of the corresponding dishes. None of the menu items are generic and, in many instances, you may not even initially believe that all the ingredients could blend well together, but I bet Ka’ana Kitchen will serve you up a pleasant surprise. … I know I was impressed. Also, for those parents out there, the restaurant has a Keiki (aka children’s) menu for the young ones, so don’t feel like you need to leave part of the family at home. It is a sophisticated restaurant, but the staff makes an effort to make all parties feel welcome. We had two children at our table who ordered off the kid’s menu and I must say, the waffle fries were some of the best I ever tasted (yes, I am somewhat embarrassed to say I enjoyed the kid’s menu. … but that means your children should like the food too!)

We began the meal with the Ahi Tataki, Rib-Eye Cap, Watermelon Salad, Chorizo and Peekytoe Crab. The Ahi Tataki was by far the first-round winner. It also happens to be one of the dishes where the flavor mixture did not make much sense to me at first glance – sliced seared tuna with heirloom tomatoes and burratta cheese. I do not really associate mozzarella with fish. Do you? It was a kind of Caprese with a twist. And it really did all work together. The creamy deliciousness coupled with sweet, ripe tomatoes, topped off with the savory fish prepared to near perfection. Melt-in-your mouth type of dish. Round one was not enough food (or it was but we all just wanted to sample some more), so we added the Vegetable Steam Buns, another round of Chorizo and the Makawao Farms Chicken to our order. CHICKEN ALL THE WAY. This dish epitomizes how to effectively complement the savory with the sweet. A gourmet fried chicken served with lavender malasadas (aka fancy donuts) and an asian slaw. Just rich enough without being overwhelming and sinfully delicious. After all that food you think we would be done. Not this group. We never end a meal without dessert. It was a tough call but we deliberated and agreed upon the Coconut Sundae. Coconut ice cream, hot fudge, macadamia nuts and pieces of chocolate cake hidden beneath the mound of ice cream. And you get to add the toppings as you wish. What’s not to like? My only regret is I forgot to snap a photo.

This is when the food coma started to really set in. … and then I felt like I couldn’t move. That’s a sign of a great meal. Or maybe just over-eating. Nevertheless, I was very impressed with Ka’ana Kitchen and felt refreshed by the fact that the experience did not feel sterile and stereotypically hotel-esque. The service was attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. The restaurant has a great vibe and a good scene for people-watching. You should arrive early and enjoy a cocktail at the outdoor bar during sunset. There are great cocktails at the restaurant when you arrive as well. I wouldn’t stay in the Wailea area of the island without giving Ka’ana Kitchen a shot. The price tag may sting, but the quality justifies the sticker shock. Even though the restaurant is fairly new it already has a positive buzz about it and I am sure its popularity will only continue to grow. Mahalo Ka’ana Kitchen! I hope to return again soon.

Ka’ana Kitchen, 3550 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, HI 96753. Phone: (808) 573-1234

When To Book:  Ka’ana Kitchen accepts reservations on OpenTable. We did not have a problem booking a table a couple of days in advance for a party of six, but I would recommend trying to make a reservation in advance of your travels to Maui (assuming you do not live there full-time).