At a Glance
What is it?
A family-style Italian joint based on the NYC restaurant of the same name.
Where is it?
What kind of food is served?
Classic Americanized Italian comfort food. Think lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs.
What is the atmosphere like?
Big. As in the biggest restaurant in Vegas.
How is the service?
Very good, friendly, and attentive.
What are the prices like?
On a per-person basis, not bad at all.
What else do I need to know?
All food is served in massive, family-style portions. Singles and couples should look elsewhere.
What’s the bottom line?
Groups now have a good place to go in Vegas.
The bigger is better mantra is a popular one in Las Vegas. Here you’ll find some of the biggest hotels in the world, the biggest nightclubs in the world, and the biggest of a bunch of other random things (indoor atrium at Luxor; observation wheel at Linq; etc.). In a town built on the concept of excess things like all-you-can-eat buffets and 24 hour liquor sales are not only the norm but almost demanded, like a right guaranteed by our founding fathers.
Carmine’s fits into that way of thinking very nicely on a variety of levels. First of all it’s the biggest restaurant in Las Vegas (that doesn’t have a nightclub attached to it). It certainly feels like it. The main dining room is a grand two-story affair with lots of big tables and comfy booths surrounded by acres of framed photos, paintings, and posters covering the walls. It’s less chaotic than it sounds and winds up being a pretty nice place to dine. Out front is a patio along the Forum Shops mall main walkway and out back and upstairs are several private and semi-private dining rooms and a balcony for groups and events that overlooks The Strip.
But the food also fits into the bigger theme, coming in family size portions that are designed to be shared. Each item serves three or four people depending on how hungry and/or gluttonous those people are. This means that it is best for big groups who can order a bunch of things and pass the plates around while having a festive, interactive time. Singles and couples will want to look elsewhere unless you haven’t eaten in a few days.
The cuisine is classic Americanized Italian. Garlic bread and antipasto for appetizers; ravioli, rigatoni, and manicotti for pastas; and chicken, veal, seafood, and beef done in styles with names like parmigiana, marsala, scaloppine, and saltimbocca. You’d expect there to be red and white checkered table cloths and wine bottles with candles stuck in them as decoration. While perhaps not the most inventive, it’s almost a welcome relief from the upscale, Northern Italian served at most places with this particular cuisine in Vegas. Forget the risotto with asparagus and artichokes in a delicate mushroom blah blah blah, I want spaghetti and meatballs! And I want a lot of it! Food, good!
My table of three tried three different things – the penne alla vodka, the chicken parmigiana, and the lasagna. The latter was the clear winner, an almost impossible construction of hearty meat, thick cheese, rich tomato sauce, and perfectly cooked noodles. It was exactly as lasagna was meant to be. The chicken was worthy opponent, juicy and tender and smothered in gooey cheese but I could’ve done without the penne. There was nothing specifically wrong with it, but there was nothing special about it either. It came across as bland compared to the lasagna.
Dessert was a bit of a disappointment. The Italian cheesecake was only so-so and the strawberry shortcake was too heavy on the whipped cream, which along with the cake wasn’t sweet enough for my taste buds.
They do have a small line of hoagies available at the bar for takeout if you are unwilling to cart around a wheelbarrow full of meatballs marinara.
Prices, at first glance, are very expensive. Most main courses are within a few bucks in either direction of $30 and go all the way up to more than $80 for the porterhouse Contadina. But remember that you’re serving at least three people with the portions and that makes it much more reasonable. A table of four could order three dishes, have more food than they know what to do with, and get out for about $25 per person.
You would think that Vegas restaurants would be well-suited to deal with big groups, but I’ve found it doesn’t really work that way. Most are designed to accommodate more intimate parties and when you do bring out the troops you are stuck with an “every man for himself” ordering strategy. This lively, interactive, family-style concept and the solidly dependable Italian favorites they offer should make this a popular destination for groups and/or people who are really, really hungry.