There is currently nowhere in Miami (and possibly North America) that’s a bigger pain in the ass to get into than Carbone. Since the day it opened, the South Beach Italian restaurant, originally from Manhattan, has created a clout-chasing stampede that makes getting a table here hard even for people who pride themselves on having a celebrity’s cell number.
I’m not one of those people, but I have been fighting for a table right alongside them for the last few months. And after weeks of checking Resy like a nervous senior waiting to see if I got into college, I finally found a table at Carbone. On a Tuesday. At 11pm.
Unless you are marginally famous, well-connected, or both, that is how you, too, will eventually get a table at Carbone - if you want one. But you don’t. Because while you may work very, very hard to find a reservation, Carbone will not hold up its end of the deal by making it worth all the effort.
The issues start the second you walk in the door with the absolute assault on the senses that is Carbone’s Rat-Pack-meets-hypebeast interior. In a 2013 review, The New York Times wrote that Carbone was “a fancy red-sauce joint in Greenwich Village as directed by Quentin Tarantino.” But the Miami location feels more like it was directed by Michael Bay. It’s heavy-handed and cluttered, a neverending explosion of velvet, emerald green, and animal print. The bar is packed with people whispering prayers into their credit cards and hoping for some miraculous last-minute availability. The dining room is busy, but not alive, a chaotic mix of the kind of social circles who covet exclusivity above all else. It should feel like one big party in here, but instead it feels like a dozen little ones you’re not invited to, all disconnected and competing for the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that just never materializes.
Things get better when the food begins to arrive, but not enough to save the night. For the tableside caesar salad, your “captain” will push over a cart of pre-made caesar dressing, mush it around in a wooden bowl a few times, and heap it onto your plate before you have time to realize that it wasn’t quite worth the $25. Their spicy rigatoni, a signature dish, isn’t really that spicy. The most interesting part of the veal parm is that they cut it with a tiny silver pizza cutter. But, to be clear, nothing is bad. In fact, most of the food is comfortably above-average. The desserts are great and the Gibson martini is top-notch.
But there is a direct relationship between how much trouble you go through to eat at a restaurant, and how good that restaurant needs to be. If, say, there is a steakhouse with exactly one table located on a balance beam positioned directly over the active Iclandic volcano Geldingadalir, and the only way you can get a reservation is by fighting UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou (also, Francis gets a sword and you only have a left-handed pair of scissors) - well, guess what? That steak better make you cry, in a good way.
There is, probably, a world in which you could have a fun meal here: if you’re with the right group of people, not paying, and happen to get a reservation for a time that isn’t 11pm on a Tuesday. Greatness is lurking somewhere in the DNA of Carbone. You can close your eyes and imagine how the restaurant became such a supernova in its native New York City - where it must have felt like a thrilling mix of vintage and inventive, like a ’67 Ferrari that can also fly to the moon. But in South Beach, Carbone just feels like an aging rockstar, going through the motions to fulfill contractual obligations. And even at its best, it’s not as good as it needs to be.
Ultimately, that’s Carbone’s fatal flaw. It doesn’t justify its own existence through an unforgettable experience. It doesn’t make you want to cry. At least, not in a good way.
There’s better pasta in Miami. There’s better service in Miami. There are more exciting and fun places to eat in Miami. Full stop. And the only logical answer to the big question about Carbone (Why is everyone going through all the trouble to eat here? ) is simply: because everyone else is.
If you’re expecting a big, showy tableside caesar, don’t order this. They don’t actually make the dressing tableside, but rather just toss all the ingredients together in a big bowl before scooping it onto your plate. It’s not impressive enough to justify the $25 it costs, and the massive croutons they use (ours came with five) aren’t crunchy all the way through.
Everyone at Carbone is ordering this, but for a dish that starts with the word “spicy,” there really should be more of a kick to it. Instead, the most prominent flavor here comes from the thinly-sliced onions dispersed throughout the sauce. Honestly, this should be called the onion rigatoni. But even then it wouldn’t be worth $33.
This is pretty good, and has a reasonably generous portion of lobster both inside and around the pasta. We’d order this over the spicy rigatoni.
It’s a solid version of veal parm, but it would still be hard to pick this out of a police lineup of above-average veal parms. It loses most of its crunch by the time it hits the table, and will not live on in our subconscious as the platonic ideal of veal parm.
If there is an exciting part of dinner at Carbone, it’s probably dessert, when your server swings over a massive tray of cake options. If the coconut lime chiffon cake is one of those options, order it. It’s light and fluffy with a perfect hint of lime.