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September 2, 2014

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Larger-than-life Carmine’s is right at home in Las Vegas

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Leila Navidi

Food runner Enrique Aguilar serves chicken parmesan, from left, meatballs with ziti and eggplant parmesan at Carmine’s inside the Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

Carmine's at Forum Shops

Carmine's inside the Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Launch slideshow »
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Carmine's inside the Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

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A waiter serves the calamari at Carmine's inside the Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

“You’ve got to pace yourself,” Carmine’s CEO Jeff Bank advises as a waiter walks by with a 9-inch-high cut of eggplant Parmesan. “People have asked me if they can go walk off their main course and then come back for dessert.”

Those hefty portions are to scale: At 28,000 square feet, Carmine’s, the new Italian eatery at the Forum Shops of Caesars Palace, claims the title of the largest non-nightclub restaurant on the Strip.

Over the past year, owners Alicart Restaurant Group transformed the space formerly occupied by a Planet Hollywood restaurant into a two-level, 800-seat dining space equipped with as many as nine private dining rooms and a 5,000-square-foot kitchen.

The Forum Shops location marks the seventh (and largest) Carmine’s to open in the country, bringing the hearty, home-style Italian fare that has made the restaurant a Times Square staple for the past 20 years (drawing more than 1 million customers a year) to the foodie capital of the west.

Bank says translating the popular East Coast brand to Las Vegas is a question of holding fast to its identity of large, shareable portions, moderate prices and made-to-order dishes rather than adjust to the sleek-and-pricey Strip paradigm (the restaurant, however, has added a Vegas touch with an extensive mixology menu).

“It’s not about being better than other restaurants, but being consistent,” Bank explains, adding that the restaurant’s larger-than-life ethos makes it right at home in Las Vegas.

It takes a staff of 220 to make the show run, a task that Bank has down to a science, thanks to biometric tracking terminals lining Carmine’s back walls. The system requires employees to scan their thumbprints before entering orders, printing checks and performing other actions during their shifts.

“You heard about the NSA scandal? This is way worse,” Bank jokes. The system is crucial to help him run restaurants of Carmine’s scale, and he can monitor what’s happening at each — including revenue, customer satisfaction, social media, tips and types of food ordered — in real time through a customized app called Pulse.

Bank says the app picks up the slack from traditional chains of command, allowing Carmine’s to keep employees on the restaurant floor rather than in the back filing paperwork.

“I always say that for one of the world’s biggest restaurants, we have the world’s smallest offices,” he says.

A true “smart” restaurant, the eatery comes equipped with Wi-Fi, T1 lines, charging stations at each table, and, in place of paper menus, plasma screens offering Carmine’s numerous culinary selections.

For every family of four you’ll see bantering over deep bowls of linguine with clam sauce, you’re likely to find a UNLV student hunched over an iPad and a meatball grinder at the bar.

For all its scale and technology, Carmine’s manages to feel intimate thanks to a cozy front-room layout and the “grandma’s house experience” for which Bank says the eatery strives.

Old-school Italian-American kitsch bring the space down to earth, with dozens of chandeliers making a hodgepodge canopy on the 40-foot ceilings and vases bursting with silk flowers lining the staircases. And there’s no missing the more than 7,500 photos of family members, film stars and scenes from Italy adorning the wall.

“It used to be that you had to be Italian, male and dead to make it on our wall,” Bank quips. “We’ve since loosened the criteria a little.”

Like any good Italian grandmother, if you can’t finish your meal, the restaurant makes sure to send you home with leftovers. You can even check to-go boxes at the restaurant’s “leftover valet” if you prefer to take a stroll in the Forum Shops or return for round two — because, even with Carmine’s-sized portions, there’s always room for dessert.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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