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Better Man(gia)

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

Carbone Miami

49 Collins Ave

Miami, FL 33139

I lived in Los Angeles from 2000-2020. During that time the city's food scene grew from being focused on the pop and flash of paparazzi and celebrity dining to a second pathway closer to the artisan neighborhood joints that make dining in places like Manhattan, Portland and Austin so special. What this second lane also served to do was force an elevation of those trendy places to prepare better food to survive the inevitable dip once the bloom is off the trendy rose. One of the people involved in this evolution of California cuisine was David Russoff, initially known for opening the Mozzaplex in LA (go...eat..enjoy), and now the sublime Hippo (worth the drive to Highland Park if you find yourself out there) and also a mutual friend of Jet Freedom, 90s LA's most unheralded guitar legend.

After dining at one of these aforementioned trendy spots, probably KOI or some other place frequented by bodyconned wanna-be starlets and those who fund them, I mentioned to him how shockingly good the food was, especially the miso black cod. He responded with a phrase that has rung in my ears every time I ended up trying a new hotspot that exceeds my expectations (no..never "it does not disappoint)


"The food is better than it has to be."


With that in mind, I headed to Carbone, the Miami outpost of the West Village Italian legend.

Most of the dialogue I had about Carbone was with friends who were frequenters of the exhausting Miami nightlife. You know the kind of people who track their existence through Instagram posts and...lifestyle blogs (oh..crap). Though initially skeptical, I tried to keep an open mind and an empty stomach with the experience.


The physical plant of Carbone is exactly what you would expect from a place trying to maintain is authenticity in a flashy world. Lots of dark wood, mirrors, some couches, and a gorgeous pre-WW2 style bar.

After finishing my very well-prepared martini, we were led to our table by Roberto who was either direct from Italy, or in his spare time played the lead in the Key Biscayne production of Tony & Tina's Wedding. As we sat down, an assorted of breads (sourdough, foccacia, etc) was placed in front of us, alongside pickled cauliflower, salami and a single lump of fantastic parmesan was placed on our side plate.

As we perused the menu, our waiter decanted a Morlet 2014 Cabernet so graciously provided by my dining companion. It's only worth mentioning because as someone who does not like Napa cabs, and who was initially disappointed (real disappointment!) that that is what was pulled from my friend's cabinet, it was likely the best I've ever had. It drank more like a Barolo with that dry yet rich complexity that I love in an Italian wine.


For our appetizer we had the beef carpaccio special; special indeed. Traditionally beef carpaccio has your oil, your thin raw beef and maybe some sea salt to bring out the flavor. This also had a layer of basil and mushrooms on it giving it more depth than normal. One bite would hit you with the salt and oil, the next with a fresher, almost zesty mouth feel, a third one is reminiscent of a truffled shaving.

Though told by the waiter (and so many others) to have the house specialty spicy rigatoni, we opted for the vongole, because..well...clams. Also, Roberto, while pushing the house special, admitted that if he was on a desert island, he would vongole over the rigatoni. In his defense, clams are probably fresher than beef when one ends up in the unfortunate position of being stuck on a desert island.


To the horrors of many a chef who forbids parm on seafood., I happen to love dousing my clams in parm. Theres just something about the butter and wine and brine that just has this mouthy richness...BUT..I decided to eschew the topping this time..and I was rewarded with a rich and textured pasta/broth/clam combo that's probably the second best vongole I have ever had.

For our main, I stepped away from my Lisa Simpson-esque avoidance of veal, and split the veal parmigiana. Rich, tender, simple, perfect. I could rhapsodize about the elegance of the cut, or the flavor, but in reality, you probably know what a really good Anything Parmagiana tastes like.

Our side was a roasted butternut squash with mascarpone and brown butter sauce. My dining companion was had at marscapone and I was had at brown butter.

Stuffed like a ravioli, we avoided the large cake-laden dessert tray (which likely explained our server's biceps),

As we slowly made our way out of the restaurant at about 10:30, it was impossible not to notice the crowd of nightlife minions that had assembled in the bar and were waiting for tables. I'm not sure where these tanned, toned (and assuming) Ozempic free 20 somethings came from, or why they could look this good eating this food this late at night, I just thought back to my days being one of these hordes and didn't recall considering the quality of food as a deciding factor in where I was going to lurk for love and nocturnal friendship.


Which is why the phrase "it's better than it needs to be" became the theme. I also realized that by thinking that I've officially become an old man, so I'll give this next generation of food-lovers the benefit of the doubt and just assume they've elevated their tastes along to match the worthy experience of Carbone.

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