Every restaurant season needs a superstar new dish that enchants customers and critics alike. In the resurgent second half of 2021, that dish is gorgonzola-cured, 12-ounce wagyu strip loin at Carne Mare, chef Andrew Carmellini’s casually elegant “Italian chophouse” on the South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 in NYC.
I praised the dish for “a winning musky depth that doesn’t overwhelm the beef.” A different reviewer called it “an ode to earth, fat and funk.”
By any description, it’s a grand original creation by Carmellini, 50, the culinary savant behind the NoHo Hospitality Group’s eatery collection, where he’s a partner with Luke Ostrom and Josh Pickard.
Carmellini’s parents moved to Ohio from northern Italy’s Tuscany and Friuli. As a young chef, he cooked at restaurants in Emilia-Romagna, Milan and Paris, before putting himself on the map running the kitchen at Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud in the 1990s. He later moved on to launch now-closed A Voce and still-thriving Locanda Verde, The Dutch and Lafayette in Manhattan, and Leuca in Brooklyn.
Although plenty of places in New York claim to be “Italian steakhouses,” Carmellini chuckles, “There are no steakhouses in Italy. They don’t exist. Tuscany is kind of more beef-centric” than the rest of the country, “but it’s more of a luxury item. The steakhouse is a uniquely American invention. We do it best because we have the best beef.”
Carne Mare “is a combo of the American steakhouse and an Italian restaurant,” he says. “We have some fun things that are uniquely ours, such as mozzarella and caviar. Usually when I come up with ideas like the gorgonzola wagyu, we try to find out if anyone did it before.”
No one else had.
“I had a bunch of different ideas about dry-aging, so naturally we thought about using red wine,” Carmellini says of the dish’s origin. “We tried dry-aging beef in red wine and also made a whole concoction with mushrooms.”
Neither was compelling enough. But “the other thing that came to mind was wrapping a whole piece of beef in blue cheese. We age it for nine days — kind of like dry-aging and curing at the same time.” The soft and slightly sweet gorgonzola dolce inflects the wagyu just enough to make the cut new.
Beef prices have soared during the pandemic, especially for specialty cuts such as the wagyu blend from western American ranches. Carmellini had to raise the price from $72 last summer — “a friendly, we’re open” price — to today’s $110. “I was losing my shirt at $72,” he says.
Between 25 and 30 customers order it every night.
Carmellini is thrilled by the swelling crowds at his restaurants: “We have tremendous social business, although not yet the same corporate volume as before. People want to feel like it’s New York again.”
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