When Chef Andrew Carmellini opened Locanda Verde in 2009 inside the Greenwich Hotel, he launched his NoHo Hospitality Group into the lexicon of New Yorkers and visitors, creating an Italian taverna-style oasis that has remained on the city’s must-try list for more than a decade. Since then, Carmellini has expanded with more than a dozen restaurants and bars across three cities. And while many of his fine dining spots take themselves less seriously than others, his latest venture may be his most playful yet.
On June 8, Carmellini opened Carne Mare, a restaurant more than three years in the making, at Pier 17 of the revitalized South Street Seaport. The bi-level waterfront spot was designed by Martin Brudnizki and has swanky features like polished wood and brass tables, sumptuous leather banquettes, Art Deco-esque mirrors, and nautically inspired wall sconces, bringing a stylish and celebratory vibe to the Seaport.
“In the late 1980s and early ’90s, the only reason we went down to the Seaport was to go to the fish market. After service, back in the day, we’d go to some bars and then at 4 in the morning we’d go to the fish market,” Carmellini says. “I liked the idea of the Seaport as something to redevelop and to be part of because it had a more historical center in the city than a bunch of new towers.”
Carne Mare is both Italian and American, but not Italian American in the Sunday Sauce sense of the phrase. It is a mash-up of a classic American chophouse and a regional Italian ristorante. It’s carne and mare, surf and turf, but with a Carmellini spin that takes classic dishes and reinvents them with unexpected ingredients and techniques: Yes, there is a massive Bistecca Fiorentina on the menu, but there’s also a Gorgonzola-cured wagyu strip loin, which may be the first of its kind.
“We dry the strip loin with Gorgonzola on the outside until it gets dry and crackly, then we pull it off and cut the steaks,” Carmellini says. “The flavors that develop from it, it’s mushroomy, a little bit moldy, a little bit funky, and those are some of the ways you might describe Gorgonzola, so it amplifies those flavors.”
True to his word, the marbled Gorgonzola-aged wagyu strip loin is tender, flavorful, rich — and yes, funky, in the best way possible.
Each meal at Carne Mare begins with warm, pillowy pull-apart bread that’s a cross between a pan di latte and a garlic knot that’s baked in the oven behind the downstairs bar. There’s a short but creative list of aperitifs to sip, including some Italian-inflected summery cocktails like the Granita, a delicately shaved ice concoction of Campari, grapefruit juice, Limoncello, Vermouth, and lime zest, topped with a tableside pour of Prosecco.
Tableside service, a hallmark of the chophouse, is an experience you can expect at Carne Mare from the attentive staff. For example, if you order the black sea bass steamed in fig leaves, a black oval cast iron dish will be presented on a mobile tray next to your table. When your server opens it, a fleshy filet of fish atop a bed of sea salt, orange slices, fig leaves, and pink peppercorns glistens. The server deftly transfers the fish to a platter, gently removes the skin, and tops it with a Sicilian-style sauce of oranges, green olives, and pink peppercorns before putting it on your table.
Still, some items are just plain fun, like mozzarella sticks adorned with caviar and a smoke-roasted beet steak. That’s right, Carmellini has managed to make beets fun. How? By making it the only beef (even though it’s not real beef) item presented tableside. It’s an elaborate performance where a server pats a dollop of goat butter onto a massive, still-smoking, 12-ounce beet then drizzles it with a red wine beet reduction before dramatically plating and slicing the ruby-toned creation. Deep red and incredibly juicy, this is quite possibly the most flavorful beet preparation in NYC thanks to it being brined, dry-rubbed, smoked, roasted, and then char grilled.
“I wanted to do something fun for vegetarians,” says Carmellini. “It’s kind of cool when you see three steaks on the table and then you see the beet steak, and you don’t know it’s the beet steak — it looks like filet mignon.”
Other non-steak highlights include lettuce cups filled with King crab and showered with Carmellini’s version of an Italian chili crisp made from porcini mushrooms and anchovies; the House Wedgini salad, which doesn’t come in a wedge but does have a Gorgonzola dolce and a pancetta dressing; a Sicilian version of a Caesar salad with a sesame dressing and semolina croutons; and a whole roasted duck, called Duck d’Ivan.
“One of my favorite hospitality experiences in the world is at a restaurant outside Parma called Hostaria Da Ivan, which is not on any foodie list anywhere. It’s a couple that owns it, and one of the things we’ve had there is a special of duck with mustard fruits, which are from that region,” says Carmellini. “It’s such a great combo, that sharp, mustard-flavored oil with the sweet and spicy mustard fruits with the slow-roasted duck.”
The pasta section is brief (just two options), while the contorni column is nine dishes deep. Oyster and tartar and carpaccio sections round out the menu, and dessert options include a towering 17-layer chocolate cake, a palate-cleansing lemon sorbet with vanilla cream, and a stracciatella gelato presented like a sundae that’s covered in hazelnuts, chocolate shavings, salted caramel, and whipped cream.
Carne Mare joins NoHo Hospitality’s fast casual Mister Dips, which opened in the Seaport at the end of May, alongside upscale restaurants like Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s The Fulton, California export Malibu Farm, and David Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar.