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Pulling the Curtain Back on the Massive Carmine's

The future bar at Carmine's.
The future bar at Carmine's.

[Photos: Chelsea McManus]

Here's a look inside Carmine's, the wow-factor restaurant with room for 800 opening at the Forum Shops at Caesars in July. Jeffrey Bank, the CEO of Carmine's parent company Alicart Restaurant Group, says that the restaurant will open on a Tuesday next month. "We've opened 54 restaurants and the only one that failed didn't open on a Tuesday," he says of his superstition.

Aside from the mammoth 27,000-square-foot space, the wow factor comes in the form of food, meant to be served family style. The restaurant doesn't carry a menu, instead posting it on the wall so guests can feel as if they're going to their grandmother's house for Sunday dinner. A regular rotation of 175 specials also make the menu, showing up every 18 days. Look for dishes such as pasta with angel hair, linguine, penne, spaghetti or rigatoni served with clam sauce, ragu, pomodoro, ravioli and more. Chicken, veal, beef, seafood and veggies have their own sections of the menu. "We've been open for 23 years and never made a change to the menu," Bank says.

Despite the huge menu and portions, Bank says the food-centric restaurant that focuses on southern Italian fare does not have a celebrity chef. "I want chefs who have a passion for food and no creativity," Bank says.

Diners will find the same dishes made the same way at any of the six Carmine's locations so they taste exactly the same. "We run the kitchen like McDonald's. We make our food in a very specific manner," he says.

In the front, room for 150 to 175 diners sitting below a 40-foot ceiling with dramatic, mismatched chandeliers hanging overhead. A bar, which serves as a holding tank for guests and features plugs for phones and laptops as well as pocketbook hangers, sits to the left. Above, a second floor features more seating that can overlook the main dining room. Back on the first level, keep heading back for more seating and private dining rooms, including one in the shape of an octagon. Upstairs, another private dining room has a green room and private bathroom meant for bridal parties, bachelorette events or other intimate affairs.

The main kitchen is surprisingly small, efficient for moving large groups in and out of the restaurant in a mere 45 minutes. A prep kitchen one floor down handles most of the heavy lifting. Despite the high volume, prices are relatively low. In New York, it's common to see construction workers sitting at the bar splitting a hero sandwich for $12. In fact, Bank tells a story from his D.C. location where his landlord wanted to sell him $40,000 chandeliers. "If I did that, I'd have to charge $400 for meatballs," he says, explaining that most of 130 chandeliers there are mismatched intentionally to find good deals and keep food costs down.

Even with the big portions, Carmine's keeps diners' wallets in mind by offering a food check system. Leftovers are packaged and refrigerated so guests can do some shopping or see a show and return to pick up their packages.

Carmine's takes over the former Planet Hollywood space, and Bank says the restaurant left behind nothing usable. "We had to take everything out," he says, although they did return to take the handprint from Patrick Swayze left on the wall.

Restaurateur Artie Cutler, who opened the first Carmine's on the Upper West Side in Manhattan in 1990, liked to gamble, so he named the restaurant for his lucky harness jockey Carmine Abbatiello, who retired after 7,170 career wins.

Bank hints that his Alicart Restaurant Group isn't finished with Vegas. Next up, Virgil's Real Barbecue, named for the guy who handed out tee times at Cutler's country club. Unfortunately, naming a restaurant for him didn't land him a better tee time.
· All Coverage of Carmine's [~ELV~]