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Meatballs at Carbone

Sunday supper fare with a three-star twist

Four months ago, the trio behind Torrisi Italian Specialties and Parm (Rich Torrisi, Mario Carbone and Jeff Zalaznick) opened their latest homage to Italian-American eating, slipping into a relic of a space in the heart of the Village. One step into Carbone, and the throwback atmosphere — tile floors, waiters in maroon tuxedos — transports diners back to the Chianti-tinted days when Frank Sinatra ruled the charts. The feel is Il Mulino before it franchised; Minetta Tavern before Keith McNally got his hands on it. The only tip-off that it’s 2013 and not 1953: the prices.

Carbone Meatballs

Carbone Meatballs (Photo: Courtesy of Carbone)

Much has been made about the $50 veal chop and the antipasti for $49 per person, which make the meatballs ($21) feel like a relative bargain. The generous, tennis ball-sized rounds are everything one would want a meatball to be: saucy and flavorful, a soft mix of beef, veal and pork sausage, edged with hints of basil, fennel and oregano. Though they are offered as a side, the meatballs would certainly make a happy main for a hungry carnivore, though they do make a hearty counterpart alongside pastas such as the garlicky angel hair ($21) and spicy rigatoni vodka ($26).

Mostly, the meatballs embody the old-school spirit the restaurant aims to conjure, something that impressed New York Times critic Pete Wells in his recent three-star rave review.  He wrote: “Carbone is mining the best elements of homegrown American style of service and cuisine that flourished when men in ties and women in heels, woozy from a final shot of sambuca, wobbled to the sidewalk clutching doggy bags.” True, as patrons at Carbone come home with a leftover sense of nostalgia, too.

181 Thompson St.

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