Mario Carbone has been back home exactly once since he came to town to open three restaurants in quick succession. It’s not a new idea for him, spending a month in a hotel, but he’s enjoying the southern hospitality in Dallas that he says is different from everywhere else. Eater sat down with Carbone again, this time in the indoor-outdoor patio at Vino in Dallas’ Design District.
“Carbone’s a week old, and we’re starting to wear it in a little bit, like a new pair of shoes. We’re starting to figure it out. Get our sea legs. Tonight’s our first night here, but we’re making our new home,” he says.
Vino is the first of its kind among the Major Food Group concepts; an entire restaurant and wine cellar that intertwines with Carbone next door. In contrast to Carbone’s big, bold plates and decor, Vino boasts lighter, breezier outdoor space, with striped awnings, and a distinctive gelato cart. To add to designer Ken Fulk’s distinctive design of Vino, Mario Carbone brought in 200-year-old oil paintings in their original frames by unknown Italian artists to hang on the walls for instant old-world appeal.
Those who remember the wheel-like crank and garage door windows from the building’s previous iteration Wheelhouse may recognize them at Vino, but everything else is completely different, rendering the space virtually unrecognizable. As for getting a reservation, Carbone says a good number of seats here are walk-in only.
“You kind of close your eyes and envision it, but to see it happening, the back-and-forth of the sommeliers, bottles and guests… the exchange of energy with everyone listening to the same music… and once it’s full just the buzz of people, I’m just eagerly anticipating,” he says.
The idea that guests, wine and staff will be floating back-and-forth between the two concepts is entirely by design. “I anticipate guests, before their Carbone meals coming here for an aperitivo, and then back for a digestif when they’re stuffed and want an Amaro.” That flow has been Mario Carbone’s plan all along. “They need each other,” he explained of the two restaurants.
The wine list for Carbone exists entirely on the Vino side, “we have about a thousand-bottle wine list.” The main offering will be wines by the quartino, which is about a glass-and-a-half, giving guests a chance to try lots of wines. Guests can course their wines along with their menu, with help from the staff when needed, and the idea is for people to be able to try new wines without committing to a whole bottle.
Menu-wise, Vino is “very much a child of Carbone,” serving the top three most popular Carbone dishes: the Caesar a la ZZ, spicy rigatoni vodka, and veal parm. Otherwise, the Vino menu is completely unique, with much more flexibility than the more assertive menu next door. Guests of Vino can look forward to seasonal menu changes, raviolis and pizzas of the day, and other specials. According to Carbone, “This style of dining, it’s moving. It’s not stagnant.”
The Vino menu features antipasti, which range from $18 for whipped ricotta with grilled bread, to $32 for spicy Manhattan clams. Salads, pizza and unique shareable platters AKA “Misti, Mista, Misto” in varieties of salumi, vegetables and seafood crudos range from $22 to $36. As far as main dishes, highlights include that famous rigatoni; a 12-oz., thin-sliced Ribeye Tagliata with balsamic, parmesan and artichoke; and a rosemary-garlic Bisteca Fiorentina, also known as a a 48-oz. porterhouse or “the official steak of Florence.”
A whole steamed lobster “Mulberry Style” is topped with Chinese-spiced Italian sausage, paying homage to New York’s famous Mulberry Street, which bridges Manhattan’s Little Italy and Chinatown.
And for dessert? “We do a lot of gelato here,” Carbone explains. “The one I’d like everyone to have is a vanilla bean sundae.” As theatrical as one might expect at a Major Food Group concept, the dessert starts with an intimidating portion of vanilla soft serve, with crushed almonds and Italian maraschino cherries in syrup served on top, delivered via trolley.
Vino also offers Italian zeppole, where the server puts a sheet of branded paper down on the table, and then sprinkles powdered sugar from a tin, “and just throws it down on the table,” Carbone says.
Major Food Group’s Dallas debut is off to a running start. “We’ve had a great reception, general excitement both from people in the industry that want to work and from the customer base. I feel welcome, with open Dallas arms,” he says.
Vino is located at 1617 Hi Line Drive, Suite 390 (right next to Carbone). The hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.