Nobody would mistake the original Carbone for a public space: So-called democratizing services like Resy have ended up creating even more monetized levels for greasing wheels and gaining access. Nevertheless, there is a promise, however theoretical, that anyone patient or lucky enough can eventually score a table and a chance to feast on chef Mario Carbone’s famous $89 veal Parmesan. For a certain tier of rigatoni connoisseur, this simply will not do.
Private clubs like Zero Bond and Casa Cipriani promise not only Lucullan feasts but the highest luxury of all in a crowded city: a place to enjoy everything away from the prying eyes of the public. This week, Major Food Group — which, with more than 50 restaurants around the world, dominates the intersection of capital and cuisine — will open its own addition to this genre: ZZ’s Club, spread out across 25,000 square feet in Hudson Yards.
Already, the 250 Founders Club memberships — a $50,000 initiation fee plus $10,000 in annual dues — have sold out. Regular memberships — a $20,000 initiation fee plus the same $10,000 in dues — remain available to anyone who can pass the rigorous (and opaque) selection process. Once inside, members will have access to a warren of restaurants, bars, private dining rooms, and lounges, such as one called Leo’s named after Major Food Group co-founder Jeff Zalaznick’s son. There are also two restaurants: ZZ’s (which is Japanese) and, on the second floor, Carbone Privato, where the acre-large menu consists of both classic Carbone dishes and recipes exclusive to this location.
Many of the new dishes are the manifestation of long-held dreams and aspirations that Carbone the chef has been carrying around for the past decade. “I’m a total nut notetaker,” he says. “I have all these dead soldiers of notebooks filled with ideas I’ve had over the years.” At the original Carbone, he says he’s reluctant ever to change the menu: “People may have a vision for what they’re going to have in advance, and I don’t want to disappoint them — you want to make sure that you’re honoring the thing they’ve waited a month or more to eat.” The new venue, however, “gives me the opportunity to stretch out a little bit.”
Take, for example, the tortellini en brodo. “It’s as quintessential a dish to the vernacular as it gets,” explains Carbone, “but we’ve never served it. I’m not even sure why. Somewhere, this dish is written down in a notebook and circled five times.” At Privato, the soup (dumplings filled with foie gras or swiss-chard ragù in pearlescent chicken broth) will arrive at the table in a silver tureen with enough for two or more people. “In Emilia-Romagna, they don’t just give you what you need,” Carbone says. “They’d have a bunch left over in case you’re still hungry.” Other preparations, like maraschino quail — deboned birds glazed with Maraschino liqueur, grilled over charcoal, and served with cherries — will be a chance to revisit obscure Carbone B-sides. “That was on the menu for like two weeks in 2013,” Carbone says. “I don’t know why we stopped making it.”
Many of the 20 or so new and exclusive dishes are products of having a larger kitchen. “The Thompson Street kitchen is a fistfight in a phone booth,” Carbone says. Here, he can finally run the risotto program he’s always wanted: “We have both the experience and the space to make it from scratch every night.” The opening menu includes a spicy lobster risotto finished with popped cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and Calabrian oil. “The platter comes out with blank plates,” explains Carbone, “and the captain puts on a puppet show for you while he makes the risotto.”
What’s on the menu is just as important as what is not: Carbone Privato offers “culinary concierges,” employees meant to fulfill members’ any wish or desire, be it arcane ingredients and dishes or nostalgic throwbacks. “We’re a Japanese and Italian restaurant, but my really, really experienced chefs can make your mom’s meat loaf, too,” Carbone says.
ZZ’s — both the restaurant and the members’ club itself — is the brainchild of Zalaznick, the only non-cooking Major Food Group founder. (The other founder is Rich Torrisi, whose own namesake restaurant just won its first Michelin star). In 2021, the group opened the first ZZ’s Club in Miami’s Design District. It was a hit. “There’s a 5,000-person waiting list, the prices have tripled for membership, and we’ve doubled the size of the space,” Zalaznick explains. The model works so well in Miami, Carbone adds, that they decided to do it here: “I love welcoming people into my bubble. A club is just a bigger bubble.”
The week before ZZ’s New York opened, construction workers were racing to finish the space — polishing 2,000 square feet of Venetian plaster, readying two dozen white-and-gold Murano-glass chandeliers, and carving the moldings on a cocktail bar “inspired by Milanese grandeur.” Mounted on the various walls: a seven-foot-tall, three-dimensional turkey sculpture, by Zachary Armstrong, and a seascape mural by James Boyd featuring an octopus in a top hat. (All the art was curated by Vito Schnabel.) Tables and chairs huddled under blankets, and hundreds of wine bottles waited to be loaded into the wine wall.
The city has changed in the ten years since Carbone debuted, and the restaurant has too. When ZZ’s opens this week, it will be the biggest gamble yet for a group that specializes in splashy openings. It will also — once dues are faceted in — be its most expensive establishment because food and drink aren’t included in the membership fees. “Which is standard in all clubs,” explains Carbone. “It just kind of goes to your house account.”