Last week I got to dine at a place that has been on my list for quite sometime……Carmel Cafè and Wine Bar. After hearing about their eclectic menu and cozy setting from fellow friends and food bloggers, I knew it would be a place that I would enjoy. I was especially intrigued when I heard about their iPad menus, as food and technology are two of my favorite things!
Carmel Cafè and Wine Bar has four locations in Central Florida: Carrollwood, Countryside, Sarasota and soon to be South Tampa, which will be opening this August. My visit was to the Carrollwood location and it was perfect because I lived in Carrollwood when I first moved to Tampa. Since moving to South Tampa in 2005, I rarely get to Carrollwood and it is always nice to get out that way. The area is filled with fantastic restaurants and I always find something new when I am in the area.
As I walked in, the restaurant will filled with intoxicating aromas of tantalizing food and the room was buzzing with conversation. I glanced around and saw people smiling as they scrolled through their iPad menus. The decor is bold, sexy and alluring. I was immediately greeted by the hostess and shown to my table. Excited to get my hands on the iPad, I felt like Carrie Bradshaw at Manolo Blahnik as the server explained the ordering system. I must admit……I do not have an iPad and have wanted one for quite some time. Now thanks to Carmel Cafè and Wine Bar, I want one now more than ever. As far as I know, they are the only concept in the area using this system and I think it is fabulous. Diners are able to scroll through menu selections, see photographs of the food and type in their own food modifications. As someone who has worked in restaurants in every position from the kitchen and hosting to serving and bartending, I am really in love with the concept. If you are not very tech savvy, you may still order from a traditional menu and your server is always present to answer any questions or assist in any way. 🙂
The menu at Carmel Cafè and Wine Bar, in my opinion, is a best described as “Mediterranean meets Californian with a Floridian flair“. As a Northern California native who grew up eating in some of the best restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was delighted with the variety of menu items. I was ready to take a culinary adventure and finally taste what so many of my friends had been raving about. I was joined by two very special people, which made the night even more magical.
We started off with a Seasonal Flatbread with was topped with shrimp, mango, goat cheese and arugula. One word…outstanding! What I loved most about this dish was that the simplicity of ingredients created such a powerful flavor. Goat cheese is, by far, one of my favorite things in life and paired with the shrimp, mango and arugula, this seasonal flatbread is nothing short of fantastic. As I enjoyed my flatbread, I sipped on a glass of Louis Perdrier, Brut Cremant de Bourgogne (France).
I also ordered Nan’s Goat Cheese which is served with roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and mini-toasts. Perfect for sharing, this dish is a crowd pleaser. What can be better than creamy goat cheese paired with roasted garlic?
Nan's Goat Cheese
The very handsome man who was seated by my side ordered the Shrimp Ceviche. Gorgeous in color, this dish consists of shrimp, peppers, cilantro, citrus and avocado and is served with vegetable crisps. Perfect for a summer day in Florida, this goes well with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. Once again, I was impressed with the flavor and presentation.
Next we tried the Grilled Lamb & Veal Sliders with mint cucumber sauce. One bite and I was reminded of one of my favorite places to eat in Palo Alto, CA called Zibibbo. Right before I moved to Tampa, I worked in the heart of Palo Alto right by Stanford University and I ate at Zibibbo at least twice a week. I have missed it since my move to Tampa and have not been able to find anything similar until now. Carmel Cafè and Wine Bar is my new Zibibbo and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Now I have yet another reason to fall in love with Florida. ♥
Grilled Lamb & Veal Sliders
You would think that by now I would be getting full but I was just getting started. 🙂 I spotted a side item that caught my eye, Pistachio Apricot Quinoa Couscous. My love of quinoa has really grown over the last few years and pistachios are a staple in my cooking and baking. This little plate of heaven is the quintessential Mediterranean side dish and I highly recommend it.
Pistachio Apricot Quinoa Couscous
Next I tried the Braised Short Ribs with creamy polenta and olive tapenade. Short ribs have long been a favorite of mine and paired with creamy polenta, the combination is like a perfect marriage of flavors. Tender and full of flavor, I was more than pleased with this dish. I have been having a love affair with polenta for years and theirs is absolute perfection. I personally would pair this dish with a glass of William Hill, Cabernet Savignon (Napa Valley).
Braised Short Ribs with creamy polenta and olive tapenade
As we were beginning to wind down, we decided to share a dessert. Carmel Café has a wonderful dessert selection with includes Cannoli, Chocolate Lava Cake, a Dessert Trio and a seasonal dessert. I chose the Pound Cake with Strawberries and it was the perfect sweet ending to a fabulous evening. Nothing compares to fresh, Florida strawberries served on top of warm, golden pound cake and topped with fresh whipped cream. As much as I wanted to order another glass of sparkling wine, I chose to have a cup of coffee since I was driving.
Pound Cake with Strawberries
My first visit to Carmel Café exceeded my expectations. From the friendly and attentive staff to the incredible food, my dining experience was spectacular. I am anxiously awaiting the opening of the South Tampa location and I will be sure to feature them since they will be in my neighborhood. Be sure to find them on Facebook by clicking here.
Ciao for now,