Fall is my favorite time of year. Along with reduced humidity and cooler temperatures in Tampa Bay, I look forward to some of my favorite seasonal ingredients such as dates, pumpkin, pears and certain types of mushrooms. Many of my favorite restaurants roll out their seasonal menus and I find myself falling in love with new fall-inspired dishes. A few weeks ago I was invited to Carmel Cafe in South Tampa to taste their new fall line-up and I had a delicious time with my fellow food bloggers. Nothing is better than an evening of excellent food and wonderful company.
This was my second visit to Carmel Cafe, the first being the location in Carrollwood a few months ago. Since my initial visit, I have been longing to go back and was delighted to know that a location in South Tampa would be opening. I finally made it to the new location and was completely blown away by the sexy decor and romantic vibe of South Tampa’s newest gem. Our group was seated in the bar area and our tasting adventure began with Stuffed Madeira Dates with cream cheese and Serrano ham. Dates are one of my favorite fall items and I always prepare some type of stuffed date for dinner parties. There were simply fantastic and the perfect combination of savory and sweet.
Next we sampled a Watermelon Granita which was made with Rosangel hibiscus-infused tequila, house-made sour mash, agave nectar, fresh watermelon and basil and then served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. Crisp and refreshing, it was the perfect cocktail to get our evening started.
As we sipped our granitas, we were presented with Danish Baked Brie served with toasted walnuts, dried cranberries and served on top of a puff pastry and accompanied by apple slices, grapes and sliced baguette. Warm and savory, the brie melted in my mouth. The cranberries and toasted walnuts gave this dish a nice fall-inspired flavor. This is perfect to share with a group and pairs well with a nice glass of sparkling wine.
Our next cocktail really impressed me! An Italian Old Fashioned made with Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, peach jam and Amarena cherries, this truly is the ultimate fall cocktail. The flavor combination of the ingredients is so incredible that even those that are not fans of bourbon will enjoy this fabulous concoction.
As I enjoyed conversing with fellow bloggers, I smiled when I saw the next item we would be tasting, which was their seasonal flatbread topped with blue cheese, caramelized pears and red peppers. Just as I thought, the pairing of toppings was pure bliss. Pears and blue cheese are incredible together and this flatbread really enhances their fantastic flavors.
As we sipped on Zardetto Prosecco, we got to nibble on roasted peppadew peppers stuffed with goat cheese. I must admit, I ate a lot of roasted peppers growing up and grew tired of them but these were simply amazing! I found myself devouring them and had to stop myself so I could share with others. These peppers have a slightly sweet taste which pairs nicely with the creamy goat cheese.
Our next dish was one of my absolute favorites…..Spinach Gnocchi! Gnocchi is one of my favorite comfort foods and to this day, I will never forget the day I went to a cooking demo with my dad at Il Fornaio Italian Restaurant in Palo Alto and learned how to prepare an amazing gnocchi dish. The demo was conducted by current Executive Chef and Vice President of Il Fornaio, Maurizio Mazzon, who ironically worked as head chef at Tampa’s Donatello from 1985-1989 before joining Il Fornaio in Palo Alto, CA. That day back in 1991 was the day I fell in love with these delicious potato dumplings and 21 years later we are still going strong. Carmel Cafe’s Spinach Gnocchi consists of tender spinach dumplings served in a creamy Parmesan sauce. As Maurizio would say, they were FANTASTICO!
Four our third course, we enjoyed a delightful Seafood Medley which consisted of scallops, shrimp, calamari, mussels, chorizo, Israeli couscous and roasted red peppers simmered in a saffron broth. I adore Cioppino and Paella and this was just as delicious yet a bit lighter and I did not feel as guilty after eating it. This is a wonderful dish for any seafood lover and the Israeli couscous is phenomenal.
My eyes lit up like a Tiffany diamond when I saw a dish of Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with bacon being placed in front of me. I adore these little green pieces of heaven and Carmel Cafe’s are insanely delicious.
Our third course began with Chicken Madeira with Portobello mushrooms, mashed parsnip potatoes and a rich Madeira wine sauce. This dish is similar to Chicken Marsala, but even better! I liked how the sauce was not as sweet as Marsala and had a nice balance of spices that complemented the Portobello mushrooms. The mashed parsnip potatoes complimented the chicken much like an Oreo goes with milk……simply divine.
Our final course was another favorite of mine, Four Cheese Stuffed Cannelloni filled with Ricotta, Fontina, Provolone, Parmesan and topped with a house-made Bolognese sauce. Much like the gnocchi, the cannelloni brought back sweet family memories of growing up in California. My dad always made fresh pasta and this dish reminded me of his cooking. The four cheeses were perfectly blended inside the warm cannelloni and topped with the rich and savory Bolognese. After one bite, I was instantly transported back to my parents dining room and eating with my family.
As they say, all good things must come to an end and I actually had to leave before dessert was served. After asking everyone about dessert, the votes were unanimous and the dessert was outstanding. A Warm Poached Pear drizzled with Salted Caramel and paired with Vanilla Ice Cream. I only saw photos but a picture speaks a thousand words and I am sure I could use a thousand words to describe this plate of heaven. I will be trying this dessert in the very near future and will be tweeting all about it. 🙂
Located at 3601 W Swann Ave., in the heart of Palma Ceia, Carmel Cafe is a fabulous addition to South Tampa. I am sure I will be spending many evenings at this gorgeous establishment. Cheers!