UD and I had the honor and great pleasure of enjoying a gastronomic convergence with one of my favorite local bloggers this weekend. We met up with J.R., editor of The SOG City Oracle, and his lovely wife, the Belle of Ballast Point (who has fabulous hair, I might add) at Carmel Cafe for some "Mod Med" cuisine. I'm happy to report that we were well fed and "watered", and I daresay a fine time was had by all.
Carmel Cafe offers a tempting selection of contemporary Mediterranean dishes (both small land large plates available for most menu offerings) along with wines by the glass available in 3, 6 and 9 oz. pours (Supersize me, s'il vous plait!). Our group decided to order and share as many of the large plates as we could shoehorn down, with overall positive results.
The warm and cozy atmosphere of the Carrollwood outpost belied its strip mall locale. We also received awesome service from our amazing, attentive and affable server, Alex. Alliteration is so fun, isn't it? He did a fantastic job of walking us through the menu and correcting the multiple duplicate orders we placed on our iPad (the iPad menu is an intriguing concept, but became a bit of work as the evening progressed...especially considering the fact that everyone was drinking 9 oz. pours). Not a fan.
The cheese and charcuterie starter was well received by all. I particularly enjoyed the spice of the Cyprian Cured Beef. The Don Juan Manchego, French Bourcheron and their honeycomb and breadstick accompaniments also did not disappoint.
Warm, marinated olives married well with our starter.
The BOBP is not a seafood fan, but the rest of us snorted the Prince Edward Island Mussels in smoked fennel, paprika and tomato broth in no time flat. Hefty slabs of toasted garlic bread flanked these fresh, toothsome bivalves and were great for sopping up their savory "likker"
After sharing an order of two Grilled Lamb and Veal Sliders with mint cucumber sauce, I can safely say that we wuz all bitterly wishin' we'd placed a double order. The soft buns gently cradled the savory little patties, which the crisp lettuce and creamy, tangy sauce accented perfectly.
There was little time to cry over our conservative slider order, as the Four Cheese Satchels pretty much rawked everyone's tastebuds. They were presented in a beautiful, tangy pomodoro sauce and accented with crispy pancetta and arugula. Hold me.
While the Lamb Lollipops with tzatziki sauce kind of let the Y-chromes down because they were presented at a more medium-well temp than the medium-rare that was requested, they still retained a moist and flavorful tenderness that the gurlz liked...our nurturing, maternal instincts making us less appreciative of feasting on still-bleating baby animals than our knuckle-dragging, caveman counterparts.
Calamari Frites were an almost mind-blowing variation on the usual rubbery, fried rings found on local menus. Hearty and oh-so-tender slabs of squid were served dipped in a more-substantial-than-unusual batter for a calamari treatment (which stood up well to the heftier sized cephalopod "tenders"), fried to a pleasing crisp and served with a zesty aoli. So. Freaking. Good.
I didn't feel unconditional love for the Spinach Gnocchi Marseilles...although there wasn't anything fundamentally wrong with it that I could put my finger on. Basically, it was a bouillabaisse with spinach gnocchi sort of incongrously floating around in it. While I cheerfully slurped my share of it, something about this didn't mesh for me. I think the other menu offerings we sampled easily eclipsed this one.
Dessert time...Squeeeee! While I thought the choices were fairly unimaginative, the ones we ordered were tasty if not unforgettable.
The BOBP ordered the toasted pound cake with strawberries, which IMO was the nicest dessert of the evening. I'm sorry to report that things were getting a little blurry by this point (NO MORE WINE for the photographer!).
I vaguely remember something about a chocolate lava cake, as well. Whatever...it's hell getting old.
So nice to make new foodie friends!