Friday, April 4, 2014

Carmine's Food Review

Linguine with Meatballs

When it comes to critiquing food, I tend to be a lone wolf: Why socialize, when you could be eating instead? That's fine for most places, but Penn Quarter's Carmine's is a family style Italian restaurant that emphasizes family, in addition to providing amazing food & service. Undeterred, I showed up solo... to prove to myself that everyone can enjoy Carmine's, no matter how big or small their party. Was I right? Read on.

Spoiler alert: Boy, was I right! Anyone can have a grand time at Carmine's... even by yourself, before noon and on the heels of a big dinner the night before. That's because the staff at Carmine's knows how to treat you right. When I hear "family style," I immediately think casual; yet the service here is professional and upscale (no easy task, when taking care of a dozen people at one table... kids included.) I was lucky enough to be seated in Kelvin's section: From the word GO, Kelvin treated me like a king without fawning over me. His timing was impeccable (refills on half-filled glasses, checking-in... but never mid-bite) and above all, courteous. I would have enjoyed myself, even if the food was sub-par. Thankfully that wasn't the case at all.

Complimentary Bread Basket

Portions are indeed huge, and meant for sharing. If you're eating alone, or don't eat much to begin with... lunch is perfect. The plates are smaller (and cheaper.) I ordered Linguine with Meatballs (made from scratch every day) for $17.50 with a Diet Coke ($3.75) and dessert (Zeppole with Cherry Dipping Sauce) for take-away. Best of all, it comes with a complimentary bread basket... Carmine's bread... Amazing bread. As I told Kelvin later, I'd pay primo bucks for the bread alone. Never underestimate the power of good bread: At the very least, it puts you in a very good mood for what comes next.

Carmine's pastas are always well-cooked, and today's lunch was no exception. You get three giant meatballs (compared to six for dinner) and I managed to finish two of them. Bonus points for Kelvin's "May I serve that out for you sir?" a request that was echoed a few minutes later from one of his colleagues. Said pasta was quite tasty, and the perfect amount for two people. Push the clock forward an hour or so; and I may have eaten it all by myself. Meatballs were moist and flavorful, although I would have liked a bit more kick (crushed red peppers are available tableside.) Ditto for the sauce, which had a great consistency... but lacked a certain oomph. What can I say? I like my food hot and spicy.

Zeppole with Cherry Dipping Sauce

The atmosphere here, rivals the bread for unabashed goodness. Family style never felt or looked so swanky. White tablecloths and napkins top well-spaced tables, and the large dining area is absolutely spotless. Relaxing jazz music (and of course Frank) beats away in the background at a perfect decibel; and there's a tremendous energy throughout, mere minutes after their 11:30 AM opening. Most restaurants seem to require a "warming up" period; but not Carmine's... they jump right out of the gate in mid-race form.

Dessert seems excessive, I admit; but that's why they invented take-away containers, right? For $9.95, I ordered Carmine's Cherry Blossom special... Zeppole with Cherry Dipping Sauce. 10 ricotta-filled fritters with a sprinkle (more please) of lemon powder on top. Absolutely delicious on their own, but obviously better hot. Stay a while longer, and eat them in-house. The cherry sauce is nice & thick... almost syrupy, and a bit sweet for my taste. That said, I saved some to cover a biscuit the next day, and it was divine. Go figure.

I'd come back for the bread alone, and stay for Kelvin's exceptional service. I left full and happy; although the hostess ignored my farewell/thank you, which seemed sorely out-of-place. Who knows? With this review in the hopper, I can return (with friends) and focus on chit-chat, food and... Hmm, isn't that enough?