It’s not often that one would say, “Hey, let’s go out for a nice dinner in Carrollwood,” but the Carmel Café and Wine Bar sure is a reason to do just that. Located in the same plaza a Chuck E Cheese, Carmel Café is in a conveniently centered location, not too far away from home, but not too close to lose that “special” feeling. In fact, this restaurant might be one of the most interesting in Tampa. Reason being, it is a step into the future with all the menu items listed and ordering done on an iPad.
Here is how it works – you are seated and the hostess will assign your iPad to your table and go over how it works. You flip through the menu items; look at pictures, and read descriptions and prices. When you see what you want, you add to your order and hit go. That’s it!
Contrary to this futuristic ordering technology, the atmosphere is contemporary, modern, but not to the point that you feel like you are at a Japanese frozen yogurt store. The artwork is clean and complementary, the lighting is low and romantic, and the entire building resonates with the bustle of the late night life. Although the bar is and important aspect of the restaurant, it doesn’t by any means feel like a “bar scene”. It is one of few rare instances of being the perfect hybrid.
The food is no exception to this fantastic restaurant. For an appetizer, I had the Black Olive Caesar Salad and the Tomato Basil Soup. The salad was fresh and light, a bit different than what you would expect from a Caesar salad but, with the olives their homemade croutons, everything was well put together. The soup was interesting as well. You would think a tomato soup would be just that – a bowl of tomato soup. Alas, it was complex in flavors, had a little kick to it, and was superbly presented.
For the main course, I shared a Mezze Platter with my mother and had their Mac ‘n Four Cheese. The Mezze Platter consists of edamame dip, roasted red pepper dip, baba ganoush dip, and a piece of fried feta cheese all served with warm pita bread. All very good, what stuck out the most was the baba ganoush dip. Never have I had baba ganoush that was so smooth and well composed. Just a pro tip, if you mix the roasted red pepper and edemame dip together, you get one of the best dips you will ever eat in your life.
The combo breaker, if you will, was the Mac ‘n Cheese. It was crisp on top from being baked so you had to eat it sort of like crème brulée. It was a bit too normal for the place. Don’t get me wrong, it was very good but, it wasn’t special like the rest of their dishes.
Price wise, everything is in its place and what you would expect from an upscale late night restaurant. The soup was $3, and platter was $14 and the Mac ‘n Cheese was $5. So, all in all, it was a bit cheaper than expected, especially for the fantastic food and atmosphere.
To continue on this iPad concept, it really does streamline the whole process. You don’t have to wait for a waiter to order, you can specify exactly what you want, and you can even pay your bill right at your table. Heck, even your food gets out fast. From hitting “place order” on the iPad to when we got the food on the table, it only took 5 minutes. Some might say that this impersonalizes the experience but, you still have a waiter if you need one.
Once again, it is all a matter of perspective. What you want your dinner experience to be is different than the next person and personally, I like that they are pushing to modernize dinning. So for this, and for the great food, excellent service, and fun atmosphere, I give Carmel Café and Wine Bar a 9/10.
Kiran Shila/Web Editor