Tampa’s Carmel Café brings California cool to Carrollwood

Meatball Lollipops, with a tasty pomodoro sauce, adds a playful touch.

Starting with a cuisine that is steeped in tradition, Carmel Café  & Wine Bar serves Greek, French and Italian fare. Carmel’s niche is Mod Med, or modern Mediterranean, and its name is inspired by an array of trendy restaurants dotting the northern California coast.

With an iPad for just about every customer, I think this is a first in our area.  This popular gizmo serves several functions, explains company president Terry Ryan, who likes the Apple technology.

“It allows us to blend technology with hospitality, and gives a server more time at the table. You can also visualize what you’ll order, resulting in servers spending more time helping patrons, rather than taking orders,’’ he says.

You pick a plate; press send and your order arrives lickety split. Those interactive tablets describe the menu, offer help for choosing wines, and show photographs to make the mouth water. We liked its featured wine pairings and wine tutorial. Small plates or large portions are available and you set the pace for arrival.

Carmel opened first in Countryside and the energy in this new Carrollwood location, with subtly lit dining room, has a nice edge.

Mac ‘n Four Cheese had flavors that sing as its Asiago, Manchego, Parmesan and Fontina cheeses perform acrobatics in the mouth, swinging from soft pasta to crisp, crunchy blanket. Mezze, which translates as “sharing”’ is an assortment of appetizing spreads and assertive hummus, including wonderful  edamame and lovely roasted red pepper with pomegranates. There’s tangy fried feta cheese along with artichoke hearts, too. Another “sharing’’ plate, to dole among friends, is the revered combo of Cyprian cured beef, Serrano ham and Manchego cheese. Traditional ingredients in a Greek salad get julienned into a lively slaw. Carmel’s thick chick pea fries, awakened with a curry aioli, disappear faster than you can say Ronald McDonald.

A tasty pomodoro sauce adds a rustic finish to the lollipop meatballs you grab by the stick.

Among the seafood were an inspired, basil-grilled salmon that holds up well with quinoa and briny Kalamata olive tapenade. A delicate, Basque lump crab cake stepped up to the plate while seared rare ahi tuna, draped over a mustardy Niçoise salad, gave a subtle lift.

Any restaurant worth its reputation seems to be required to offer lamb these days and Carmel does service to grilled lamb sliders and chops. Shrimp ceviche and baba ganoush were the only weak links, however, because both needed more punch.

Chocolate lava cake is like a childhood pleasure retooled for grownups.

There’s an ample selection of beers and an entertaining assortment of wines priced by the bottle or glass in three, six and nine-ounce pours. If you do have to wait for a table, you’ll be comfy relaxing in comfortable conversation pits. There’s live music on weekends, too.

The dessert vita is definitely on the dolce side. Sugar-glazed pound cake, glistening with strawberries, is far more exciting than its title suggests. A chocolate lava cake with a flowing center, with ice cream, is like a childhood pleasure retooled for grownups. Once you’ve finished ordering, ask your children for the iPad if you can get them away from “angry birds,’’ to pull up a roaring fireplace on the device.

Growing a new specialty restaurant on North Dale Mabry takes courage as there is competition on every block. Carmel, co-owned by one of the founders of the popular Outback Steakhouse chain, has confidence in this culinary adventure and envisions more.

For full disclosure, my visit was by invitation with other special guests, so my cover was blown. The communal meal offered many more tastings than a typical twosome could enjoy.

Carmel Café  & Wine Bar
14306 N. Dale Mabry Hwy.,  Tampa, Fla. in Landmark Plaza (also 2548 McMullen Booth Rd., Clearwater, FL
(813)
Dinner: Tues – Thurs 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., F, S: 5 p.m. to midnight and Sun.: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Lunch service begins Nov. 1.
(813) 265-1415
AE, MC, V, Discover
www.carmelcafe.com

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Vinoy offers vintage homage: Enter the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club and you’ve left normal behind. Its swanky restaurant, Marchand’s, offers a high style as reflected by its clientele. Aside from the elegant people and ambience, the real reason to go is the sanctuary of sumptuous food. Chef Mark Heimann offers an autumn  menu for $19.25 in honor of the year the resort  (formerly the Vinoy Park Hotel) was born.

The menu offers the definitive cool weather meal. Think parsnip soup with cheddar cheese pork cracklings paired with Concannon Chardonnay 2010; duck confit cassoulet with white beans, smoked pork, garlic sausage ragout with a Concannon Petite Sirah 2008; and much more. The special is served from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
www.marchandsbarandgrill.com

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Zorba would dine here: Enjoy Greek food for a cause at Mo’ Ziki’s charity lunch and dinner to benefit the YMCA of Suncoast. From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Oct. 24, a portion of the proceeds will help “Livestrong at the YMCA,” a wellness program that builds strength and self-confidence for cancer survivors.  Mo’ Ziki is  at 10801 Starkey Road, Largo, in the Promenade Bardmoor Shopping Center. www.eatmoziki.com

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2 comments to Tampa’s Carmel Café brings California cool to Carrollwood

  • Mary – what great descriptions – can’t wait to go there!

  • Julie Smith

    I love it when my cheese sings. Based on your descriptions, it sounds like more than just the cheese is singing. Yet another eatery to add to my list.

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