Monday, July 14, 2014

Carmel Café & Wine Bar – Tampa, FL

Today was a day of catching up with friends.  This morning I had coffee with my friend Laura who is in town from Vermont (who went to lunch with her sister at Mazzaro’s after my recommendation!) Then for dinner I joined my friend Maddie at Carmel Café & Wine Bar. 
The South Tampa location of Carmel Café has been open for about 2 years now - I've been there several times already.  The design is sleek and sophisticated with vibrant artwork (several of the oil paintings were painted by Alfonso Architects).  To complement the modern interiors, they also have state of the art technology with an iPad ordering system.  I love that the iPad menu is so interactive – you can see actual photos of the food prior to ordering – and even type in special instructions for the chefs.  The visuals ensure that you get exactly what you want – I hate when I order something solely based on the menu description and it shows up completely different than I had envisioned.

The food has a Mediterranean vibe and there is a wide selection of specialty cocktails, wines, and a full liquor bar.  Once ordered, the food arrives very quickly, so I’d advise pacing yourself while placing the iPad orders if you don’t want everything to arrive at once.  Despite most of the work being done via iPad, the servers are still very attentive – almost too much so.  It seemed that every time we took a sip of water, our waiter was there to refill our glass. 

On Sundays and Mondays there is an option for a special Prix Fixe menu – 3 courses for only $14.  I went ahead with the special and ordered the chickpea fries, black olive Caesar salad, and Moroccan lemon chicken.  From 4 – 7pm on weekdays they also have several appetizers and drinks on special for $4.  Maddie ordered the mini mezze platter and the tomato Margherita flatbread. We also split a press of their red sangria with fresh fruit. 

I’ve had the chickpea fries before so I knew that I’d like those.  They are served with a sweet tomato jam and a curry aioli sauce which you’ll want to lick clean off the plate.  Unfortunately for the Prix Fixe menu I actually got less fries than normal portion – 4 instead of 9.  The Caesar was good but nothing too exciting – I probably wouldn’t have ordered it if I weren’t doing the special menu.  But the Moroccan lemon chicken was excellent!  It was served with pine nuts, saffron, olives, lemon, and a mix of roasted vegetables, including large stalks of broccolini.  The chicken dish on its own is normally $12, so it was definitely worth it to do the Prix Fixe meal. 
The mezze platter that Maddie ordered is my go-to appetizer at Carmel Café.  It has grilled pita with a variety of dips and toppings – including muhammarra (a Syrian pepper dip), edamame hummus, goat cheese, roasted garlic, olives, and sun dried tomatoes.  A lot of the dishes like that one are perfect for sharing – probably the best way to experience Carmel Café is to go with a group and just order a bunch of dishes to pass around the table.  It was pretty quiet tonight, but it does get very busy on the weekends.  Most days have specials like today – you can check out their calendar here. 

Carmel Café and Wine Bar has several locations.  The one we visited tonight is located at 3601 W. Swann Avenue, Tampa FL 33609 and is open from 11am – 10pm Monday through Thursday, 11am – 11pm Friday & Saturday, and 11am – 9pm on Sunday. 

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