Since opening in September, Carmel Café & Wine Bar has garnered its fair share of local interest, thanks to its well-executed “Mod Med” concept and impressive wine program full of splashy global offerings. And Carmel’s nifty iPad ordering system is a novelty of sorts—albeit a useful one.
The way operating partner Doff Fleshman sees it, scrolling through enticing descriptors and alluring photos before placing a request with a touch of the screen is an easy, interactive component to Carmel’s overall experience. It’s definitely unique—for now. Soon, though, Fleshman believes it’ll be a fairly common feature in restaurants. Carmel Café just happens to be a mainstream forerunner to this fast-moving trend.
I, for one, had no trouble e-navigating the flavorful array of modern interpretations of regional Mediterranean fare from Italy, Spain, Morocco, France and Greece. It was great fun scrolling through the restaurant’s tempting list of starters, savory flatbreads, salads and main plates. Had I lost my inner-techie mojo, though, a paper menu was also a standard table provision.
The first time out, we enjoyed an array of signature shareables—like a zesty starter of meatball pomodoro lollipops (as fun to look at as they were to eat), a goat cheese spread with roasted garlic and crisps, and a satisfying grilled shrimp, mango and arugula flatbread. By our second visit, we’d learned to stagger the ordering process. Food comes out fast at Carmel, so consider securing your appetizers first and then, when they arrive, submit your main courses to help the meal’s overall flow.
Entrées are presented in sensible small and large portions. A tender sliced steak came with well-seasoned frites; a sizable stack of short ribs rested supremely atop creamy polenta; and an equally hearty all-natural chicken breast arrived bathed in a satisfying copper-colored Madeira wine glaze.
Continued on page 2 …
The Moroccan lemon chicken and couscous was not tagine-style perfect, but it did possess the heady, aromatic pungency of paprika, turmeric and cinnamon. To top the evening off, we spooned into a gooey chocolate lava cake.
The owners of this small but growing chain (Wayne is their first operation outside of Florida) have put considerable emphasis on wine. You get the choice of a three-, six- or nine-ounce pour, and there’s an impressive overall depth to the international by-the-glass and bottle selections. Prices of certain higher-end wines are actually rather palatable, considering the Commonwealth’s alcohol tariffs.
Last home to Hogfish Bar & Grill (for about a minute), the building has been smartly transformed into a contemporary enclave, its warm hues and vibrant murals visually emblematic of the restaurant’s Carmel, Calif., namesake and the Golden State’s earth tones and desert shades. The bar area is modern yet comfy, with four granite-topped tables that are popular real estate during happy hour.
In the main dining area, hard surfaces, a predominance of right angles, and a view-blocking, mauve-colored wall work somewhat incongruently against sight lines and conversations, especially at certain tables and during busy hours. As I scrolled through my itemized check, I marveled over how far we’ve come. I also couldn’t help wondering if servers would one day become obsolete.
“This is a people business. We’re not looking to replace people with iPads,” Fleshman later assured me. “The goal is to pace orders, not to confuse customers.”
Like the digitized menu it incorporates, Carmel Café is out ahead of a long-term proposition that melds technology and hospitality.
The Skinny: An approachable, contemporary Mediterranean menu, gratifying wines, and a casually hip vibe all conspire to bring a taste of Carmel, Calif., (by way of Florida) to the Main Line.