Mo-Med flavors in Winter Park
When Carmel Kitchen opened a year ago at 140 N. Orlando Ave. in Winter Park, the restaurant announced a modern interpretation of Mediterranean cuisine with their Mod-Med cuisine incorporating flavors and foods from all the countries surrounding the Mediterranean while focusing on Italy, Spain, France, Greece and Morocco. That can set up some pretty lofty expectations considering they’re drawing from all of the greatest cuisines of the Western world while also touting the much-celebrated health benefits of the region.
In my recent visit to Carmel Kitchen, I was anxious to experience an array of tastes considering all they had to inspire them – and I came away inspired. But there are two other points to make before I talk specific dishes. The first is once again very European; the Kitchen encourages guests to share several small plates (called “tapas” in Spain) and now more and more ‘the rule’ in the U.S. as well. I embrace the idea happily; sharing means more flavors to experience.
The second is their unique use of the MenuPad. Considering that I am no “techie,” I had a real show-me attitude about the MenuPad. Each table is given an iPad that lists menu items with pictures and prices. There’s a check-box by each item and that’s the deal. It also has a box for “call the waiter,” “pay my bill,” and other helpful things. As soon as I saw how easy it is to order from the MenuPad, I agreed – this is a great idea. Upon reflection I’ve decided that I would not want it around, however, for a hoped-for romantic dinner. It would be too easy to start playing with the MenuPad – sort of like “Lord of the Foods,” and that would make romance go the way of the Game Boys.
As to the ambiance, the restaurant is a study in relaxation. Vibrant colors in murals and behind the full-service bar contrast with beige sandstone walls and wooden booths so that depending on which way you look, I actually thought to myself, “I saw a mural like that in Spain, I saw the gorgeous blue of the bar in Greece, and the outdoor seating on the coast of France.” That may sound kind of crazy, but it works, and I mean it as a compliment.
Winter Park Carmel Kitchen is open daily, featuring a Happy Hour daily from 4 to 7 p.m. Call 407-513-4912 or visit carmel-kitchen.com. There is also a Carmel Kitchen in Altamonte Springs at 985 N. State Road 434. Call 407-442-0892 for more information.
Enough background – get to the food. The most important note is that my dining partner and I really did get to taste imaginatively prepared foods and seasonings from all around the Mediterranean – in one seating. Trust me here – begin with the Mezze Platter, which includes both the Edamame Hummus and Muhammarra spreads. Did you get that? Edamame Hummus! Woo hoo! Suddenly my love for those little beans – and the sort-of-fun act of getting them out of their shells – has been transformed into a dip that is so wonderful you’ll be tempted to order more, but then you’ll taste the Muhammarra, a spread of roasted red peppers, walnuts, and pomegranate, and I’ll be happy if you simply remember that Josh said you have to begin with this platter. You’ll also feel so healthy – double check those ingredients – that you’ll walk an extra half-mile tomorrow.
Next we shared the Ceviche, which the kitchen prepares with nice sized little shrimps, and adds the fruit tastes of pineapple and mango for their interpretation. My partner loved the extra sweetness from the fruits, but it was a bit too delicate in the seasoning for me. We easily agreed on the Red & Yellow Roasted Beet Salad, which was wonderful. In my estimation those healthy little beets have never gotten their due, but they do here. Add goat cheese, arugula (perfect), pistachios (yay), and a blueberry vinaigrette dressing and you’ve got one truly great-tasting salad.
Moving on to the entrees, one discovers another welcome offering. For most menu dishes, there is a separate price for a small or large serving; very clever and very welcome. When you’re tasting and sharing food, it makes perfect sense … and cents (forgive me). We decided to share one chicken, one fish, and one beef, so my regular readers know what I did. I asked the waiter for his favorites in each. I was a little surprised when he suggested the Rustic Grilled Chicken as there are also Moroccan and Tunisian Chicken entrees, but I went with his choice, and received a nice, well-presented, pleasantly seasoned platter of sliced chicken breast. It was nice, but not exciting. And please note – it was juicy.
For the fish the easy choice was the Basil Grilled Salmon, and here we had the OMG experience of the evening. I eat salmon in almost every restaurant I visit, and this was – from the first bite – over-the-top among the greatest I have ever tasted. This Chilean salmon is grilled in lots of olive oil and topped with an olive tapenade, so it’s well treated, but I promise you – this dish is a must for any fish aficionado.
For the beef we went with the Steak Frites, a nicely grilled and sliced Angus beef portion – done perfectly to my picky medium rare and served with a fabulous aioli béarnaise and truly special fries. While none of us need an extra reason to eat the fries, these are dusted with zaatar, a Lebanese seasoning that includes oregano, sesame, pepper and other wonderfulness that simply laughs at “Would you like ketchup with those?”
Our rule is we only do dessert if there is something very special on the menu – and there is. Right now – the seasonal Key Lime Pie is fantastic.
We went to Carmel Kitchen with the real desire to try new tastes and new seasonings. We were happy with the result – including their patience and charm with all my questions – and look forward to tasting other menu items in the future. Please join us. I think you’ll find just enough adventure in the menu to make your meal at Carmel Kitchen a special event.