Beginning on Sept. 13, Carrollwood residents will be able to enjoy modern Mediterranean cuisine along with the perfect complementary wine at the new Carmel Café & Wine Bar.
Located at 14306 North Dale Mabry Highway in Landmark Plaza just north of Handy Road, the hip new eatery and bar boasts a wide assortment of regional dishes from Italy, Spain, France, Greece and Morocco. The modern Mediterranean style, or Mod Med, is popular among restaurant enthusiasts and known to be trending in the food world.
Terry Ryan, one of the partners at the Carmel Café and Wine Bar, said that some of the top local cooking talents have collaborated to produce a menu that is unique.
“We have worked with the chefs in this marketplace to gain perspective from their individual tastes and palates,” Ryan said.
Ryan was in the enviable position of tasting close to 400 food items, which he described as “the real pleasure” of his job.
After selecting which items the Café would feature on their menu, Ryan and the chef staff began a process called “pairing." Wines that accentuate key ingredients in a particular dish and bring out flavor nuances are paired with the meal in order to create an experience that is a synergistic and delectable.
Ryan likens wine to spices, which can make food more or less desirable.
“We really think of wine as condiment rather than something to wash your food down,” Ryan said. “We worked with wine representatives. Our group has a lot of wine experience and we know a lot of the wine makers from many years in the business.”
Some wine and food combinations are de rigueur, according to Ryan, such as pairing a Cabernet or Bordeaux with short ribs or steak, or Pinot with the Café’s Moroccan Chicken.
Ryan said that the restaurant offers approximately 70 different wines, 30 of which are available by the glass. Carmel Café and Wine Bar offers three-ounce, six-ounce and nine-ounces pours. This allows customers to pick the best from the good without having to immediately commit to one wine over another.
Carmel Café and Wine Bar also provides iPads for patrons to place their order. Since November, the restaurant has been updating an application called “MenuPad” with menu choices featuring prices, descriptions and pictures of food items or wine. The iPads allows customers to order without waiting for servers to return to the table.
Of course, customers have the option of ordering in the usual manner. The Café’s wait staff is well versed in pairing wine and food. Customers are also encouraged to explore their own inspiration to find personal favorites.
Ryan said that during the early part of the restaurant’s development, they worked with chefs to put together food recipes and ideas, and then hired Steve Cook as the director of culinary operations.
Cook trains the individual chefs so that each menu item can be properly delivered to the guests every day. He is responsible for procuring the menu ingredients and working with vendors, as well as putting together the recipes.
Cook explained his vision of the Mod Med aesthetic: basic, high quality, non-processed ingredients served in their simplest format with a modern twist.
“Charcuterie is a French form of cooked meat. We’ve taken foods from the Mediterranean and utilized it on a charcuterie dish,” Cook said. “We will use a manchego cheese from Spain, a basturma meat, some bucheron goat’s cheese and some cerrano ham from France and present them in a modern way. It’s a melding of countries in the Mediterranean.”
Another good example is the Café’s Moroccan chicken, which consists of a sautéed chicken breast with a chicken broth, ginger, and pine nuts, served with a quinoa South American salad.
“My education has been the school of hard knocks. I’ve been cooking since I was 13 years old,” said Cook. “I’ve been working kitchens for well over 30 years at this point. There’s a lot of my influence on this menu, but it didn’t originate just with me.”
The ingredients may be basic, but the restaurant will employ the latest technology, such as a steam injected oven and a combination oven to produce food very quickly for customers. One of their Amana ovens can cook flatbread in 30 seconds or a chocolate lava cake in 45 seconds. Cook says that he has worked closely with Amana to help develop the ovens.
The kitchen operations are further streamlined via the use of the iPad and the MenuPad software, which helps integrate the Apple hardware with Microsoft based point of sale software. Cook found streamlining the kitchen software challenging but rewarding.
Prices at the Carmel Café are quite reasonable, with a median price of around $5 for small plate appetizers and $10 for large plate appetizers. The most expensive item on the menu is the Lamb Lollipops at just under $19, which is rack of lamb with tzatziki sauce, served on a stick to facilitate dipping fun.
The Carmel Café and Wine Bar will be open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.
The restaurant features live music from 9 until midnight on weekends. Ryan recommends coming early to get the best seats available. Call ahead seating is available for small parties, from six to 10 people.
To see Carmel Café and Wine Bar’s menu and further information on the restaurant, please visit http://www.carmelcafe.com/.