Carmel Café & Wine Bar brings a new experience to this town of foodies that has surely seen it all. Together with the time-honored qualities that we have come to expect of our local restaurateurs — great food, outstanding service and a convivial atmosphere — this latest in a local restaurant group presents the innovative MenuPad. This nifty device is provided tableside in the form of an iPad that allows diners to browse the extensive menu, complete with gorgeous high-resolution photos, before placing their order and even controlling the timing of their food and beverage delivery with a touch of the screen. What’s more, each dish features a wine pairing. A mere click brings up a full description of the recommended wine, available in three, six and 9-ounce pours.
Our first attempt with this new technology is guided by Chris Sullivan, one of the genuinely gracious co-founders. No sooner has he pressed his index finger to our chosen beverage and invited us to listen for the almost simultaneous printing out of the order in the bar behind us, than a beaming server arrives at our table, a glass in each hand.
The Carmel Café offers an extensive wine list featuring 60 meticulously chosen wines to complement the Mediterranean-influenced menu. The decor also reflects a wide swath of that part of the world in the artwork that adorns the walls, including a mesmerizingly azure backdrop to the open bar, where long granite-topped communal tables are buffered by comfy red couches strategically placed amid the stylish contemporary seating of the dining room. The restaurant seats 150 inside and out.
We sit at one of the long tables in the bar — all the better to view the sea of happy people on this opening night — and sample a series of delicious dishes from Executive Chef Steve Cook. The Mezze Platter features a scrumptious trio of Edamame hummus, Baba Ganoush and Muhamarrah (red pepper hummus) surrounding a wedge of fried feta cheese garnished with peppadew relish and artichokes. What with the fresh warm pita bread served on the side, this could easily be dinner for two. But there’s more to come: the tasty Chickpea Fries served with tomato jam and a really good curry aioli; the delicious Seasonal Flatbread topped with shrimp, mango, goat cheese and arugula; and a very good Red and Yellow Roasted Beets Salad topped with crunchy roasted pistachios and creamy goat cheese sprinkles. Entrees are available in small or large plates; our favorite is the perfectly-prepared Steak Frites comprised of succulent grilled and sliced Meyers Natural Angus and crisply substantial Carmel Fries with a tart and creamy béarnaise aioli on the side. Poundcake with Strawberries marinated in fragrant kefir lime provides a divine end to a meal that truly does justice to the “modern Mediterranean” theme. Perhaps the best bite of the night: a mini cannoli, just enough sweetness to make you smile.
Carmel Cafe seems just the place to chill with great food and wine in the company of friends or, in this brave new world, a MenuPad to keep you amused while you play a game or surf the web — even if you opt for an old-fashioned paper menu to place your order.
In fact, if you are thinking about gathering with friends, check out their first wine dinner featuring the acclaimed wines from Washington State, America’s second largest wine-producing region. The wine dinner will be 6:30 to 8 p.m on Thursday, July 19. Cost is $59.95 per person (plus tax and gratuity). Space is limited and reservations are required.
Tucked in the corner of Cooper Creek Blvd. just across from BJ’s wholesale, Carmel Café & Wine Bar is open Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 5 pm to 9 p.m. They plan to opening for lunch beginning July 9 and for Sunday brunch beginning July 14.