Thursday, June 12, 2014

Good (K)(C)arma

Recently I stopped by Carma for lunch. In all honesty, I had no idea that Carma even existed (probably like many of you didn't) until it was recommended to me by a friend. And what an excellent reco it was! I loved the window directly into the open kitchen, from the bar! I loved the group of regulars that know everyone in the restaurant, and vice versa (it was kind of like an upscale Cheers!). And most importantly, I loved the food!

First, let me start off by saying that Carma is far from the dive joints that I frequent, in almost every way other than that it is slightly hidden (and the good food too). You can find it in Park Place, just down the street from my guy Aaron Sanchez's place Mestizo. Also that I know very little about what is authentic Italian vs. what is Americanized Italian, so I will not be commenting on the authenticity of the food simply because I have no clue whether it is or is not (I would have to refer to my homies from Little Italy for that). Anywho, enough with the disclaimers, you want to hear about the food.

Carma was initially opened as a second Carmen's Cafe location, but after some changes in operating interests and rebranding Carma was born. The new rotating menu at Carma focuses more on fresher and seasonal ingredients than did the old Carmen's Cafe fixed menu. Part of this is a daily special...

The daily special on the day that I stopped in was the prime rib dip sandwich. It was killer! The sandwich was piled high with tender, juicy, and meaty (without big chunks of fat, all of the fat had been rendered) prime rib on top of a bed of rocket (or arugula for those not hip to the Queen's English). The au jus was not too shabby, but quite frankly, you did not need it. The bread was not dry and the meat provided plenty of juice. The Greek salad on the side was a nice touch with the feta, onions, and spring greens.

After spending a couple minutes talking to Chef Leo about how much I loved the sandwich, he agreed to bring me out a few samples of other menu items. When he said "a couple", I thought he meant "a couple", here is what I was in store for:

Chef brought out two flatbreads, a sharp turn from Carmen's menu, Sweet & Spicy Shrimp and Margherita flatbreads. The S&S shrimp was just that, sweet and spicy: sweet chili sauce, feta, more rocket, shrimp (duh), and a lemon vinaigrette. The Margherita is your traditional Margherita, made with fresh mozzarella, roma tomatoes, fresh basil, and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Both of which were amazing and I would by lying to you if I told you that I could pick a favorite; and this is just the tip of the flatbread iceberg.

Salads do not stop at side dishes to delicious prime rib sandos! Chef Leo brought me out two salads that were packed with flavour: The quinoa salad (pictured to the right) and the kale salad. The vinegar-y, citrus-y quinoa salad normally comes with a steak or salmon topper, but Chef sent it out with shrimp for me (something he will do for you too). This went great with the pickled onions, feta, spinach, and cucumbers. The kale salad, which is topped with a champagne vinaigrette that also has a vinegar/citrus hint, brings the people what they want: kale! Kale is so in right now, people are making everything out of kale. This kale is complimented with red onions, avocado, and pine nuts. These salads are perfect for the summer!

Once upon a time, I was a huge fat kid and loved fettuccine alfredo (or "mac and cheese for grownups" as Mitch Hedberg called it, and what I thought of as Italian). Once upon a time that was a few years after the previous time, I had grown to know real food and left my previous ways behind. In the second time, I had foolishly sworn off Italian restaurants because I believed that they were all just noodles in random sauces. That was until a good friend of mine showed me the light. He told me to not order pasta at Italian restaurants, but to order the entrees instead. This section is dedicated to this idea that I encourage you all to try as well (however Carma does make their pasta fresh every day).

When Chef brought me out some entrees, I was glad that they subscribed to the above theory! The steak Santana (pictured to the right and named for Chef Leo) comes topped with caramelized onions in a reduced balsamic vinaigrette and accompanied with potatoes au gratin and a seasonal vegetable (which happened to be asparagus the day that I visited). Other entrees that I got to sample were the blackened salmon on a bed of mixed vegetables and Carma's take on chicken spiedinis (made famous by another local spot: Garozzo's). All three were pretty good, but I have to give the championship belt to the chicken spiedinis.

As if all of the things that I mentioned had not left me stuffed enough (and yes I ate, not just sampled, all of them in one sitting), I was not allowed to leave without trying dessert! The New York style cheesecake and Pistachio torte are both made in house and pictured to the right. While the cheese cake was very good, the pistachio torte stole my heart! It was fantastic! I actually took a whole serving of it to-go!

When I was at Carma, they were working on an adjacent space where they were going to do deli-style grab and go New York style pizza (among other things, similar to the prime rib sandwich), for lunch. If you don't have the time to dedicate to a sit down lunch, this is a perfect option for you.

After all of that, there is only one thing left to say: go check them out!

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