The new Carmine’s DC, a New York outpost of the famous family-style restaurant is doing what they set out to do — pack the house and stuff the belly. The largest restaurant in Washington, DC with more than 20,000 square feet and 700 seats, Carmine’s has managed to draw thousands within days of opening. In fact, according to Jill Collins, who is managing their public relations effort in DC said, “Carmine’s did 1,000 covers on its first Friday of business -and it had been open only 3 days.” With their enormous portions, (each dish designed to serve 4-6 adults), it’s impossible to leave there without being completely full to the brim.
I was there for their opening on Tuesday, August 3rd and to interview Alicart restaurant group CEO, Jeffrey Bank but this past Friday night was my first time ever trying Carmine’s famous cuisine. I had relatively high expectations, since I had heard good things but was somewhat skeptical. What is so remarkable, especially for a restaurant its size is that their sauces and pasta are made from scratch daily and every dish is made to order.
What is also quite impressive is that Carmine’s has a special “menu” that provides recommendations of dishes for those with dietary restrictions, vegetarian, vegan, or have food allergies, including gluten. This is not yet available on the website; however, it may be added in the future.
Part of the decor, yet is also functional is the enormous menus that hang on the wall in prominent places throughout the restaurant (see photo on left). Bank said, “There are no daily specials at Carmine’s. The menu hasn’t changed in 20 years. We’re not big on creativity but we’re big on consistency. The food is the same in each location. With our enormous portions — it’s a tremendous value.” Bank added, “There are many popular dishes, such as the Fried Calamari, Caesar Salad, Eggplant Parmigiana, Linguine with Clam Sauce, Rigatoni Country Style, Chicken Scarpariello, the 46 oz Porterhouse, and Chicken Contadina.”
With a group of 6 adults, we ordered two appetizers, three entrees, and two desserts. For the first course, we ordered their famous Cesar salad and the Eggplant Parmigiana. Yes, it’s true that I don’t like eggplant but I have heard so many good things about Carmine’s Eggplant Parm that I decided to try it. Quite to my surprise, I loved it and thought that it didn’t even taste like eggplant. The tomato sauce was tangy, just the way that I like it. Also, I could see why people rave about their Cesar salad and why it has been one of their top sellers since the first Carmine’s opened in 1990.
The Cesar dressing is thick, creamy, and has just enough anchovy to taste the way a good Cesar dressing should. The recipe in the Carmine’s cookbook, which Bank graciously gave to me when I met him on opening day, calls for anchovy fillets, garlic, egg yolk, red wine vinegar, lemon, and spices. I’d love to know how much Romaine lettuce Carmine’s goes through in a day! They probably could set a Guinness Book World Record for the amount used per year. We had only Cesar salad leftovers. We scarfed down the Eggplant parm. I think we would have finished off the salad also but I think people were saving room for the next course. Rightfully so! These portions are huge!
We ordered three entrees, the traditional Lasagne, Chicken Saltimbocca, and the Seafood pasta with red sauce. The lasagne was enormous (see photo below which gives you an idea of the scale). After trying a couple of dishes with Carmine’s marinara sauce, I knew that I would like the lasagne. It was hearty with a meat sauce and thankfully not too much ricotta cheese.
Of the three entrees that I tried, the Chicekn Saltimbocca was my favorite. The chicken is pounded flat, with prosciutto, and fresh sage leaves, dredged in flour, and then sauteed. It is served on a bed of spinach with a white wine sauce and melted mozzarella on top. The seafood pasta was a huge portion as well. It was chock full o’ seafood pieces such as lobster, calamari, mussels, clams, and jumbo shrimp. The pasta in the red sauce was delicious but I had a hard time eating the seafood, especially the lobster pieces which were often mostly shell. We had a lot of leftovers of this pasta and since my husband couldn’t join us for dinner, I brought it home to him. He loved it. I wasn’t surprised since he enjoys more hearty seafood fishes than I. He has eaten the pasta for two meals and we still have more left in the fridge.
For dessert, we ordered the Tiramisu and the Strawberry shortcake. One of our guests, Bill was celebrating his birthday so they brought out the Tiramisu, which was as large as a pie, with a candle on it. In addition, one of the staff song Happy Birthday to Bill beautifully. The entire restaurant cheered and clapped. The Tiramisu which means, “pick me up” in Italian was delicious. It tasted like creamy chocolate custard. Carmine’s uses superrich mascarpone as well as whipped cream and then tops it all with large chocolate shavings. I didn’t taste the espresso coffee flavors at all (which I don’t really like anyways).
The enormous strawberry shortcake was like a huge mountain of cream with strawberries decorated the way a Christmas Tree would with a stand of pound cake. It was difficult to serve but it was delicious. It was as large as my head!
My only complaint is that the servers serve you and it takes too long. I would prefer to serve myself so I can put what I want and the right amount on my plate.
Bottom line: Carmine’s serves great food and makes dining in groups a lot of fun. The value for the amount of food that you get is unmatched. The decor is rustic and the photos on the walls makes you feel like your at Grandma’s house eating at your Nonna’s dinner table.
For more info: Carmine’s Website for reservations and more information. Carmine’s DC:425 7th Street NW (Penn Quarter metro)
Map/Directions : Google