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Monday, September 08, 2008

Carmela's Bistro and Wine Bar

I'd been meaning to get out to Carmela's for over a month but hadn't really had the opportunity until last Friday night when two friends to whom I owed dinner for helping me move at the end of July finally took me up on the offer.

We didn't make reservations figuring if we showed up late enough we'd get a table since Lincolnites are typically early diners. We arrived around 7:45 and and were told we had about a 40 minute wait. We took seats at the bar, which you have to walk through the main dining room to reach, ordered drinks and wound up being seated in about 20 minutes at a tiny table in the smaller dining area separated by a wall of wine racks from the main room.

If I had a choice I would have requested to be seated in the main room. First, the smaller dining room had a big TV on the wall which is fine for sports bars but really takes away from the "fine" dining experience people are looking for in a bistro. Plus, the table we were seated at was barely big enough for two people, especially considering the entrees are served on huge platters over a foot wide a la 90's nouvelle cuisine. The three of us could not help but pity the table of four next to us we watched them make use of every single square inch of their table.

As we finished our cocktails we ordered wine and entrees. I was impressed with their wine list which I think rivaled what can be found at The Lodge or Venue. There were some nice New Zealand whites by the glass and a couple of terrific wines from Chilean producer Montes. One of my favorite wines, Pio Cesare Barolo from the Italian Piedmont was also available by the bottle but I didn't feel up to Barolo at restaurant prices. If you feel like bringing your own bottle, the $15 corking fee is very reasonable.

For entrees, I had the Napoleon Chicken, which was chicken breast stuffed with (allegedly) smoked gouda, ham, and sun dried tomato pesto, and drizzled with Bechamel sauce. I didn't taste or feel any texture that would suggest the presence of smoked gouda. The pesto was made up of big chunks of marinated sun dried and very little else. The dish seemed like it had sat for awhile and a quick glance at the congealed Bechamel confirmed it.

My friend Dave ordered the sea bass which I completely forgot was batter-dipped from reading the LJS feature. The fish was good but batter dipping and frying a good piece of sea bass seems a waste. The pairing with cheesy risotto and a Thai-inspired sauce was also puzzling. I'm all for experimentation with fusing different cuisines but the risotto with the Thai flavors seemed a little off. What was even more mysterious was the cup of curry-flavored sauce that came with the dish as what I was guessing was intended to be a tartar sauce. It reminded me of when I would mix mango habanero salsa and sour cream together.

My other friend Neal had a thick sirloin which was perfectly cooked to medium rare, which is to say, red and warm in the middle.

The service was also an issue but it seemed to be limited to our server who must have been new. He read us the special, instead of having it memorized, and a very ordinary special it was - chicken, basil fettucini Alfredo, reeking of Olive Garden. We also had to ask for bread, while it was brought to the table next to us right away, and water, which should also appear at the table immediately.

Overall it was a very ordinary dining experience. I'm glad the place is doing well. Keeping the room small is a good idea for a restaurant like this in Lincoln. I was hoping to see more Italian-style dishes on the menu instead of enchiladas and more Bechamel sauce than I've seen on any menu in a long time. From what I've heard and experienced the steaks are probably the way to go there, which puts it on par with about a dozen other restaurants in Lincoln.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Jesse said...

This (con)fusion of cuisines seems to be something of an epidemic in the LIncoln/Omaha area. I loved Nichole Aksamit's line her recent review of Omaha's French Café:
"The menu, although concise, also seemed to stray from the French ideal. A modern cafe need not limit itself to French classics. But huevos rancheros? Really?".

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I visited Carmela's Bistro and Wine Bar last summer, by myself, as my family was all out of town. I ordered the fettucini with proscutto. The proscutto was actually chewy and tough, but I kept eating hoping it would improve. My waiter asked about my meat, I told him about the proscutto, he said he would tell the chef. A manager came and asked the same question. I gave the same reply and her response was "the chef has been informed".
There was no offer of another meal, a free dessert, a coupon for a return visit. Nothing to make me feel better about my dining experience. I haven't been back.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried Carmela's this evening by the recommendation of a friend. I showed up around 5 for some drinks and I was pleasantly suprised that they had a gourmet happy hour!!!! It was delicious! I am originally from the west coast and it was exactly what we have back home! The service was superb and the food was fantastic! My waiter suggested a nice wine to pair with my Duck and it was right on! Can't wait for Carmela's to expand to the west coast. The manager was not only beautiful but she was soooo kind! She asked how everything was tasting and she visited with me and made me feel welcome. Carmela's you are bound for greatness!!!!

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful Restaurant! It reminds me of a quaint little Vineyard restaurant that I visited while in Sonoma. I have never had a Cheese Board that was more beautiful than that of Carmela's! It was Awesome! Piled high with cheese, fruit, veggies, tapenade ect. ect. ect. Great Service and when you go have the Carmela's Pasta it was DELICE!

7:06 PM  

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