Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rumblings #3: Meatless in Seattle at Carmelita

Carmelita is a staple on the Seattle vegetarian scene proving that you don't need to eat meat in order to have a satisfying meal. Carmelita added a bar to the restaurant within the last year and seemed to have refreshed the decor a little bit which added a warmth and earthiness to the restaurant. It also has a lovely intimate garden patio that is a rare and perfect Seattle spot for some dining al fresco.

I hadn't been to Carmelita since Carlos Caula brought his "farm-to-table" eat local philosophy and I had been interested in seeing how this was reflected in the menu. It was a great excuse for my brother and I to take our newly vegetarian mother out on a mom-date. Everything on the menu is incredibly fresh, local, foraged and northwest sounding; while the english peas, asparagus and foraged mushrooms are springy staples, there was an abundance of nettles on just about everything. I wonder who thought to eat the irriating nettle.... They sting and irritate me in the woods but maybe if I cooked them a bit and ate them, they could either sting the inside of my throat or be a wonderfully delicious addition to a parpadelle? I digress.

The first course featured two soups and a salad. I opted for the asparagus soup which was served tepid. I don't recall the exact description of the temperature as described on the menu but it wasn't hot, it wasn't chilled, it was lukewarm. It was garnished with some blood orange oil and wildflowers. I found the soup to be a subtle but delicious way to show off the fresh asparagus with a bit of citrusy zest. My mother and brother ordered the broccoli cheddar soup which was very flavorful but refined. Thumbs up on the first course.

For the second course, we had a choice between a mushroom risotto, an open-faced vegan, sauteed pea vines and mushroom lasagna with nettle pesto or a pizza which of course, featured foraged mushrooms and nettles and other such roughage. My lasagna was fresh and understated but I prefer a more in-your-face flavorful type of lasagna. I missed the saltiness and zest of cheese and a more substantial filling. The sauteed pea vines were lovely but I longed for more mushrooms which were the savory, earthy bits that tied the dish together but were sadly lacking. My mother and brother ordered the risotto which was really delicious with a great mix of textures with the soft and cheesy risotto, chewiness from the mushrooms and the slight crunch of the greens and flowers. It reminded me a bit of the risotto from Sunlight Cafe in Roosevelt. It was much more satisfying and I finished my mom's risotto for her... I tend to eat like a teenage boy afterall.

I had a lemon-infused goat cheese creme brulee for dessert which was great finish. It didn't have a goat cheese flavor at all but had the perfectly soft and sumptuous texture, perfect crisp top and a not-too-warm and not-too-chilled temperature.

All in all, Carmelita really showcases fresh, local, northwest cuisine. It feels really vegetarian if that can be a good description. The menu is a litttle hippie with a bit of northwest refinement; there are flowers and nettles everywhere!  However, I have to compare it to the classic Seattle vegetarian institution: Cafe Flora. The key difference is that Cafe Flora uses creative ingredients to put together more comprehensive entrees that make you forget you're not eating meat. Carmelita's dishes were earthy and delicious but felt as if they would be great sides or pieces to a whole meal but not the total package.  It was if I had a really great date with a vegan Seattlite who is intelligent, likes music, is sensitive but who wore socks with sandals.  We kissed but we lacked that spark. I think I made a nice friend but was left a little unsatisfied.

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