Monday, April 24, 2017

Carmine's Review

Image from Google Maps
On my latest DC visit, Mother Nature was not on my side, at it was a raw, rainy day for trekking around the city. After battling the elements all day, I looked forward to enjoying dinner at Carmines, an Italian restaurant that ensures that everyone- including those with dietary restrictions- can enjoy the experience of sitting down to a family-style Italian meal.

While Italian food does have pitfalls for those who are gluten and/or dairy-free, Carmine's menu offers plenty to love for everyone. With gluten-free pasta as well as options for appetizers, entrees, and even dessert, Carmine's has been on my radar awhile for places to check out in the DC area.

Carmine's is a more "touristy" spot than I typically pick, but I was won over by the good reviews I had seen online about their gluten-free offerings. With thematic Italian music playing and high spirited atmosphere, it was easy to enjoy my meal here.

Carmine's has allergy menus available upon request, which cover dairy/egg, wheat/gluten, and garlic allergies. Additionally, they have vegan/vegetarian items. The following items I cross checked are highlighted in green if they appear on both menus. You can see my post featuring all of these menus right here.



Because I had a large salad for lunch, I decided I was only ordering a pasta because I didn't want to carry a whole other meal on the train back to Baltimore with me if I had ordered a side dish as well. Although Carmine's serves family-style, I was dining solo, so I ordered a "lunch" portion of my pasta of choice, which could have easily served 2 people. The full-size platters I saw at tables around me were massive, serving up to 3-5 people per dish. 

Carmine's pasta is corn-based, and is made with cornmeal and water. When I ordered, I went by the directives on the menu. My waiter said that the kitchen would be alerted that it was an allergy order, and would take steps to ensure it was safe, including making the pasta in fresh water. 

After debating, I ordered the marinara pasta. With gluten-free noodles, the only other modification was ordering it without cheese. Although I was warned, I was nevertheless impressed by the ample serving. Topped with a thick, bold marinara chock full of plum tomatoes, the pasta was bursting with flavor and earned it from notes of garlic and basil. The pasta was cooked to al dente, and the shape allowed each noodle to carry the flavor of the sauce. Although seemingly simple, I adored every bite, and it had a sublime comfort food quality that was perfect for the drizzly day. 



My experience was wonderful from the food to the service to the price of my meal. Two generous servings of gluten-free pasta for only $15? That's unheard of at most restaurants, much less in downtown D.C. It was just as nice the next day to enjoy my leftovers for lunch, which lost none of it's flavor or form. 

Next time I visit Carmine's will definitely bring friends because it's the kind of place that's more fun shared with several people. Even so, I left full and happy, which is all I ask for when I dine out.

Update 6/9/17: On a repeat visit, my dad and I split the full dinner portion of the shrimp marinara pasta with no cheese and over gluten-free noodles. Oddly, the pasta took over an hour to come out from the kitchen, which the manager attributed to cooking the gluten-free pasta. This wasn't the case in my experience before, and it was odd that most of the other two-member parties around us were seated after us and finished before my dad and me. 

The pasta was perfectly al dente, like before, and the sauce was extraordinary- the plump shrimp took a starring role and had a delicious flavor. I would have liked there to be a better sauce-to-pasta ratio, but nevertheless the dish totally satisfied. Between the two of us, we polished off the dinner portion, but we were both really hungry. I'd say it would serve 2-4 people comfortably depending on appetite.

The long wait without explanation was an early downer on the meal, but the pasta itself was great. However, when receiving the bill, I got another shock- they charged for the pasta. While I don't mind an uncharge for gluten-free items, I was not charged extra before, and there is no mention of an uncharge on the menu or from the wait staff. Consistency is key, and I was frustrated to have two very different levels of service and experience on two separate locations.



I also ordered a side of spinach, which is a massive portion. It is steamed and garlicky, good, but my dad and I hardly made a dent in it despite eating a good deal of it. I know Carmine's is all about "family style" dining, but it would be nice to have an option of ordering individual sides to keep the main entrees family-style but not have so much food go untouched. 



Update 11/24/19: At the invitation of Carmines, I was invited to a gluten-free feast with fellow DC-area gluten-free bloggers. Having already had great experiences with the restaurant, I jumped at the change to have good food with good company. 

The wonderful thing about our all gluten-free group was that the entire menu was put together by Carmine's team so that it was effortlessly free from gluten, and mostly dairy-free. Because they're a scratch kitchen, everything made and served is prepared that day, so it was yet another reminder (in addition to their impressive multi-page allergy menus), that this is a welcoming place for anyone with dietary restrictions. 


The first course consisted of the grilled portobello salad and Carmine's salad. The generous, family-sized portions were easy to dole out among us, and Carmine's thoughtfully separated the meat, cheese, and dressings so we could customize based on our preferences. Both dressings presented, a vinaigrette and their house dressing, are gluten and dairy-free, surprising me as the latter has a creamy consistency and coloration. Rest assured that comes from the use of egg in the dressing, no dairy products are used in it's creation. 

The grilled portobello salad was hearty with the meaty, thick-sliced portobellos taking center stage. They were joined by lovely tomatoes and mixed greens. My favorite of the two however, was the Carmine's salad, which had a fun assortment of textures and flavors, including cucumbers, red onions, red pepper, radishes, tomatoes, and pepporoncini over iceberg lettuce. I added ham to that salad, and tried both dressings, liking them equally well. 

Though both salads were impressive, the real trick is not to overload in the first course because there was more gluten-free goodness yet to come! 



After the opening act, the main dishes arrived: the chicken contadina and gluten-free roti with broccoli, sausage, and red sauce. Everything looked and smelled delicious. Although I knew it was gluten-free, I definitely did a double take because it was almost too good to be believed that all of this was safe to eat. 

My favorite of the two was the pasta, because the robust red sauce was bursting with tomato and garlic flavor. The broccoli and sausage were nicely dispersed, and the noodles weren't crumbly or too under- or over-cooked. Although it did not take top spot, I also enjoyed the chicken contadina, but it was a little too meet heavy for my liking, with it's tender chances of chicken and beefy sausages. The grilled vegetables and potatoes were delicious, but I preferred the pasta because it just didn't sit as heavy on my stomach. 


Though we all were in a bit of a food coma by this point, we finished the meal with two lovely dessert options: the flourless chocolate torte and fruit. Unfortunately, only one of these was dairy-free (the fruit), and it was a tad disappointing to miss out on the intense decadence of the torte. The fruit itself was fresh and flavorful, and a nice way to end the meal without feeling overly stuffed. On future visits, I'll likely skip dessert, preferring instead to fill up on the abundance of appetizers and mains on offer. 


Having entered this experience already a Carmine's fan, I'm glad this outing confirmed my high regard for them. If you're looking for a conveniently-located, family-friendly place to dine near downtown DC, Carmine's is an excellent choice. It's really special when you can dine out with food allergies and have a clear gluten-free menu (and menus for other allergens) and what comes to your table is almost indistinguishable from what everyone else in the restaurant is eating. I want to give my sincere thanks to the Carmine's team, Jill Collins, and my fellow gluten-free bloggers, for another great dining experience!

The Basics

Address: 435 7th St NW, Washington D.C. 20004
Website: www.carminesnyc.com
Cuisine: Italian
Ideal For: Lunch, Dinner
Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible
Special Feature: Make reservations on Open Table right here. I highly recommend securing one because the night I visited they were not seating people without a reservation.

Disclaimer: This review is based upon the information I have at the time of the review and does not reflect changes in ingredients or availability of items. Please contact the restaurant directly for up-to-date information and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. I was not compensated for the original review and June 2017 update, but was provided my meal free of charge on November 10, 2019. All opinions expressed in this post are mine..

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