Jan 5, 201204:45 AM
Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene
Tropical Dining and Wedding Bells
Photo by Robert Peyton
I'm getting married tomorrow. It is an indication of my dedication to you, my readers, that instead of phoning this edition of Haute Plates in with a quick cut and paste from a press release, I'm giving you 800 or so words on an interesting new restaurant in the Warehouse District. To wit:
Carmo's owners describe the food served at their restaurant as tropical. One of those owners, Dana Honn, told me this meant that “basically anything in the torrid zone is fair game.” The idea for Carmo was worked out while Dana and his wife Christine were living in San Francisco, where Christine had worked in a few organic restaurants. The tropical angle came from time the couple spent living in South America, and specifically Brazil. Indeed, the Honns and co-owners Drew Kurzweil and Beth Korn initially considered doing a purely Brazilian restaurant, but decided not to limit themselves.
That was a good decision, because while Brazilian food is wonderful and under-represented in New Orleans, some of the other cuisines they're cooking at Carmo are equally deserving of attention, and I get the impression that the folks doing the cooking have restless culinary spirits.
Dana told me that 40 to 50 percent of their business is vegan or vegetarian. Both he and and Christine are vegetarian, though he makes an exception when he tastes dishes that include meat before adding them to the menu. He said he and his partners envisioned Carmo as a place where vegetarians and carnivores can come together to eat. To that end, a lot of the items on the relatively small lunch and dinner menus can be prepared in vegan, vegetarian or carnivorous versions. They are slowly expanding the menus, largely by experimenting with daily specials and responding to demand. The gumbo, for example, proved so popular that it's pretty much a standard these days.
When I dined, the lunch entree special was Kushari, an Egyptian dish of rice, lentils, chickpeas and pasta in a mildly spiced pepper sauce. The dish can be vegan or, as I had it, topped with kafta - meatballs that, in this case, were made with ground turkey. It was delicious and filling, with a hint of cumin and just enough heat from the peppers to be noticeable. The small dish of vinegar-based pepper sauce that came alongside added a bit more heat as well as some acidity.
The Rico sandwich is another example of a dish that can be ordered with meat and dairy or in vegan form. The basic dish is pulled pork, salsa fresca and melted cheese over a grilled plantain patty, but you can substitute vegan "meat" for the pork and vegan "cheese" for the dairy if you'd like. Banquette breads are similarly malleable; the basic option is havarti cheese and scallions over Armenian crisp bread. The Maqaquito omits the scallions and adds bananas, cinnamon and sugar to the cheese, and the Creole is topped with shrimp, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes.
The lunch menu is limited to a soup du jour, salads, sandwiches, the Banquettes and specials, but at dinner there are a few more options. Guo Tie are pot stickers that are stuffed with cabbage, mushroom and (as an option) blue crab, then served with a miso dipping sauce flavored with ginger and chil. Acarje are Brazilian black eyed pea fritters stuffed with a spicy cashew-peanut paste; they come with shrimp, salsa fresca and hot sauce. The only item on the current dinner menu that doesn't appear to have a vegan option is the rum-cured and cold-smoked yellowfin tuna, for which I fear there is not an adequate faux substitute.
Baked goods are also generally vegan or vegetarian; this week there's a vegan Caribbean banana cake available by the slice, along with pao de queijo, a Brazilian cheese bread. There's a short list of wines available by the glass and bottle, as well as small selections of beers and liquors. The dining area is pretty small at the moment, but the restaurant is in the process of building out the upstairs for a bar and additional seating. They've even got a solarium where they're growing papaya, passion fruit and some tropical peppers that can't readily be found in New Orleans.
Carmo is a friendly place, where you're likely to meet one or more of the owners when you drop in. They're clearly invested in the restaurant in more than a financial sense, and the care that they've taken in the restaurant has, so far as I've experienced, led to excellent results on the table. Carmo is located at 527 Julia St, and you can reach them at (504) 875-4132. They're open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and from Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m..