I owe all of you a restaurant review. I went to the friends and family and press event opening on September 7th and life being what it is, I am later than I wanted to be posting the review. They have now been open to the public about a week.
Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar at 372 W. Lancaster Ave. in Wayne, PA. It is not so far from the Chester County border, so give it a try. Carmel Café is a small chain of Floridian restaurants which are trying their luck farther north, in Wayne. Right where another Florida inspired restaurant was and tanked after a while – HogFish Bar & Grill. HogFish was inconsistent, expensive, and stuck behind another restaurant that was a ghost town and then closed.
Carmel Café and Wine Bar took over the entire building and made it its own. I found parking no problem, the lot seems bigger than it was.
Outside the building is still your basic developer’s box but inside is something totally different. It is sleek and sexy. My guess is the cougars who frequent the White Dog will flock to this new bar for the more flattering lighting alone.
My review might seem like I did not like it when you are finished reading, but overall I did. I am just going to be brutally honest. I WILL be going back. They just have some kinks to work out. New places often do.
Here are notes I took on my phone as we were dining:
- Wasn’t sure we were getting into opening. Woman with clipboard out front handed us off to someone inside as us not being on the list. I was invited by publicist and RSVP’d to the Chef. I think what she had was a technical difficulty as they were having issues with their internet and whatnot. She could have just said that instead of making me wonder if she thought I was crashing the event. Inside the hostess person at the front at that time was much more smooth and polished.
- Cool – menu is on an iPad – customers will order that way with wait staff.
- Atmosphere is sexy. Fun art on the walls. Lighting could come up just a smidgen in dining room.
- The lounge is also very sexy but at this opening seemed forgotten and empty. I would have had some nibbles or something in it to draw people in. They need to make the lounge seem less of an afterthought, but I hope they don’t ruin it – they just need to make it more enticing. Right now it is just red banquette rimming a room. If I had been the designer, it would have been only a partial banquette with maybe a couple of small lounge/slipper type chairs and tables and a focal point of say a small gas fireplace or something. That looks like the room where they had to conserve money.
- This restaurant is a GREAT place for date night whether a first date or a wedding anniversary or something in between.
- Terrific wine list – I started with M. Picard Vouvray. By the glass that was a little tasty. The wine list on a lot of items had a mark-up I found close to gouging in some cases, which is a common flaw with restaurants that open in Pennsylvania, I think due to the state store system. One would think that a restaurant tech savvy enough to have a menu and ordering off an iPad tablet would be savvy enough to know that people also have wine apps on their smart phones and will check wines for price…
Food overall is quite good but noticed some of the trendy from Wayneunk being really hard on staff who are nervous. I mean come on people, we were given a wonderful evening out, you can’t pay for a couple of extra drinks on your own? The booth behind us was brutal on staff. We were embarrassed for them.
- Carmel Cafe has a few kinks to work out but they are earnest and their staff is terrific – they all are working hard.
We had hands down the best waitress I have had in years. She knew that menu inside and out and the wine list. She knew food and how restaurants work. She was helpful and always checked in without being overly solicitous or overly familiar with customers. What a pleasure.
- Bathrooms need some tweaking – ladies room needs purse hooks in stalls (I imagine that is corrected by now). Gentlemen guests remarked that Men’s room urinals set too low – men over 5′ 5″ will splash themselves and well at this soft opening there are guys in $600 loafers so I would listen.
- Front of house staff is the weakest spot in staff – host guy is awesome and attentive but one woman not so much – she got irritated when I asked for lights to be raised in lounge and did not know where switch was. Said she would find out and evaporated and never came back. There were a couple of waitresses that we thought at end of day probably wouldn’t make it long term. When so many wait staff shine so brightly, the ones not getting with the program really stand out, unfortunately.
- Ordered dessert trio – they had a lava cake but that is all over
- Blind spot: owners were only interested in talking to their obvious social connections/people who could do something for them not everyone who was there to give feedback. I am not the Queen of England but I have been to many a soft restaurant opening like this and every time I have had an owner or a general manager stop by my table for feedback.
- Some of guests said food too salty. My salad was too salty. I ordered the one with tuna (tuna was cooked to perfection, however) was too salty and the salad has too much going on – it needs to be simplified and what Coco Chanel said about removing one piece of jewelry before you go out should apply to restaurants and ingredients in certain things. The edamame and egg in the salad I had (Mediterranean Ahi Tuna is its name and it should come in two sizes like the salmon entrée I had) , for example, were overkill. My better half had similar feelings about the braised short rib and portabella flatbread too.
- The basil grilled salmon entrée is one word: AMAZING
Again, I will go back. And I wish them tremendous success. The food prices are moderate and the menu is of a manageable size to give you plenty to try on a few return visits, but not so huge it is trying to be too many things. I am not a professional restaurant reviewer, what you see are my impressions and what I overhear around me.