“We have to go to Carmen!”
This was maybe the second thing my mom said after I told her we were coming to town after “Yay!”
“You’re going to love it!”
And as is so often the case, Mom was right.
Carmen lies right around the corner from the main drag of the trendy Parque LLeras’ section of town, in a contemporary two-story space with clean lines, rustic details, and a romantic garden patio in the back.
It is pretty clear right away that a lot of thought and care went into this restaurant. Despite the modern look, this is a family business and it is clearly a labor of love. Carmen and her husband and co-executive chef, Rob, both went to culinary school in San Francisco, and after working in prestigious restaurants in the area, brought their expertise home to Medellin. From there is seems they got the whole family involved. On the night we went, Carmen’s dad was in the kitchen with Rob, and little sis was in the bar area upstairs. Carmen chatted warmly with us from time to time in between trips shuttling from the front to the back of the house.
Like the restaurant, the food blends a hip, artistic sensibility with a little heart. It is modern, using many local flavors, while borrowing from global influences and occasional modernist/molecular gastronomy techniques. We tried a large slate of dishes and shared them family style, even if that was not necessarily how they’d been intended to be served. With so many enticing options on the menu, everyone in our group wanted to try everything. Dishes ranged from good to great, but nothing fell flat. The worst I can say is that the Grenobloise was slightly over-salted. Nonetheless, this dish prepared with the catch of the day, bravo, served with lemon caper cream, spinach and potato gratin, and finished with porcini mushroom dust and brown butter powder, was a general crowd pleaser.
I love bahn mi, so ordering a plate was a must and well worth it. The pork had been started off sous-vide and finished of on the grill, so the texture was perfect and completely luscious. The interplay of the various flavors of tamarind cilantro, peanut and mint vinaigrette, and an Asian BBQ sauce came together beautifully, all served on house-made ciabatta.
The Bistro Chicken was another favorite. A lovely piece of chicken confit that was prepared to golden, crispy perfection and plated center stage on a bed of spinach, shitakes, and potatoes lyonnaise. Once this elegant dish was on the table, an aromatic pepper jus was poured on top to blend all of the flavors together.
For dessert, Carmen mentioned to me herself that they pride themselves on their ice creams, and with good reason. The chocolate ice cream plate was both beautiful and delicious. Three balls of chocolate ice cream sat on a little mound of chocolate “dirt,” which add depth of flavor and texture to the already tasty ice cream. All of this, in turn sat on the center of a plate that had been latticed with red wine syrup and dotted with liquid marzipan and amaretto gelée. The result looked a piece of abstract art --- but it was too tasty to just look at.
Seeing what they did with a simple chocolate ice cream, I’ve been left wondering what they could do with some of the more adventurous flavors of ice cream on the menu, including popcorn, beer, and cinnamon toast.
The whole evening was a blast. The warmth of the place, the creativity of the food, and of course the wonderful company of family and friends made for one of the most fun dinning experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
Here is the slideshow of the whole beautiful meal: