Lannae's Food and Travel

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December 29, 2006

Carmine's in Paradise

Atlantis Resort
Paradise Island
The Bahamas

Carmine's in New York opened in 1990, and is the answer to the restaurant theme of "family style Italian". That is get a few expensive dishes, they are huge and share with the table. They opened in the Theater district, catering to large groups who want a decent meal, not spend a total arm and a leg, and feel good before heading to the next big Broadway production. Shortly following Carmine's success, Boston opened Vinny T's (aka Vinny Testas) because how could the famed Boston North End Italians be outdone by New York City? What the rest of the USA has is the chain called Buca di Peppo, which is found in most suburban sprawl areas of the USA, and quite absent from New York City and Boston. I am sure BdP would not last a second in NYC or Boston with the big dogs in the yard. The difference between Carmine's and BdP is that there is someone in the kitchen who really cares about the essence, quality, taste, feel, brand, style, presentation, and delivery of good food to the table at Carmine's. It is not just kitchy with the big platters meant to share, but it is about bringing a feeling of an entire group or family dining experience where party members interact in a foodie-happy way. Carmine's gives he illusion of what family dining should be, or a little throw-back to Leave It to Beaver. The question was when we got to the Bahamas, was Carmine's going to deliver?

The answer, I think Carmine's Bahamas delivered. We started with a bread basket which was carefully arranged in the kitchen, so I got a perfect pretty picture. There was one onion focaccia square that was very tasty, and I ate 2 pieces. Our evening got of to a good start.

Our table started with a stuffed artichoke and baked clams. The artichoke was tough to eat daintily, but the stuffing had good flavor while I tried to scrape off the inner edible portion of the artichoke leaf and not get artichoke juice down my chin. The baked clams has a similar stuffing on the clam, and they were much easier to eat.

The next dish we got for the table was shrimp parmesan, similar to what one would think of as veal parmesan, chicken parmesan, or eggplant parmesan, but this one was made with shrimp. The lightly breaded shrimp was fried, then covered in red sauce and melted mozzarella. This was an interesting dish because the shrimp flavor was kind-of dwarfed by the strong sauce and cheese flavor.

For our main dishes we got one pasta dish Penne ala Vodka. From the resident New Yorkers at the table, they said this dish compares exactly to what you would get in New York. This dish is a tomato cream and vodka sauce with all the alcohol boiled off. The penne was perfectly al dente in a way that I find difficult to achieve at home. I mean, the pasta was the perfect al dente! Someone in the kitchen either cares about what is being sent out to the client, or they are really reallly really good at following exacting directions.

The second dish we got was veal saltimbocca. This dish had a generous portion of spinach under a lot of veal slices with a rich brown gravy and melted mozzarella on top. I have never had veal saltimbocca before, and this tasted good, the texture was excellent, and I liked the spinach. All in all, I was surprised at the quality of the food. In my mind, the Bahamas is not known for its culinary excellence, but Carmine's delivered.

One thing I did notice about the Carmine's website menu and prices vs the current menu and prices is that the current menu is about 25% more than what you see on the website, so something on the website for $30 is really about $40. It is also the Atlantis Resort and all of its 36 restaurant's policy to automatically add 15% tip to any bill, no matter how small or large your dining party is. I think that is fair because our service where ever we ate was like that of any 5-star restaurant in the USA, but the service was nicer and less snooty in the Bahamas. The Bahamas is a separate nation from the USA, so there are different rules for worker compensation I am sure. I am sure that the Atlantis Resort takes its share of that 15% tip, leaving the workers with a lot less than what they really worked for. We always left some extra tip in hopes that the cash would go home with the employee, not the "house". The economic disparity on the island is acute. There seems to be huge gated compounds along the water, which I was told are owned by Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, Sean Connery, Michael Jordan, etc., and then in the center of the island is the working poor. Leaving extra tip money isn't going to change the disparity today, but as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus started out, he gave less than USA $1 to help end the cycle of poverty for one working poor person.


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