I have not come across a restaurant since dining at the Bull & Bear in the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, that has the perfect mix of three things that I look for as a diner: delicious food, excellent service, and a wonderful atmosphere. I have now found that wonderful place to hang out with friends and family in a relaxed atmosphere, without paying ridiculous prices: Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar in Winter Park, Fla.
The atmosphere is created by the lighting and variety of tables, comfy couches and bar seating, which allows for several different spots to sip wine and visit with friends. The serving staff here has been trained well: there are always various servers at your table, whether they are serving food or removing used dinnerware. Service is also heightened by iPads with photos and full descriptions of every menu item, including the nearly 60 wines on the menu.
My husband and I recently dined at the restuarnt during Happy Hour, which runs from 4:00-7:00, Monday - Friday. There are a few special drinks and appetizers on the menu for a flat $4. The house-infused cocktail we tried was Spicy Pineapple, which was the most unique and flavorful margarita I have had. However, I was not blown away by the special cocktails on the new spring menu, including Spring Thyme Martini and Lavendar Lemonade. Unfortunately, the lemonade drink just tastes like lemonade. I may have been expecting a sweeter martini in Spring Thyme, but the cucumber flavor is delicious and refreshing.
However, the food was outstanding. Everything came quickly, was hot, and utilized high quality ingredients. One of the house specialties is Carmel's Chickpea Fries. I have never eaten chickpea fries and really didn't know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised with the flavor, the corresponding dipping sauces and the fact that the fries are gluten-free. I would love a crispy outside to the fry, but that may not be possible.
Carmel's Lobster Bisque is one of the best I have had in Orlando - particularly for a non-seafood restaurant! The Shrimp Ceviche is another wonderful light and flavorful starter, served with delicious crisps.
We also loved the Mediterranean Sea Bass dish, which features a perfectly cooked sea bass with crispy skin that is paired perfectly with a mixture of tomatoes, olives and capers. I really loved the Angel Hair pasta that was served with the dish as well. The steak and juices in the Steak Frites pairs perfectly with Carmel's crispy, herb-flavored French fries, which I will order every time I am there. I daresay they are the best mid- to upscale-restaurant fries in Orlando.
All the desserts sound amazing, but we only had room for the Poached Pear with Caramel Sauce. The mulling spice flavors in the pear pair perfectly with the caramel and vanilla ice cream. I would definitely recommend this dessert to top off a great meal.
We had a wonderful experience at Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar in Winter Park and we were happy to hear that coming soon is...Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar Altamonte Springs!
Where: 140 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, Fla.