Restaurant Week is officially underway, and we kicked it off at one of our favorite downtown spots, The Carlton Restaurant.
The Carlton is unassuming yet grand: draped in dark wood, every booth and table feeling somehow like a private getaway even on a busy night at the restaurant. It’s the perfect place to impress a date, host a business meeting, or celebrate an anniversary. But you’re welcome on game day in your Hines Ward jersey, or after work on a Friday afternoon with a couple of buddies, just to grab some drinks and kick off the weekend.
Their ability to accommodate any guest is one of the reasons they’re such a winning spot for Restaurant Week. Yes, they boast an impressive wine list, some with prices that would make your head spin, but they also pull off a budget-friendly sampling of their menu to make them approachable to the foodie who doesn’t normally frequent the classic downtown spots. And we always seem to find ourselves at the Carlton when Restaurant Week rolls around, just to see what they’ve got on the current menu.
Situated in the BNY Mellon building downtown, any of the window seats offer a spectacular view. This year, we were seated with the view of the reflecting pool and the impressive Union Trust Building across the street.
This summer’s Restaurant Week menu features three courses for $35 ($49 if you choose the option of 2 wine pairings – which we recommend that you do). Each course (appetizer, entree, and dessert) has three options. Since we love sampling as much as we can, we went for different choices on each course.
Michael started his tasting menu with the Kobe beef cheek ravioli with summer vegetables and a Cabernet demi-glace. This was amazing – tender and succulent, with a light but flavorful sauce. Poor Michael lost more than a few bites when I insisted on ‘really getting a feel for the taste of it.’ This was paired with a glass of the 2011 Raymond R Collection Field Blend – Lot #7, which is a blend of seven varietals. It was a balanced and approachable red (which, of course, meant that I could steal a few sips of it without ruining my palate for my appetizer).
I’ll admit, I was a little underwhelmed with my appetizer, the smoked salmon, served on a sea-salted cucumber with horseradish crème fraiche and whipped sundried tomato-caper relish. The salmon was excellent – a very hearty portion, and the flavors were very good all around, however the salad was just a bit dry and the plate didn’t quite seem to come together as an ensemble. I was totally in love with the wine pairing though, a glass of Sonoma Coast Vineyards 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, which was crisp and full of apricot and melon notes.
But any minor disappointment I had about the appetizers was forgotten when the entrees arrived.
Michael got the petit filet and shrimp, featuring a 5-ounce steak in a lemon-herb wine and butter sauce with Cajun seared shrimp and a tomato basil risotto and carrot-French bean sauté. The butter sauce was just amazing on this. The steak and shrimp were so tender, the risotto creamy (and delicious even to a non-risotto person like myself). This entree was accompanied by a glass of the 2009 Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Cabernet Sauvignon, a smoky wine with lots of good cedar flavor. It was just right to go with the smokiness of the Cajun shrimp and the succulent meatiness of the steak (food blogging: where saying ‘succulent meatiness’ is totally something you do every day).
As for my entree?
I have a rather bad habit of buying an accessory, and then searching endlessly for a main outfit to accompany it. Like scarves. I’m the worst with scarves. I will buy one that’s lovely but doesn’t match anything in my wardrobe, and then I will spend a month obsessing over finding a shirt to pair with it. And I kind of sort of did that with picking the Carlton for dinner. You see, the Carlton was serving a wine pairing of one of my very favorite wineries of all time, Chamisal Vineyards in San Luis Obispo. I decided we were coming to dinner at the Carlton without ever looking at the rest of the menu, just seeing Chamisal and going with it.
And it was *so* worth it.
My entree was the oven roasted grouper with crusted panko, pesto-whipped potatoes, a vegetable medley of summer squash and zucchini, served in a roast pepper cream sauce. This was soooooooo good. The breading on the fish was crispy and not soggy, the potatoes were well-seasoned, the zucchini and squash were juicy, and the cream sauce tied everything together. And the wine? The wine was the 2010 Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay, a super-crisp and refreshing unoaked white wine with lots of tropical and citrus flavors – lemon, mango, pineapple to name a few. I’ve had this wine before (as well as a few of their other stainless line at the tasting room), but it’s always a welcome accompaniment to dinner. Well done, Carlton!
We ended the evening with a round of desserts and a glass of Cockburn’s Tawny Port to seal the deal. Michael got the French vanilla ice cream with berries, which he tried to get me to taste, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the strawberry creme brulee. Oh yes, *strawberry* creme brulee. This was magnificent. Paired with the tawny port, it was just incredible. Creamy and luscious, with just a hint of crispiness on the crust, this dessert left me convinced that if Heaven is real, it’s just a series of beaches made of strawberry creme brulee and oceans flowing with tawny port.
We could not have picked a better start to our Restaurant Week than the Carlton. We are always impressed with the food, the attention to detail in the wine pairings, and the service. If you’re still filling in your list for the rest of the week, keep this place on your radar. You won’t be disappointed!