In Italian-American family celebrations, there’s a concept known as abondanza. The direct translation, as you may have guessed, is “abundance.” But the more realistic translation as embodied by my mother’s approach to cooking is “make sure you’ve prepared enough of each dish so that if EVERY guest were to eat ONLY that dish, there would still be enough for everyone to be satisfied.” It is in this spirit that Carmine’s arrives in Penn Quarter.
Carmine’s has become something of a New York institution over the past twenty years, a family-style restaurant that manages to balance a more refined atmosphere with a traditional “red sauce” menu. Portions are huge, with each entree easily serving four, five or even six people. Assuming guests play it smart and limit themselves to an entree or two for every four diners, it’s entirely possible to leave without dropping a small fortune as most entrees are priced between $20 and $30.
As of last night, Carmine’s is open for business – they’ll be offering lunch service as well starting today. And I was especially impressed to see that they’ve wasted no time jumping into the Washington restaurant scene: Carmine’s is participating in Restaurant Week (August 16-22) for both lunch and dinner. No word yet on what they’ll be offering, but it’s commendable that they’re participating so soon after opening.
We had a chance to take a look around the restaurant before last night’s dinner service, and we made sure to grab some pictures for you. After the jump, take a look at Carmine’s studiously mismatched chandeliers, their ubiquitous menu boards (in lieu of individual menus) and a bar and lounge that are wired to accommodate even the busiest guests.
If you need further evidence of Carmine’s Italian-American bonafides (and you might, as the place comes across just a bit too polished and by-the-book to be authentic), look no further than my grandfather. His birthday celebration of choice? Dinner at Carmine’s in Atlantic City followed by some games of chance and skill. As someone who’s been eating homemade Italian for more than 70 years, I’m deferring to him on the question of taste…and he likes it a lot.
Other writers have already talked about the restaurant’s size and its ability to host multiple private events at the same time, but we did learn that when Carmine’s decided to move into the space they inherited a handful of goodies from the upscale grocery chain client that was originally slated to move in, including a pair of chandeliers in the lounge area that were a gift from the landlord. Another big win for the restaurant is the parking garage below them. Parking is definitely at a premium in the area around the Verizon Center, but it won’t be a problem for guests of Carmine’s. The restaurant plans to offer valet parking at a flat rate of $10 at all times (even during Verizon Center events), or you can park it yourself in their garage for $10 an hour. So a word to the wise: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT VALET OPTION.
The bar and lounge are fully wired, which will likely make Carmine’s a favorite mobile office destination for political types awaiting a fundraising event in one of those private rooms. The flat-screen TVs at the bar will practice “television Darwinism,” with public opinion determining when they’ll be showing SportsCenter and when they’ll be showing C-SPAN. And Lisa at Dining in DC shared the news that bartenders may even be able to help folks whose phone batteries run down but who forgot their chargers with some stand-ins as needed.
The cocktail menu includes a few drinks created just for Washington, including the Wizard’s Thunder (blackstrap rum, muddled mint, Domaine de Canton ginger, lime, soda) and Louie’s Spiked Lemonade (Absolut Citron muddled with strawberries and fresh lemonade). The wine list favors Italian varietals and spans a healthy range of price points.
With everything Carmine’s has to offer, I’d say it’s a safe bet that they’ll soon be a hit with tourists and event planners alike. I’m looking forward to trying the food to see if it’s as good as Mom makes. At the very least, I know she’ll approve of the portions.