Wednesday, June 22, 2011.
Carmelo Reopens, And We're There.
During the radio show yesterday, someone called off the air with the news that Ristorante Carmelo would reopen today. The Mandeville Italian restaurant has been closed since Saturday, because of the death of Carmelo and Karen Chirico's daughter Lucia. The caller said he was getting the word out to friends of the Chiricos to come in for dinner to support them in this difficult moment.
Mary Ann was amazed by this. She expected that the impact of the loss was so great that it would be tough for them to go on. I say the healthiest thing to do in a disaster is to keep going, to act to the outside world (even if it is just a valiant act, requiring great effort) as if nothing had happened. I caught a lot of flak for making that point after Katrina, and was accused of being unsympathetic. But I think the recovery of New Orleans is proof of the efficacy of that strategy.
Carmelo seems to me the kind of guy who knows this. Seeing him at the funeral yesterday left no doubt that his grief was total. The man was falling apart. Who wouldn't? But life must go on for the survivors.
So the restaurant was open, and we went. The Chiricos were not there, for which no forgiveness is necessary. The staff was somber enough. Lucia's death hit them hard, too, because she was part of both the kitchen and dining room crews.
Chef Willie, who has worked with Carmelo for years, acted as host. He came to the table and asked whether we'd like him to do a chef's tasting dinner for us. Mary Ann wasn't up for that--she didn't want to eat at all, really, and was in the restaurant to be there. I needed to eat light, too. I asked the chef if he could adapt his feed to that, and he said he could.
We ate well. The first course was a small, crabmeat-topped Caprese salad. A lot of Caprese salads (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil) have been coming my way, for some reason. Next was a greener salad, topped with grilled shrimp. Spaghetti puttanesca next. This was as earthy as the name implies ("puttanesca" means "in the style of the prostitute"), with anchovies and capers and olives in a very light red sauce. I liked this enough to eat all of Mary Ann's, too.
Then an offbeat surf-and-turf: veal and grouper. The veal scaloppine had a sort of piccata sauce, but a little heavier. I forgot to ask the chef what exactly it was. It was cut too thickly, a trend that is spreading all restaurants serving veal. I don't like it. Veal round is not especially tender, and it's better sliced (or pounded) thinner than this.
The fish was better, with a shrimp sauce. It was vividly fresh, but I think I may reserve grouper for those in the audience who prefer very mild fish. It's too mild for me.
We finished up with tiramisu, served not as a slice but in an individual baking dish. That's different.
A few other regulars were there to show their support, which I hope was a comfort to the Chiricos.
Ristorante Carmelo. Mandeville: 1901 US Hwy 190. 985-624-4844.
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