Carmello's - Ottawa Italian Restaurant and Bar
The Soul if Italy - On Sparks Street Mall
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Restaurant Reviews

Hidden Restaurant Deserves More Attention
by George Pandi

AT NIGHT, the western reaches of Sparks Street turn into a dark wasteland visited only by winds sweeping in from the river.

Even by day this federal back alley doesn't buzz with life; only suits scurry from office to office, hardly noticing the warm Mediterranean shelter hidden behind the Radisson.

What's good about this geographically challenged restaurant? For a start, the sensible menu. The many pastas (all under $10) were sorted into four groups -- cream, tomato, cream and tomato, garlic and oil - so we could zero in on our favorite basics, then refine our choices according to other ingredients. Before the pasta section we found a long list of antipasti and pizzas, grouped again, by thin or medium crust. The list of secondi, main courses, was kept manageably short to three veal and three chicken herb and black dishes.

Of the two veal dishes, the vitello basilico promised much but delivered far too much. The too much was frangelico, a sweet hazelnut liqueur that overpowered the basil and even the nicely roasted pine nuts. I scraped off the sauce to enjoy the other ingredients that were fine.

My partner's vitello scamorsa won the prize for the meal. A tender slice of veal, wrapped around spinach, smoked mozzarella and shrimp, was cooked in a way. to let all the individual flavors appear on their own. Many tried and failed but Carmello's succeeded. The tangy lemon and dill sauce provided an upbeat accompaniment and the colorful vegetables were cooked right.

Dolce? Forget it. We were satiated after two and a half courses; it was too much of a good thing. Is that praise or criticism? It depends on what you think lunch and dinner should be. The lunch crowd could be happy with, pastas and pizzas; for dinner I would prefer a long classic Italian meal, portions sized small enough (or halved) to enjoy five courses without exploding. Good cooking, modestly priced wines, good value for money.


Carmello's Gave Us Our Moneys Worth
by Jennifer Jackson

The problem with countries that are renowned for their cooking - Italy, China, France - is that it's such well travelled ground for the restaurateur to revisit.

Not only must he live up to the grand traditions, he must compete with all the hot trends as well.

Carmello's on the Sparks Street Mall acquits itself pretty well under the circumstances. As is the style these days, it's done in russets, ochre and mustard tones. It has high ceilings, hardwood floors, and chairs reminiscent of 1940s government-issue oak, as is also the style these days.

It's a fairly large restaurant, with a huge patio on the mall just west of Bank Street.
And it has an enormous menu covering antipasti, thin-crust pizzas, medium-crust pizzas, pastas (further grouped as to the sauce: tomato-based, creamy tomato, cream, and garlic and oil) and, finally, secondi or entrees covering various veal and chicken dishes with vegetables. 

The bread was home-made, yeasty and very fresh, flecked with some dried herb, which blindfolded we would not have guessed it was herb bread. 

Had we decided against the butter for the bread, spiced olive oil and a bottle of good balsamic vinegar graced each table. 

As a starter, my companion had the bruschetta, fungi, which was delicious, finely chopped mushrooms with various herbs and what appeared to be bits of carrot and zucchini. There was something intriguing and unusual here, too - fennel maybe? A touch of orange peel? 

I had the grilled calamari, a house specialty ($6.95). Two grilled squid, stuffed with seasoned bread, arrived on a bed of greens in a light, appealing, oil and vinegar dressing. It was enough to comprise dinner on its own. 

The grilling was done quickly and the calamari were tender. The stuffing was good and it is an offbeat way to serve this old favorite, but I'm not sure it's necessarily an improvement on the usual rings. 

We went on to our main course: My companion had spinach fettuccini in a garlic, oil and onion sauce, with prosciutto and a piece of grilled filet of chicken on top. 
I ordered the veal marsala, which I regard as one of the acid tests of an Italian kitchen, not because it is difficult but because it is difficult to do well. Normally, paillards of tender veal are breaded or floured and fried quickly, then served in a sauce of reduced veal stock and sweet marsala wine. 

The veal here was tender, obviously of good quality, but somehow too much moisture crept into the cooking. The meal came with broccoli, mushrooms, summer squash and baby tomatoes. which were fresh, but a little limp.

For desert the house specialty of double chocolate meringue was sold out, so I tried the gelati, a collection of small scoops of various flavors, served with amaretti biscuits. These were refreshing and the vanilla was just vibrant, one of the best I've had in years.

My companion had the espresso creme brulee which he found smooth and creamy, with the coffee flavor concentrated in the sugar crust. 

The meal for two, with a half-liter of wine, came to $67 not including tip. It wasn't a brilliant meal but we got our money's worth.


Thought for Food
Carmello's has recipe for tempting nighttime diners

by Alia Kellock Heward

Small touches make a restaurant a success. Carmellos' has these touches - a friendly greeting upon entering, rustic jugs of balsamic vinegar on the tables and a warm, mellow atmosphere.

A sparkling example is the Insalata Carmellos' ($4.95), a heaping plate of smoked bocconcini cheese drizzled with pesto, tomatoes, peppers, red onions, olives and a light, lovely, lemon basil dressing.

A thin crusted pizza Giovanni ($9.45) with grilled calamari, lemon basil pesto and tomato, was a tad soggy, but very tasty. My companion's Pollo Senape ($11.95) was not quite as sensational the second time around. The chicken breast with dijon and tarragon sauce was lacking in flavor, though perfectly cooked. However, the side dish of rosemary potatoes and crisp broccoli was delicious.

A bottle of Montepulciano D'Abruzzo ($14.95) partnered the meal perfectly.
The service was friendly, prompt and unobtrusive.

A jewel-like raspberry gelato ($3.50) slid refreshingly down the throat, while taking away that "full" feeling.

The special that night was salmon with a lemon cream sauce. It sounded tempting, but so did tomato linguine with roast garlic, oyster mushrooms, red peppers, snow peas and basil ($7.95). Perhaps a pasta Verde, spinach fettucine with vodka, plum tomatoes, mushrooms and black olives ($9.45), would also be a good choice. Ah well, next time!

Our bill came to $58 for two, without tip. Considering all we had to eat, that's reasonable.

While lunchtime crowds are in abundance, Carmello's has discovered the recipe for tempting nighttime, downtown diners.

Access: Ground floor access, ramp to washrooms.

(Soups: $3.25; Appetizers: $4.95 to $6.95; Pasta & Pizza: $7 to $9.95; Main dishes: $11.95 to $13.95; Desserts from $3.50)

Carmello's © 2010 - 300 Sparks Street Tel: (613) 563-4349
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