Want a taco? Austin has a million places to go to get one. Some BBQ? Absolutely. But until I visited Carmelo’s downtown, I wasn’t sure that I could experience really wonderful Italian food in our southern capital city.
The trope of the romantic Italian restaurant is pervasive in movies and TV. Sadly most Italian restaurant experiences don’t measure up to their cinema counterparts, and we just have to be glad that they don’t simulate scenes from The Godfather and that we can walk out alive. From red and white gingham table cloths to greasy, undercooked garlic knots, a lot of Italian restaurants are too cheesy in every sense of the word.
As Valentine’s Day close approaches, many love-soaked people are searching for that perfect romantic and elegant experience to surprise their partner. Carmelo’s offers all that and more.
Arriving at Carmelo’s, I felt catered to as we pulled into an ivy-decked archway, where an attentive valet took the car. Walking through the courtyard, the old bricks and delicately lit trees ushered us into the main dining room where an older man stood in the corner, playing an expert accordion and transporting us into That Italian Restaurant from the movies.
Elegantly appointed, there is nary a gingham tablecloth to be seen. Instead there are tables and cushioned booths amongst the decoratively painted walks and arches. The waiters were excellent. My parents always told me that I could distinguish a fancy restaurant from its wannabe comparables by the simple act of the waiter refilling my water glass before I had to ask. This means that my needs are being attended to, and during a fancy restaurant experience, it only serves to make ME feel more posh.
The food was absolutely delicious. Adam had a dish that was prepared next to the table, a speciality of the house, and we got to watch the flames in the pan sear his dinner to perfection. Even the bread was so good that I almost filled up on it before my dinner even arrived. And I will say – as a huge fan of real buffalo mozzarella cheese – that Carmelo’s Caprese salad was exquisite.
When we were preparing to leave, I thanked the waiter for having made our anniversary so special, and he immediately asked us to stay for dessert to celebrate properly.
We were brought out the most delicious cake, and the plate was artfully decorated with chocolate. We hadn’t planned or expected to have any sort of special treatment, since the dinner itself had already been so amazing. So this dish was quite literally the icing on the cake.
It doesn’t take having a million dollars to feel like a million dollars. The service and food at Carmelo’s left a wonderful taste in our mouths.
Laura Darby is a New Yorker who came to Austin looking for sunshine and music. In real life, she works with chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of Congo and infiltrates the Internet with digininjitsu. You can follow her breadcrumbs at LauraDarby.com.
Photos via Flickr CC, courtesy of John Riviello, Alan Levine and Jessica Petersen.