There is one thing that I find even more exhilarating than dining out at a great restaurant. Coming face-to-face with a celebrity is pretty much at the top of my list. My celebrity interactions have come in several forms. There is the occasional street sighting (Paul McCartney, Tobey McGuire, Adam Sandler, Martha Stewart, Rob Lowe). There is the autograph session after a Broadway show (Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel, Harvey Fierstein, and Hunter Parrish…cute older son on Weeds). Then there are the more aggressive interactions such as the time I literally followed Harrison Ford down Fifth Avenue for blocks, until I finally got the nerve to ask for his autograph. Take note: Harrison Ford is not so friendly when accosted by a stranger on a NY city street- even if the stranger is accompanied by two adorable kids.
There have even been a few genuine encounters such as an opportunity to chat with Katherine Heigl on the set of Grey’s Anatomy and an entire day spent with Lee Horsley (aka Matt Houston) as he filmed a public service announcement for my employer at the time.
Political figures, however, are another matter. I am not quite as comfortable going up to a Supreme Court Justice or the U.S. Attorney General and chatting them up, as I am for example interrupting a General Hospital actor as he exited a bathroom in a restaurant in LA.
I have a friend who has no such boundary issues. During her 40th birthday dinner at Cafe Atlantico, we were seated near then-Attorney General Janet Reno. My friend interrupted Ms. Reno’s dinner to request that the Attorney General pose for a picture with her. She kindly obliged.
This past Saturday night, shortly after our party of ten was seated in the rear of Carmine’s in DC, we noticed a familiar face surrounded by a group of young professionals. It was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, out for an evening with her law clerks. My friend bounded up out of her seat before we could stop her and returned seconds later with the Supreme Court Justice ready to join us for a photo opp.
It was by far the highlight of our evening at Carmine’s. I’m breaking my rule of not posting photos of my friends or myself on my blog. There are exceptions to every rule.
For a moment there, I forgot I was writing a restaurant review. So here we go: Dinner at Carmine’s requires a group, as the dishes are designed to be shared by somewhere between three and five people each. Our group was advised to order approximately five to seven dishes. This makes it difficult to agree on what to order, particularly because one person doesn’t eat meat, one doesn’t like spicy food, etc. etc. I have trouble because not much on the menu even appeals to me. Red-sauce Italian food is not really my thing. I try to stay positive as choices are made, but frankly I don’t really care if the veal is parmigiana or marsala.
We settle on three appetizers: baked clams, stuffed artichokes, and caesar salad. The salad is plentiful. The clams not so much, but only half the table wants them, which is a good thing. The artichoke is quite nice. It’s smothered in breadcrumbs, butter and parmesan cheese and the portion is generous.
The bread basket is a little ordinary, although there is a crunchy sesame breadstick that I like. The bread would be better if it were served warm.
We barely finish our appetizers when our entrees are brought out, which elicits a collective groan from our group. Too much, too soon.
Our entrees are manicotti, veal scaloppine marsala, shrimp scampi, and a side of eggplant parmigiana. We also get an extra dish of plain pasta.
One person declares the eggplant the best he’s ever had. I think its good, but not remarkable. None of the dishes are standout. The manicotti in particular is a disappointment. It’s oddly thin and sauced sparingly. There is not a lot of seasoning in the dish. The veal is tender but there is nothing that distinguishes the flavor. The shrimp is well prepared but not very plentiful. We actually could have used another dish, which is surprising given the projections from the staff.
Just as we finish our meals, the server reappears with a full basket of bread. This would have been greatly appreciated earlier in the meal.
When it comes to dessert we over order. Tiramisu, strawberry shortcake, and a smaller version of what they call the Titanic, but retitled the Tugboat, which is essentially a banana split. The desserts are fine. The tiramisu lovers (of which I am not) are satisfied. The sundae is a little heavy on the whipped cream.
One barometer that I use to “judge” a restaurant is whether my fellow diners and I would go back. We considered the food (fair), the service (spotty), and the atmosphere (hard to tell from the back of the restaurant. At least it wasn’t too loud back there). The final consensus among the group is “no.” Been there, done that.
Of course if I hear that there’s going to be a celebrity dining at Carmine’s I would reconsider. I’m always up for some harmless stalking.
Carmines, 425 7th Street, NW
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 2.9
Washington Post review