Please welcome Kimberly Vigier & her first contribution to CTbites. You'll see her experience at Don Carmelo's was a mixed bag, but taste for yourself and let us know what you think.
Nestled next to the East Norwalk train station sits Don Carmelo’s Mexican Grill, the next restaurant venture from area restauranteur, Luis Solis of Norwalk Pizza & Pasta. The restaurant touts itself as a Mexican grill and tequila bar, which drew a full crowd on a Thursday night with not an empty table to be found. The space itself is non-descript and with the exception of the mariachi band playing, one would never guess you were in a Mexican restaurant. Upon being seated, a basket of housemade warm multicolored tortilla chips was promptly presented with a trio of accompaniments: a traditional pico de gallo, a chipotle salsa and a salad of pickled vegetables. The pico was your basic chopped tomato, onion and cilantro mix with a bit too much acidity but was more balanced when enjoyed with a chip. While the flavor of the pickled vegetables was spot on, the mix of carrots, zucchini, onions and garlic would have felt more at home on an antipasti platter, perhaps an ode to the owner’s Italian roots? The chipotle salsa was smooth, smokey and packed a nice punch of heat, the most enjoyable of the three.
We started our meal with the Cabo Wabo margarita, a blood orange margarita and the housemade guacamole. The guacamole arrived not in the traditional molcajete but a dessert parfait glass on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce, but don’t be deterred by the appearance. The chunky avocado mixture was flavorful, heavy on the lime and complimented nicely by the addition of chopped tomatoes and onions. It was both light and refreshing in a way that made me feel a bit less guilty about devouring an entire basket of tortilla chips.
The margarita list is on the smaller side and the tequila list lacking given the name of the restaurant. The blood orange margarita proved to be the favorite, made with Don Julio Silver and fresh fruit juice, the acidity playing a nice counterpart to the strong alcohol. My only wish is that the traditional salt rimmed glass had been dipped in kosher salt at the very least as opposed to the fine table salt the bartender chose, which barely held on to the glass by the time it made it to the table. The Cabo Wabo-rita proved less memorable, packed with sour mix flavor and the 1800 tequila barely discernable.
The starter list is a bit limited: one ceviche, a shrimp cocktail, nachos, guacamole and a Mexican meatball soup. Having already munched on the guac and chips, I tried a cup of the classic albondigas soup, hailed as a beef and tomato based soup with chunky vegetables and served with a beef and pork meatball. The large meatball was richly flavored and so fluffy and tender it seemed to disintegrate into the broth, which was chock full of vegetable flavor reminiscent of a glass of V8. Served piping hot, it’s a light start to your meal on a cold night. A similar V8 base can be found in the tortilla soup, but the spices and chilis in this starter were quite enjoyable.
The entrée selection at DC’s is large and encompasses everything from entrée salads, traditional Mexican specialties like burritos, enchiladas and chimichangas and a wide array of seafood, chicken, beef and pork selections, all served with the traditional carb heavy sides of refried beans, rice and choice of corn or flour tortillas. While many of the entrées here were satisfactory, I would steer clear of the tacos which were more generic and less tasty.
Pollo mole is a traditional Mexican dish comprised of a long simmered sauce boasting a list of nearly 20 ingredients among the chile peppers and chocolate. Here the dish is served in an unconventional way in that the boneless chicken breast is grilled separately and served sliced swathed in sauce and garnished with sesame seeds. The chicken was tender and juicy while the sauce was rich in flavor with notes of chocolate and cinnamon playing on the tongue. While each component worked, the dish would have benefited from cooking the chicken in the sauce to allow the complexity of the mole to permeate.
The camarones tequila, a shrimp dish marinated in tequila served with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes in a ranchera sauce, showcased a variety of colors and ingredients. While the vegetables were plentiful and cooked perfectly, the shrimp lacked the marinated flavor I was hoping for and seemed an afterthought to the dish. As the staff mentioned that this dish was on the spicier side, my tongue was left wishing for more heat than the mild sauce provided.
The house specialty, chile verde, is a generous plate of slow cooked pork in a green chile and tomatilla sauce hit with a cilantro garnish. The tartness of the tomatillo, a relative of the gooseberry, provides a great contrast to the richness of the pork shoulder. Again, it tasted as if the meat was cooked separately and then topped with sauce before serving as there was no cohesiveness between the seasonings on the pork and the sauce. Wrapped in a flour tortilla, one almost forgets about the heavily salted meat and focuses on the originally intended flavor composition of the dish. A forkful of beans provided a creamy and fatty neutral flavor break while the rice is best left as a filling for the belly busting burritos.
The classic carne asada was well done, with thinly sliced grilled skirt steak. The marinated steak was well seasoned and the dish came with soft tortillas filled and topped with warm queso. The creaminess of the cheese was a nice accompaniment to the salty meat.
A sweet finish to the meal was the flan, a thick egg custard traditional in Latin American cuisine. Served here topped with a kiwi syrup, the dessert was cool, creamy and served as a much needed palate cleanser after a meal laden with Latin flavors.
Don Carmelo's Mexican Grill 7 Winfield St Norwalk, (203) 957-3000