I have lived in the North End for a long time now and still I am never without a different restaurant to try. I love discovering new-to-me-spots just as much as I adore revisiting old favorites. Carmen is one I immediately came to regret not visiting sooner. An small trattoria tucked away in the ever quaint cobblestone lined North Square, Carmen serves memorable Italian cuisine in a intensely dark and extremely cozy brick walled space. The cave like interior with a wine bar nestled in the front is perfect for an intimate date night, while the dimly lit close quarters make for less than ideal photo conditions. (Sorry! I never post without photos, but I'm beginning to realize, exceptions can and should be made.) The cuisine is defined as old country Italian, it remains comforting with a sophisticated touch.
Definitely order the Steamed Wellfleet Clams ($16) with hot homemade mustard, fennel and cream to begin the meal. A heaping bowl of plump briny delicacies come bathing in a tantalizing cream where sliced fennel accompanies grainy mustard pearls. This dish is exquisitely pungent on multiple levels, not only do the clams benefit from an innovative preparation, I was eating the creamy, spicy, mustard laced broth by the spoonful. When I state bluntly that you should order these clams, I mean it. This is probably one of the best appetizers I've ate all year. Maybe ever.
For my entree I chose the Orichiette ($25) which came with sweet Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, tomatoes and herbed bread crumbs. The orichiette itself was excellent, cooked to a toothsome al dente, while the the broccoli rabe and the sweet Italian sausage were equally delicious. The dish had one major downfall being that the tomato sauce was severely over-salted. It tasted like the result of an unfortunate kitchen mishap, but I can not say for sure as I have only been here once. The red sauce became more abrasive with every bite, to eventually overpower the well executed ingredients.
Adam ordered the Pan Seared Duck Breast ($29) in a pomegranate reduction with sauteed kale and sweet potato puree. This was fantastic. Next time, I'd skip the red sauce dishes and head straight for the duck. A tender pan seared breast comes executed to the desired medium rare with a crispy skin in a luscious pomegranate reduction, with a smooth and creamy sweet potato puree and plenty of savory sauteed kale. Red sauce is pretty basic, so I would give Carmen the benefit of the doubt on this one and not hold it against them. Especially since I still liked the components of my dish, and I loved everything else we ate. And I was smitten with the romantic interior and we had great service. Our hostess was welcoming and bubbly and our waitress fit the bill, she was professional yet easy going. It was a lovely date night. I'm so bummed for all that salt!
All things considered, they still get my vote. The next time you are faced with the daunting task of where to eat out in the North End, don't hesitate to consider Carmen at 33 North Street.