If you like the Carmen’s Cafe in Brookside, you’ll enjoy its second location in Leawood’s Park Place. Same great food with just a few additions to the original menu.
The decor is fairly dark, but with a big window in the front, a mirrored wall that runs the length of the room, and a separate bar area. It’s certainly roomier than its cramped sister restaurant, though the four top tables don’t leave much room for maneuvering glasses, wine, bread plates, a bread basket and the marvelous bread dipping sauce (more on that below).
But all is forgiven when the food arrives. The house salad, is a classic Italian mix of iceberg lettuce, romaine, pimento, red onion, artichoke and Parmesan, almost identical to the Rich & Charlie salads of my youth in St. Louis. The bread is soft, with sesame seeds on the top. Nothing special on its own, but practically mouth-watering when used as a vehicle to mop up the dipping oil that accompanies it. Though easily duplicated at home, somehow it always tastes better here. Olive oil, red pepper flakes, black pepper, Parmesan and julienned basil sit on a small plate, tempting diners to spoil their appetites. It’s quite hard to resist, and I usually don’t!
The list of pastas is lengthy, there’s something to satisfy every palate. Without or without meat, seafood or no, spicy or tame, shells and strands. A favorite of mine is the Fettucine al Diablo. Pasta is tossed with mussels, scallops, shrimp and calamari, and a spicy tomato sauce for a hearty and incredibly satisfying meal. This time though, I ordered the Paella Valencia, a dish that was a signature of Don Pepe’s when he was in the kitchen at Carmen’s on the Boulevard many years ago. It was obviously popular, as it has remained on the menu despite being a Spanish rather than Italian dish. The paella was as good as it gets this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the aroma of saffron wafting in the air as it’s placed before me. The huge platter of rice also has a healthy dose of mussels, squid, beef, chorizo, shrimp and peas. Like the Fettucine Al Diablo, the portion is enough for two and the waiter isn’t the least bit surprised that I need a doggy-bag.
Spidini is a big seller here. Chicken, beef and shrimp spidini are offered with a variety of sauces, including Marsala wine sauce, alfredo, and lemon caper and amogio. The chicken spidini we tried, atop angel hair pasta with tomato and basil, was flavorful and moist. There is also a large selection of beef, veal and seafood dishes, and all entrees and pastas come with a house salad. Though we didn’t have any appetizers, the stuffed artichoke is consistently a big seller.
The reasonably priced wine list has a mix of Italian and Californian wines, so a little vino with your meal will complete the picture.