Review: Carmel doesn’t seem sure which coast it’s trying to evoke

Ceviche (front) and scallop aguachile (rear) are among the seafood starters at Carmel. Ligaya Figueras/

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Ceviche (front) and scallop aguachile (rear) are among the seafood starters at Carmel. Ligaya Figueras/

Carmel is the latest restaurant seeking to transport you from Atlanta’s oppressive summer to a coastal clime.

It’s named for owner Tal Baum’s daughter, as well as her family home in Mount Carmel, Israel. But if that name — painted in breezy cursive signage over the space in Buckhead Village — evokes the swanky Northern California beach village Carmel-by-the-Sea, that is intentional.

Like the name, the menu is not moored to one specific region, although Executive Chef Luis Guevara Salgado’s upbringing in Acapulco, Mexico, does bob to the surface. The sandy color palette, modern furnishings and dim lighting whisked me to an unspecified, upscale après-beach setting.

The fruity, frothy, tequila-based Tulum Tomorrow is a delicious cocktail served at Carmel. Ligaya Figueras/

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

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Credit: Ligaya Figueras

That usually calls for a round of drinks, and Carmel’s U-shaped bar — a social hangout, even at lunch — offers nine specialty cocktails ($18) that align with the global-shores theme. The Tulum Tomorrow was a spiffed-up margarita garnished with a dehydrated lime wheel and fresh mint. The Teosinte was reminiscent of an Old-Fashioned, but with chocolate undertones. The wine list — all 16 labels available by the glass ($15-$22) or bottle ($70-$105) — focuses on coastal producers in Washington, Oregon, California, Chile and Argentina.

The food at Carmel is far more bold than the drinks or decor.

Bread service brings a milk bun ($8) with a quenelle of togarashi butter, whose assertive flavors of seaweed, chile and salt overpower an exceptional, pillowy roll.

Carmel's pillowy, pull-apart milk bun is served with togarashi butter.  Paula Pontes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Paula Pontes for the AJC

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Credit: Paula Pontes for the AJC

More oceanic flavors await. Leche de tigre is a tasty, albeit misleading, ceviche. Chock full of Gulf shrimp, along with a medley of diced fish, the dish did not come with a lick of leche, the wonderful liquid that typically accompanies ceviche. However, the thick pool of sweet potato puree at the base was an unexpectedly creative take on what typically is a chunked Peruvian treatment of this root veggie.

The scallop aguachile, with a spicy broth of coconut water and steeped in habanero and serrano peppers, was fresh and bright from cucumber and herbs.

The restaurant offers a variety of spa-like salads, from bibb with green goddess dressing to recommendable heirloom tomatoes with dabs of ricotta and drizzles of chile and basil oils, as well as melanges of colorful quinoa and lentils.

Among more filling plates, the lobster cannelloni with caviar and lemon butter was a decadent number, featuring a sauce that deserved to have a milk bun dipped into it. Likewise, a dish simply listed as shrimp had about half a dozen prawns swimming in a smoky coconut-peanut broth, swirled with chili crisp. The heads were not attached when the dish arrived. You can suck out the heady juices, all the same, but it was a messy presentation for $26.

The fish dish that felt the most genuine was the whole snapper, baked in the wooden hearth. Pescado a la talla is something that Salgado knows well. Butterflied and resting in a smoky guajillo sauce, this Acapulco specialty was served with a loose salsa verde and house-made blue corn tortillas. The fish was cooked beautifully, but the flaky flesh drowned in the red sauce, and the tortillas were wet, turning any assembly of a fish taco, as suggested by a server, into a mess.

Still, that server deserves kudos. From dealing with a backup of plates ready for serving to apologizing for HVAC issues and poor lighting, she was astute, even coming to our aid with a stylish inverted flashlight when reading glasses weren’t enough to decipher the menu.

There are things that servers can’t fix, including a meat-heavy list of entrees that have no business on a coastal menu, and starters, sides and mains that leave you parched and wondering whether anyone is tasting the very salty freekeh with mushrooms, the roast chicken or rice blackened with squid ink.

Since last summer, at least eight coastal-inspired restaurants have opened in the metro area, influenced by the shores of such places as Peru (Tió Lucho’s), France (Pêche), Thailand (Snap Thai Fish House) and Australia (Isla & Co.).

Carmel, meanwhile, offers a passport to any place where land meets sea. It certainly has the talent to take us there; the crew just has to decide where they really want to go.

Carmel is a new addition to Buckhead Village. Courtesy of Tim Lenz

Credit: Tim Lenz

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Credit: Tim Lenz


1 out of 4 stars (good)

Food: coastal-inspired

Service: friendly, but uneven pacing

Noise level: average, but rises on busy evenings, making conversation difficult at times

Recommended dishes: milk buns, scallop aguachile, leche de tigre, lobster cannelloni, heirloom tomato salad, shrimp in coconut-peanut broth, whole snapper, tropical baba

Vegetarian dishes: milk buns, blistered shishitos, fairytale eggplant, heirloom tomato salad, squash and lentils, various sides; lunch menu includes mushroom torta, braised lentils and various salads, such as kale or quinoa

Alcohol: full bar

Price range: $$$$

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-midnight Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m-9 p.m. Sundays

Parking: Underground garage parking (free for up to 2 hours with validated ticket); valet (shared with Le Bilboquet and Le Colonial)

MARTA: none

Reservations: recommended on weekends

Outdoor dining: two sidewalk tables

Takeout: not recommended

Address, phone: 3009 Bolling Way NE, Atlanta. 404-355-7245


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