Where as La Vitrola was mentioned many times in my research, and disappointing, this restaurant, Carmen, while also mentioned in many must “eat” guides on Cartagena, DID live up to expectations.
Also every local I spoke with agreed the place was good, and bartenders I spoke to spoke very highly of the bartenders at this place. In general, I found that Cartagena takes food and cocktails very seriously. You will be hard pressed to find processed food here, and I hope that with the increase in tourism to the area, this does not change.
Anyway, we had a 9PM reservation (you can reserve on their website:
We were seated promptly though reception was not warm. The one drawback of this place is the service which I will get to soon.
The restaurant setting itself is beautiful. We were seated in a very nice outdoor courtyard. There is also bar and indoor seating.
We waited a long time and nobody came by the table to drop off menus or introduce themselves. I looked around and this seemed to be the case everywhere. I finally got tired of waiting and flagged someone down. The service then started promptly.
We ordered cocktails to start. They were not disappointing. Mine was an “El Puro” – Bourbon, whisky, Campari, almíbar de canela, mermelada de naranja, amargas de tabaco.
We were provided with an amuse bouche of ceviche and something pickled (sorry don’t remember but it was good). Both were tasty though certain pieces of fish could of been fresher.
For appetizer we shared a CANGREJO – centolla crab, Caribbean vadouvan, bisque ice cream, avocado, puffed masa. This dish was absolutely delicious. The crab was extremely fresh and tasty. Great crunch and texture from the puffed masa. Perfectly balanced dish.
After this, the main dishes took a long time. I looked around and again, every one seemed to have the same issue. We also did not see the server for a long time. Water was not refilled, no additional cocktails or wine offered, etc etc. I believe this restaurant is the the type where they KNOW they are that good, and the staff act accordingly. Similar to a nightclub that is hard to get into. While the service is not that bad at Carmen, I would say they probably have a similar attitude. I would not classify it as bad service, but its slow and inattentive. However, if you flag someone down and ask, it will come right away.
Anyway, on to the main. I had the PEZ NEGRO – fish of the day, black olive oil & palm flour, Caribbean créme fraîche, Andean potato & black truffle ravioli, sauce américaine.
The fish was cooked well and nicely seasoned. It had a nice crust of the black olive oil and palm flour. The sauce was some kind of tomato sauce which worked well with the fish. The ravioli were delicious and the pasta was cooked well.
We skipped dessert and decided to get the bill. Overall, despite the slow service, I believe the food and beautiful setting would prompt me to return. Again, the service is not BAD, its just slow. They are not rude, but they are not friendly either. Kind of a neutral, but the food is deserving of all the hype this place generates. 8/10