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In the 90’s, I was a teenager newly making money on my own, and I wanted to feel like to be a grown-up. So I bought nosebleed seats to The Phantom of the Opera, wore a hot-pink cocktail dress with extra-sharp shoulder pads, and made a reservation at Carmine’s. I was a superstar.

To anyone, such a grand place can be intimidating. The 20,000 square-foot Carmine’s in D.C. is no different. However, Carmine’s hospitable staff makes you feel like part of the family. Originally intended as a supermarket, the space that houses Carmine’s is fitting, notably for the food. Apparently size does matter. All portions serve 4-6 people, so be sure to bring your cousin Peter, his wife Marie, your cousin Paul, and his new wife, also named Marie.

Start with the smoky grilled portobello salad ($14.50) tossed with balsamic vinegar, atop fresh, leafy spinach. Wash it down with a frozen cosmopolitan, guaranteed to give you brainfreeze and a buzz all at the same time. Eggplant parmigiana ($18.50, pictured) is the size of Joe Pesci’s head, but without all the backtalk. Perfect layers of fried eggplant smothered with just enough sauce and topped with a shiny coat of mozzarella to make it moist without being soggy. I see me ordering one just for myself and chipping away at it for days.

Classic spaghetti and meatballs is comforting and familiar. Few things in this world are beautiful in their simplicity like a good tomato sauce. Carmine’s is fragrant, clean, and tastes like fresh tomatoes. And the meatballs are the size of Robert De Niro’s raging fists.

If you want meat that’s not too heavy, order the veal saltimbocca ($23.50), tender medallions in a brown mushroom sauce. Pair it with a nice Chianti from Carmine’s own vineyard in Italy. The gluten-free penne with white clam sauce ($23.50) is al dente against warm, sweet, tender clams and chopped garlic, and you won’t miss the wheat. For those with dietary restrictions, Carmine’s has extensive vegetarian, gluten-free and garlic-free menus. If I ever become allergic to garlic, I’m calling a hitman on myself. Can I do that? Does it ruin the surprise?

For vegetarians, try the rigatoni with broccoli, stuffed mushrooms, manicotti, and the aforementioned eggplant parmigiana, which I highly recommend. Like I said, order one and just chip away at it, or be generous and share with a friend. But trust me, you won’t want to. For a sweet, fizzy cocktail, the Orange Blossom is a must-drink. Prosecco, St. Germaine and orange bitters taste like a bizzy kiss from a honeybee—without the sting. Carmine’s offers 700 seats, distributed through a maze of large and small rooms, which can be partitioned off for private parties. Perfect for your Italian wedding because your brother Anthony just started dating Paul’s ex-wife, also named Marie.

425 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004