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Marco or Carmen?

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phoebek Apr 24, 2007 05:50 PM

Mr K has expressed a desire to have his birthday dinner at a North End restaurant. There've been mixed reviews of Marco on this board, and nothing recent about Carmen, so I'm wondering if anyone has been to either place recently and would provide some information to help make the choice. Feel free to suggest other places as well!

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  1. Food4Thought RE: phoebek Apr 24, 2007 06:38 PM

    I may be a little biased because I proposed to my wife at Carmen. That being said the space itself is very intimate (read small) so reservation are strongly recommended. I've always had a wonderful meal there, but my wife's favorite, the Crespelle, seemed a little off last time.

    Off the record, one of the funnest things is to go to the rest rooms. You have to pass directly through the tiny kitchen and go down stairs, but the hound in me loves checking out the action and interacting w/ the folks in the back of the house.

    I must be honest and say that I think the food has waned just the slightest bit since Bill Bradley helped open this place years back. That being said , it is still one of my NE favorites.

    Marco is a place I really wanted to like more than I did. I thought there was a fantastic menu, but in my case it just didn't execute. It's one of those places that you know has all of the elements to be successful, they just need to find that "secret sauce" so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The front of the house staff was excellent.

    I touched on it earlier but another factor is the atmosphere you are looking for. Carmen is dark and romantic and Marco is more open and great for looking down on Hanover and people watching if you score a window seat. To be fair it has been a while since I have been to Marco so perhaps they have ironed out the kinks.

    All things being equal, I would recommend Carmen. Regardless of your choice please do report back.

    1. ScubaSteve RE: phoebek Apr 25, 2007 06:21 AM

      second for Carmen. while i liked the food at Marco i think Carmen is the better space, and probably (even though i have not been this year yet) better food. i like the bar at Carmen much better than the bar at Marco as it is much cozier while still giving you a view of the street and your own waiter/bartender.

      1. MC Slim JB RE: phoebek Apr 25, 2007 06:25 AM

        I like both places a lot. I think the level of the food at Marco is a bit higher -- for example, nobody does a better risotto in the North End, in my experience -- but Carmen is a much more attractive space, quite romantic. Marco can get punishingly loud, too. Would still choose either of them over 90% of the North End.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MC Slim JB
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          Northender RE: MC Slim JB Apr 25, 2007 10:09 AM

          Another vote for Marco. Everyhthing I have had there has been terrific. Great risottos , frie dcod cheeks, and terrific antipasto. You don't have to necessarily drop a bundle there either although they are hardly inexpensive. Carmen is much more romantic and quiet but the menu at Marco is much more interesting and varied. The other reservation I have about Carmen is that because it is so small, they sometimes have a tendency to rush you out. In fairness, I haven't been back in quite some time and perhaps they have scaled back on that tendency.

          Another nice thing about Marco is that it is upstairs right on Hanover Street and if you can score a table in the front near a window, it really adds to the experience.

          1. re: MC Slim JB
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            phoebek RE: MC Slim JB Apr 25, 2007 11:30 AM

            That's encouraging to hear!

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            phoebek RE: phoebek Apr 25, 2007 11:08 AM

            Boy, this is a hard choice. So far I've had two votes for each place! Any tie breakers??

            4 Replies
            1. re: phoebek
              MB fka MB RE: phoebek Apr 25, 2007 11:32 AM

              Carmen.

              As MC said, the level at Marco is a bit higher, but they also have had quite a high number of "misses" in my book. This is not the case at Carmen - I've always been pleased with my meals there, though not as high end.

              1. re: phoebek
                kittychow RE: phoebek Apr 25, 2007 11:34 AM

                I have a real soft spot for Carmen. I agree that the risotto is better at Marco (and Prezza for that matter) but I like Carmen's ravioli better. I also think they do a great job with chops and fish. I haven't been very recently so I'm not sure what is on the current menu... The space is much more intimate which I prefer but not on weekend evenings since I have occasionally felt a little rushed to make the table available. I also like walking through the kitchen to use the restrooms - it's great to see what's going on down there. A few years ago I actually had a glass of wine down there and chatted with the chef about the specials. They're quite sweet and friendly.

                While Marco is very good I would hunker down at Carmen for a special occasion and romantic evening.

                1. re: kittychow
                  Joanie RE: kittychow Apr 26, 2007 05:04 AM

                  Does Carmen take reservations for a party of 4?

                  1. re: Joanie
                    kittychow RE: Joanie Apr 26, 2007 07:04 AM

                    Last time I checked ('bout 6 mos. ago).

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                phoebek RE: phoebek Apr 27, 2007 01:00 PM

                Thanks to all who've responded. Looks like Carmen is the winner, and I'll report back after we go (a few weeks from now).

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                  phoebek RE: phoebek May 1, 2007 05:56 PM

                  I thought I read somewhere that Carmen doesn't serve dessert. Is this true??

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: phoebek
                    MC Slim JB RE: phoebek May 1, 2007 06:35 PM

                    True: Carmen does not serve dessert. Some options for dessert: caffes (I like Vittoria); the bar at Prezza, Bricco, or Lucca; Gelateria; bakeries.

                    1. re: MC Slim JB
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                      phoebek RE: MC Slim JB May 2, 2007 04:55 AM

                      Thanks for the info - I like Vittoria, too. But I'll have to confer with the birthday celebrant to see if he's amenable to changing venues for dessert.

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