The most impressive thing about arguably Carmel’s most popular restaurant—and undoubtedly its most festive—is that the food is nothing to text home about.
That provides a powerful lesson about what we really want from an experience eating out: warmth, hospitality and memories.
Dametra (622-7766) has that like Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett has higher ambitions, between the heartfelt service, unbeatable ambiance starring dinner guests dancing and wildly grinning co-owners plucking exotic guitars, or ouds.
They also have food and wine that is plenty more than enough given all the other riches, albeit a little schizo between the clam chowder, cheeseburgers, lasagna, falafel and New York steak.
The lamb shish kebab, spanakopita and Instanbul kebab are my favorites.
With dining unlike anything else offered in the area taken care of, they’re now doing something different than their dining, with a new outpost at Del Monte Shopping Center that opened quietly this weekend.
The concept is more focused, with a more decisive Greek identity and emphasis on expedience, and a healthy amount of gluten-free and vegan options.
In other words, it’s Dametra-to-go (though called Dametra Fresh Mediterranean, 725-5555), a welcome locally-owned addition to strip of mall food shops that it emulates in its assembly format, including Chipotle and Subway. (I stick with Pizza My Heart and the Big Sur.)
Like the original restaurant, the colors and design feel clean, warm and welcoming, and are filled with small tables and a hot bar with all sorts of goodies.
Diners pick from a variety of Mediterranean-leaning meats like gyro treats like lamb and beef seasoned with Greek spices; marinated and grilled kebab-style chicken; and falafel balls and choose to either "wrap it" (in a pita or lavash, $7), "toss it" (with a Greek salad and pita on the side, $7) or plate it (with rice, two sides and pita, $8).
A range of sauces like tzatziki, lemon-herb-cumin, fig balsamic and garlic aioli are included, and eight sides stretch from baba ghanoush de Beirut ($4) to momma's dolmas ($3).
Kids' choices (build-you-own bowls and pita cheese pizza), drinks (Moroccan mint tea, Turkish coffee, sodas) and baklava ($2) round things out.
My favorite part of the menu: the simple slogan, "Yalla," as in, "Let's begin."
My favorite part of the experience was smuggling a spit-roasted chicken schwarma gyro ($7) enjoying Lebanese spices, nice tzatziki yogurt, house spicy shatta pepper sauce, cucumber, lettuce and tomato into the new Hunger Games.
And a bite of the Jerusalem Kafta Kabob ($3).
It's open daily 11am-10pm to start, until 9pm Sunday.