Over the summer, Leawood’s upscale Carma restaurant converted its private dining room to a casual eatery called Café Carma.
The brick-walled café has floor-to-ceiling windows that open up to a patio on Ash Street, Park Place’s central corridor. The menu reflects the cafe’s easy-going atmosphere: Salads, sandwiches, wraps and New York-style pizza by the slice.
When I recently went to Café Carma on a warm afternoon, I ordered the bestselling hot sandwich on the menu, the BLT with avocado ($6). The triple-decker was taller than I expected, and each layer was distinct, from the lightly butter-toasted white bread to the buttery avocado to the crisp bacon. Even the tomatoes were sweet and deep red — a nice surprise for October.
The sister restaurants share a color scheme — rich crimson and chocolate brown — but the concepts and menu are very different. Café Carma is a fast-casual operation where you order at the counter. The café also caters business lunches and has grab-and-go options if you’re in a hurry.
On the Carma side, customers get full service and order from a menu that focuses on made-from-scratch pasta, fresh seafood and steaks. The restaurant also has a handsome wood bar and an extensive wine list with detailed tasting notes.
I selected the Maschio Prosecco from the sparkling section of the list when I dined at Carma in September. The Italian wine ($8.50 by the glass or $30 for a bottle) was accurately described as “fruit forward with a hint of almond.”
The effervescent, not-too-sweet wine was a nice match for the deliciously rich pesto ravioli ($8). The appetizer is a trio of large pasta pillows stuffed with pesto-laced ricotta cheese and drizzled with a creamy Gorgonzola sauce.
During happy hour — 3-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday — the pesto ravioli and other appetizers, such as sauteéd mussels, are half price. Drinks are also discounted: House wine, sangria and martinis made with pineapple-infused vodka are all $5.
If it’s a special occasion, Carma has several entrees in the $20 to 35 price range that are worth the splurge. The Fettuccine de Mare ($24), fresh ribbons of pasta tossed with shrimp, scallops and clams in a light, creamy sauce, is a customer favorite, according to general manager Colby Harding. I liked the Tilapia Marisa ($24), a pan-seared white fish filet served in a luxurious lemon-butter sauce with salty olives and capers. The flavorful yet light-tasting tilapia with a lemon-buter sauce is served with a side of al dente linguine.
Steak fans might prefer the Steak Oscar ($32), a surf and turf entree that consists of an 8-ounce filet mignon, shrimp, scallops and asparagus in a garlic cream sauce. Like the tilapia, the Steak Oscar is served with a side of fresh linguine.
Carma chef Leo Santana’s specialty is the Steak Santana ($30), an 8-ounce filet mignon that gets flavor from a rosemary demi-glace, balsamic reduction and caramelized onions. The steak is served with au gratin potatoes and the vegetable of the day, usually asparagus or broccoli.
Looking for something lighter? Try the quinoa salad ($17). The tiny protein-packed grains are dressed up with pickled onions, shreds of spinach, cucumber and crumbled blue cheese. The salad is topped with your choice of salmon or steak.
Next door at Café Carma, you can get a smaller portion of the same quinoa salad without the salmon or steak for $5. It’s a grab-and-go meal that won’t bust your monetary or your caloric budget — in other words, it’s good Carma.
Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every first and third week of the month. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @sarah_gish.
Carma and Café Carma
Location: 11526 Ash St. in Leawood’s Park Place
Hours: Carma is open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 3-10 p.m. Saturday and 5-9 p.m. Sunday. Café Carma is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: There’s some parking on Ash Street, but your best bet is in the covered garage behind the restaurant.
Don’t miss: The pesto ravioli appetizer ($8, or $4 during happy hour) and the Steak Oscar ($32), an 8-ounce filet served with shrimp, scallops and asparagus in a garlic cream sauce with a side of fresh linguine. Looking for a less expensive meal? Get the BLT with avocado ($6) next door at Café Carma.
Vegetarian: Try the trendy kale salad ($9) — chopped kale tossed with champagne vinaigrette and topped with chopped radish, red onions, avocado, pine nuts and feta cheese. Several of the pasta dishes are also meat free, including Capellini Pomodoro ($17), angel hair pasta dressed with olive oil, fresh basil, garlic, crushed tomatoes, parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. If you’re dining at Café Carma, get the quinoa salad ($5), a protein-rich meal with shreds of fresh spinach, pickled red onion, cucumber and crumbled blue cheese.
Live music: Carma has live music in the dining room from 6-9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.