I’ve never been much of a foodie. In fact, I may have the most difficult culinary tastes on the planet. In short, I don’t like meat, anything that pops in one’s mouth (grapes are the worst!), anything with pulp or anything that looks unidentifiable or just plain weird. “What do you eat when you travel?” people often ask. “There’s always rice and bread,” I say.
But despite the fact that I may sound like the least appropriate person to evaluate the proper brininess of a ceviche or what makes for a perfect truffle, my extra-sensitive tastebuds ensure that I have extremely high standards for any morsel that passes my lips.
So when my great friend Migdalia invited me to go on The Carmel Food Tour where she works as one of the knowledgeable guides, I immediately agreed. An afternoon wandering the fairytale streets of the charmingly named Carmel-by-the-Sea while eating and drinking my way through local restaurants? Why not?
It was a misty, seaside morning typical of an early summer day in Carmel when my fiancé Steve and I (along with eight other hungry people and our vivacious guide Mig) set off to sample our first morsel at Mundaka, a Spanish Tapas restaurant. Rustic tables with long benches and lamps made from old pipes with exposed bulbs set the tone for this laid back snack. On the menu was a slice of Spanish tortilla and a glass of sangria. I’d never heard of a Spanish tortilla before, but the simple ingredients (it’s made from potatoes, onions and eggs) combined into a tasty nibble that I’d happily nosh any time. If only that sliver had been slightly larger…
Next up on the agenda was Casanova. This restaurant is heralded as the most romantic in Carmel, and for good reason. Old European charm oozes from every nook and cranny, ivy showers down the walls, fanciful chandeliers create a soft glow and the extensive wine cellar are only a few of Casanova’s many draws. Guests can even dine in the “Van Gogh Room” a closet sized space that boasts the table where the man himself was purported to have taken his meals during the last days of his life.
I had been told that the menu sample we would taste at Casanova would be my favorite of the day, and the feather light spinach gnocchi smothered in a parmesan bechamel sauce lived up to it’s decadent reputation. It was by far, my favorite food on the tour.
Trió Carmel proffers a melange of exotic olive oils and vinegars, ranging in flavors from strawberry balsamic to Persian lime. In the tasting area of this fun and flavorful boutique, you’ll wonder why you never topped vanilla ice cream with espresso balsamic before.
Dining doesn’t get more chic than at La Bicyclette, which bills itself as a European bistro. Chalkboard paint covered walls and shabby chic decor add to the countryside charm of one of Carmel’s most beloved eateries. Chef James Anderson is a culinary phenom, who has expanded the restaurant’s farm to table approach by including produce grown in the gardens of local schools.
At Terry’s Lounge, the retro-glam bar at Doris Day’s famed Cypress Inn, the resident mixologist explained the art of the classic cocktail, as we sipped our Manhattans with reverent awe.
Wine was tasted and heartily approved of in the elegant, dark wood surroundings of Caraccioli Cellars, and the day was rounded off by scoffing up a few of the gourmet sea salt caramels at the whimsical Carmel chocolatier, Lula’s.
Verdict: Mig was a standout tour guide, sharing Carmel’s beauty and secrets in spades. But most importantly, my tastebuds have never been happier, and a more delicious sampling of flavors and textures I have yet to experience. Other than a close call with some mushrooms and a lamb meatball, I thoroughly enjoyed every item served on The Carmel Food Tour at each of the seven culinary pitstops.