Let California Entertain You
Foodie Paradise Carmel-by-Sea knows how to put on a show
Story by Jill Gleeson
Home to less than 4,000 residents, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California is a wonderland for gourmands, with a jaw-dropping 50+ restaurants situated within its one-square-mile area. If that statistic amazes, consider the little town’s location: Tucked away two hours south of San Francisco on the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel-by-the-Sea benefits from the bounty of the Pacific plus ultra-fresh foodstuffs delivered from the neighboring Salinas Valley.
Often called simply Carmel, Carmel-by-the-Sea has long been a cultural mecca. Since its founding in 1902, artists of all kinds have flocked to the community, including Jack London, George Gershwin, Ansel Adams and Charlie Chaplin. A strong arts tradition usually begets a flourishing culinary scene—artists and their patrons love a fine meal. But in Carmel-by-the-Sea the vibrant galleries and theaters have helped give rise to restaurants that offer entertainment value, too. From open kitchens to live music, tableside preparation and celebrity owners, these establishments put on a great show.
It’s typically food first in Carmel, but some restaurants—like Casanova, where guests can dine at a table where Vincent van Gogh once took his meals—like to provide a little extra bang for the buck.
Cantinetta Luca offers serious authenticity, with meats hand-cut by the Luca staff, who also cure the Italian restaurant’s salumi and make all the pastas, bread and pizza dough. You can watch that pizza dough rise thanks to Luca’s open kitchen. “We wanted to build a chef’s counter where guests could see our beautiful kitchen, our product and our chefs in action. It’s definitely an added attraction,” says David Fink, CEO of the Mirabel Hotel and Restaurant Group.
Founded in 1980, Anton & Michel’s is devoted to serving unparalleled California cuisine in a romantic atmosphere. Hand-carved rack of lamb, Caesar salad and flambé desserts are prepared tableside, upping the enjoyment, according to owner Tony Salameh, a graduate of the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland. “My dream when I opened the restaurant,” he says, “was to show-off what I learned during my schooling in Switzerland: fine dining, tableside service. We are the only game in town for tableside service dining!”
No Business Like Show Business
Dine in a celebrity-owned eatery and you never know who might show up.
Terry’s Lounge, which sits sleek and stylish inside the Cypress Inn, dishes out Mediterranean-inspired fare such as lamb and chicken harira with couscous and goodies sourced from the Monterey Bay, including sand dabs and calamari. The entire property is co-owned by beloved movie star and animal advocate Doris Day, who has ensured pets are always welcome on Terry’s expansive patio. There’s live music Thursday through Sunday, too.
Word is, Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood doesn’t drop by The Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant too often, but the Sunday Brunch, famed throughout the peninsula, is good enough you might not even notice. The view, pretty as a painting, encompasses the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, white-capped and churning. Eastwood is a jazz fan who also composes, so naturally the band serenading brunchers is top-notch.
To get the lay of the land in Carmel-by-the-Sea begin by taking the nifty Carmel Food Tours classic walking tour. Three hours long, it features seven tasting stops, so it’s best to avoid eating beforehand. Highlights include Lula’s Chocolates, locally made and family owned for more than a century, and Caraccioli Cellars, which specializes in sparkling wines produced from grapes grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Staci Giovino, Carmel Food Tours’ owner, knows Carmel-by-the-Sea’s culinary landscape. When asked what makes her town a foodie paradise, she says, “I’ve long believed that our local chefs are in a unique position to create for a generally upscale clientele, without the cutthroat competition they might find in the city. With access to great ingredients, a demographic to serve that is frequently food-oriented and not only used-to, but prepared-to spend a little more on meals, the chefs have a broader latitude to create special dishes and create a truly unique food scene.”
Plan A Trip
Ready for a mouth-watering getaway to check out Carmel-by-the-Sea’s superlative food scene? Stay at the charming Carmel Country Inn, a B&B featuring studios and one- and two-bedroom suites with fireplaces and luxury baths. When your belly is full after sampling the town’s restaurants, consider walking off some calories with Carmel Art Tours or get your hands dirty with a painting workshop at Titus Contemporary Galley, taught by owner Mary Titus.