Monday, August 1, 2011

Carmel Favorites

A favorite Bay Area getaway with beautiful beaches, rolling valleys, and plenty of great food, Carmel has it all. Known for its dog-friendly downtown, former movie star mayor Clint Eastwood, and its California Mission, Carmel has earned its reputation for fine dining as well.

My husband and I recently enjoyed a weekend getaway in Carmel and ate some great food. With so many restaurants to choose from, it's a good idea to check out websites with lists of optionsask friends for ideas, and check out Yelp reviews. On this occasion we tried some new places and returned to some old favorites.

Casanova Italian restaurant has never disappointed. Located near downtown in a converted cottage house, Casanova has a cozy feel, tasty food and attentive service. Only big enough to seat 30, it has a Zagat rating of 23/30 for food, 24 for decor, and 22 for service. We enjoyed:

- bread sticks with sun dried tomato dip (yum)
- antipasti: goat cheese with roasted eggplant, squash, and red pepper spread
- spinach gnocchi w/ parmesan cream sauce (a must)
- eggplant vegetable stack with mushrooms and tomatoes (Brad had pasta carbonara and slurped it right down)
- apple dessert w/ cinnamon ice cream

We found another dinner just as enjoyable at the Flying Fish Grill restaurant in the Carmel Plaza shopping center. Recommended by my sister-in-law, Flying Fish offers Japanese comfort food in a cozy setting. It feels even smaller than its seating capacity of 45 with private table nooks. Its Zagat ratings are 24/30 for food, 19 for decor, and 23 for service. My husband and I shared a shabu-shabu dinner, a very nourishing comfort meal cooked at a built-in stove at our table. The entire meal satisfied:

- fried won ton chips w/ ginger salsa (addictive)
- beef sabu sabu clay pot with mushrooms, bok choy, rice noodles, and tofu (oh yeah)
- 2 very different and flavorful sauces: ginger miso and aioli w/ mayo, ginger, and sesame oil
- creme brulee with strawberries, raspberries, and orange slices

When in town we always visit the Cottage of Sweets candy shop on Ocen Avenue, a small sweet shop jam-packed with all kinds of confections. Brad got some of his favorites--caramel pecan turtles and Australian kookaburra black licorice--while I went with my tried and true gourmet malted milk balls with a thick dark chocolate shell. We also picked up some realistic-looking chocolate rocks for the kids. Cottage of Sweets has been serving up its candies for fifty years, and offers a nice collection of handmade, classic, and foreign candies. There's something for everyone.

Lastly, we happily discovered a new breakfast favorite called the Little Swiss Cafe, a great spot to wake up with eggs benedict, buttermilk pancakes, omelets, and blintzes. Come early to avoid the wait, wake up with their good coffee and satisfying food, and bring enough cash to cover the bill. I really enjoyed the thin buttermilk pancakes with pure maple syrup. Since they were so thin, then didn't make me feel too full afterward. Brad gobbled up his Denver omelet with hash browns crisped up just right. The restaurant is decorated like a little Swiss cottage with a wonderful oil painting of the nearby coastal views on one wall. Service is friendly and efficient, and it's a solid way to start the day.

Carmel offers so many other splurge-worthy restaurants we've tried over the years: Fresh Cream (moved from Monterey), Marinus at the Bernardus Lodge, and the Rio Grill just to name a few that we will return to someday. Along with the natural beauty and proximity to the Bay Area, Carmel's delicious food options make the town an alluring getaway any time of year.

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