Taste the best of Carmel

In the time I’ve spent exploring Carmel over the last five months I’m still yet to experience half of its secret alleyways, boutique wine cellars and gourmet restaurants. After delving into Carmel’s culinary tour that is Carmel Food Tours, my to-do list has only grown when heading to the diverse town of Carmel-By-The-Sea.

Only four years young, the team at Carmel Food Tours clearly have a deep connection to the town and people of Carmel with in-depth knowledge on its history, architecture and foodie enclaves.

As the first guided walking, cultural and tasting tour on the Monterey Peninsula, their mission is to help people like us discover the best off the beaten path experiences.


Food and Wine Guide

Stop 1. Anton & Michel

First stop, Anton & Michel. The first thing you see when you walk into this open air space is a view of their signature fountain with floor to ceiling windows.
fullsizeoutput_33eAnton & Michel is the sort of place where you can have an intimate winters day dinner by the fireplace with a loved one or sit in the sun by the fountain with friends having a lunch that goes three hours’ overtime.

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The perfect drink to kick off the tour – crisp Pinot Noir Rosé.

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First course for the day definitely set the bar high for the rest of the stops to follow. We were treated to a mouth-watering braised beef on a bed of three cheese polenta. One word, delicious! The Pinot Noir Rosé was paired perfectly with such a light yet flavoursome meal. I wanted to sit and stay by the fountain for the rest of the morning with a wine in hand, however it was on to the next stop.

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Stop 2. Affina Food | Wine

Next on our guide’s list, Affina.

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Where has this gem been my whole life? The trendy minimalist decor caught my eye the moment we walked in. This modern bistro oozes contemporary style with its open-beam ceiling, bespoke light structures and local repurposed wooden tables.

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I’ll definitely be back with girlfriends in tow to order a bottle of vino and soak up the open-air white spaces and quirky atmosphere.

Enough about the decor, let’s talk about their food and wine.

We were served a light sauvignon blanc to match a lightly floured zucchini flower topped with shaved goats cheese. It was perfection. After a guest appearance by the chef himself we devoured the refreshing appetizer and took our last sips of fruity sauvignon blanc.

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Stop 3. Casanova

After being wowed by our first two stops it was off to Casanova. I’ve eaten here once before and it was the first meal in Carmel that made me crave more.fullsizeoutput_3d2

Our tour guide gave us the low-down on how huge Casanova is. When I went a few months beforehand I thought it could seat a few couples here and there. Little did I know they have rooms upon rooms upon courtyards! They even have a wine cellar accompanied by a novel-sized wine list.

The layout of this French-Italian restaurant makes every table feel intimate and unique.

Fun fact: you can dine with Vincent van Gogh at Casanova. The restaurant is home to Vincent van Gogh’s table where he enjoyed his meals for the last three months of his life. Transported all the way from France – you can sit at his table with a customised menu.

Every time I’ve eaten at Casanova (we went back for dinner the next night) it’s been a different table in a different section making it feel like a new exciting restaurant each time.

We walked through Casanova until we reached a large courtyard with a long wooden table awaiting.

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I was disappointed that we didn’t receive a glass of wine at this stop, especially after hearing all about their cellar and enormous wine list. Instead, we were offered only water to accompany our meal.

We were treated to the Gnocchi Casanova, a gorgeous example of French-Italian rustic fare. The meal itself was stunning – I can only imagine the enhancement a glass of vino would have made to it.

The spinach gnocchi served was made with the same dough used for eclairs – life changer! The gnocchi was perfectly paired with a parmesan sauce and ‘au gratin’.

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The Gnocchi Casanova is a new favourite in our household.

Stop 4. il Grillo

Il Grilo is a rustic and cozy Italian restaurant that’s hidden away down Mission Street. I’ve walked up and down this street many times when I can’t get parking closer to Carmel Plaza.

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Il Grillo made a great first impression when I was greeted with a glass of Chianti in a cup. My Italian step-father was thrilled and boasted how serving wine in a cup is the traditional way Italians drink wine. Bellissimo!

We were then served what looked to be a slider with pork and topped with an olive. I wasn’t expecting much from a slider, but man was I delighted once I took my first bite. The flavour burst in my mouth and I wanted 10 more instantly!

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After stalking their website the next day, my mouth was watering. Their menu boasts hand-made pasta, local produce and traditional Italian deserts.

If you’re looking for authentic Italian, il Grillo is the way to go.

 

Stop 5. Trio Carmel

Our next stop was Trio Carmel, a place I’ve visited once before to buy a few specialty balsamic vinegar’s and garlic olive oil.

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We were met with smiling faces of the Trio Carmel team and treated to an abundance of information on white and dark balsamic vinegar’s and varieties of olive oils.

My step-dad fell in love with one of the white balsamic vinegar’s mixed with soda water – a perfect alternative to alcohol and soft drink.

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I highly recommend a trip to Trio Carmel to ask as many questions as you like about oils and vinegar’s and taste a few for yourself. You’ll never buy another Trader Joe’s balsamic vinegar or Costco olive oil again.

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Stop 6. Figge Cellars

On to the wine tasting – my favourite part of any tour.

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Having tried a few wine cellars in Carmel already, I was thrilled we were trying once I’d never been to before.

A local Monterey winery, Figge Cellars was an instant favourite with an intimate tasting room and Pinot Noir’s on offer.

Figge Cellars crafts their grapes into six wines – two Chardonnay’s, two Pinot Noir’s and one Rosé.

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We enjoyed a taste of a Chardonnay and two Pinot Noir’s while browsing through a neighbouring art gallery. Way out of our price-range but interesting to see what $10,000+ art looks like.

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I’ll definitely be looking for this hidden gem again when out wine tasting in Carmel.

 

Stop 7. Lula’s Chocolates

Last but certainly not least – and most likely my partner’s favourite stop – Lula’s Chocolates.

We were treated to a tasting of delicious chocolate morsels, just enough to make us crave more. For a take-home treat we purchased their homemade rocky road and a chocolate-solid Halloween jack o lantern.

Since our first visit we have been back several times to relive the rocky road and buy a choc-solid thanksgiving turkey and Santa Claus!

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Lula’s isn’t just any chocolate shop, their in-store decor is gorgeously well-thought out. With Christmas around the corner, their store is filled with carefully decorated trees, fairy lights and Christmas themed chocolate. Delicious.

 


Final thoughts

I would highly recommend the Carmel Food Tour to locals and tourists alike. The abundance of knowledge that the guide offers is welcomed and gave us all a new-found appreciation for Carmel-By-The-Sea. The choice of foodie destinations was perfectly thought out and are now on my list of places to try whenever in Carmel.

We were shown hidden gems, local hot-spots and some of Carmel’s famous courtyards and secret passageways.

The cost for the tour is about $79 per person which is a bit expensive for the amount of food and wine on offer. However, it’s a great way to spend the day exploring Carmel with new people and fresh eyes.

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