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Apr 29, 2009 10:01 AM

Carmel/Pacific Grove trip report

Ate well in recent trip. Fell in love with Carmel.

First night at Passionfish was so good. Really fine food. Dungeness crab salad and crab cakes were both excellent, but I'd go with the salad again. Really fine soy, ginger sauce around it. Hubby had duck confit (fantastic) and I had scallops (delicious). Service great, nice modern atmosphere. Would definitely go back. Only two things missing were no sparkling wine by the glass and no espresso. How can that be? Otherwise, fantastic

Our inn recommended the French Poodle in Carmel as a place that only the locals know about with about 10 tables, in business for years. Not impressed. The food was traditional French, but with incredibly over-sauced main courses (duck, steak) that really ruined the food. Very precious wine list. We chose a local wine that they were out of and it was substituted with a very restrained French wine at about the same price which was too restrained for the dishes. My truffle mousse starter was very good. When we asked if they had decaf espresso at the end of the meal, they said yes and brought a French press with regular coffee. Definitely not the same thing! No espresso--why didn't they just say so. Would not recommend.

Casanova in Carmel was wonderful. We sat on the back patio and had a great time. Our waiter was very opinionated about which dishes were best, shared a salsa recipe with me, and was just a lot of fun. The short rib was great, the cannelloni delicious, and the antipasto varied. The entire menu is based on a 4 course selection, priced according to the main course selection. Many choices. Everything we had was delicious. Only complaints were--very, very pricey wine list, but search enough and you can find variety (35,000 bottle cellar, but most high end), and the waiter brought a piece of pie after the meal and said, eat this and then I'll bring you the dessert menu. I passed and hubby was too full to then look at the menu. Too bad. Loved this place.

Portabella in Carmel for lunch. Nice place. Back patio light and bright. Shared an appetizer of bruschetta. My chicken salad had a really heavy teriyaki style sauce on it. Thought it would be a light dish on a really hot day. Not so. Hubby ordered nicoise salad. Better choice.

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  1. We recently tried Casanova in Carmel as well. Although parts of the meal were ok, I don't think I would probably go back. It was freezing on the night that we went so we opted to to sit indoors which I think was a mistake. The back patio sounded much more lively and we were the youngest diners by 20 years (and we are mid forties) so the atmosphere was very subdued.

    I did not really care for the menu format and wasn't crazy about the starters but the entrees were quite good. i had the salmon which was delicious and my husband had some pasta dish which he loved. Did not have dessert.

    The main problem that I had was with the server. He was a good server but had a very condescending attitude that I did not care for. I agree that the wine list was completely outrageously priced. My husband has to entertain alot and knows his way around a wine list. We ordered $140 bottle which was one of the lesser priced bottles on the list and the server actually had the nerve to say "well that's one way to go" and then proceeded to try to upsell us to some $300-$450 bottles. Completely unacceptable. We stuck with our orginal choice which was quite good. The whole thing left a bad impression with me and there are lots of other places that are just good without the snobby attitude. I think at this point, they are surviving on reputation alone and in this economy may want to reconsider their pricing and format.

    10 Replies
    1. re: baseballfan

      Casanova is owned by Georis who has a winery in Carmel Valley which may explain the overpriced "other wines". Of course, there is no explaination for the server other than immature and inexperienced.
      We may well have been one of the subdued couples you mentioned. I always hated, even in my forties, a loud group in a small, classy restaurant.
      Their food has never really been our style. It used to be Northern Italian cream sauced items. I hear now, this has changed.

      1. re: Gail

        Thanks for the info regarding the winery connection to the restaurant. I'm sure that probably has some impact on their wine list. Unfortuantely, our server was obviously experienced as his actual service was quite good but his attitude certainly needed some work.

        I agree about loud obnoxious groups in upscale places but the night that we were there was so subdued that we actually found ourselves whispering which was just a little too quiet for us. I guess better that than some loud drunkards as fellow diners!

        1. re: baseballfan

          There is no excuse for a server to act rude or pushy. You wonder if he just doesn't get it. I can forgive a service slip or two, but rudeness is foolish on his part...not too smart.

        2. re: Gail

          Gail, last trip I recall getting a reco for another restaurant that Georis was involved with, seems it was also Italian but not the "upscale/upsell" format of Casanova, Didn't get to try it and am now blanking on the name. BTW any opinion on Georis' wines?

          1. re: PolarBear

            Hi PB,
            Georis also ownes the Corkscrew Cafe in Carmel Valley and La Bicyclette in Carmel proper. La Bicyclette used to be La Boheme (sp?). We never miss going to the Corkscrew. Love the place. It's very local with good food. Wine list is 95% Georis as his tasting room is there as well. His wine, we think is OK, but usually order the only zin he has which is Ridge Lytton Springs at about $50 a pop. This place may be the one you are thinking about. If not check La Bicyclette. It is a set menu that changes daily at least for dinner. It is very small and has wonderful European feeling to it.

            1. re: Gail

              It was La Bicyclette, thanks Gail, will have to try it next visit. Not a bad price for the Lytton Springs in Carmel, little less than 100% markup, also enjoy Ridge's Geyserville.

              1. re: PolarBear

                My wife and I tried La Bicyclette and found it disappointing. While it kept most of the interior of La Boheme as well as the pre-fixe menu concept, the food overall was a major step down from La Boheme's quality, including the soup, salad and entree. It wasn't terrible, but with all the other choices available, as a visitor I wouldn't waste a precious evening there. Now if I lived in the area and could easily drive over if that nights offerings sounded appealing, that might be a different story.

              2. re: Gail

                Might have to rethink things given cg's account. Gail, have you (or others here) tried another little hidden away local's place called The Gem (or maybe just Gem Resto)? I've only been twice and had the cassoulet both times since I never see it anywhere else. Last time it wasn't on the menu, but was told with advance notice they would make it. Just wondering how the rest of the menu is.

                1. re: PolarBear

                  Hi, wish I could help. I've been by it, but never in it. It's sure a charming looking place. Have you tried Little Napoli? I like it and it's highly touted by locals. We also like sitting out in Tarpy's Roadhouse patio for lunch. In case that's new to you, it's by the Monterey airport. I'll make a note in my Carmel file to check out Gem on our next visit (July).

                  If Cassoulet is one of your favs, try Le Central when you're in San Francisco. If you're not familiar with it, it is right downtown. Love that place and their "do" on steak frites too.

                  1. re: Gail

                    Yeah I've watched the various incarnations of the now Tarpey's over the years. Thanks for the tip on Le Central, will have to go next trip to the City.

        3. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your report Mousse. I couldn't agree with you more regarding Passionfish. Truly fresh and sustainable seafood, wonderful people and nice wine list...great mix. Although the tables can be close together, the one good things that came out of our last visit there was we made friends with the couple next to us and now visit each other from time to time. Fabulous coconut rice too.