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Suggestions for nice dinner in Big Sur/Carmel?

My husband and I (young professionals going on a ~2nd honeymoon) will be staying in Big Sur for 3 days in August.

I'd like to take my husband to a nice dinner in Carmel as we plan to spend an afternoon there. Any suggestions? We love seafood, Asian, Mediterranean, Italian... I've looked online quite a bit and am having trouble finding "the perfect spot".

Also, the dining in Big Sur area seems to be limited...any help picking from the 15 or so restaurants that appear to be there?


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  1. Nepenthe in Big Sur has very good food and the location is spectacular. Had a nice traditional French meal at Anton and Michel. Very romantic and beautiful dining room. I also like Graising's. I have had good meals at Tutto Mondo.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Fladabosco

      I had lunch at Graising's a few months ago, with my wife and sister-in-law. We all really enjoyed our meals.

      I went to Anton and Michel with my wife a few years ago and had a very disappointing dinner. In addition to that, when the bill arrived, I put down two credit cards and asked the waiter to split the bill (as I was travelling on business). He picked up the cards and said quite loud, "Very interesting! One personal and one business card!". I thought that was rather gauche.

      1. re: souschef

        Anton and Michel was at one time wonderful. No more! Best restaurants in the area are Fandango in Pacific Grove, Citronelle at the Carmel Valley Ranch, and the restaurant at Bernardus Winery (the name eludes me).

    2. Loved the Big Sur Bakery and ended up there about twice a day during our trip: solid (and reasonably priced for the area) dinner options, amazing multi-grain bread (great to buy in the morning and bring with you for a picnic), and very good chocolate cake and breakfast pastries too.

      Ventana is a good, more upscale option. Had some delicious scallops there. We opted to dine outside and had the whole area to ourselves. It's only a partial ocean view, but all in all a spectacularly beautiful spot.

      1. laurenpk, if I'm understanding this correctly, your plans are to have dinner in Carmel and then drive back to Big Sur? I would not suggest this for two reasons; the drive is so beautiful, it's a shame to do it after dark and more importantly, it is two lane and twisty in case dinner may include cocktails and/or wine. If I'm not reading you correctly, post back as I have some dinner ideas for Carmel.

        Dining in Big Sur, aside from what the other posters have mentioned, there is the Post Ranch Inn. I have no personal experience there, but others say it is marvelous, view and food-wise. I know it is $$$$ if that's an item. They have a site you can check out. We always go to Nepenthe, just never miss it!!

        1. Big Sur is nice BUT take a little drive to the first hotel in Carmel "The Highlands Inn" for Dinner. This has THE best views, wine and food nearest Big Sur. I have been there many times since our honeymoon. This is still one of the most romantic places in the world. True it was on my honeymoon. But as foodie for the last 40 years, and eat at most of the top 100. This place is worth a visit, meal & a stay.

          1. Adding to what others have said, I would think twice about dining in Carmel and then driving back to Big Sur. The road is windy, and if you have a nice dinner with drinks and wine in Carmel, you definitely shouldn't be driving back. That said, without question one of the very best restaurants in the area is Citronelle at the Carmel Valley Ranch. This is an outpost of Michel Richard's Citronelle in Georgetown...one of President Obama's favorites. It's a wonderful spot, and hands down one of the very best in the area.

            Right in Big Sur, the Post Ranch Inn restaurant Sierra Mar is very nice, romantic and with spectacular views. Ventana across the road is also very good, but I'm not sure if they have reopened their restaurant after their devastating fire last year.

            Nepenthe is fine for lunch, but certainly not a place for a special dinner.

            1. We stayed at the Hyatt Highlands in Carmel for 3 nights last September and we dined at Pacific's Edge, Passionfish in Pacific Grove and lunch at Sierra Mar in Big Sur at the Post Ranch Inn..better to sit outside and catch the view and soak in the sun.
              All were excellent and highly suggest Passionfish for dinner, Sierra Mar for lunch and Pacific Edge for drinks and app's at sunset..
              Do not drive the winding road at night..way too crazy.
              Big Sur Bakery rocks too..


              1. Post Ranch Inn for lunch is amazing. So beautiful and excellent food. Rather pricy but worth it for the view and great vibe.

                6 Replies
                1. re: eel

                  Agree that Post Ranch Inn is great for lunch. Does anyone know if the main dining room at Ventana across the road has reopened. When we visited in May, they were just serving simple meals from a temporary "bistro" by the lobby/swimming pool area.

                  1. re: josephnl

                    josephnl, their site shows "bistro" menus and service. Perhaps the site isn't up to date. I'd sure call before going. Anxious to try Post Ranch for lunch. Somehow our car goes further south and turns in to Nepenthe every time.

                    1. re: Gail

                      Certainly Nepenthe is great...but it's a totally different experience than is the Post Ranch or even Ventana. Depends on how casual/fancy the op wants...and also how much they are prepared to spend.

                      1. re: Gail

                        It is the "bistro" at Ventana Inn that's open, but I wouldn't be scared off by that. It's still a full range of options on the menu, still a spectacularly lovely setting--I think it's just that the main restaurant space (which I guess had a bit of a better view?) isn't ready yet. I'm not sure how much of a difference that makes in terms of the food itself, but the meal we had at the bistro was excellent.

                        1. re: abstractpoet

                          We too had a very nice lunch at the bistro. However we thought that the menu was significantly "pared-down", and of course, the ambiance in the normal dining room is much nicer. Do you know when the main dining room will re-open?

                    2. re: eel

                      We had a lovely lunch on the patio at Post Ranch Inn for about $60 with tip for two..and that was with a glass of wine and beer and dessert.
                      I don't consider that pricey at all and the view was priceless!

                      btw..I thought the food at Pacific Edge was ok..imo, I would go for app's and drinks there at sunset and either head to Passionfish in Pacific Grove for dinner.

                    3. Maybe an early dinner at Pacific's Edge (pure romance) - I understand they have updated the menu since I stayed at the Highlands Inn last fall, but I haven't heard any negative reviews. Then you can take your time driving back to Big Sur and catch the sunset from one of the higher lookout points... possibly the one just south of the Bixby bridge. The sunsets have been some of my family's treasured memories over the years. Sunsets for the 1st week of August are around 7:50 PM.

                      Here is a link to the Pacific's Edge web site - check out the press release page for a recent review of local restaurants. Happy second honeymoon.


                      12 Replies
                      1. re: fresnohotspot

                        The Highlands Inn has a new GM who has made a few changes, I believe for the better. The California Market now serves only breakfast and lunch. The Pacific's Edge has become more casual ,dress and menu wise. They serve only dinner and the lounge menu evenings. I'll be there for a stay on Sun. and will report back. Yes, check out the new menu, I think there's something for everyone. As everyone has said, the view is a definite "don't miss"!

                        1. re: Gail

                          Resurrecting this older post to see if Gail has an update - we're going to Carmel this weekend and have reservs at Pacific's Edge...but are reconsidering. We NEVER eat out for financial reasons and wanted to splurge this weekend, so we have the money budgeted...but if we're spending $250 on a meal, we'd like it to really be worth $250...

                          So, is it? Or is there a better use of our funds for our one splurge-y dinner?

                          1. re: thursday

                            For a big splurge, consider Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn rather than Pacific's Edge...it is definitlely more special...IMHO!

                            1. re: thursday

                              Like I have stated in other posts above..
                              I would do lunch at Sierra Mar $60+
                              App's/drinks at Pacific Edge $50+
                              Dinner at Passionfish in Pacific Grove $120+ and that includes wine
                              Big Sur Bakery $20+

                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                I must totally disagree. Passionfish is a total waste of money. If you can get fresh fish at home (as we can) you can prepare it as well and save yourself $80-100. True the fish at PF is fresh and tasty, but nothing special, the atmosphere is non-existent at PF, it's too noisy to talk there, and the service is hit-or-miss. Certainly, for anyone who wants to celebrate with a "big splurge" PF is not the place!

                                Furthermore, as I and others have already said to the OP, if you are staying in Big Sur, you would be well advised not to have dinner and drinks in Carmel or Monterey and drive back to Big Sur afterwards.

                                1. re: josephnl

                                  Totally disagree. Passionfish is one of the better restaurants in Carmel/Monterey. The dishes are well executed and creative. The service was always nice. For Carmel/Monterey it is a good option for a "big splurge"

                                  1. re: honkman

                                    Passionfish is fine for dinner when you're too tired to cook and are looking for simply prepared fresh fish at a pretty reasonable price. "Big splurge"??? - not in my opinion! For something special, "the perfect spot" which is what the OP seems to be looking for, I would head to Sierra Mar, or Ventana (if it has reopened); or Pacific Edge or Citronelle in Carmel Valley...the latter two only if you have a designated driver!

                                    1. re: josephnl

                                      Just an fyi, josephnl. I read in the Pine Cone paper a couple of weeks ago that the Carmel Valley Ranch has been sold and along with the sale went the chef at Citronelle to parts unknown.

                                      1. re: Gail

                                        It's really a shame if Citronelle goes down or even out! This was a wonderful spot. The ambiance is beautiful, the service was great, and the food delicious. We'll just have to wait and see. Thanks for the update. If you hear anything further, please post.

                                        1. re: josephnl

                                          Citronelle is indeed gone from the Carmel Valley Ranch. We were there about a few weeks ago and there was no signage nor any evidence of Chef Richard's influence on the menu. Given it was in flux it's not really fair to pass judgment yet, but here is some information on our meal there ->

                                          Probably my greatest frustration was that the resort actually sent us an email touting Citronelle just days before we arrived and we booked expecting something quite different from what we got.

                                          1. re: Frodnesor

                                            Citronelle is no longer listed on the hotel webpage. They refer to their restaurant as The Dining Room. I called the hotel and inquired, and they told me that the restaurant had "changed names". Really too bad, because Citronelle was very nice!

                              2. re: thursday

                                thursday, another suggestion would be The Inn at Spanish Bay. Take the 17 miles drive out of Carmel to Spanish Bay. Arrange to be there at sunset. They have a bagpipe player and people gather around the firepits outside for cocktails. There are 2 restaurants that are good. Roy's is Hawaiian/Asian and Peppoli is, guess what, Italian. Both menus are on the Spanish Bay site. The fee for the 17 mile drive is deducted from your restaurant bill.

                                Sorry, I can't update the Pacific's Edge as our plans changed. I'll be there again late Oct. I'm not sure when you are going. You might give them a call. I believe they have a jazz group on Sat. night in the lounge. Maybe you're big eaters, but we could definitely make a dinner out of their lounge menu.

                          2. Nepenthe is great for a lunch or a drink at sunset & a casual dinner. Its not fine dining but solid enough with a good wine list. Big Sur Bakery (lunch in March) is casual but has good ingredients and some interesting wines. Very limited menu at lunch; the dinner menu looked much better. I haven't been to Post Ranch (Sierra Mar) in a couple of years but when we were there it was fantastic. Haven't been to the Ventanna since the change.

                            In Carmel, Auberge Carmel is outstanding but our visit (also March) the service was awfully slow at first. A more formal (for Carmel) atmosphere the wine pairing with the tasting menu was excellent but not a good value (even for an expensive place). Marinus in the Bernardus Lodge (not actually in Carmel about 20 min. drive) has been excellent the 5-6 times I've been it is expensive. Grasings is solid, too, not to the level of Marinus or Auberge, but still very good. Casanova is also good. We generally have lunch there but have also had a few good dinners. I haven't been to Pacific's Edge since the changes, either, but the view is killer.

                            I would not drive between Carmel and Big Sur at night for reasons already mentioned.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: HoosierFoodie

                              Hi ALL! Thanks for the replies.

                              So, we've decided to go to LUNCH in Carmel on our way to SF. It will be on a Monday.

                              Suggestions???!! Thanks!
                              (And thanks for the Big Sur info.)

                              1. re: laurenpk

                                In Carmel? I'd go with Casanova or Grasings.

                                1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                  Agree with both choices, but for the atmosphere, I prefer Casanova.

                                2. re: laurenpk

                                  Can't beat the view at the California Market - at the Highlands Inn. The food is top notch.

                                  1. re: fresnohotspot

                                    Don't think that the Ventana restaurant will be opening until late August, but when it reopens, the deck has an amazing view and wonderful food. Until then, if you want a view, suggest looking into Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn.

                              2. Sierra Mar at The Post Ranch Inn. The view is endless blue sea and sky. The food is absolutely the top of the top. The service is TRUE service, calm, unobtrusive, yet attentive and warm.

                                If you can swing a night there, try to stay in a Treehouse room.