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A mostly Carmel central coast report May 19-27

My husband and I just returned from a week in Carmel with an overnight in Carpinteria on the way. We traveled with our dog and also had friends join us for several nights in Carmel. Many of our picks were based on dog friendliness and I’ll put an * in front of places where we brought our dog.

*Santa Barbara Shellfish Company – Our first meal of the trip was lunch at SB Shellfish. My husband had a crab sandwich and I had an abalone plate which was a blackboard special. The crab sandwich was just OK. The abalone was better. I think we’ll just stick to the blackboard specials next time. There are 3 or 4 outside tables with table service (we snagged one of these) and a takeout window on the other side with some picnic tables. It was a beautiful day and nice being on the wharf.

*Renaud’s Patisserie – We stopped at the downtown location for a pastry. I honestly don’t remember what I had! I just remember it was sort of meh. I think I ordered wrong and should’ve gone with an almond croissant instead.

*Corktree Cellars – Dinner was at Corktree Cellars in Carpinteria. The one caveat here was that our dog had to be on the other side of their patio dividers which were made up of potted plants. The plants aren’t high so a big dog would be able to see, or maybe even climb, over. Our dog is small so he had to peek between the pots. We shared the lobster mac and cheese, grilled shrimp and carnitas pizza which ended up being a lot of food and we had to take most of the pizza to go. Our favorite dish was the pizza. We had intended to go to Scarlett Begonia for breakfast the next morning but finished our pizza instead.

*Thomas Hill Organics – This was our lunch in Paso Robles enroute to Carmel. It was hot in Paso but thankfully their patio was fully shaded! We shared a seared ahi starter and I had a shrimp salad while my husband had a warm shrimp dish. It was all very good. Nice and light and perfect for the hot weather. My only quibble is that the service could’ve been more attentive (i.e. water glasses weren’t refilled, we had to ask for another glass of wine) and the food took a long time to come out. We skipped dessert as we were heading to Sculpterra to see a friend play and running low on time.

*Ragged Point Restaurant – We hadn’t planned to eat here but had dallied so much that we weren’t going to make it to Carmel by dinner. We had some friends who were staying here and decided on an impromptu visit with them and ended up having dinner together. I didn’t expect much as it seemed like they had a captive audience but was pleasantly surprised (maybe I just had such low expectations going in). We shared a crab cake appetizer and I had the short ribs while my husband had the seafood pasta. There was nothing inventive about the food but it was reasonably priced and the service was good.

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  1. *Parker Lusseau Pastries – This morning was the first of many trips to Parker Lusseau in Monterey (both the Hartnell and Munras locations). I had a delicious kouign amann (for some reason they only sell this at the Hartnell store). Later on in the trip we went back for their apple galette, croissant, almond croissant, pain au chocolat and caneles. They were all delicious. Go early. I went mid-afternoon one day and they were pretty much out of everything. Also they only take cash.

    *Sea Harvest – We were wandering around the Crossroads in Carmel so decided to have lunch here. I had checked with Rio Grill but they weren’t dog friendly contrary to the incorrect information in some publications. My husband had another crab sandwich (this was better than the one at SB Shellfish) and I had the sand dab/oyster/calamari combo and chips. It was nothing to write home about but fine for what it was and fairly inexpensive. We took the last outside table which happened to be in shade and tried to get them to turn the heater on but it wasn’t working.

    Cantinetta Luca – Our friends had arrived and the 4 of us had dinner at Cantinetta Luca. Unfortunately they aren’t hardy souls like us ;) so this was the first of several dinners indoors without our dog. Everyone ordered a pizza except for me. I started with the arancini followed by a half order of the grilled prawns. Both were good and everyone enjoyed their pizzas. For dessert I had the chocolate soufflé tart. The desserts here are really good as they share the same pastry chef with Aubergine.

    Cooking class at Aubergine – Lunch today was actually a cooking class. We made a seared scallop dish with a carrot juice reduction/mascarpone/dijon sauce with duck fat roasted carrots, baby potatoes, walla walla onions and smoked sea salt. I couldn’t have imagined how good would taste when I was putting it all together. Here’s a pic of the final product.

    1. *Pastries and Petals – Stopped here for a disgustingly good peanut butter fudge cookie. Got one to go for our friends who devoured it immediately.

      1. Aubergine – Tonight was the Terroir dinner at Aubergine featuring streams. Both the monthly Food for Thought and Terroir dinners are no choice menus and an excellent value at $75 including wine pairings. I will let the pictures do most of the talking. The first course was copper river sockeye followed by a second course of Japanese ayu. Next was crayfish and sweetbreads with morels. Dessert was “river stones” – ice cream covered in chocolate, olive and speculoos followed by “s’mores”. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite dish. This was our fifth dinner at Aubergine since Justin Cogley took over the kitchen and he and pastry chef Ron Mendoza have consistently delivered outstanding meals for us.

        1. *400 Degrees Burgers – We happened to hit this place for lunch on their opening day. Not intentionally but we were walking by and a milkshake sounded good. As expected service was a bit confused and disorganized. You order at the counter and the food is brought to you and you also pay at the end of your meal. We had no less than 6 people come to our table to check on us which just added to the confusion. I ended up forgetting to ask for the burger medium rare (they’re cooked medium if you don’t specify) and they neglected to ask. Got the 400 degree burger, duck fat fries and a black and white shake. It was OK/fine and the service became a source of entertainment for us.

          Later on in the trip we went back for a Kobe burger which we liked better (and they asked what temperature we wanted it this time). Service was still a bit slow but better organized and they had added handheld devices at each table where you could add items and swipe your credit card.

          3 Replies
          1. re: PattyC

            This place needs a lot of help. Kobe burger, ordered medium rare, was ruined at almost well done. Bun wasn't anything special. Fries luke warm and not much flavor. Plus, even though I read they did their research visiting great burger places across the country, they didn't learn much and could take a hint by offering more condiment options. Pickle/peppers bar?, more toppings options?, unique ketchup and mustard than just Heinz? (ever heard of Dijon?) Very disappointing.

            1. re: Dan Wodarcyk

              Did you send the burger back and bring up the other issues with them? To their credit, they were pretty good about comping part of our first meal due to the lack of organization. They didn't even have mustard the first day.

              1. re: PattyC

                Sending the burger back wouldn't have solved my overall impression of the place. They are attempting to be an upscale burger place but haven't thought through their whole concept. Like I said, I had read in a local publication that they had done "research" of great burger places (Umami, Shake Shack.) Whatever research, it didn't "stick."

                For instance, Umami offers great cheese and home made sauce/ketchup options. Michael Symon's "B Spot" in Cleveland has an amazing peppers, pickle and relish bar, plus 4 sauces at every table.

          2. La Bicyclette – Unfortunately this was not one of the better meals we’ve had at La Bicyclette. Both pizzas arrived at our table slightly burnt and my heirloom apple salad was so so. The roasted escargot however were good and I did like my faro pasta with black truffle (you can order anything on the 3 course menu a la carte). Desserts were bread pudding and an apple tart. Hopefully we just hit them on an off night and this was not part of a downward trend.

            1. Picnic at Point Lobos – Why in such a scenic place are the picnic tables located at the most unscenic spots? That said we still enjoyed our olive loaf and baguette from La Bicyclette (they sort of redeemed themselves with their bread), a fourme d’ambert, brillat savarin and a wonderful black truffle boschetto from the Cheese Shop, more peanut butter and fudge cookies from Pastries and Petals plus some assorted other items we picked up.

              Mundaka – All 4 of us thought our dinner here was the second best meal of our trip after Aubergine. We shared some pork loin, prawns, foie gras, grilled asparagus, cauliflower gratin, blood sausage and a lamb flatbread pizza. Interesting and inventive dishes with flavor combinations that worked. We also shared four desserts – the flan, chocolate terrine, ginger cake and crepes of which the first 2 were our favorites.

              1. *Lokal – Today we headed to Carmel Valley and stopped at Lokal for lunch. Our friends left earlier in the day so it was just the 2 of us. My husband had the skirt steak sandwich which was very good. I had the pulled pork sandwich which I thought needed a little something to perk it up. Dessert was a very good kabocha squash cake with cardamom orange ice cream.

                1. *Casanova – Dinner was at a table on the front patio (aka the doggie section) with heaters. My husband had the foie gras followed by the seafood linguine and I started with the abalone followed by the sweet pea ravioli. The food here is more traditional but well executed. Service could’ve been a bit better. We felt like we were sort of neglected on the front patio but we’ve also had really good service here. We skipped desserts as I’ve never been a fan of their desserts.

                  1. *Basil – Our final dinner of the trip was on the heated patio of Basil. The specials tonight sounded really good so we pretty much stuck to those except for one dish. My husband started with a seafood soup followed by the squid ink pasta with calamari. I had the soft shell crab followed by prosciutto wrapped halibut cheeks. We shared a bread pudding for dessert. Everything was very good. This was probably our third favorite meal of the trip. We’ve had a few misses here previously too but when they’re on, they’re really good. They also do themed prix fixe dinners a few days at the beginning of each month which are worth trying.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: PattyC

                      Excellent, thorough report. I particularly appreciate the paso and templeton info because I'm much more likely to find myself near one of those on my annual trek to Avila Beach. The Templeton spot sounds like a hidden gem.

                      1. re: Bean Counter

                        BC: you are in for a treat by summer's end: David Morse is moving The Bread Garden Bakery from Berkeley down to Paso, into the former location of the Paso Robles Bakery on Park Street. It will be called the 'Paso Robles Bakery'. Look for his signature artisan breads, euro pastries and cookies. Oh, I can hardly believe our good luck! The building permits are being applied for now and he hopes to be open by early fall.

                    2. *Pier 46 Seafood – We had wanted to try Luna Red in SLO but they said dogs aren’t technically allowed on their patio. We thought about Novo but wanted to try some place different. If anyone knows of other Chow-worthy dog friendly places in SLO, please let me know. We ended up at Pier 46 Seafood in Templeton where my husband had a very good seafood quesadilla and I had a yummy lobster roll. Definitely worth a stop!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: PattyC

                        all I can say is- I wish I was your dog! sounds like you had a wonderful time- a trip planned around friends and food!

                        1. re: OldJalamaMama

                          Our dog is pretty spoiled :)

                          We did have a wonderful time and really lucked out with the weather too!

                        2. re: PattyC

                          up by the train station just off Osos is Sally Loo's (Sally is a dog) a coffee house-cafe. Food is ok, a bit pricey ,and the service slow, but you can park out front at a table with your dog. email talk show host Dave Congalton at KVEC radio, he'd know---he's very dog-centric and really gets around the community. It might be a fun topic for his call in segment--where can you eat well, with your favorite pooch?