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Jun 26, 2012 08:43 PM

Mundaka in Carmel

Earlier this month, Mom and I headed to Carmel to check out Mundaka. We had a sunny table by the side windows. It was interesting watch the shadows change as the sun went down, don’t know if the Transit of Venus impacted that.

The menu of tapas is quite extensive. We were told that it changes two or three times a week to reflect the seasons and local availability. We held onto one at the table, ordering a couple dishes at a time to test the waters.

I asked for cider, but sadly, was informed that no one’s importing Spanish ciders now. So, a glass of Cava for attitude adjustment.

The first dish, fresh softshell crab with slaw and foie gras aioli, turned out to be my favorite of the meal. Delicate batter, juicy and sweetly fresh crab, napped with luxuriously rich aioli, and a few fried potatoes, what’s not to like? The lightly dressed, crisp shreds of cabbage, radicchio and arugula had just the right zing to refresh the palate after each over-the-top bite of the crab.

The complementary Pa amb Tomàquet (tomato bread) was better than most other places that charge too much for their inferior offering. I loved the crunch of the Maldon salt.

This year’s asparagus season peaked late, and these grilled spears seized the moment. Cooked just enough to bring out the natural sweetness, the little bit of char on the asparagus was amplified by the nutty, smoky romesco sauce.

The scallop ceviche was the one real miss of the meal, despite the generous portion. The seriously overcooked soba noodles broke apart and the sweet bay scallops deserved more acidic lift and curing power, as well as salt. We did enjoy the very fresh greens and peas swabbed in the avocado cream and shellfish vinaigrette.

Fatty liver made a second appearance that at the time I thought would be my final taste of Sonoma foie gras. Seared and accompanied with beet gastrique and banana brulee, the puddle of bright yellow fat plus the beet red squiggle of sauce and curvilinear banana provided abstract art elements to frame the composition. Visually striking from this angle,
yet quite unappetizing when viewed from this perspective, the way it was placed in front of me at the table.

To my taste, this slab of foie was over-seared, verging on burnt and bitter. And the red core was inedible, cold, and oozing bloody raw. Yet this was a large piece for the price ($19.50), big enough to make some allowances and eat around the faults. The gastrique suffered from not enough acid to balance the richness of the dish and ended up tasting muddy. The brulee’d banana was just weird, a giant piece of neutral tasting filler plopped on the plate. Best part was the golden fat, and I requested some plain bread to capture all of it.

For dessert, Ginger cake drizzled with creme fraiche, pillowy and deep with spice.

Mundaka’s event calendar indicated live music starting at 7pm. However, the musician had not appeared by the time we left at 7:30. Perhaps he was on Spanish time. We were entertained instead by flickering movie projected on dining room wall

Our bill was presented in a red-labeled repro of an old time tinned seafood can. While this meal was not without fault, we agreed that tab of $87, inclusive, was fair value. Some slips in prep, but the ingredients were all pristine. I’m sure we’ll be back.

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  1. Chowhound sent us here a year ago and it is funny to think about now because of a planned trip to Barcelona, we felt we needed to learn something about tapas and make any menu choice mistakes when we could at least explain ourselves in English.

    Now after doing several tapas crawls up and down the pedestrian streets in Barcelona and seeing variation of tapas restaurants opening all around our own home town, this first intro now seems so quaint. And even more remarkably I now realize that oddly named dish as the Ahwanhee Hote two years ago that l I had to have explained -- papas bravas -- was even the Ahwanhee getting into the tapas act.

    But even after our forays in Barcelona, we still remember out first formal tapas intro at Mundaka as one of the best - and esp their take on --papas braves.

    And what we now call "Barcelona Bread" ( Pa'amb) with our fresh home grown tomatoes halved and smeared across some rustic olive oil dripped toasted rustiq white bread is now my quick and dirty last minute appetizer. A few brushes of a cut garlic clove and a wee sprinkle of Trapani salt and simplicity itself.

    And hats off to Melanie for putting us on to that tapas "chain" restaurant Lizarran in Gilroy's old city hall for a highway 101 break when heading north. (Now closed I hear)

    1 Reply
    1. re: glbtrtr

      You're welcome. I started this thread since Mundaka is recommended so often and this will make it easy to find its history on the site. Hopefully it will be evergreen with chowhounds adding their impressions and keeping it updated. The menu has many choices and changes frequently, so it is a never-ending task to keep up. Nice work if you can get it.

    2. I ate here two nights ago based on several Chow recommendations and was pleasantly surprised. We ordered 5 dishes
      - foie gras with caramelized banana and yellow beet gastrique
      - white anchovies in some type of citrus oil emulsion
      - croquettes
      - cauliflower gratin
      - soft shell crab

      Our favorite dish of the night was the anchovies. A beautiful yet simple and elegant dish. Probably a total of 5 ingredients. We could have eaten this every night. I dare anybody who says they don't like anchovies to try this dish blindfolded. The flavors were bright, bold and amazing. The fish itself was very delicate and clean. No fishy smell or taste whatsoever complimented perfectly with a bright, sour, fresh sauce.

      The only dish that disappointed was the croquettes. The horse radish and beef flavors didn't mesh very well. We found the texture to be a little off putting. Too mushy.

      Crab was delicious. It was paired with a little salad of cabbage, carrots and tomatoes. The salad had a nice little kick and there was some type of remoulade on top of the crab which paired nicely. Once you got a bite with everything it had a good interplay between flavors and textures.

      The foie gras was my 2nd favorite dish of the night. It was certainly and interesting take on the dish. The caramelized banana added a nice touch of sweetness to the rich foie gras. Well seared and happy that might have been my last taste of foie in CA.

      The cauliflower gratin was very nice. Much better than the same type of dish at Mozza. The cauliflower maintained its structure and wasn't all mush. The cheese had a sharpness and bite that was much better than some of the tamer cheeses we usually find in gratin.

      A great find. The owner was very friendly. We brought out 20 month old and this was a very child friendly restaurant. They had plastic cups and high chairs (which isn't necessarily a given these days).

      1 Reply
      1. re: js76wisco

        Thanks for posting. If we'd had room to eat more, I would have ordered the boquerones (white anchovies) too. You and I are lucky that we could be there during softshell crab season and before legal foie gras goes away.

        I liked the casual and broken-in ambiance of the place. Good to know that even high chairs are available.

      2. I think Mundaka continues to be one of the best price to quality values in Carmel.

        Recently I was able to try the latest incarnations of their two offshoots, Barmel and Mundaka Cafe. Mundaka Cafe has been around in some form or another for more than a year but kept tweaking their format and never really seemed to hit its stride. A few weeks ago Monterey Bagel Company started up in there selling bagels, cream cheeses and a few bagel sandwiches. We tried a deliciously oozy chorizo/egg sandwich for breakfast and you can't beat the price of $5. Currently only open Tuesday through Sunday for breakfast and lunch til they can find more help.

        1. Barmel is located where the former Ody's Tavern used to be. It's also been around for a few months under various names (the sign by the sidewalk still says High Tide) and recently started serving lunch and dinner. Our first attempt to eat there resulted in them bringing over Mundaka food as the kitchen was closed due to some permitting issue. Today's lunch attempt was more successful and we were treated to some upscale comfort food which until now I hadn't realized was missing in Carmel though some good competition may be coming when Carmel Belle starts serving dinner. My husband and I shared the shrimp bisque, pork sandwich and fried confit chicken. We enjoyed it so much we plan to go back and try everything on the menu which is the same for lunch and dinner. Portions were generously sized too.

          2 Replies
          1. re: PattyC

            We've been back to Barmel twice now. The sauce on the mussels caused us to dump all of our fries in to sop up every little bit. The noodles in today's ramen were slightly overcooked but it was otherwise delicious. Better and cheaper than ramen night at Crema. Between Mundaka Cafe, Barmel and Mundaka, we may just start living in this little courtyard ;)

            1. re: PattyC

              I've noticed a gradual shift in their menu toward more traditional bar food recently. I passed by yesterday and checked out the current menu. Gone are the ramen, confit fried chicken, mussels, etc. Still on the menu are the pork sandwich, burger (which is supposed to be very good but I've yet to try), tacos, quesadilla and they added chili. This is disappointing and I'm hoping to see a reversal in this trend!