The Carmel Food Tour was hands-down my favorite activity on my trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Our tour guide, Staci, was so knowledgeable about the area and had a great, dry sense of humor. (If you take this tour, see if you can request Staci as your guide!) We stopped at seven places to wine and dine, and each restaurant’s chef was kind enough to greet us and talk a little about their restaurant and philosophy.
Here were our stops in order (list and descriptions via CarmelFoodTour.com):
- Anton & Michel: Modern European with signature tableside service
- Affina Food | Wine: Adult comfort food – fresh, hip, & local
- Casanova Restaurant: Carmel’s most romantic restaurant, 34,000-bottle wine cellar
- Trio Carmel: Trio = olive oil/vinegar, art and wine!
- Terry’s Lounge at the Historic Cypress Inn: Classic cocktails and old world charm
- Caraccioli Cellars: Elegant, local wines
- Lula’s Chocolates: Locally-made confections, family owned for more than 100 years
We met outside the Sunset Center, which is Carmel’s hub for entertainment. They bring $1 million worth of acts to the stage every year, including dance, comedy, music, theater, and even Bollywood shows. A big renovation in recent years has made the Sunset Center’s acoustics nearly flawless, so people come from all over to see shows there.
Our first stop on the tour was Anton & Michel, where we had Kobe short rib over polenta paired with a rosé pinot noir. The restaurant was recently renovated and it is absolutely beautiful.
Next, we visited Affina. It had a modern rustic interior and an open kitchen concept. Chef James talked about how having a small space challenges him to use the freshest ingredients he can find since he doesn’t have the space to freeze or store things long-term.
Here we tasted a salad of local tomatoes, basil, and burrata cheese from Di Stefano Cheese. It was AMAZING. Almost everyone on the tour threw caution to the wind and finished the whole thing, even though we were supposed to save room for the rest of the tour. The wine was a viognier from Le P’tit Paisan.
Between stops, Staci talked a bit about some of the charming buildings around downtown Carmel, like this one, which looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale. There are many like this all around town, giving the city a unique charm.
Then was Casanova, which is said to be the most romantic restaurant in Carmel. Like pretty much everything else in town, it’s incredibly charming and picturesque.
Casanova served us my favorite meal of the day. We started with crispy breadsticks with tapenade for dipping, and the main event was gnocchi. But it wasn’t like any gnocchi I’d ever had before – in fact, it wasn’t even made with potatoes. It was French-style, made from spinach pâte à choux (a light dough). It was smothered in cheese sauce and baked in individual dishes. I ate every bite.
Our next visit adventure was olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting at Trio Carmel, including an unexpectedly tasty spritzer of balsamic and soda water as well as green chile olive oil drizzled over vanilla bean gelato from Salumeria Luca. Yeah. I know. It was wicked.
Terry’s Restaurant & Lounge inside the Cypress Inn – famously dog-friendly and owned by Doris Day! – welcomed us with something a little different to drink: a classic old-fashioned instead. I don’t typically go for drinks from the whiskey family, but I must admit, I liked this one. The old-fashioned was served – and color-coordinated! – with an African-spiced meatball.
One of my favorite stops on this tour was Carraccioli Cellars, which is famous for sparkling wine, or as they called it, “bubbles”. I love any excuse to drink sparkling wine or champagne, so this was right up my alley. We had the distinct pleasure of trying a brut cuvée as well as a non-bubbly pinot noir. I really loved the crisp, dry, refreshing brut cuvée, and even thought about taking a bottle home with me. But then I remembered I already had to cram two other bottles into my tiny carry-on sized suitcase. Womp womp.
We then arrived – alas – at our final destination, Lula’s Chocolates. We’d all been raving about Lula’s ever since receiving a Carmel-themed gift basket in advance of this trip that included a gift box of several sea salt caramels WHICH WERE AMAZING. Truly delicious and worth ordering online, if you and your waistline dare.
I am so grateful that I got to have this amazing food experience in Carmel. There is not much I enjoy more than food, drink, and learning new things, and to be able to do all three at once and in such a beautiful setting? Well, I consider myself very lucky.