Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cruising Carmel

is known for many things – Pebble Beach, great food, expensive homes, and its dog-friendly appeal. The cool thing about Carmel is you can drop your car and not need it for the weekend. The street grid, one square mile by one square mile, has everything you need: lodging, food, shopping, wine tasting, the beach and more. Sure there are a few sights that require a brief drive like Point LobosCarmel Mission, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but you can come to Carmel and literally not drive for days.

The old world charm of Carmel draws people from across the globe and one of the novelties is that there are not any addresses, seriously. Directions are given as: “on 7th between San Carlos and Delores,” or, “the northwest corner of Ocean Ave.,” but the town is immensely walkable. Known for shopping, there are plenty of clothing stores, a few antique stores and tons of art galleries. The best is the Carmel Art Association; a co-op of 120 talented artists all of whom live within a 30-mile radius. The association was founded in 1927 and you will find oil and pastel paintings, wood and ceramic sculpture and whatever an artist dreams up. Artists bring in new works on the first Wednesday of each month, ensuring a constant rotation. 

Wrath Tasting Room
Wine tasting rooms have exploded in the tiny hamlet and Caraccioli Cellars is located right downtown. Their focus is sparkling wine and they are one of the few to make sparklers in the entire county. Their wines range in price from $20 to $57, and tasting fees start at $5 and head to $15. And Caraccioli is one of the few places open later (Carmel is notorious for rolling up their sidewalks early) so you can sample a sparkler from Pinot Noir of Chardonnay before or even after dinner! Wrath Wines too has a tasting room in Carmel Plaza and pours mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made by the crazy talented Sabrine Rodems. And there are at least half a dozen other tasting venues, so go explore.
The pristine white sand of the Carmel City Beach is dog friendly too. As you stand at the water’s edge to your right is Pebble Beach, to your left is Point Lobos. It’s often best to walk down to the beach as the parking during peak times is congested. However, if you walk, remind yourself that you need to head back uphill all the way to town (Carmel is built on an angle), but it’s a good workout.

The Carmel City Beach
For a fabulous meal, consider Mundaka, a tapas restaurant styled in the Spanish motif in a casual, informal environment, something a little unusual for Carmel’s white table cloth dining venues. Chef Brandon Miller creates a terrific diversity of small plates like the Galleta (fried quail eggs on top of a biscuit and iberico gravy), and Coliflor, which is blanched cauliflower topped with a gratin of pureed cauliflower, horseradish,  gruyere cheese then baked, resulting in deftly prepared crowns, soft but with an al dente crispness to them. But my favorite, much to my surprise, were the Hamburguesa; lamb sliders with a slice of pickled cauliflower, with string-thin French fries. The lamb is delicately counterbalanced with the slightly tart cauliflower, creating an earthy tang. To wrap up the Pan Chocolate is, in essence, a fudge-like bar of chocolate with an immense amount of pure cocoa, topped with sea salt and drizzled with a wee bit of olive oil.

Breakfast at Em Le's
For breakfast consider Em Le’s, the hole-in-the-wall which first opened in 1955 and still provides big breakfasts. The space is small but the large omelets will ensure that you’re full for a long time. It is mainly a locals place and that’s really half the fun. Bistro Beaujolais hints at French overtones including crepes, French onion soup and Croque Madam. Inexpensively priced it’s a fine stop for lunch inside the Carmel Plaza, the only outdoor mall in the city limits.
Hofsas House

End your days at the family-owned Hofsas House, a terrific dog-friendly hotel. I’ve stayed here many times and the 4th floor rooms with Dutch doors are the best with their views across the Cypress trees to the Pacific Ocean. The rooms are large, a few antiques scattered about and it’s comfortable and casual allowing you to relax. They have a year-round heated outdoor pool, a European dry sauna and an informal continental breakfast available in the lobby of coffee, yogurt and pastries. There is wireless access, and it’s an easy four block walk to the town core. They accommodate lots of large gatherings like family reunions and clubs, and have a dedicated building for just this kind of thing. And they have their own parking lot. That might seem like a non-mention, but many hotels in Carmel don’t have one. In fact on my last visit one of the premier properties (with no parking lot) meant that the Lamborghini was parked on the street! Carmel is expensive but Hofsas House is reasonably priced with seasonal rates averaging $150 to $170.