From San Francisco, Kemey and I headed out en route to San Diego along the pull over picturesque Pacific Coast Highway. The stretch of PCH hugging the curved, cragged and undulant coast from Monterrey Bay through Big Sur was a particularly wondrous to behold. Nestled snug in the wooded seaside splendour among all this scenic beauty is tiny Carmel-by-the-Sea, the first stop of our road trip.
Friends with Chef Patron Emanuele Bartolini and his wife and co-restaurateur Anna Abney Bartolini (she’s a high school friend of mine from back home in Georgia), we were keen to drop by their restaurant La Balena for an evening of heavy duty catching up (it’d been years) and luscious dining.
From La Balena’s cucina Toscana, Italian born Emanuele creates “Cali Itali” style dishes from scratch with an intense focus on sourcing local ingredients. Considering the bounty of yum grown within even a 50-mile radius of the restaurant, this seems more like a no-brainer than a noble cause. Whatever the case, Chef Bartolini should be applauded for his menu. Dishes change daily but the biggest hit (perhaps suggesting some Georgia sway from Anna), is the pollo fritto (fried Arborio-crusted organic chicken from Fogline Farm). It’s a menu mainstay, available every Sunday and Tuesday. Fresh handmade pasta is always guaranteed as well as all sorts of seafood dishes.
The wine list demonstrates a similar commitment to featuring what’s best from nearby. We loved the wines during our visit. Of particular note were two quaffs from Monterrey County:
2015 Pétillant Naturel, Carmel Valley, Monterrey County from Albatross Ridge
A light and naturally fizzy rosé Pinot Noir with a pomegranate profile that’s easy to drink and an ideal aperitif
… and …
2014 Chardonnay Braff Vineyard, Big Sur Monterrey County from Sense of Place
A rich white with tropical fruit nose and bright and mineral flavour, this wine would be a smart pairing with a range of fish and seafood dishes (and, thus, a wise one to consider at La Balena with its variety of seafood specialties).
Just a short stroll from the beach, La Balena a relaxed and charming place. When you go, try to dine al fresco – and see about reserving the table underneath the massive and ancient tree spanning from the far corner of the property (if former mayor Clint Eastwood or visiting stars such as Rob Lowe haven’t already booked this preferred seating).
Reservations are highly recommended.
Emanuele and Anna also own Il Grillo. Maybe a minute’s walk from La Balena, this newer eatery offers a more trattoria-like experience with similar ethos to sister site, La Balena.
Quail Lodge & Golf Club
Though we dined in town and by-the-Sea, we dropped our bags and enjoyed a most restful night’s sleep out in Carmel Valley at Quail Lodge.
With a low profile in a magnificent rural setting designed around an 18-hole golf course, the quiet lodge was a tranquil retreat. Both Kemey and I wished we’d had at least another night there before hitting the road. The bit of time we spent lounging in our room and warming our toes by the fireplace or admiring the view of the pond and attractive grounds from our balcony was too short.
But hitting the road is just what we did. And wow! What a hit that road (twisted and) turned out to be! Cruising along the Central Coast section of the PCH yielded some the most memorable memories from our trip – the more of our California Tiki Tour & More, if you will.
Go to visitcalifornia.co.uk for ideas about designing your own tour of California.
Stay tuned for more in my series of posts about my California tiki tour.