I just completed an absolutely heavenly two week stay on the Monterey Peninsula. Here is a rundown of the mostly good and some bad experiences we had.
-Rosines: delicious cake, upbeat family style atmosphere, one slice is more than enough decadence for two
-Zoccalos: above average Mexican food
-Monterey's Fish House: okay clam chowder
-Rio Grill: okay for lunch, I know this place was a hot spot in the early nineties
-Casanova: If you care one iota for your taste buds, STAY AWAY FROM THIS TOURIST TRAP! Went here to celebrate my mom's birthday with my family. The food was just plain bad. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the likes of Jardiniere, Chez Panisse, and Ozumo on recent trips to the Bay Area...but what can I say? I kept on looking for reasons why my meal wasn't lousy but between the gristly meat inside my cannelloni and the nondescript accompanying sauces- I was just plain diappointed. Only two people in our party of five found the food to be acceptable. The prix fixe of supposedly three courses ranges from between $30 and $50. The first course is just a small plate of pickled vegetables and bread for the table to share. Nothing tasted fresh, and for some weird reason, they sprinkle huge hunks of kosher salt all over everything. Despite the bizarre and almost unpalatable cuisine, the atmosphere is absolutely romantic and very Carmel. The atmosphere was spoiled, however, by a tantrum throwing toddler that was seated at the table next to us while she was ignored by her rude parents. I felt really bad for all the couples who were celebrating special occasions who had to put up with "romper room" two feet away. Next time for a special dinner we are heading to Bernardus or Sierra Mar. You couldn't pay me to eat at Casanova again. My biggest regret is not walking out after seeing the first course, because everything went downhill from there.
-La Boheme: Adorable themed setting. Although it is more cute and quaint than many other Carmel tourist traps, the food here holds it's own. Our party of five enjoyed our filet mignon. This is one of the better places to eat dinner in downtown Carmel, although service can be inconsistent.
-Il Fornaio: We kept on coming back here for their fantastic cafe and light breakfast. Reasonably priced and a good spot for people watching.
-Tita's Mexican Cafe: Okay Mexican food, not as good as Zoccalos. There is a cheeseburger entree on the menu. Horchata was better than most, delicious salsa. Inconsistent service, items were being placed on our table that we didn't order.
-Red House Cafe: We had a lovely lunch here, all of our menu items were tasty. Baked goods were very fresh. Big minus: They sat our party of four at a table for two. We were uncomfortable sitting so jammed together. Yes, this is a popular place- but this table was so small I would of rather ate somewhere else in comfort.
-Pattiserie Bechler: I love this place!!! Fine french bakery and a pleasant spot for lunch in an unpretentious and relaxing setting. Cannot get enough of their pear tart and all of their soups are excellent. You can't go wrong here.
-Esalen: Wow. Reminiscent of camp in a hippie commune/paradise sort of way. The food is all you can eat and not the kind of cuisine I usually partake in. Despite this, the food here is just plain amazing. Many of the fruits and veggies come straight out of the garden on the grounds. Almost all ingredients are organic. I asked one of the chefs why the food at Esalen is so delicious in light of the remote location. He responded, "Because its made with love". After eating the food, I will have to agree. We had delicious carrot soup, scrumptious salads, a marvelous fish lasagna with out any pasta in it. All breads are baked on site.
To eat here, you have to be staying here or taking a workshop. The food alone is worth it.