After a slow and spectacular drive up the 1 we arrived in Carmel Valley in time for a shower and a bottle of Moet & Chandon white star in the room and a 9:30 reservation at Tarpy's Road House. While a couple arrived after we did we were certainly aware that we were keeping the kitchen and bar up. The main dining room was darkened well before we finished our meal, but our waiter was cordial and didn't rush us at all. We were seated, incidentally, in the front room, which a previous poster had advised against, but we were perfectly comfortable.
We both had very good wood-oven grilled Castroville artichokes stuffed with tomatoes and served with an ancho chile sauce and a side of a pesto aioli. He had lamb and I had antelope and both were served in essentially the same overly sweet wine reduction. He had a weak drink (it may have been a margarita on the rocks) and a glass of the David Bruce petit syrah and I am sure I must have had a pinot but for the life of me I can't remember.
The meal was ok but as my friend remarked the overall impression was Wolfgang Puck does Saddle Peak Lodge. Kind of pre-fabbed, kind of kitschy. But for a decent meal close to hand at the end of a day of driving it was not a bad choice.
Another spot I wouldn't recommend for food especially but really liked as a casual patio to sit and regroup between activities over a bite and a sip was the Running Iron Restaurant and Saloon on Carmel Valley Road right in the village. Our trail ride guide at Holman Ranch recommended it for lunch on Friday and we were glad we took her advice. I had another artichoke, too cold, and a cobb salad with an odd Kraft-style (red) French dressing, and he had a decent hamburger.
We had a 9 pm reservation that night at Marinus where we enjoyed the best meal of the entire holiday (not surprisingly). The room was really very comfortable, with a fireplace and a bank of windows that would surely make it a very pleasant place for lunch as well. The interiors reminded me a bit of a warmer Ritz-Carlton Huntington. I decided to forego a main course in favor of three appetizer courses, and started with a porcini soup with truffle oil and melted fois gras. Need I say more? It was richer than butter, and could have doubled as a sauce for just about anything as far as I was concerned-- scallops, veal, ice cream.... I used my finger in the bowl.
Course two was a generous lobe of fois gras with toasts and what fruit I am now forgetting for me while my friend had an astonishing fork-tender veal chop. We were both very impressed by the restraint and confidence evident in the presentations. I finished with a few carmel bay spot prawns which were closer in texture and flavor to amaebi than to any cooked shrimp I've ever had. I know that was a weird decision but I thought it was served on a bed of greens and meant to make it my salad course. He had a baked alaska that our server warned him would be very tart and lemony but neglected to mention was also an Italian rather than a French meringue, which rather makes it another dessert altogether as far as I'm concerned.
We had a $38 (!) Albert Boxler pinot noir which was really quite fine. I'd picked up a couple bottles at the Wine House before and thought it was a very respectable wine for the price.
The next day we were heading to Big Sur.