Thursday, May 4, 2000
There is little room for doubt that the evolution of Carmel Valley as a dining destination is a fait accompli. Between nibbles of savory white beans pureed with fruity olive oil and rosemary, spread onto crispy crostini--the yummy lets-get-you-in-the-mood-to-dine pre-course at Corkscrew Cafe--my dining companion agreed with my assessment. "In a couple of years," I predicted, "this will be like Napa''s French Laundry. It''ll take six months to get a reservation." Thoroughly engaged with consuming what should have been my ration of beans, he nodded enthusiastically.
Did anyone doubt? Doubtful. The Georis family''s track record has long been established with legions of fans of the Carmel dining landmark, Casanova. Take the same aesthetic approach--the artist''s skill and use of color and whimsy to create a rustic, appealing interior showing off an amazing collection of every kind of corkscrew imaginable--plunk it down in beautiful Carmel Valley, back it up against a courtyard that spills forth fountains and flowers and an old adobe-turned-tasting room that pours the family label, plant a big organic garden to supply the restaurant with fresh-as-they-come vegetables; snag a highly talented chef--and then start cooking.
That''s pretty much what happened. The concept is ultra-cool, and turning it into reality is even better. But we''re from Missouri and we came for our supper, and indeed, we ate. Always a sucker for pate and fat content be damned, I was double-pleased at the duck and pistachio pate, garnished as it was with little cornichons, Dijon mustard and grilled bread ($6.95). My dining companion continued to nod his approval as he sailed through a jumbo baked organic artichoke, filled with sauteed fennel, onions, bread crumbs and lemon zest ($6.95). We washed it all down with glasses of Pomerol Bordeaux (pricey but good at $9.25) and vowed to take up French before we departed the earth. The wine list is generous, with almost every locally produced wine represented, along with selections from Italy and France.
Pressing on, I was thrilled to hear that zarzuela was one of the featured specials. This Spanish-inspired seafood soup was redolent with red peppers and garlic, heaped with mussels, clams, calamari in a deeply flavorful broth, and accompanied by a wedge of sea bass, cooked separately. Pure palate pleasure, $23. My companion happily double-dosed himself with fennel, this time mixed with spinach and stuffing a pancetta-wrapped trout fillet, sauced in caper brown butter and served with roasted red potatoes ($17.25). We were too stuffed to proceed to dessert, although the aged goat cheese with honey and seasoned walnuts caught my eye as did the strawberry-rhubarb crisp with lavender ice cream, both $6.
This is a necessarily small menu by design. The harvest from the garden will go a long way in determining each day''s offerings, which, when you think about it, is a wonderful way to eat. As well as celebrating organically grown produce, you''ll also find only hormone-free Niman Ranch meat in Chef Wendy Little''s kitchen. The day we visited, the soup of the day was split pea with wild boar bacon--just to underscore the point that although the selection of small and large plates numbers only 10, there''s plenty of breadth. Throw in some interesting sides like the roasted celery root, onion, carrots and parsnip casserole ($4.50) and braised Swiss chard with currants and pine nuts ($4.25) and you''ll find there are a number of ways to dine from this menu--and, you will want to dine from this menu. Preferably, while you can still get a table.
Address 55 W. Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley Village, 659-8888
Hours:StarringDinner, 5-9:30pm Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday; 5-10pm Friday and Saturday.
Average cost dinner for two: $40