While visiting Monterey, I stumbled upon a local food tour of Carmel. I really didn’t know much about Carmel but thought since I was traveling for Food & Wine it was the perfect fit to my foodie weekend. The Carmel Food Tours is one you don’t want to miss!
Let me say, once I arrived in Carmel, you quickly see why this town is so special. It’s like an old village preserved in time with small specialty shops lining the cobblestone sidewalks. It truly has an artistic charm that is so inviting.
The tour started in the Carmel Plaza and progressed over 3 hours to 7 different food or wine venues. While walking, Staci (our guide) stopped us to share some history of special areas and show us some of the hidden gems among the city. All these “secret” pathways and gardens tucked back into narrow passages.
The tours are small in size, ours had 9 and everyone quickly gets to know each other and leave as foodie friends.
Our first stop was the cheese shop at Carmel Plaza. We got a little cheese education and a side of witty humor from our guide. We sampled 3 different cheeses – My favorite was the Barber’s Chedar from England. There really was so many to sample, you could literally spend all day eating cheese and drinking wine. (sounds perfect to me)
Next stop: Cassanova Carmel, “the most romantic place in Carmel”. It looks like a small charming house from the outside but once you walk in, it opens up into this maze with room after room and can actually hold up to 200 patrons. The décor is just beautifully done and feels like you are being transported back into an old Italian Farmhouse. One very special place in this restaurant is the “Van Gough” experience where you have the chance to dine at the very table Vincent Van Gough ate his final meal of his life in a small room made to replicate his old farm house. A truly one of a kind experience. We were able to sample one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, Spinach Gnocci, made from cream puff dough. It was simply incredible. I certainly could’ve finished off the whole plate myself!
We then proceeded to the Salumeria Luca, an Italian Delicatessen and sampled preium slices accompanied by a fantastic local wine.
On to the Bountiful Basket, where we learned about oils and vinegars. We got to do a tasting of different oils and also the owners very own “OMG!” flavored vinegars. They are rightly named as most everyone said, “OMG! These are so good!” after tasting them.
Next, a trip to a European Style Café, La Bicyclette where we were treated with wood fired pizzas. My favorite was the butternut with an amazing cheese (I can’t remember which kind) and topped with Arugula and Sage. Simply Delicious. Staci tells us they are always switching up the menus and it never gets old. They also do everything as close to scratch as possible, that means churning their own butters, making the breads and even receiving their meat and fish whole to ensure it is fresh and meets the standards of the restaurant!
Following all that food, we needed to wash it down with a bit of wine at Figge Cellars, where we listened to the winemaker talk about the growing region and how by only making small batches from small plots, he has more control of how his grapes are grown. This translates into fantastic wine, but still at a very reasonable cost.
We ended our day at Lula’s Chocolates for truffles and warm goodbyes. We arrived as strangers and left as friends. It was truly an amazing way to spend a morning in such a charming city. That leaves you then with the whole afternoon to wander around to all the places you saw during the tour and shop to your hearts content!