“I really like having someone who knows about food and what goes well together make a meal for me.” – Alice Waters
Carmel’s eateries offer quite a variety of international, regional and local cuisines. The best ones take advantage of the bounties provided by fishmongers from Monterey Bay and purveyors and farmers from Salinas Valley. They tend to offer a blend of Old World elegance and modern charm with an artistic flair.
We have dined at Lucia for three or four years now. The restaurant was known as Marinus at Bernardus Lodge until the entire Bernardus Lodge went through a major renovation in 2015. Lucia, which got its new name from the nearby Santa Lucia Mountains, is a bit smaller and more intimate (than Marinus) with an elegant but comfortable setting.
Glass walls open up to the fresh air and give the ambiance of dining outside.
Since 1999, the chef at Lucia has been Cal Stamenov. Chef Stamenov’s background includes working under such notable culinary talents as Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Masa Koboiashi, Jean-Louis Palladin and Michel Richard. He also held the position of Executive Chef at the Highlands Inn and Chef de Cuisine of one of my favorite restaurants (but sadly, now closed) the Etoile at Domaine Chandon restaurant in Yountville.
Chef Stamenov has the run of a two-acre organic garden with over 150 fruit trees, heirloom vegetables, three bee boxes for swarms of domestic and wild Italian honey bees and an assortment of Plymouth, Barred Rock, Rhode Island, Speckled Sussex and Ameraucana chickens. I felt fortunate to be able to enjoy some of his creations.
It is our custom to pass plates, or at least tastes, around the table. We all try to pick something different so that everyone can sample more dishes – our version of a tasting menu. Often, by the end of the meal, we share a single dessert because everyone is usually “stuffed!”
This year I started with a Farm Egg & Mushroom Tarte. Wild mushrooms were cooked with prosciutto and caramelized onions in a parmesan flavored red wine jus and were stacked on a slice of tarte pastry. The perfectly cooked egg on top was flavored with flecks of black truffles. I am guessing that the egg came from one of Chef Stamenov’s chickens.
We also enjoyed Sweet Corn Soup that was augmented with a generous scoop of Dungeness crab and flavored with local pasilla peppers.
Crab was also featured in another group favorite – a Dungeness Crab Cake with red pepper remoulade and garnished with pickled vegetables.
We all ordered different entrées – a very good thing since each was a delight. There was really no choice for me – Veal Cheek Confit.
Anytime I see veal or beef cheeks on a menu, I have to order them. They are something that I do not ordinarily cook at home since they are hard to find and need to cook for a really long time (48 hours is the norm!). This veal was so tender that it literally melted in my mouth. The dish included poached potatoes, asparagus, chanterelle mushrooms, radish snap peas and all was spiked with whole grain mustard sauce.
Diver Scallops are always a favorite when properly cooked, and these were. Three giant scallops were perfectly seared and accompanied by sea beans, daikon, pickled pearl onions, and snow peas finished with foamy light coconut-lobster nage. Nage is typically a broth flavored with white wine, vegetables, and herbs. The scallops were a big hit with everyone.
Our pasta lover ordered Pasta Bigoli Pomodoro. Bigoli is a long thick pasta tube traditionally made with buckwheat flour and duck eggs. The pasta was tossed with heirloom cherry tomatoes, black pepper, fresh lemon and basil, bread crumbs and topped with a generous sprinkle of freshly grated parmigiana-reggiano.
Last, but certainly not least, was Colorado Lamb Rib-Eye. The lamb was beautifully browned outside while still pink inside, just as it should be. It was plated on goat cheese polenta and accompanied by ratatouille and kale and sauced with rosemary flavored jus.
Desserts at Lucia are, in a word, incredible. Being a chocoholic, I was immediately drawn to the Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. This was a kind of deconstructed bread pudding composed of croissant “balls”, cocoa nib brittle, candied walnuts, a couple of scoops of miso ice cream and all enriched (as if it needed it) with a rich chocolate sauce.
We also had to try their S’mores Bon Bon which was a clever presentation of house-made graham crackers filled with toasted marshmallow vanilla ice cream and some chocolate thrown in for good measure. Fresh chopped strawberries finished this treat.
Once again, Lucia lived up to our expectations. Yep, we will definitely be back next year. Good food, good wine, good company – what’s not to love?
Images designated with an asterisk (*) were provided by the Bernardus Lodge & Spa