Cantinetta Luca @ Carmel-by-the-sea

Cantinetta Luca Restaurant Review | JustOneCookbook.comDear readers, welcome to the July restaurant review on Just One Cookbook.  Living in the SF bay area, one of the places we visit nearby at least once a year is the Monterey/Carmel region.  The kids love visiting the aquarium, playing in the white sandy beaches of Carmel, and running around in Dennis the Menace Park.  There are also plenty of activities for adults to do, driving on the picturesque 17 mile drive, wine tasting at the various wineries, and strolling down Ocean Avenue and look at what the unique shops have to offer. One gem we discovered in this area about 4 years ago is Cantinetta Luca on Dolores Street.  Back then we had made the reservation on Open Table thinking it’s just another Italian restaurant.  Little did we know we were about to find our FAVORITE restaurant in the entire world, and I am not joking.  Each year as we return to the area, we have to eat at least one of the meals at Cantinetta Luca.  There’s only one word I would use to describe the food there, excellent!  It seems like we’re not alone either, Cantinetta Luca has been voted “Best Restaurant in Carmel” from 2008-2011 by Monterey County Reader’s Poll. cantinetta luca entry and menu As you enter the restaurant, the warm decor makes one feel as though you are in a small bistro somewhere in Italy.  Immediately your attention is drawn to a glass panel to the right, it can’t be….. yes it is, it’s a SALUME room!  Cantinetta Luca makes 5 kinds of salume cured right there in the restaurant.  As you look up, the ceiling is decorate with large dark wooden beams crisscrossing each other.  If you seated in the front part of the restaurant, you can look through the big glass windows and enjoy the Carmel atmosphere with the passers constantly walking by.  For this particular visit, we were seated in the back near the wine cellar (it was quite dark in the back and I didn’t use a flash so the photos didn’t do the food justice).  The ceiling in the back of the restaurant is pretty unique as well, dome shape and lined with red bricks. catinetta luca interior For  the bread service, Cantinetta Luca offers both breadsticks as well regular bread with an olive spread on the side.  Personally I prefer the breadsticks but the bread was very tasty (I think they bake it themselves).  After dining there the first time years ago, Nami and I liked the breadstick so much we figured out how to make our own Parmesan breadsticks at home to enjoy.  The menu is very easy to digest since it’s only one page, but it does offer almost 50 items from antipasti to the main course.  The nice thing about going to the same restaurant time after time is that it give us the option to try different food from the menu.  This time we decided to order all the dishes that we never tried before. For antipasti, we had fried risotto ball with mozzarella and prosciutto, and also the grilled baby octopus.  In addition, we ordered three type of salume of which two were cured on premise, pistachio salame and salame cotto.  The mozzarella balls were so tasty I wish I can share some with all the readers.  They were crispy on the outside with a rich moist risotto and prosciutto mix on the inside.  The prosciutto provided a really nice finish to the mellow risotto flavor.  The octopus was also very good, slightly charred with a kick of spice at end.  It was interesting that the octopus was served with calabrese salame and potatoes.  When you eat all three together, how the flavors and textures mix together was just wonderful. Cantinetta luca antipasti As a personal preference, I really like to try all type of appetizers from a restaurant.  Sometimes when we dine out I would even forgo the entree and order 2-3 additional appetizers instead.  So on top of all the appetizer we had ordered we also added a arugula salad with goat cheese.  I really really don’t like goat milk and goat cheese but Nami loves arugula and beets so we ordered it.  It was the best tasting goat cheese I’ve had, tasting very similar to blue cheese without the gamey aftertaste.  The texture was also very creamy and soft so it contrasted very well with the argula leaves.  For the main course we had the squid ink spaghetti and pappardelle alla bolognese.  The bolognese was done very well, I just wished the portions was slightly larger.  The squid ink spaghetti was superb.  The spaghetti was very firm and flavorful, absorbing all the essence from the seafood broth so it’s like having a bit of ocean in every bite. main course cantinetta luca Every time we go to Cantinetta Luca we always ordered pizza.  Their pizza is phenomenal, the dough is crispy and flavorful with just the perfect balance of salt and carb.  Since we wanted to try something new, we orderd the cornetto (similar to a calzone) this time based on the server’s recommendation and I was really disappointed.  The cornetto has mozzarella and fontina cheese with prosciutto inside a rolled pizza dough with rucola and shaved parmesan on top.  The dish was way too salty and it was difficult to tell what I was eating. At end of the meal, we were satisfied as always and did not have any room for dessert.  If you have a chance to stop by Carmel, I highly recommend Cantinetta Luca.  It is our favorite restaurant after all.

Cantinetta Luca on Urbanspoon

Enjoy It? Share it!

Never miss another new recipe!

Sign up and receive the Just One Cookbook email newsletter.

Disclosure: Just One Cookbook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published - required fields are marked *

  1. Is that the cornetto in the photo? Its a pity the server’s recommendation didn’t work out. Maybe the server was genuine and suggested the food that he likes but he probably has bad taste:)

  2. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, why didn’t we make the trip to Carmel while at SF? It’s such a pleasure reading your restaurant reviews Shen, Nami and you both have a gift with words, I am so looking forward to visiting SF in a few years and finally have a meal with y’all!

  3. One more professional, beautifully written review! I have really enjoyed reading it. Your visitors, who live not far from Carmel are so lucky. I would love to be able to make a reservation there too :-)
    By the risotto balls you probably mean “arancini”. I love arancini, but every time I tried making them, the stuffing step proved very difficult (I tried twice I think and gave up). When they are well made, I know they are fabulous.
    The pizza looks very unusual. I have already seen calzone, but this is completely new. Thanks for this review which made me all dreamy and craving Italian food! Have a great weekend!

  4. What a great review…so well written. My sister in law lived in Carmel for a short period; maybe (hopefully) she knows the restaurant. Ever time I am in Cali I try to swing by SF. The city has a spell on me since the first time I visited and since then…I just have to keep coming back. Next time I’ll try to swing by this restaurant. It seems amazing.
    Just too bad the recommended dish wasn’t good. One would assume that if you recommended it, you’ve tasted it and you’ve loved it. Guess not all taste buttons are the same.

  5. Very well-written review! I really enjoyed reaing it. The way you described the restaurant and the food so interestingly is really praiseworthy!
    Octopus is something I have not tried yet, but would love to! All the dishes look very very tempting. Definitely on my list when we visit there! Have a great day!!

  6. Beautifully captured and written review..I so wish to visit bay area some time, never visited even though I live in the adjoining state.Love the picture of pasta and the breadsticks & risotto balls sound wonderful!

  7. Another wonderful review – you put so much love and care into your review posts – it makes it very special to read and I really get a proper feel for the place you are reviewing. Thanks for taking the time to make it so meaningful.
    :-) Mandy

  8. OMG I love that antipasti plate! Was lucky I had some last Friday when we went out to watch a rugby game at the city with matching wines otherwise I will just droll on yours post.

  9. Nice review Shen!! Your photos turned out great too! We will have to check this place out when we are in Carmel! I love that they have home cured salume & arancini :o)

  10. This is such a thorough review and a pleasure to read. Well done, Shen! I can see why this restaurant is your family’s favorite, the food here is fabulous. Next time, please make room for dessert because I want to see what you guys eat…I can’t help it, I have a sweet tooth!