Dear 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.