We love Carmel and Carmel food — let’s just say that we have had incredible dining experiences during our visits there (be sure to read our write-up on Basil from our last visit – the chef is a real hoot)!
Carmel (often called Carmel-by-the-Sea) has a quaint downtown area brimming with cafes, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and shops. Ready to explore the Carmel food scene with us? While we weren’t there long enough to create an official foodie guide of the area, let’s explore three fabulous restaurants we were invited to dine at, all of which are worth adding to your “must try” list.
The Downtown Carmel Food Scene
I decided to start with Grasings, largely because I noticed Grasings on my previous two visits to Carmel and always thought: “I love the ambiance and warmth that exudes from this place.”
This Carmel food gem sits on the corner of 6th and Mission in downtown Carmel and regardless of what time of year, its warm glowing energy will draw you in from the street. Locals talk about its history and their memories of dining here, and they especially note it as the perfect spot to kick an evening off with drinks at their social bar.
I couldn’t pass up their Heirloom tomato salad (below) which they serve with Burrata cheese, peach puree and pickled onions – oh so yum! If you love tarts, then you may want to try the Kurt’s Four Onion Tart with a grilled fennel sauce (sounds heavenly right?), aged balsamic glaze and toasted leek rings.
Anthony had to try their mussels, which they serve in a unique cider simmered with apples and bacon (yes, please). Truth be told, it would have been better paired with a Belgian ale but we went for big bold reds throughout the night. Cabs from Napa of course.
Their wine menu is top notch at Grasings and because every bottle of red jumped out at me, we decided to go with steaks rather than fish, although seafood lovers will love the fact that they have a farm raised Monterey Bay red abalone prepared dore style and an Ahi Tuna Tartare, both on the appetizer menu. Want comfort food? They’ve even got a Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese offering as well as Dungeness Crab Cakes, which in hindsight, I wished we ordered.
Other seafood offerings include entrees Herb Crusted Sea Bass with white beans, bacon, spinach, shitake and oven dried tomatoes, as well as a Pepper Seared Ahi Tuna, Wild-caught prawns over angel hair pasta and a Paella. What appears to draw people to this historical restaurant however is the steak.
Their grilled USDA PRIME Nebraska steaks are served with sauteed veggies and potatoes. From Filet Mignon, Skirt Steak and Kansas City steak to Rib Eye, Veal Chop and New York Steak, there are plenty of choices. We opted for the New York Steak (a 12 ounce cut) and the Filet Mignon — how can you go wrong? And whoah, those delicious onion rings were to die for!
Dessert was equally divine, especially if you love chocolate and creme brulee. Two thumbs up and we would so happily return!
6th Street & Mission
Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923
Visit their website for more information and to see their latest menu.
Anton & Michel
Charming Anton & Michel is another Carmel food gem in the downtown area; in fact it’s a stone’s throw from Grasings and Flaherty’s. It’s all about romance in this established venue with its fountains and fireplaces, all of which add to the chic, sophisticated and romantic vibe.
A warm dining room, candles and a large glass window that faces water will set the mood, whether it’s for a special occasion or a weekend evening out with your sweetheart. We also saw families eating here and I could easily see it being a popular business dinner spot as well.
Incredible starters include the Wild Mushroom Risotto with garlic, chives and white truffle oil, a Seasonal Ravioli, Baked Spinach and Potato Gnocchi in a gorgonzola cream sauce, a Duck Pate with Brie, Shrimp Spring Rolls and a Hawaiian Tuna Tartare.
Given the abundance of Abalone on the Carmel menus, I had to give it a try. Here, they prepare it with a pickled ginger salad and a caper beurre blanc sauce — the presentation is beautiful as well.
Traditional onion soup is one of Anthony’s favorite starters, so how could we pass it up at this Carmel food bistro that touts all things French? If you want to stay on the lighter side, they have several salads, including a traditional Endive and Watercress with goat cheese and toasted almonds, a Chilled Iceberg Wedge with bacon bits and gorgonzola and a Roasted Beets and Arugula salad with toasted walnuts and feta cheese, which in hindsight, I wished we had tried.
Because the restaurant is more classic and traditional (on the edge of Old World), there were plenty of steak and red meat offerings. I had to try the Maple Leaf Duck Breast (I’d suggest ordering a bottle as the wine pairings by the glass were somewhat limited), which the chefs prepare in a sun dried cherry sauce, and serve it with grilled asparagus, roasted peppers, sweet potato and green onion mash. It was heavenly.
Anthony ordered the American Kobe Beef Short Ribs (guinness-hoisin braised), topped with tobacco onions and red bliss mashed potatoes. They also offered a Prime New York Steak in a green peppercorn-brandy sauce with garlic string beans, a Black Angus Filet Mignon with wild mushrooms and a Rack of Lamb in a citrus-port sauce, with oven-roasted vegetables and bacon-leek potato gratin.
Not a read meat fan? Then go for the Paella Valenciana with clams, mussels, shrimp, chicken, chorizo and peas, their Garlic-Herb Roasted Chicken Breast with root vegetables ragout and spinach gnocchi, their Seared Rainbow Trout with artichoke à la grecque, or the Honey-Thyme Glazed Salmon with oven-roasted cauliflower and peppers, topped with a lemon-scented jasmine rice.
For desserts, they offered a sea salt and caramel crème brûlée and a lemon tarte as well as a decadent chocolate truffle torte with a raspberry coulis (shown below) and a Pineapple Polenta cake with vanilla ice cream.
They also do a fun Crepes Suzette, Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee for two or more. One of the managers decided that we had to try it as if we had any more room to taste more. Just when you think you can’t take another bite, a luscious offering comes your way. OMG – it was fabulous and I’d strongly recommend it!
Here’s a short video I shot of the experience.
Carmel by the Sea, CA 93921
Flaherty’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar
If there’s an oyster bar in town, it’s hard for me to say no, so when we were invited to dine and our evenings had already filled up, I thought — what about lunch? Because the restaurant is divided into two sections — a more casual area with a TV and bar, and a more formal dining area on the other side of a cute alleyway, we experienced the more more casual side of Flaherty’s over lunch, which is where locals hang out.
It’s been around for years and the owner Kenneth Spilfogel still sticks around — in fact, he’s part of the furniture and has a warm smile that makes you feel like you’re dining among family.
We had to start with oysters of course (they included Kumamoto from CA, Fanny Bay fromo BC & Blue Point from VA) but Kenneth also wanted us to try their fresh Dungeness Crab Cocktail and their chowders – how could we say no to an award-winning Lobster Bisque and a bowl of their signature creamy white clam chowder?
There’s something magical about clam chowder regardless of where you are.
In other words, even if you’re not on America’s East Coast, you can travel down memory lane if you’re a New Englander and if not, just enjoy the connection you have to the soup.
Apparently they make their clam chowder a little differently (using riced potatoes which makes them gluten free btw). This gives it a combination of purely divine texture and taste.
Because they’re on the rich side, I thought we’d have a tablespoon or two and leave the rest, but we polished them off in 15 minutes. They were too delicious to leave behind, despite the fact that more dishes were on their way.
From one seafood heaven to another, the next thing that arrived was their Linguini Pescatore, which they serve with Scallops, Prawns, Clams, Mussels, Garlic, Capers, Artichoke Heart, Mushrooms, Black Olives, Sherry Broth and Tomatoes – can you say bliss? I couldn’t pass up a glass of cold Chardonnay to pair with this scrumptious treat even though it was mid-day.
For those who really love seafood, Flaherty’s is your spot.
Menu items include fresh Pacific Coast Lobster Tail, Alaskan King Crab Legs, Whole Cracked Crab, Maine Lobster (wish I had seen that earlier), a Brioche Lobster Melt, Wild Caught Scallops with white beans and bacon, Shrimp Scampi Risotto (deserving of a paired Pinot Grigio), their Mixed Seafood Grill (oh so yum), lobster tacos, fried coconut shrimp, brioche lobster melt, Sand Dabs, Ahi Tuna, Swordfish, Halibut and Pan-Roasted Salmon. Whoah Nelly! And, that’s not even an exhaustive list.
The Chesapeake Bay Lobster Ravioli with grilled scallops is to die for!
The desserts were top notch as well, my favorite being the key lime pie. Truth be told, it’s rare to find key lime pie on a California restaurant menu (when I worked in the restaurant industry in Florida, it was offered at every restaurant).
Their beautiful bread pudding had the consistency of a soufflee and it was so tender and tasty that I couldn’t stop nibbling at it despite the fact that we had already devoured several dishes.
If you do head to Flaherty’s, I would make sure one of your dessert orders is their olinberry pie — I don’t see if that often and it went so well with fresh vanilla ice cream. The service I might add, was over the top — our waitress previously worked in a Michelin star restaurant and her experience definitely showed. We’d love to return sometime for dinner and explore some of their other dishes.
Flaherty’s Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill
6th Avenue between San Carlos & Dolores
Carmel CA 93921
For more information on this Carmel food gem, as well as to take a peak at their lunch and dinner menus, visit their website.
Be sure to devote some time to eating Carmel food and checking out their foodie scene, from restaurants and cafes to ice cream, coffee and pizza. Also be sure to check out our Restaurants Section as well as our Foodie Guides.
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Note: we were hosted but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.