A trip to Italy is a vacation of a lifetime. For some travelers, aside from obvious food and wine romanticism, it’s the landscape that lures lovers away from the states, particularly along the southern coast of France or Amalfi, Italy—which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
The Amalfi Coast, on the Sorrentine Peninsula, is visited by thousands of tourists each year—myself included—but a recent trip to Carmel, Cali. rivaled those beautiful memories, and made me realize a Euro-inspired vacation can be found a lot closer than I thought.
Carmel does not attempt to persuade travelers that they are somewhere else. The beauty is simple: clean air, green canopy of trees, and a two-lane road that leads you along it’s own breathtaking coastline to Big Sur. It’s a place that should be celebrated with warm enthusiasm—they do, after all, speak the same language.
At Lucia, inside the Bernardus Lodge in the heart of Carmel wine country, that enthusiasm is quite delicious. If you’re ever in Carmel and have the opportunity to eat at Lucia, take it.
A wall of celebrity signatures surrounds the chefs’ table inside the kitchen. The booth for five is an exclusive experience that’s meant to pair with the world-famous wine cellar chilling just bellow.
The chef’s tasting menu is a secret all it’s own, curated by Chef Cal Stamenov, and brought into cerebral focus by Sommerlier Paul Wetterau. It is here, around the Lucia’s table, one might actually forget where they are.
To start, we enjoy big eye tune sashimi, decorated in Carmel Valley olive oil and lemon puree dotted around the plate. It’s a whimsical beginning accompanied by French Champagne, a Bute by J. Lassalle.
Next, we continue our European wine tour and explore a Riesling Spätlese by Scharzhofberg, a German wine, parried with a delicate presentation of sweet date puree under Sonoma duck. While it would have been rude to lick the plate, I certainly considered it.
Further into the meal, we were delighted by a Pino Noir from Bernardus’ namesake vineyard located in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The main course was then presented: Colorado lamb ribeye served with potato-fennel puree, morels, English peas and a liberal smear of périgord sauce—Similar to a classic Béarnaise, made with (oh, my!) black truffles.
To end the meal we enjoyed a traditional plate of melting cheesees served with a 2005 Sauternes by Chateau Guiruad. While dessert wines are not typically my favorite, a sweet ending to this meal could have not have been overstated. I splurged and sampled a late bottle vintage port by Taylor Fladgate and Yeatman from, of course, Portugal. I was not disappointed.
The meal was incredible, but what was more astounding was that Carmel had captured many of the European nuances that most travelers pay a lot more money for in Europe. It’s surprisingly easy to find a taste of Italy or France in California. Wine makers enjoy terroir most similar to the Mediterranean, and as a result, produce grapes typically found in Tuscany, or southern France—Sangiovese, Pinot Noir.
What’s more, restaurants located in Carmel wine country have a wonderful collection of foreign wines to sample in addition to pleasing domestic wines. Carmel was a place more familiar than far, and yet, through the sensory details of smell, sound and flavor, it’s easy to escape—certainly easier than an Italian vacation.