carmel-by-the-sea food tour
I’ve never really been a lay-on-the-beach-and-relax type of vacationer. My version of a great trip includes visiting a new city and going, going, going non-stop. Whether it is typical tourist activities like visiting museums and historic sites, or poking around in off-the-beaten-path areas, I fill our days to the max with plans.
But weirdly, we have one vacation that we take every year in which I do nothing other than play a little golf, read a lot, take aimless walks, and eat well. It helps that Carmel is my favorite city on earth. Hands down. Bar none.
Its 60 degrees year round (perfect golf weather!), super laid-back, and so charming. And even though I have been going there my whole life, I am sure I will never tire of it.
BUT! The downside to being so familiar with it is that I thought there was nothing left to discover. Then a couple of years ago, Whit and I signed up for the Carmel Food Tour and found that there were still so many great spots that we didn’t know about. (As you may recall, we love food tours!) We actually had so much fun that we did the tour again last year, and I think we’ll make it an annual tradition.
The guide/owner, Staci Giovino, isn’t a native to the Peninsula but you wouldn’t know that if she didn’t tell you. She’s super familiar with the history of Carmel as well as all of the restaurants and their owners.
The tour starts in Carmel Plaza at The Cheese Shop, which is always one of our first stops when we get to Carmel. The staff is incredibly knowledgable about the various cheeses (and they do carry quite a variety — its one of the only places I have ever been able to consistently find Abbaye de Belloc) and they are really fond of samples. I tend to think that no trip to Carmel is complete without a picnic at Point Lobos, and no picnic is complete without cheese from The Cheese Shop.
After the cheese tasting, we moved on to another wonderfully cheesy dish — spinach gnocchi with Parmesan sauce at Casanova. Since the gnocchi is made from a pâte à choux instead of potatoes, it is fluffy but still sinfully rich.
One of my favorite discoveries came at La Bicyclette, which is my go-to breakfast spot. It was fun to experience a different type of meal there. We had the wild mushroom and truffle pizza, which was fantastic. But the star was definitely the lamb, fava bean, and mint pizza. La Bicyclette’s pizzas have a thin, crispy crust and are oozing with cheese. Plus, I think it is one of the most charming restaurants in Carmel.
Luca Salumeria is the only place in Carmel where you can find buratta cheese, which is a must-have with the region’s perfect heirloom tomatoes in the summer. But I’d never tried any of their house-cured meats. They set out 8 different kinds of charcuterie, including spicy Coppa, Milano Salame, Soppressata, Prosciutto di Parma, and Calabrese Salame. This is totally my wheelhouse– there’s little that I like more than than artisan cured meats.
Before we left Luca, Staci grabbed a container of creamy gelato to go for our trip across the street to Trio, which carries more than 60 olive oils and vinegars. We drizzled flavored vinegars over the gelato and took shots of different olive oils. Trio had a fun cheat sheet of flavor combinations, so we tried things like lemon olive oil with wild blackberry vinegar and rosemary olive oil with strawberry vinegar.
I’m a sucker for sparkling wine, so discovering Caraccioli Cellars was a treat. They make two brut wines – cuvee and rose – and I drank both mine and Whitney’s share of them! In the spirit of love and fairness, I let him have my glass of Pinot Noir. The Caraccioli Cellars tasting room was cozy and I could have sat in there and hung out for a lot longer than we did.
The tour ended with dessert at Lula’s Chocolates. I loved the sea salt and caramel chocolate, but Whit was really partial to the Cabernet Sauvignon dark chocolate truffles. The only solution was to buy a box of each for further taste testing back at the house!
On the walks between each food stop, Staci shared info about Carmel’s history, architecture, and culture with our group. It was informative and I learned things that I’d never picked up on any of my previous trips. The tour has definitely become one of my favorite ways to spend three hours in Carmel!