19 April 2007

Lunch at Il Fornaio, Carmel, CA

After our wonderful, carefree, and relaxing long weekend in San Francisco (see following posts) in early March, we rented a car and drove down the coast to Carmel. I was attending a conference there, and we wanted to have lunch on our own before joining the group.

My wife and I have stayed in Carmel before … actually many years ago. So when we pulled into town, we had a general idea of where we were, but no specific idea about where we would eat. We did have a couple of specific goals, however.

First, we wanted to eat outside. When we left Minnesota, we had just experienced the biggest snow storm of the season. And the weather we had in San Francisco was marvelously, luxuriantly, fabulously warm and beautiful. It was even more so in Carmel. So we definitely wanted to eat outside.

Second, we wanted to see the ocean.

So we found a parking place on the street and started to walk down toward the beach, all the while checking out menus and appearances of the caf├ęs we passed. As we neared the end of the block, we walked into a little courtyard to check the menu of an Italian restaurant. As we looked at the menu posted outside, a very pleasant woman walked by, then turned to us and asked if we needed any help.

We commented that we didn’t really know our way around and we wanted to find a nice place for lunch where we could see the ocean. She very helpfully mentioned a few places further down the coast. They sounded intriguing, but we didn’t really want to get in the car again and start driving. So we decided to stay where we were. We thanked her for her help. As she turned to go into the restaurant, she turned and said, “Oh, by the way, I’m the mayor of Carmel.”

So we followed her example and went inside after her. We requested a table on a narrow deck where we could catch glimpses of the ocean through the trees. The sun shone brightly. Two different servers came and offered us tables inside because they were afraid it would be too hot for us. But we basked in the sunshine, knowing it would be many weeks before we’d have weather like this in Minnesota (even in Edina).

We ordered a couple glasses of wine. I had a barbera; my wife had a pinot grigio. As we sipped our wine and looked over the menu, I began to feel that there was something oddly familiar about the place. Suddenly it struck me. Il Fornaio! We had eaten in an Il Foraio in January in Beverly Hills.

I ordered a risotto with beef and mushrooms. It was bold and flavorful. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I make risotto at home. I tend to go for savory combinations of vegetables, cheese, and fresh herbs. When I eat risotto out, it often is with fish or seafood. So this was a very unique dish for me. I enjoyed it immensely.

My wife had the daily fish special of branzino. It was tenderly sauted and served with a light wine sauce and red grapes. It was accompanied by a beautiful medley of vegetables and white beans. While we loved all of the fish and seafood we ate in San Francisco, it might have been the best fish we had the whole trip.

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