Thursday, November 11, 2010

Food Field Trip Carmel: La Bicyclette

The French Village -inspired Dining Room at La  Bicyclette
As a planner's planner, it is rare for me not to have all my restaurant reservations--if not a list of options--lined up weeks if not months in advance of our travels.  But this past trip, we found ourselves in Carmel-by-the-Sea at lunchtime as we drove down the coast, with (gasp) not only no reservations, but no idea whatsoever of where to eat.  Thanks to smartphones, we were able to access a few Chowhound recommendations, and went in search of the much chattered about Casanova.  But after a few wrong turns, we stumbled upon a charming storefront cafe, Le Bicyclette.

Given that we were on the earlier side of lunch, the cafe was still empty, so we originally dismissed the option.  Serendipitously, we did ask the hostess of La Bicyclette if she knew the best way to get to Casanova whereupon she informed us (and as luck would have it), that this was their sister restaurant. So we stayed put.

Before I delve into the details of this find, I want to note that our dining state of mind at this point in the trip can best be described as leery.  The night before, we had reservations at the much hyped casual no-frills Monterey Fish House.  This meal was horrendous in every way, but the kicker was that all of the fish we asked about were from places far, far from Monterey, ranging from New England, to Indonesia to Washington; perhaps the name should have been Everywhere in the World but Monterey Fish House.  The food not only lacked care, flavor, and quality, but also resulted in a minor case of food poisoning for B, who since has refused to give a favorite dish prior to this experience (sea scallops) another try.  But I digress.

So long story short, we decided to give La Bicyclette a try, and were pleased; our good food Karma had returned, our leeriness vanished. The setting was adorned with French country kitsch in a way that was actually warm and charming.  And the incredibly knowledgeable, friendly, and busy hostess-waitress was delightful and efficient, even as the dining room quickly reached capacity a mere thirty minutes after we sat down.

Given the experience the night before, we did not imbibe (but we rarely do at lunch).  I did notice that the wines by the glass listed on the chalkboard provided all local (and thus tilted heavily towards white or pinot) options. The local, seasonal ingredients, presented in French country style, were pleasing to the eyes and proved oh-so delicious.

La Bicyclette: A Steaming Pot of Sunchoke and Bacon Soup
The soup was served in a copper pot, similar to a homestyle meal we had last fall at Les Papilles in Paris, so right away we were smitten.  This cream-based soup showcased the seasonal vegetable of the trip that seemed to crop up at nearly every meal (the sunchoke), whose earthy flavor was complimented by the smokey bacon.

La Bicyclette: Root Vegetable Gnocchi
One of my favorite things about French cooking is that when done well, the intense flavors mean that you do not need to consume large quantities to be fully satisfied.  Case in point was this celery root, sweet potato, and beet gnocchi combination above.  I was not able to finish anymore than 2/3 of these pillows of rich, earthy goodness, offset by appropriately bitter spinach and a sweet cream sauce.  This was hands down among the best gnocchi I have ever tasted, and its rainbow of natural colors by far the most beautiful I've seen.

La Bicyclette: Smoked Salmon Omelet with Mixed Greens
I've found that eggs--particularly omelets or poached--are actually very hard to find cooked right, but this omelet was textbook Parisian style, buttery and smooth, with a rich smoked salmon filling.  B was impressed.

I loved this cafe so much that on our next trip to this area, we will consider staying in Carmel-by-the-Sea instead of Monterey in part so that we can enjoy dinner here.  The price for the appetizer, two entrees, tax, and tip was $40 -- not an inexpensive lunch, but a great value!

1 comment:

  1. Great post! La Bicyclette is so amazing... We reviewed it at: //
    Stop by!