Considering that in Carmel it is foggy almost every morning, I may have a Foggy Morning chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ….. But the fog cycle is what keeps summers cooler here on the California coast, and what favors the growth of those glorious Redwoods we all love so much. Mark Twain’s famous quote “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” is quite justified. And until a few years ago, I felt the same way, shivering at the mere thought of foggy days in the Bay Area. But not anymore. Now I love to have relief from the scorching summer heat that can beat you up just a few miles further inland. Besides, Karl-the-Fog, especially when low to the ground, is quite photogenic, applying a layer of fluffy mystery to everything. All that said, I was and am really grateful to that little voice in my head that nudged me to take my warm boots out of storage again after I had just put them in for the summer.
It was on such a morning, when the fog was low to the ground, that I set out on my first real exploration of Carmel; camera in hand, extra lens in my bag. Mostly, after two days of unpacking and organizing dotted with power naps, I was craving a good, hot breakfast.
The above one was my first photo taken, and the one below my second. These two buildings are across from one another, and are on Ocean Avenue at the junction with Mission Street. Ocean Avenue is a reference point, as it transects Carmel horizontally, running as east-west from Hwy 1 to the ocean.
Before leaving the house, I had google-mapped places for breakfast in town, and now I was on a mission… on Mission.
As I reached this pretty building in the images below, I was close to one of my potential breakfast places, Katy’s Place. It was quite busy, which would be a good sign if I had not learned by experience that way to many people have average taste, and cannot be trusted with food recommendations. Thus, a long line or a crowd does not necessarily mean good food. Two women walked out and towards me, so I stopped them and asked them about food at Katy’s Place. “It’s good, but it depends on what you order” (not a good start) “the Benedict is good, and also the waffle, but you want to stay away from anything with mushrooms as they are canned.”
See, what did I tell you? That crowd of people did not mean a thing. So I looked at my map again and moved on, hoping for better, preferably not canned, and hoping to find it soon, as I was hungry. Also, it was getting close to eleven am, and I wanted to make sure I could order breakfast and not lunch, as I really wanted eggs in some shape or form.
I crossed the street and walked through this pretty little shopping alley, one of many in Carmel. It looks quiet, I know, but I have since learned that Carmel gets busier later in the day, even on weekends.
Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni on San Carlos Street would not usually be my kind of place, as it sounds waaaay to Eye-talian for my taste. But they had a higher rating than others, and they served American breakfast, surprisingly. I stopped to take a look. It was not crowded at all, the breakfast menu featured your standard breakfast fare, but – with their claim to Italian-ness, there was a chance for a good cappuccino, so I decided to give it a try.
As you walk in, your eyes are drawn to the beautiful mural on the wall by the bar. The server came right away and I was able to seat at one of the little tables by the main window near the entrance door.
I ordered a cappuccino ($4.50) right away, which turned out to be blah despite the name Lavazza on the cup. It is not the coffee you use (or not only), it is how you use it. And it is not the milk, but how long you steam it for.
However, the Crab Cake Benedict ($15.95) – which I ordered with scrambled eggs instead of poached because I do not like runny eggs – was quite good, though the muffin on the bottom could have been grilled or toasted more interestingly. My side of choice was the hash brown, which was also very good, and overall I left satisfied. Except for the cappuccino.
Right across the street was my first encounter with the Clint Eastwood aura that permeates Carmel wherever you go: the Eastwood Building, and the entrance to the legendary Hog’s Breath Inn. If I remember correctly, at one time it was owned by Clint Eastwood. It might still be, but I have to find out. And I will, because I do intend to have a meal there at some point soon. Last Saturday, filled and satisfied by my Eggs Benedict, I just paused to have a look from above and snap a couple of photos, making a mental note to return.
The feel is definitely western/cowboy, and the patio features several fire places, and a gigantic scenic mural of what I can only assume are the hills of Carmel Valley, green with winter rains.
Continuing on down San Carlos towards Ocean, I passed two of the many beautiful art galleries in Carmel, both housed in pretty buildings. And then I saw the lovely sign for The Secret Garden beckon me from an alleyway. Would you be able to resist a pretty sign saying “The Secret Garden”? I couldn’t, and didn’t, even though I thought that the “yes, we’re open” part could use a bit of styling up.
As I followed the meandering path, I discovered a charming garden shop featuring a selection of statues, fountains, plants and other assorted and locally made items.
The Secret Garden is connected to the renowned Pilgrim’s Way Books store. Lovingly owned and run by Paul Fridlund and Cynthia Fernandes, The Pilgrim’s Way is a local institution, and one of the most charming independent bookstores I have ever been to. And yes, Paul and Cynthia were just the ones that my friend LuAnn Cibik had recommended I stop by and say hello to when she found out I would be in Carmel.
And so I did, meeting two of the sweetest and kindest people ever. Their open friendliness and Aloha made me feel like I was back in Hawai’i. But then Carmel has some of that same energy and Mana. It is not just a pretty place. The land here, and the nature are both gentle and powerful, just like in Hawai’i.
I spotted Cynthia right away and, after introducing myself and mentioning LuAnn, we started talking. I had already realized that Carmel was magic, but I had the idea of asking local people what that magic was for them. Cynthia was the first I asked. The first word out of her mouth was “Nature”, and she talked about the ocean, the trees, the special places around the Monterey/Carmel area. She talked about how Carmel is a small town immersed in the beauty of nature, with a real sense of community. I could feel and see in her eyes her love for the place, and how strong the life force of the nature around is for her. It was like an unstoppable force.
I gave her a very abridged version of my own story, and then mentioned Shinrin-Yoku, which, surprisingly considering her love of nature, she had not heard of before. She led me to the shelf with the books about nature in the area of Carmel and Monterey written mostly by local authors. There was quite a selection, but she raved about one and placed it in my hands. It sounded like a gem, so I bought it, and I look forward to reading it as soon as I am done with the current one. Yes, it is the one in the photo below. Naturally, I had to tell her about the Mary Reynolds Thompson book “Reclaiming the Wild Soul”.
Not browsing further was not an option, and as I looked up, there was my friend Meadow Linn’s wondrous cookbook popping out at me: The Mystic Cookbook: The Secret Alchemy of Food, which she co-authored with her mother, the magnificently unique Denise Linn. I have my copy, of course, though it is in storage with all my other cookbooks (sigh!). But it was so exciting to see it there, that I took a photo and posted it on Facebook for Meadow to see.
While at the cash register paying for my purchase, I had the chance to talk to Paul. I asked him the same question: “What is the magic of Carmel for you?” His answer was similar to Cynthia’s: the beauty and power of nature, of course, though his focus was more on the small town with a true sense of community. “Though, of course, there is the good and the bad.”
“What is the bad?” I asked, because it is always good to know the underside of apparently idyllic situations.
That turned out to be the same as in Hawai’i, the same as in San Francisco. People with a lot of money (nothing at all against them, by the way) coming in and paying top dollar for properties, thus driving the prices up to the point of un-affordability for the local people, who then have to leave. Only a third of the population of Carmel are actual full time residents, as many of the homes are second, or even third homes and not occupied full time.
Like in San Francisco, part of the charm of Carmel is the eclectic assortment of residents, many of them artists. Unfortunately, just like the City by the Bay, that is changing.
I said arrivederci to Paul and Cynthia and headed back towards Ocean Avenue in order to locate two eateries Paul had mentioned. I do not know his personal taste in food, so my mission was just to locate them. I found the first one right away, the Village Corner bistro, just a few steps away on the corner between Sixth and Dolores. Will be checking it out at some point.
The other one was also quite easy to spot by the crowd standing outside. Big crowd on the sidewalk? Has to be a bakery. And so it was: Carmel Bakery, the oldest running business in Carmel, as it was established in 1899. Their specialty is featured in the sign: pretzels, but also other European style pastries, or so the claim goes. Despite the overall large sizes of what was displayed, the window looked tempting, so I took a few photos then got in line.
What I saw on display inside was not especially appealing to my personal taste. When it was my turn, unsure what to get, I chose a bear claw pastry and took it to go. It was massive, but I thought I could enjoy it over a couple of days. I took the photo below after I got back home. As it turned out, I did not enjoy it at all. One bite told me that it was the worst bear claw I had ever had. There was cinnamon in it, but no almond paste at all. The ones from Safeway are better that that one. I may be spoiled by places like Rustic Bakery, Crisp and Le Marais, but this really was not good. I hesitated about tossing it out, because I do not like being wasteful, especially with food, so I wrapped it up again and kept it till the next morning. A second bite and I knew I would have to be really desperate for something sweet to eat any more. Luckily, those days for me are over. The trash can ate it. We should all be spoiled by Rustic, Crisp, Le Marais and other such bakeries!
A couple of days later, I was lining up in another bakery (more on this at another time) and talking to a woman in front of me. She was a self-proclaimed foodie who had lived in the North Bay and knew both Rustic and Le Marais quite well. She was not surprised by my disappointing experience with Carmel Bakery, and said that, on a couple of occasions, she had to return the baked item she had purchased because it did not taste fresh. I may give Carmel Bakery one more chance by trying one of their famous pretzels, then will let you know. It is just not at the top of my list.
By the way, Carmel Bakery is one of the few places where I have seen ice cream available. And I have not yet found a local artisanal ice cream shop, not even with a google search. Quite disappointing.
To the left of Carmel Bakery is a jewelry store, and to the left of that is Der Ling Lane, one of those tempting alleyways that Carmel is known for. This particular one leads you to an inside courtyard garden where the Thomas Kinkade Studio is located in a cute little yellow cottage. The late Thomas Kinkade was known, and still is, as the painter of light, and his artwork is famous all over the world. I am sure you have seen some of his paintings, if nowhere else at least on Pinterest. I first saw his work years ago in a gallery near Pier 39 in San Francisco. I was even lucky enough to view some originals, and was mesmerized.
Back on Ocean Avenue, the photos above and below I just had to take for my Mom, the lover of everything Christmas.
I then found myself stepping through another alley and out onto the Mission Street side of Carmel Plaza shopping center. This is where a famous French Patisserie/Restaurant is located: Patisserie Boissière. I had walked past it a couple of days earlier in search of a cappuccino, but it was a bit early and it was still closed. Now it was open, it was mid-afternoon, I was in need of a rest and, despite the pastry I was carrying home in a bag (I did not yet know how bad that would be), a little dessert sounded good. I walked in and…. Yes, indeed! One of those situations: what do I choose? My eyes went everywhere, scanning and rescanning all that was on offer. Maybe this, no maybe that… Oh, but that looks good, too!
In the end I let my camera decide and chose something that I knew would look stunning in a photo – besides being oh-so-good, of course: a single portion Paris-Brest. And I ordered a latte in the hopes of making up for the blah one of the morning.
The ambiance was lovely, warm and welcoming. The brunch rush hour was just over and I was able to get a table by the window. There is actually a fireplace in the room, next to where I was standing while taking this photo below. I was about to photograph that, too, but someone distracted me, I had to move and then forgot. But I will be going back there, so I can take the photo then, besides working my way through the various desserts, that is, and tasting lunch. Hum… I had better stay here for another six months, I think.
The mini Paris-Brest ($6.25) was both spectacular and absolutely delicious, and very fresh. There is a double blessing here: Patisserie Boissière is just two blocks from where I am staying, aaaand… I do not drive there, I walk – thank goodness! Haha!
Alas the latte ($4.00) was, in short, crap. Yes, that is the right word. It shows up in a glass, which makes it look wonderful, but immediately I wonder about the dark color. So I ask the server “Is this made with an espresso machine?”, because it looked like French press coffee to me. “Oh yes!” was the answer. But I had never seen a latte or cappuccino look that dark. Essentially it was coffee topped with milk foam. There was no milk mixed in, just the foam. And if it had been made with an espresso machine, then whoever did it has no idea how to use one. I ate the foam and left the rest. Again, it is not (just) the coffee, it is what you do with it. Making espressos and cappuccinos the right way is an art. Kudos to all who do the job right.
The lady sitting at the table next to mine struck up a conversation. Her name is Rose. We started with the photos I was taking and why, and then talked about the food, the coffee and generally the Patisserie. Rose agreed with me that espresso drinks were best avoided there, but that the food and desserts were excellent. She said that everything used to be even better, but that since they found out that the owner of the building might not be renewing their lease, things had slipped a little. Patisserie Boissière has apparently been at this location for many years, and lots of people in town have been sending letters, cards and e-mails to the owner in New York asking him/her to please renew the lease. I hope they will, as it would be sad to lose such a place.
Update of 10/16/16 – I am happy to report that the lease has been renewed for another ten years!
I have Rose’s telephone number and I will be calling her soon to catch lunch, or maybe sunset at the beach, or both. But while there, I asked her the question I had been asking all morning. What is the magic of Carmel for you? For Rose the magic also lies in the small town with a true community. “You go to the post office and it becomes a social gathering, where you catch up with everybody.” She handed me a copy of a local paper, The Carmel Pine Cone, saying that everyone reads it, “But we especially look forward to the Wednesday issue, and the most popular column is the Police and Sheriff’s Log.”
I found the Log on page 4A, where the entries are published with a couple of weeks’ delay. Here is one of them, dated May 14th:
“Carmel-by-the-Sea: Female Carmel resident, age 72, was arrested at San Carlos and Ninth after she was contacted for causing a disturbance at a local benefit concert and was found to be intoxicated. She was also cited for obstructing an officer and was transferred to Monterey County Jail.”
I trust the lady was released, but the mental image of the disturbance gave me a giggle.
“People here make a point of going down to the beach to see the sunset,” she continued, “They take a bottle of wine and a blanket and just sit and watch the sunset. I remember years ago, when I was just visiting, we were walking down the hill trying to get to the beach in time for sunset, when I ran into this little old lady, probably in her late eighties, marching up the hill. She looked at us and said ‘You missed it.’ because she knew what we were going for.”
I have a feeling that living here would be a lot like living in Kamuela on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
I walked home after that.
I hope you have enjoyed my first walk-about Carmel town. More walkabouts to come, oh yes, lots more. I will be as fast in sharing as I can be considering the load of pics I have to edit.
Other chapters in The Carmel Journals you might enjoy:
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