Oh yes, those spinach gnocchi au gratin are home made and oh-so-good! They are a popular appetizer in both the lunch and dinner menus at Casanova restaurant, one of the best restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and certainly the one richest in Carmel charm.
Tucked between, and almost overwhelmed by two not very attractive and more modern constructions – one of then a gasoline station/garage – Casanova has its home in one of the historic fairy tale buildings that Carmel is famous for. Celebrated by the seekers of romantic destinations, Casanova is not just a pretty place. At its heart, you will find a team dedicated to genuinely good food, and a wine cellar that will make every wine lover swoon.
The outdoor patio on the front of the building is reminiscent of little country restaurants in France or Italy. Actually so is the menu, which is heavily infused with flavors and textures from those two countries. One of those small tables by the window is where I sat for my first lunch. The second one took place at a table in the lovely and quaint inner patio. You will see the difference in light, as my first lunch happened on a sunny day, while my second was on a foggy one. The third option would have been indoors, at a table in one of the many softly lit small dining rooms. Seriously, though, wherever you will sit will be perfect. If your furry kids are with you, you are welcome to sit on the front patio.
Casanova is owned an operated by the same family that operates another of Carmel’s excellent restaurants: La Bicyclette (covered in this post). Both restaurants are popular with locals and visitors alike, and though the lunch hour can accommodate walk-ins, it is best to have reservations for dinner, especially during the weekend and the busier summer season.
As usual, I showed up with an idea of what I might want to eat, having browsed their menu on line; but there are always specials, and sometimes new items to discover, as well as the soup of the day. I did order the soup, along with two appetizers. Small plates are my favorite way to eat, because I can try different things and still have room for dessert.
Then, while snacking on breadsticks dipped into a flavorful concoction of sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, basil pesto and extra-virgin olive oil, I delved into the wine list. I was not planning on ordering wine, as I usually don’t with lunch, but I had to have a look, as what was left on my table was not just a list but a book. Casanova may be a romantic restaurant ideal for lovers, but it is also ideal for wine lovers. The wine list is thirty pages long, features a selection of more than two thousand wines from all over the world, and had me oohing and aahing at each page. If you are up for it, you can view it at this link.
The soup of the day was a Celery Root & Parsnip Soup ($10) and it was excellent. I love both celery root and parsnips, and the combination worked well together. Next came the Octopus Salad with Baby Arugula, Fennel, Radishes and Celery Root Puree ($14). The salad was fresh, flavorful and light, and the octopus was almost raw, which is not my preference, but it may be yours.
Third came the Spinach Gnocchi with Parmesan Cream au Gratin ($16), which were tender and beautifully blended with the parmesan cream. I could have had three of those, had I not already had the other two.
Among others, the dessert selection included a Tartes Grand-mére and a pie, both of which vary every day. These are displayed in a refrigerated case near the check-in desk just inside the restaurant. Neither appealed to me that day, so I selected a dessert called The Plum ($12), essentially a vanilla cake base topped with a mascarpone mousse, served with a honey vanilla sauce and some spiced plums (image below). It was lovely, fresh and light, and the perfect size to round out the flavors and textures in my meal with a little sweetness.
The images above give you a glimpse of the indoor part of the restaurant, while below you can see the inside courtyard. This is partly covered, and also features heaters, so unless the weather is truly stormy, you can dine there just about any day.
My second lunch at Casanova happened after three hours of walking around town taking photos. I walked in at about 2:00 pm, and I think it was a Friday. The previous time, some people sitting near me had ordered the Moules Frites ($21), and they looked so good that I knew I was going to order that. I chose the version with Harissa butter, which added a little color and also a little heat, very welcome on that rather chilly and almost drizzly December day.
As you can see in the image above, the portion is rather abundant, and would actually be perfect for two with an appetizer. The mussels were excellent, fresh and flavorful, and I really enjoyed them. I almost finished them all, but they were really too much. For as glorious as the mussels were, the fries were nothing special. I have had better just about everywhere else. I ate them, of course, because you don’t leave French fries, but I was a bit disappointed given where I was and the expectations around that. Taste and texture made me think they had been reheated; you can actually see that from the photo. It was so incongruent with the quality of everything else, that I am putting it down to the chef having a bad headache.
Alas, after all those glorious mussels, any idea of dessert had to leave my mind, as it would not have fitted into my stomach. Of course I will be going back, and not just for dessert. I might even go for dinner, so I can try some of the delights on the dinner menu.
5th Street btw. Mission & San Carlos – Carmel-by-the-Sea, California | ph. (831) 625-0501 | website
hours: Mon through Thu & Sun 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm & 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm | Fri & Sat 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm & 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
If you are in lovely Carmel, or headed there, you might also enjoy these other chapters in The Carmel Journals:
And just beyond Carmel: