Tag Archives: restaurant reviews

Travelogue: Carmel-by-the-Sea

3 Nov

We arrived in California today for our week-long vacation. Everything went smoothly until we went to pick up our rental car. For some reason, the line at Hertz was worse than airport security. It took 50 minutes of standing in line before we were given a car assignment. But if that’s the biggest complaint you can lodge after a full day of travel? Not bad at all.

When we went to retrieve it, the car was NOT in slot 161 as promised on our paperwork – so a scavenger hunt commenced to find it. Finally it turned up – a grey Malibu with no pick-up in slot 282.  Maybe this was karma’s way of paying us back for driving through a flash flood in Charlottetown, PEI last year and almost ripping the underbody off our rental.

Oh – I haven’t told you that story? Another time. Still waiting for the statute of limitations to expire.

Once we got our car, we zipped out of town, heading to Carmel, about two hours south of SFO on the Monterey Penninsula. If you’ve never been, it’s an adorable ocean-side town with cute shops, tasting rooms and restaurants that all look amazingly homey. The architecture probably has something to do with that – the town has a funky Bavaria-meets-smurf-cottages kind of vibe. Don’t believe me? Check out these photos.

We were starving when we arrived – with the time difference and the flight, it was approaching 7pm Eastern time and our last meal had been a 9am burger at the airport Five Guys. Fortunately, I’d happened to check TripAdvisor before we tumbled out of the car, so instead of blindly choosing the first place that looked halfway good (and there would’ve been no shortage), we made a beeline to Dametra Cafe.

It’s funny – neither Alan nor I were particularly feeling mediterranean food, but the TripAdvisor reviews were so overwhelmingly positive, that we felt we should give it a go. I’m so glad we did – if I were dying, I might make a special trip to this restaurant for my last meal.

Let me set the stage. The place is tiny. There are approximately 18 tables which can each seat two people. The decor is simple but warm – it feels like you’re a guest in someone’s overly large kitchen. Perhaps part of why you feel like you’re in someone’s home is because of the hospitality the owners show.

Bashar, one of the owners who also serves as the host, welcomes everyone who sets foot into the place as if they’re a friend, placing his hand on your shoulder while he looks around to see if they have a table for you. Unfortunately, the answer to this query is usually, “Sorry – we’re completely full. Do you have a reservation?” Alan and I somehow managed to snag the last unreserved table (probably because we arrived 4:45pm) and felt incredibly lucky every time we heard him turn away another couple.

This photo doesn't do it justice.

This photo doesn’t do it justice.

After spending a ridiculous amount of time debating what to order, we decided to split two of the most basic Greek staples: spanikopita and chicken kabobs. It was the right decision. They were so different than any other version of those foods I’d eaten before that – had my eyes been closed – I wouldn’t have recognized them. The spanikopita was huge – imagine getting served two perfectly golden, flaky poptarts sprinkled with sesame seeds and filled with garlicky spinach hugging little gems of salty feta unlike any feta you’ve ever tasted. Delish.

They split our entree in the kitchen, bringing us each a generous plate with rice, Greek salad and a kabob of chicken, tomatoes and onion, drizzled with a garlic aoili. This sounds like a boring line-up, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it was amazing. The chicken was beyond tender, and I don’t know what they marinated it in, but it was magical. The homemade salad dressing and the aoili completely transformed the meal – and I’m normally very finicky when it comes to sauces.

Midway through our meal, as we were marveling over how something so simple could be so mind-blowingly good, we heard someone begin to tune what sounded like a guitar. Then, from the kitchen, Bashar emerged, playing some kind of Middle Eastern guitar, followed by two servers banging drums. They shuffled through the small restaurant playing and people rose from their tables to begin dancing. It was like a party had just broken out, and everyone was up for it. It felt like being included in a secret.  Here’s a snippet:

When we finished our meal, they brought us a plate with complimentary baklava drizzled with honey and whipped cream. I had no room for it, but managed to choke it down since it is tied with fried ice cream as my favorite dessert of all time. One our way out the door, we thanked Bashar for having us. “Every time you turned away someone, we felt so lucky that we had managed to snag your last table,” Alan told him.

Bashar countered, “No – the luck was ours. We were lucky to have you dine with us tonight.” And with that, he asked our names and said he hoped to see us again soon. And like a good host, he truly seemed sincere.

After dinner we walked down Ocean Avenue and it’s adorable cottages to the beach. We arrived just in time to catch the tail-end of the sunset as we smelled the wood smoke from various bonfires dotting the beach. Not a bad way to end our first day of vacation, though it does set a high bar for the rest of the trip.

Sunset in Carmel

 

Review: In this case, I wouldn’t call the owner The King.

27 Sep

When a restaurant receives polarizing Yelp reviews (all 5 Stars or 1 Star), it’s bound to be an experience. At least, that was my rationale when I struck out for dinner last night. I’d consulted my phone for a recommendation, and found myself seated at Trattoria Casa Di Isacco – a dimly lit Italian place in Hells Kitchen.

The Yelp Review that ultimately led me to try it? “Weird, fun, creepy, but pretty good food. Definitely has character in a Spanish Elvis cooks Italian food in a restaurant decorated for Christmas yet in a February kind of way.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I wanted to know.

First off – the owner is Spanish and loves him some Elvis. I say this not only because his hair was clearly modeled after that famous pompadour, but also because every inch of wall space was occupied by photos and paintings of The King (including more than one black velvet model).

Oh, and also? The television showed Mediterranean Elvis impersonators dancing along to the soundtrack of Spanish/Italian songs. Yep, it was an experience.

The owner – whom other Yelp reviewers loved – irritated me. At least, I assume he was the owner, based on the way he strode around the place as if he owned it. When he approached my table and spouted off the specials, I found myself struggling to decipher the day’s specials because his accent was a bit challenging.

He left me to contemplate my choices, and when he returned, I asked him for a recommendation. “I’ve whittled it down to either the Gnocci Pesto, the Lasagna, or the Veal Marsala. Of those, which do you think is best?”

I’m not sure if that question offended him, or if he’s just generally a prick, but his answer – “I can’t make up your mind for you. They are all good but very different. You decide” – wasn’t exactly the tip I was looking for .

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll take the Veal Piccata,” I told him, mentally high-fiving myself for not saying please. And mentally calling him a CornHole.

When the food arrived, it obliterated the owner’s surly behavior. The veal piccata had been pounded to within an inch of its life and was swimming in a lemon caper sauce that was equally good on bread. I may have just been hungry, but it was easy to clean my plate.

Apparently the owner decided he didn’t like me either, because after he took my order, another guy had taken over the dinner service. He returned to clear my plate, crumb the table, and bring me a complimentary glass of sweet dessert wine.

I could see why the place had received such spotty reviews. I suspect the stars match the mood of the owner on any particular night. Unfortunately, I caught him on a one-star night.