Aug 1, 2009

Pop, goes the stopper!

There is a permanent corkscrew collection at the cafe. It it showcased in the bookstore/museum part of the venue, alongside silver ex voto body parts, vintage surf music magnetic tapes, Guadalupe Madonna T-shirts, chipped paint furniture and Kama Sutra cookbooks on the sale counter.

During my recent vacation in California - besides visiting other new places - I dashed through the Napa Valley on a winery scout and loved it there. But I have to say, the plentiful vineyards of the Monterey Bay area and the Carmel Valley impressed me even more. And you know what? I had a chance to verify that the local Central California coast vintners actually DO constitute a valid challenge to the Napa-Sonoma supremacy.

On a gorgeous sunlit afternoon, we drove down to the Corkscrew Cafe for an early dinner. A funky little place that offers great food and pours amazingly good local wine in the stunning Carmel Valley setting. The ambiance is a charming early Monterey Mission meets-Provençal farmhouse, and whose classy décor and vibrant garden patios laced with colorful stencil flags, elegant sculptures, small fountains and old cork trees - from which rusty wind chimes dangle in the evening breeze - immediately make you feel at home.

We are a mixed and variegated group of eaters: that night our party was comprised of a) 1 romping toddler, b) 1 raw vegan, c) 1 famished artist (my genius brother), d) my dad who is a food-lover (except when it comes to all things creamed and/or involving eggplant and broccoli) and lastly, e) an omnivore (me). In the breezy patio, we chatted up a very kind lady who was unloading crates of veggies and fishing out shiny bottles of Cabernet from wooden boxes, and we found out about some of the Cafe's produce and production methods. As far as beef & dairy goes, the products served at the Corkscrew Cafe are 100% certified vegetarian fed, grass fed and grain supplement; with no added hormones in their diet, not treated with antibiotics, non confined, and obtained from pasture-raised animals.

The green bounty from Corkscrew Cafe's organic garden goes a long way in determining each day's offerings too. These are fresh-as-they come vegetables, I actually saw them being picked out in back!
We also learned that the Cafe offers special events like wine tastings, luncheons/dinners, parties and intimate receptions. Over aperitivo I mused that if I ever get my manuscript published, this will be the kind of place I want to have the book signings and readings held.

Old adobe dining room

The daily menu reflects the use of fresh herbs and seasonal produce from the Corkscrew's large gardens, paired with local fish and the hormone-free meats. Here are just a few items from the menu I secretly copied down, scribbling on a napkin during our meal...
  • Corkscrew signature pâté of duck and pistachio served with grilled bread & cornichon (which is a fancy French word for dill pickle)
  • Corkscrew Onion Rings haystack style, sweet & crispy
  • Fried Monterey Bay Calamari & Shrimp with roasted garlic aioli
  • Corkscrew Garden Greens dressed with wholegrain mustard vinaigrette, red & yellow beets
  • Chicken Salad tossed with garden greens, apples, grapes, and celery with a Roquefort walnut vinaigrette (very good, I had that)
  • California BLT Sandwich smoked apple-wood bacon, avocado, basil aioli & red onion on nine-grain bread with fries or salad (had that too, with fries and a side order of the home onion rings... had to see how high they could build that haystack)
  • Niman Ranch Cheese Burger with gruyere cheese, house-made pickles, fries or salad
  • Cornmeal Crusted Trout & Salad with lemon caper sauce
  • Chicken & Cheese Enchiladas with black beans, tomatillo salsa, guacamole
  • Omelette of the Day (avocado and Jack) with crispy red potatoes or green salad

And we couldn't skip dessert, so we started light with a well balanced house-made mango sorbet with tropical fruit gazpacho which was a success; as was the chocolate-hazelnut cake with caramel ice cream and orange crème anglaise. The peach-berry crisps with lavender ice cream made me feel I was back in Provence, and the vanilla bean crème brulee with fresh berries, and the summer berries with pound cake & rose ice cream both worked well to seduce us. Cheese was our last dessert choice, an aged goat cheese with honey and seasoned walnuts that brought tears of ecstasy to our eyes. All plates returned to the kitchen clean as a whistle. Belts unbuckled.

Adjacent to the Corkscrew Cafe is the Georis Winery Tasting Room and Gardens. Walter Georis planted his vineyard in 1981 in the upper Carmel Valley, located 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. This valley has the ideal soil conditions and microclimate for producing distinctive world-class red wines. Walter is known for his full bodied, complex Estate Merlot. And that's what we washed our meal down with. In case you're in the area, know that the tasting room is open daily 11:00 - 5:00.

This ristorante is definitely on my list of favorite places. Unfortunately, it's 6,000 miles away...

Lunch weekdays (note: closed on Thursday) from 11:30 am to 3 pm
Weekends from 11:30 am to 4 pm
Dinner is served Friday and Saturday from 5 to 9 pm.

Corkscrew Cafe
55 Carmel Valley Rd.
Carmel Valley Village, CA 93924
Tel. 831-659-8888


  1. I look forward to your book signing...
    beautiful post Lola

    take care

  2. Put my name on the list for the book signing dinner. I am only about 17 hours away by car. Just a hop, skip and a jump away by plane. I'll save you a seat until you get there.

  3. What a terrific little cafe. I love that funky stuff. Down to earth. Unpretentious. Emphasis on food. And as usual, you've gotten me hungry again. But I have nothing here close to that good stuff you talked about. Well, some remnants of a blackberry/peach crisp, so that may be what goes into my tum.

  4. This sounds so like my kind of place! We have a couple of similar places here in Ann Arbor, so if you get that book tour going, consider stopping here!

  5. Exquisite. Nobody else could describe this experience so richly. I'm hungry.

  6. Beautiful post!

    I'm making a note of the address, for next month when we'll be driving up to Oregon. This is a good reason to take highway 1.

    Oh, and i really like what you've done with your blog!

  7. My friend, I believe you could find beauty in a compost heap. So much of California is overrun, baren, and has become graffiti central - yet you found what looks to be a wonderful cafe.

    It sounds like you had a wonderful time. I am glad.

  8. I loved that post,Lola. What a shame i am on the other side of the world. I would go there too......sounds absolutely wonderful.xx♥

  9. It sounds and looks absolutely amazing! thanks for the wonderful review :)

  10. Your posts always make me want to eat. I hope one day you do indeed get your manuscript published and can host a feast in such a gorgeous place

  11. This sounds like a great cozy place to eat.I love all the fresh herbs picked from the garden. Hanging in wine country,YES!! Going to California next month. Thanks for the info. Enjoy:)

  12. I am going to definitely make it a point to go there! Your photos are always fantastically transporting!

  13. Oh boy, I want to go there now. This is a gorgeous place and the food...delicious. Something about that BLT is calling my name. Thanks Lola for the mini-travelogue. So glad you're back home and posting again! xo. We missed you.

  14. Here's the deal. If it's 6000 miles away from you, it's about 1 million and 6000 miles away from me!

  15. Great pics as always. Good luck!

  16. If your mss is as well-written as your blogs you should be published in a thrice. And your photos are delicious. The Corkscrew Cafe seems so, well... California! Loved the cyber-tour.

  17. I will fire up my own personal jet to come to your book-signing, Lola! Seriously - what a truly lovely place. Thank you so much for sharing it with us...I almost feel as though I was there because you write so luminously.

  18. I am forget the restaurant and forget the food; look at your profile picture.

    Oh my God you are stunning. I knew it.

    Love Renee xoxo

  19. Dear fellow Lola!

    Just popped by to say so pleased you enjoyed the fun of our Awards party - hope you met some nice people and enjoyed the champagne! I love yr site too - will be back again soon to check out other lovely posts - and am also your newest follower!

    Hope you’re having a wonderful Monday,

    xxxLOL LOLA:)

    btw your description of Carmel Valley was so realistic it made me feel really homesick since I used to live in LA & often spent vacations near Carmel driving up Pacific Coast Highway via Big Sur! Wonderful memories - thanks so much!
    xxxLOL LOLA:)

  20. I love Carmel. I do hope you were able to visit the quaint down town area.

  21. What an entreating place. And now tell me, horrible voyeur that I am, what did you eat, how did you hang your head, how often did you throw it back in laughter, how did your brother move his hands, your father...what of your father? Do tell. Make it an evening for me. Have missed you.


  22. I want to go! Since I live in CA I will make a point to find this place on our next trip up north. Thanks for the great description and the gorgeous photos too!