The dramatic rocky coastline and sugar-white shores of Carmel are as iconic to California’s central coast as the Santa Monica Pier and the Pacific Coast Highway. Carmel is the meeting place of billionaires and bohemians, a spot where glamor is laid-back, and nature is a technicolor dream of stunning views and crashing waves. The breathtaking terrain has served as inspiration for the world’s most acclaimed architects and designers, and Carmel luxury homes stand out as works of art – which is fitting, considering Carmel’s origin story.
This tony town began as a celebrated artist colony, populated by titans of the literary and artistic industry. Salvador Dali gazed out at the gleaming Pacific and imagined a series of landscapes unlike anything else in the art world. Jack Kerouac stayed up late into the night, pondering the starry sky and struggling to alchemize Carmel’s wild beauty into poetic gold. Today the gorgeous seaside community is known for another type of creativity – haute cuisine. Chef-driven bistros and locally sourced ingredients headline the exclusive eateries around town, garnering countless awards – and those coveted Michelin stars.
What is a Michelin star?
A Michelin star is an annual award given out to restaurants displaying unparalleled greatness in culinary mastery. Any restaurant can qualify as long as it fits the strict criteria:
A harmony of flavors
Superb technique and a mastery of culinary skill
A sense of the chef’s personality and charisma in the cuisine
Consistency of menu items, as well as consistency visit-after-visit
While the chef ultimately leads the creation of the complete menu and inspires the dishes, a restaurant will not necessarily lose its star if the head chef leaves. The chef is, of course, an integral part of the process, but the Michelin star goes to the restaurant itself and not specifically the chef. Michelin inspectors revisit starred restaurants every year to reassess star eligibility.
The uninitiated might be surprised to know that the prestigious Michelin Guide comes from the very same company known for making those famous Michelin tires. In fact, the Michelin Restaurant Guide, so revered today as the authority on culinary excellence, began as a simple red booklet designed to encourage drivers to take a road trip, for which they would need quality tires. This little red book documented the best restaurants, shops, and sights around the French countryside and, over the past 123 years, has morphed into the It-Guide for culinary adventures.
What is a Bib Gourmand?
A Bib Gourmand, named for the Michelin Man tire mascot Bibendum, is not a full star but is a highly respected rating denoting a more casual, moderately priced eatery with outstanding cuisine.
How many Michelin-star restaurants are in Carmel?
According to the Michelin Guide, Carmel currently has one Michelin-star restaurant, one Bib Gourmand restaurant, and six Michelin Guide recommendations.
The Michelin Star
7th Avenue Monte Verde St
The restaurant Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel is the town’s epicurean star, known for its exemplary wine list and carefully curated coastal cuisine. While the interior of a restaurant has nothing to do with the awarding of a Michelin star, Aubergine’s dining room is particularly beautiful, with a color palette and design scheme taking inspiration from the rocky coastline and Pacific waters.
The neutral colors are all the better for appreciating the vibrant artistry of the dishes, which dazzle with brilliant jewel tones and bright flowers. The tasting menu changes daily and features locally sourced ingredients and fresh seafood. Past menus have boasted indulgent tastes like oysters with yuzu emulsion, caviar with lemon thyme, and dry-aged ribeye. The sommelier’s pairing is well worth trying, and guests have the option of adding artisan cheese from the on-site cheese cave.
The Bib Gourmand
Junipero St & 5th Ave NW
The balmy breeze of the Mediterranean shores comes to life at Yafa, Carmel’s official Bib Gourmand choice. This relaxed bistro embodies the spirit of a Greek villa, and the cuisine is rich and fresh. The owner is as friendly as the food is delicious, and the warm atmosphere creates a truly delightful dining experience. This local favorite features lively weekend performances from local musicians and a menu of perfectly charred kebabs, pillowy pita, and Mediterranean classics like tzatziki, baba ganoush, and tabbouleh. The gorgonzola filet mignon is a mouthwatering choice, as is the seafood pasta.
The Michelin recommendations
5th Ave between Mission and San Carlos
Step into Casanova, and you’ll be transported to the romance of the 19th-century French countryside. The interior is so authentic you might expect Vincent Van Gogh to join you at the table – and, in fact, his very own table is here at the bistro. The private Van Gogh room invites a small group of guests to indulge in a prix-fixe menu where the Dutch master once sat. The rustic menu includes French and Italian fare, including lobster frites, escargot, and spinach gnocchi.
Mission & 6th Ave
Insiders at Akaoni know to choose from the daily specials, which include local prawns, succulent nigiri, and crispy veggie tempura. The laid-back ambiance belies the incredible quality and taste of the fresh sushi menu.
5th Ave between Dolores & San Carlos St.
Housed in the restaurant owner’s personal residence, Chez Noir has a friendly, warm atmosphere and an abundance of fresh California seafood prepared in classic French bistro style. The caviar and chilled oysters make an excellent start, and the striped sea bass is a must-try.
100 Dolores Street
Oaxaca cuisine comes to the coast at Cultura, an upscale spot for shareable dishes and vibrant Mexican flavors. The house-made tortillas infuse tacos with new life, while the Cultura mole with pickled veggies is impeccable.
29 Dolores St.
La Bicyclette is French bistro perfection. The eclectic space offers wood-fired bread and a bevy of California-inspired dishes. Traditional French flavors are here, as well, in the form of duck confit and gorgeous, buttery desserts like the classic apple tatin.
7th Ave & Dolores St.
The modern steakhouse Seventh and Dolores is the stylish newcomer to the Carmel culinary scene. This chic, white-linen restaurant brings mixology to new levels with artisan cocktails like the bell jar adorned Old Fashioned. The steak tartare, caviar experience and Chilean sea bass are truly exquisite choices.
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