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Friday, April 10, 2015

Carmel: Why Now's the Time for a Visit

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge Chef Johnny De Vivo - PORTER'S IN THE FOREST
  • Porter's in the Forest
  • Chef Johnny De Vivo
If the anxiety of paying your taxes is making your cuticles extra ragged, gift thyself some sun and a wine tasting in Carmel. The valley itself is especially pretty, fragrant with eucalyptus trees and other greenery – a sign that you’ve crossed the line into Monterey County. Bonus: the traffic is never as crazy as Napa or Sonoma, meaning the chances of getting stuck behind a bachelorette party in a stretch Hummer are close to zero. Also, there are more deals to be had before the peak summer months set in.


Why Go Now: The vibe is laid-back in the warm inland valley, at the northern end of the Carmel Valley Appellation. Just 12 miles inland from the coast, seek out small yet promising tasting rooms from Holman Ranch, Bernardus, Heller Estate, Twisted Roots, Joullian, and Cima Collina and others. The area feels like being in a European village, complete with some spectacular views of the Santa Lucia mountains. Holman Ranch pours a good pinot noir (that cool marine layer does the trick) and has unfined pinot gris and chardonnay as well. Holman Ranch has been around since 1928, and was once frequented by Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Price, Marlon Brando, Joan Crawford and Marlon Brando – presumably not all at once, but who knows?

Where to Eat: Porter’s in the Forest may surprise, because it is a restaurant that happens to be on the Poppy Hills golf course in Pebble Beach. Maybe you think golf club food has to be deep fried and retro, but that's definitely not the case here. Chef Johnny De Vivo (who formerly ran the beloved La Bicyclette and Casanova restaurants in Carmel) has fresh goods with gardens on site. His spring asparagus with quinoa, Parmesan and pistachios rocks, along with Jidori chicken wings served with poppy sauce. Red meat traditionalists can get a beef burger with some delicious onion marmalade or a pleasing steak. De Vivo told me that coming to Porter's was a chance to try something exciting and new while also gifting him more time to see his son play high school football. De Vivo calls his new cuisine "California Artisanal," and makes everything in-house: fresh bacon from smoked pork bellies; butter made from churned cream for fresh bread. De Vivo also makes excellent kimchi, ketchup and pickles. Adult drinks (lemon verbena with Nolet's gin and candied ginger, anyone?) from the effervescent Noelle Rodallegas take farm-to-glass to the next level, gulp.

Stay: Vendange Carmel (24815 Carmel St.), run by the Lee family, works a theme in a fresh way: Rooms are sponsored by a local winery, which means you may see photos from a winery in your suite, or even furniture fashioned from a wine barrel. Rates range from $100-$400, and if you can do a weeknight stay in April, you'll get a good price. A stay in the Manzoni suite means you can sample and buy a bottle of their finest. The wine country theme has been played out before, but this is a new take worth mulling over during a sit at the inn’s festive and social fire pit, which used to be a koi pond.

Send thirsty thoughts to writereadeat at gmail 
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Mary Ladd

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