Located within the beautiful Paseo San Carlos courtyard, Basil restaurant is one of those happy discoveries that, when I think about going, or talk about it, I get all bouncy inside and my tastebuds do the mambo. It is definitely deserving of its own chapter in The Carmel Journal series.
Basil was recommended to me by Rose, the new friend I had made a few days earlier at Pâtisserie Boissière. She seemed to know her food, so I took her suggestion into serious consideration. Of course, I did a little more research first, then made reservations for a Tuesday early lunch. Trying to be unobtrusive with a big camera is not easy, and until I can afford a Leica M9 with lenses and accessories, I do my best to show up at what I hope will be a less busy time. From my experience of Carmel, I had figured that would be lunch opening time (11:30 am) on a week day.
I thought I would swing by the post office first, then head to Basil. You see, I found out that the process of mail delivery here in Carmel is even more fascinating than on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Here, not only does everyone have a P.O. Box as there is no USPS mail home delivery, but there are no such things as numbers to go with street names. Your address would be, say, N.E. Corner of Mission and 5th Street, and that is if you are on a corner lot. Goodness knows what it would be if you lived in one of several homes on a street with a long stretch between junctions. No wonder here many houses have names. If you are not a resident, like me, you receive mail as general delivery. UPS and FedEx drivers know the deal, though, so even if Amazon tells you that your address does not look correct, keep insisting until it is accepted. And since sometimes Amazon, and other on line shops, ship from different locations and/or vendors, and that might not necessarily all happen via UPS, the post office suggested you add “general delivery” to the street address just in case. So far, I have received all my mail and packages without a glitch.
Despite my post office stop and a bit of dilly-dallying for photos on the way, I still managed to get to Basil ten minutes early. On top of that they were running late, as an accident on the highway had turned a twenty-minute commute into an over-an-hour-long one for many people, including some of the staff at Basil. While they rushed around to open up, helped but he kind man from the Manzoni Cellars wine tasting room right across, I took some pics and made friends with the cute dog in the image below. You may know this, yet again you may not, but Carmel is one of the dog-friendliest towns in America.
If you are from Carmel and happen to know this dog, get in touch with me and I will be happy to e-mail his humans a copy of the photo.
Once I saw that everything was ready and the other people who had been waiting were seated, I headed back to Basil, and the friendly server led me to the inside table by the window I had asked him to keep for me. Then came the difficult part: what to choose? I had, naturally, browsed the menu on line and had an idea of what I wanted. Then the server mentioned the specials and I was derailed, at least in one of my choices. I finally settled on the Herb Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables, Green Olives and Sage Brown Butter ($12) as an appetizer, then ordered the special, which was Prosciutto-wrapped Cod Fillet with Parsnip Puree, Broccolini and Trumpet Mushrooms ($29). I had also seen Umbrian Lentils with Fresh Herbs ($7) among the sides, and I was really curious to see what they would be like, so I ordered that as well. I could always take the lentils to go after tasting them if it all turned out to be too much.
Although I chose to not have wine with my lunch, Basil’s wine list features an interesting selection of fifty well selected wines. Local wineries, as well as wineries from Napa and Sonoma are heavily represented, and wines by the glass change as the seasonal menu changes.
Soon after I placed my order, the server brought a plate with fresh bread and a basil dipping sauce, which turned out to be seriously good. It was basically a pesto without cheese and very little olive oil, thus lighter, yet still creamy and delicious. Fresh, locally grown and organic vegetables (more on this later) feature prominently on the menu at Basil, and there are several excellent vegetarian and vegan options.
Then came the gnocchi, beautifully presented in a mini cocotte. They had been sautéed after boiling, so they were tender on the inside and crunchy on the outside, the vegetables were fresh and flavorful, and all was rounded out by a light touch of sage brown butter. The only thing I could have done without was the slice of raw tomato, as to me that does not belong in this kind of dish, especially when all the other vegetables are cooked. Other than that it was oh-so-good, and I could have had another serving, and another, developing the classic case of eyes being bigger than the belly. But I controlled myself. I was planning on getting to dessert after all.
I am usually not a main course/entree person, as I prefer to order two or three small plates so I get to try a variety of flavors and textures for the same amount of food. But the cod had sounded too good to resist, and it turned out to be a winner. The fish was deliciously tender and supported the prosciutto really well. I had not had parsnip puree in a long time, and it turned out to be just the right flavor combination for the fish, rounded out by the meatier broccolini and richer mushrooms. Just like with the gnocchi, everything was rich in flavors and yet light, not a drop of excess oil or butter in sight. My dad would love this place!
The same could be said of the lentils, which were cooked to just the right al dente point, and were satisfyingly delicious, yet light. Umbrian Lentils, or Lenticchie di Castelluccio, are my favorite type of lentils. And these were prepared just like my family and I make them: simple, with your basic vegetables and herbs. I only had a few bites to taste during lunch, and took the rest to go. They made the perfect dinner meal later that evening.
Dulcis in fundo, it was time to choose dessert. I was wavering between the Raspberry Crème Brûlée, the Limoncello Cheesecake and the Italian Bread Pudding (all $8), so I asked the server what he would recommend. The Bread Pudding was his enthusiastic answer, enhanced by the story of a recent client who had loved it so much that he came back for more the next day, and then again the day after that. Bread Pudding it was! The full description for that is Warm Flan with Brioche Bread Panettone and Port Wine Poached Pear. It was also topped with a scoop of fresh whipped cream, and the plate was drizzled with a little of Port and pear reduction. The pudding itself was a cross between bread pudding and a flan, and the portion size was just perfect. It was as delicious as it sounds, and I understood why the man had kept coming back for more. I am considering doing the same thing.
As you have seen in the images, Basil is not a large restaurant. The limited indoor seating area is supported by a well appointed patio dining space, complete with heaters and awnings, where your dogs are also welcome. Even then, reservations are a good idea, especially on weekends, when things get rather busy in Carmel. However, small restaurant it may be, but big in quality. And there is more!
Chef Soerke Peters and his business partner, Denis Boaro, are passionate about sustainability and being green. As a result, Basil does not just feature a seasonal menu that uses locally grown organic produce and ingredients, fresh wild and sustainable seafood, and free range meats without any hormones or antibiotics. Basil is also the first and only Certified Green restaurant in Carmel.
This means, among other things, that there is no food waste, and food scraps are composted. How many more kudos do they get for this? Lots, and lots, and lots…
Paseo San Carlos Courtyard, San Carlos Street – Carmel by the Sea, Ca 93921 | website | ph (831) 626-8226
fax (310) 499-5280 | e-mail: email@example.com | map
Other chapters in The Carmel Journals you might enjoy:
And just beyond Carmel: