I had found La Bicyclette on my first day in Carmel while google-map-browsing for local restaurants. It was one of the highest rated on Zagat, which I trust more than other review sites, so I thought it was worth looking into. However, so many restaurants, so little time, and it stayed on my go-to list for a couple of weeks before I made my way there.
I am realizing that, given my love of good food, my desire to share my positive experiences with you, and my current sans-kitchen nomadic lifestyle, I will have to restructure the way I plan my meals to include more good restaurants. Besides, I am sooooo tired of the salad bar (hot or cold) at the various Whole Foods. It may be organic, healthy and all that, but it is obvious that, whoever cooks is not really interested (or has no real clue) in the final result (taste & texture), but just in getting on with it.
And I get that, I do, but I find myself more and more frustrated each time I walk around the counters looking at the either too rich, too saucy or too blah options that are generally always the same, not to mention the fact that three quarters of them usually contain chicken. I am even tired of the sushi bar! Besides, getting take out at WF does not save me money either, but on the days I assign myself to staying in and getting behind-the-scenes work done, interrupting my focus to go out for a meal is not a good idea, because I become too side tracked. So having some wholesome go-to food in my refrigerator is a must, even if it is pretty much always the same thing.
Actually, my intention is to eat really little and very clean on the “regular” days, so I can enjoy my restaurant meals. And I don’t mean pig out, I mean enjoy in the pure delight of fresh food beautifully prepared. So far I have managed it only some of the time, because going back to small and clean after divinely delicious can be challenging and requires discipline. But I am working on it, and when I manage it all the time I will let you know. That is, if you are interested.
Personal food mumblings and rantings aside, let me get back on track here. La Bicyclette is located on Dolores street, across from Comstock’s famous Tuck Box, in one of the pretty historic buildings on the walking tour. The ambiance is very French country and the food is, by their definition, European country cuisine, and carries strong French and Italian influences with a bit of American thrown in to round things out.
La Bicyclette is family owned and operated by the Georis Family, who originally hail from Belgium. And there is a story there. It begins in 1974 when they opened their first restaurant, then called La Boheme, in the same location where La Bicyclette is today. The idea was to share the kind of simple and fresh food they had grown up with in the Belgian countryside. They offered it in a nightly prix-fixe dish style, posting a monthly menu calendar in the window. Well, it worked, as they had a line out the door every night. Clearly the food was as good then as it is today.
In 1978 they sold La Boheme to one of their top waiters, and went on to open Casanova Restaurant. Fast forward thirty-seven years, and the family found themselves back at la Boheme, which they remodeled and opened as La Bicyclette in the quaint small space you see in the image above, the one that looks like a European country village. When the corner store next door became available, they expanded and added the wood-fired oven that now yields all those excellent pizzas, breads and other baked goods.
The menu at La Bicyclette is limited, but changes almost weekly to make use of the freshest local ingredients, and everything on it is excellent, at least everything I have tried so far and have seen on tables around me.
My first meal there was breakfast, which happened on that morning I went out early in the fog to re-photograph the historic buildings and cottages on the walking tour. By nine thirty I had already walked almost three hours on no breakfast, and that is when I found myself outside La Bicyclette, so I walked in.
It was already busy, as it pretty much always is except for maybe early in the morning on weekdays, but I found myself a little table by the window in the whimsical country village section. The servers were immediately helpful and genuinely friendly. Even before looking at the menu I had ordered my standard: a vanilla latte. It arrived served in a bowl on top of a pretty silver tray, and it was excellent, the best in Carmel so far.
The breakfast menu featured several appealing items: Wood-Fired Eggs with Bloomsdale Spinach, roast Potatoes on a toasted Baguette ($13); The Village Combo, aka two poached Eggs with Tomato, Avocado, Arugula and aged Vermont Cheddar also with toasted Baguette ($14); Bohemian Breakfast, aka two poached Eggs with Hollandaise, Red Cabbage, roast potatoes, Chicken Apple Sausage and toasted Baguette ($14); the Sweet & Savory, aka two wood-fired Eggs with half order of French Toast with fresh Berry compote and syrup ($14); Huevos Rancheros, aka two wood-fired Eggs with black Beans, Salsa Roja, Avocado, Queso fresco in warm Corn Tortillas and Cilantro ($14); Steel-cut Oatmeal with steamed Milk, Fruit compote and brown Sugar ($10); House-made Granola with fresh Berry compote, choice of Milk or Vanilla bean Yogurt ($10) and various sides and house-made breads and pastries.
But what called to me that morning was the French Toast: two thick slices of egg-dipped Brioche with fresh Berry compote and Maple syrup ($14). So that is what I went for, and it didn’t even occur to me to order a side.
The food here takes a little time to come, by American standards anyway. That is because the kitchen is small and everything is freshly prepared to order. I am all for simple presentation, where the food on the plate looks like what it is, but when my French toast arrived I thought the presentation could have used a little oomph, maybe with a few fresh berries besides the compote. But on first bite I knew how delicious this French Toast was, tender and crispy in all the right places, with the berry compote a nice complement to the maple syrup.
My lunchtime meal at La Bicyclette happened a couple of weeks later, on the day before leaving Carmel. I was sitting at a table in the main dining room, or I call it that because that is where the bar, wood fired oven and pantry are located. This is where I also discovered that, if you are a wine lover, La Bicyclette has a seriously good selection for you to enjoy. I have seen some bottles on their shelves that had me ooh-ing and aah-ing with surprise and delight, labels and vintages that are not easy to find even in Italy or France. I will indulge myself on my next trip, given that I rarely drive in Carmel town.
My breakfast there happened, but lunch was deliberately planned, as I had been yearning to try the fresh pasta I had seen on the menu while having breakfast.
Their lunch and dinner menus are divided in three main sections. There is a limited menu featuring a soup of the day, three or four appetizers (dinner only) two or three salads, a fresh pasta or risotto, a sandwich (lunch only), and three entrees, one chicken or pork, one fish and one beef. Then there is a pizza menu, which is the same both at lunch and dinner, and features a couple of classics plus a few more creative pizzas. The menu is completed by charcuterie, cheeses and escargots, as well as pains du jour and housemate pastries (lunch only). At these links you can view a sample lunch menu and a sample dinner menu.
I had craved pasta and, given the place, I was counting on it being delicious, so that is what I ordered. That day it was Fresh Tagliatelle with Ramp Pesto, Morel Mushrooms, Asparagus, Sea Beans and Parmigiana Reggiano ($16). Like breakfast, it took a little time to arrive, but when it did it was hot, fresh and as delicious as I had imagined. I loved the vegetable combination, but most of all I reveled in the pasta itself, which was perfect in both color, thinness and texture – just the way we Italians make it.
Believe it or not, even in some of the best restaurants I have been (outside of Italy, I mean), the fresh-egg pasta is always rolled out too thick, and is almost white in color instead of the straw yellow it should be if good eggs made by happy chickens who eat right are used. Except at Valenti’s in San Anselmo, of course, where Chef Duilio, being born and raised in Italy, knows what he is about.
I was full, but I had to try dessert. I asked my server which was her favorite and, without a glimmer of hesitation, she said: “The Apple Tarte Tatin.” So Apple Tarte Tatin it was! Just by looking at the photo you are probably thinking it was really good. It was more than that. It was a moan-worthy experience. It was made with puff pastry, and not upside down as often Tarte Tatin is made, but it still carried a caramelization – besides the caramel sauce, that is. The diners at the tables around me kept throwing glances at my plate, and I heard a couple next to me debating on how to include that in their meal, given that they had already had breakfast and were planning on dinner. I suggested they walk the ten blocks down to the beach and back, but not renounce this divine dessert. And if you are there, I suggest you share it if you must, but not renounce it either.
Before heading out, I headed to the restroom. That is when I discovered those divine wines on their shelves I mentioned earlier, and also walked past the wood-fired oven. A pizza had just come out, so I took a picture. From the looks of it I would say it is the Spring Lamb pizza with house cured Lamb Pancetta, Mint and Pea puree, baby Fava Beans, Mozzarella, Feta, Spinach and Lemon ($22). Looks good, doesn’t it?
Nearby I saw a dessert ready to be brought to its waiting diners and I photographed that, too. As you can see it is the Pot de Mousse au Chocolate, and it looks big enough to share. Yes, Valerie, maybe I will share this with you if you came visit me in the fall.
Yes indeed, I am heading back to Carmel very soon, and this time I will stay three months. One month is not nearly enough to explore the way I wish, because there is not just Carmel, but Monterey, Point Lobos, Big Sur, Salinas, Santa Cruz… And I may even get myself all the way down to Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. We will see how things flow, and what the puppies are up for. I do know that La Bicyclette will become a regular spot for me to get some of those delicious and wholesome restaurant meals I was mentioning.
Corner of Dolores Street and 7th – Carmel-by-the-Sea, Ca 93921 | ph. (831) 622-9899 | website | map
Other chapters in The Carmel Journals for you to enjoy (in order of publication):
And just beyond Carmel: