As most of you know, one of my all-time favorite trips was Italy, last summer. From the amazing food in Bologna, the gorgeous sites in Florence, and old history in Rome, it was all extremely bucket list worthy. Ever since we left, I have been aching to go back, but easier said than done, right? #Goals. Italy is one of my favorite places (if not my favorite) for many reasons, but one reason that stands out at the top of the list is the amazing food and drinks. The culinary scene in Italy is unlike any other in the world – it is just downright flawless. Since we have not been able to travel back to the country, we have been scouting out Italian restaurants, trying to find food that is at least similar to what we had overseas. Nothing has compared, until our trip to California. I am so happy to say that we found Italy at Cantinetta Luca in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
According to the website, “Cantinetta Luca offers an authentic menu inspired by the traditional recipes of various regions of Italy featuring hand-crafted dishes using the finest Italian goods and locally sourced ingredients in a lively atmosphere. Executive Chef Aaron Rayor shares his experiences and travels through handcrafted dishes prepared traditionally with a simple and rustic presentation.”
After a full day of wine tasting in Carmel-by-the-Sea, you will be more than ready for dinner. Luckily for you, Carmel is a very walkable town. Everything is within a few specific blocks, so you do not have to worry about driving. This is true for Cantinetta Luca, as well. It is located in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea and is perfect to stop in after a long day of wine tasting, beach-going, or window shopping. Our last wine stop of the day was at the Carmel Road tasting room, so we did not have a far walk to Cantinetta Luca.
I really loved the feel of the restaurant – it is full of dim-lighting, ruby red, and bright green colors, and it just felt extremely cozy. The main dining room where we were seated felt intimate, but if you are interested in hosting an event at Cantinetta Luca, there is a room in the back left that is perfect for get-togethers.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty:
Yes, the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea feels like we are in Europe, Cantinetta Luca looks like a traditional trattoria in Tuscany and the location was perfect, but now, let’s get down to the best part of all: the food and drinks.
When I travel, I typically want to try as many restaurants as I possibly can, in order to get the ‘full experience’ of the city. While planning our trip to Carmel, I had the same intentions, but after visiting Cantinetta Luca, all I want to do is go back and dine there again and again. The food and drinks blew me away – it was all phenomenal. I will explain what we had, dish by dish:
- Abruzacello: “A perfect blend of spicy and sweet, we use the best Mexico and Italy have to offer: Tequila, fresh jalapeno, limoncello, and paprika.” You guys, this drink was amazing. Emily Bruza, the bar manager told us about how she was revamping the bar menu. One of her goals was to create fresh, unique cocktails, and this definitely fits the bill 100%, not to mention it is gorgeous. We could not stop taking pictures of this drink!
- Rabarbaro Mulo: “Bourbon, house-made rhubarb-ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, and soda walk into a bar…” This drink was totally up Ian’s alley – he fell in love with it. The rhubarb-ginger syrup is so unique and when it is mixed with the fresh lime juice, it adds a really fresh, bright aroma and taste to the drink.
- Fristene Caduto di Luca: “Vodka, Cointreau, Simple Syrup, and Prosecco gather together with a roasted, candied lemon to bring you the perfect summer cocktail.” Let me sum this cocktail up for you guys: perfection. Emily really out-did herself with this drink. It was fresh, bright, light, and really easy to drink. I loved the color that the candied lemon brought to the glass, as well. 10/10 recommend!
- Galante Vineyards 2010 Red Rose Hill: Like I mentioned above, we wine tasted all day, but this was by far the best that we tried. It was extremely smooth, which is what I prefer and it paired perfectly with the Bistecca alla Florentina.
- Artisan & Housemade Salume: The housemade salume was so, so good. If I am not mistaken, there are only three options that are shipped in from out of the country and the others are made in-house. The 20-month prosciutto is from San Danielle, Italy, the Calabrese is from Canada, and the Speck is from Sudtirol, Italy. Their house-made salume includes ungherese, finnocchiona, nostrano, salame coto, and bresaola. It was all so good, fresh, and definitely well-made.
Salad: “Little Gem, Charred Endive, Anchovy, Parmesan, Olive Oil Croutons.” I love a good salad and this was a great salad. It was fresh, crisp, and I love the fact that they added anchovies (a lot of restaurants don’t include them). So good!
- Octopus: “Wood Roasted Octopus, Endive, Mustard Greens, Calabrese, Fried Chickpeas, Chili Vinaigrette.” I made the claim on Instagram saying that this Octopus was the best I have ever had. That’s saying a lot because I have eaten quite a bit of octopus over the years. This dish was flawlessly executed. It is not the prettiest dish, but the taste will blow you away – it was just fabulous.
- Luca’s Signature Bistecca Alla Florentina: Funny story: the night before we dined at Cantinetta Luca, we were looking for a place to eat dinner with our photographer, Victor. We called another restaurant, they were booked, so we asked for a recommendation. They asked what we were interested in eating & we responded, “steak.” She told us that her all-time favorite steak was at Cantinetta Luca. She said that nowhere else would compare. We probably would have ordered it anyway, but after a comment like that, you just have to order it. Florence, Italy is known for their ‘Florentine steaks.” They are juicy, tender, and most of the time, rare. This gives the meat a lot of flavor. Cantinetta Luca hit the hammer on the head with this one – it was amazing and really took us back to our days in Italy. If you dine at Cantinetta Luca, you have to order the Bistecca Alla Florentina. It was by far the best steak I have eaten since Italy. Tip: it is massive, so go hungry!
- Pasta: “Bucatino, Cacio E Pepe, Seven-Year Parmesan.” I am a pasta girl, so when I saw this on the menu, I knew I had to try it and boy, am I glad I did. Cacio E Pepe is a traditional Roman dish and is just so, so good. At this point, I was overly full, but it was so good that I had to keep taking bite after bite. To this day, I still dream about this Cacio E Pepe. Cantinetta Luca, do you ship?! 😉
Everything that we tried that night was amazing, as you can tell and I am happy to say that Cantinetta Luca is by far my favorite restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea. If you are in search of an authentic Italian restaurant while you are traveling to Carmel, California, run (don’t walk) to Cantinetta Luca – you will be ecstatic that you did! I found Italy at Cantinetta Luca in Carmel-by-the-Sea and I am so glad that I can share it with all of you!
Cantinetta Luca hosted us during our visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea, but all opinions are my own. Thank you so much for supporting brands that work with The Berger Bungalow!