Out Of The Past
A culinary journey to Carmel Valley's Los Laureles Restaurant and its classic saloon proves to be a tasty trip down memory lane.
Thursday, May 17, 2001
Just over the hill, vast expanses of rolling countryside beckon lovers of the outdoors. Ranches, vineyards, golf courses, hiking trails, farms and small villages are all the order of business out in Carmel Valley. Taking a ride there is a great way to feel as though you are visiting an entirely new and different place--sort of a mini vacation without leaving home.
An area with so much to offer in the way of recreation and natural beauty will usually have lodging for visitors to stay and play. Our little corner of the world here in Monterey County is teeming with resorts, hotels, inns, lodges and other accommodations. Considering how small an area we are talking about, it is amazing so many stay in business.
In addition to regular tourist season business, much of the hospitality industry around here derives its revenue from large events, such as the AT&T golf tournament, and the rather extensive conference business that this region generates. Naturally, the facilities that are located closer to the Conference Center, as well as the major venues, fare better throughout the year than some of the more remote facilities, such as the ones in Carmel Valley.
Some lodging facilities also incorporate restaurants into their overall offerings. That adds another difficult aspect of the business, since restaurant competition is so fierce on the Peninsula. Trying to run a successful restaurant operation in Carmel Valley is especially tough considering the strong competition, the perception that it is too far from the Monterey metropolitan area, severe seasonal limitations and its relatively small population base.
Still, intrepid hospitality professionals, condemned (perhaps a little too strong a word) to a life of service to their fellow humans, strive daily to feed, house and comfort local and visiting travelers. There is something quite noble about the small group of longtime service industry people who--despite aches and pains to their bodies, minds and spirits--continue to lovingly serve others each day. Never is the financial remuneration equal to the expended effort, yet these rare souls press on year after year, undaunted by the debilitating effects of lifetime service.
At Los Laureles Restaurant and Lodge, out on Carmel Valley just a short ways past the more lavish and upscale Bernardus Lodge, sits a monument to an earlier time--a time when fewer folks found their way out those rustic parts. Back in 1890, it originally was the Del Monte Hunting and Fishing Lodge, and later became a country retreat in which Muriel Vanderbilt Phelps entertained her friends. Los Laureles provides visitors a glimpse back to when life was less hurried, when Carmel Valley was more country, when locals and visitors alike would pack the quaint saloon and revel in each other''s companionship.
The saloon is the gateway to the whole restaurant experience here. Aged wood and stone combine with beautiful old paintings to draw you in and welcome you. Faded memories and faint echoes of laughter gone by envelope you and carry you into your own imagination, shaping original memories about speculative scenarios.
Cocktails, served by one of the remarkable staff members of Los Laureles Restaurant, somehow quench thirst more completely. Each service person is someone who has beaten--seemingly forever--the hardwoods and tiles of area restaurants. Each is a giant in his and her field--a field that has, unfortunately, never been given proper respect. However, if you are astute, you quickly understand the stature of this collective crew. It is a pleasure to behold.
After relaxing cocktails in what just might be the coolest barroom in these parts, sashay into the beautiful dining room overlooking the pool and be seated at one of the lovely table settings. Allow the seasoned staff to spoil you in a delightfully casual yet gracious manner.
Order a nice bottle of wine from the adequate list and some appetizers from the menu--a menu that features locally grown organic produce, locally caught fresh seafood and top-notch ingredients.
Chef Lisa Magadini shoots for interesting variations with familiar ingredients. A few examples of her creative flair are pumpkin bisque with creamy handmade gnocchi ($6), sun-dried tomato braised leek and goat cheese tartlet (I used to call my first wife something like that) with arugula salad and balsamic reduction ($7), and seared local halibut with Castroville artichokes, baby spinach and crispy artichoke chips over mashed potatoes ($16).
For the most part, Magadini nails ''em. A scallop appetizer, the goat cheese tartlet, a duck entree, a swordfish with sun-dried tomato tapenade and the porterhouse steak with French green beans, mashed potatoes and mustard au jus ($20) were our choices (we invited a very nice woman we met in the bar to join us). Each was well prepared, fresh as a daisy and very tasty. Miss Boom and myself have eaten dinner here twice in the last month or so, and each time had an absolutely fantastic experience.
I''m not sure the staff would give me such high grades after my last visit (I was suffering from a bad case of Spring fever and misbehaved slightly).
We usually arrive in the late afternoon so we can enjoy the beautiful countryside (we never stop marveling at the visual glories of our surrounding areas). Then we''ll spend a bit of time soaking up the splendor of that old-style saloon. Then we mosey on into the dining room and ride out the experience with a good meal.
This is a good place. The people involved, from the owners on down, are good people. They are really giving this restaurant and lodge a run for the money and deserve to have a lot of business. With the quaint dining rooms available for meetings and the beautiful grounds, it is a natural for functions of varying sizes.
I wish I had some type of company that I could convene there for afternoon lunch meetings or weekend retreats. Meanwhile, I''ll just have to keep on showing up for those wonderful evenings in the country, just like I used to do in a past lifetime.
Los Laureles Restaurant and Lodge is located at 313 West Carmel Valley in Carmel Valley and is open daily for lunch from 11am-3pm and dinner from 5:30-9pm. For reservations or more info, click on www.loslaureles.comor call 659-2233.