Lucy's In Carmel
American and fusion cooking meet where Toots once stood.
Thursday, November 21, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell; Photo: Down Home Again: Meatloaf, chili, and a lobster or two.
Being that I''m a Jersey girl, raised in the 1960s within spitting distance of the Turnpike and the Parkway, you''d think I know everything about meatloaf. But I was blown away-blown away, I tell you-by the big, beautiful, hot meatloaf sandwich I just ate at Lucy''s.
We''ll get back to that in a minute. First, introductions. The doors were barely shut Sept. 5 on The Fabulous Toots Lagoon, a long-standing Carmel institution on Dolores Street, when the spot was snapped up by Midge Frick, her daughter and son-in-law Leslee and Herb Beckett (all three former owners of the Carmel Cafe), and Melinda and Bernard Moises. The five of them scrubbed, swept, painted and sweated away in the kitchen for five weeks, before re-opening Oct. 22 as Lucy''s.
The interior looks pretty much the same as in Toots'' day, with banquette tables along the wall, a dark wood bar, bamboo ceiling fans, and Victorian-style hanging lamps. The heavy burgundy velvet wall coverings have been taken down and the walls painted a soft yellow, adding some needed brightness.
Lucy''s is a real family reunion, and not just for Midge and the Becketts. When they opened the Carmel Cafe in 1985, one of Midge''s first hires was 16-year-old Bernard Moises. He started washing up, and quickly graduated to baking and cooking. When the cafe closed in 1992, he went on to Spanish Bay, where he had risen to the station of sous-chef in the banqueting department by the time Herb, Leslee and Midge tapped him to come on board at Lucy''s as partner and head chef. Bernard brought with him the fusion-style cooking he learned in Pebble, and combined some of those Asian-influenced dishes with Midge''s down-home recipes-the staple fare she served at Carmel Cafe. The result is a menu that mixes Old World with New, ranging from bacon and eggs at breakfast and Texas chili for lunch, to lobster-stuffed ravioli and Chateaubriand for Two at dinner.
That''s quite a stretch, and it remains to be seen whether the two menu directions will continue to coexist, or whether one will eventually edge out the other.
I joined two friends for dinner at Lucy''s in early November. We chose the lob- ster ravioli ($8.95) and pot stickers ($7.95) for the appetizer course, along with a bowl of butternut squash soup ($5.95).
The pot stickers were all-around favorites-crisp dumplings filled with lobster and shrimp, which we dipped into a sweet-and-spicy mango-chili sauce. The dumplings were light, the sauce not at all cloying, and the amount just enough (five dumplings) to tantalize two. The ravioli took top marks from two of us, but I''m counting it as a complete winner because the lone naysayer later confessed that she doesn''t like lobster-immediate disqualification! The four round ravioli were brimming with fresh lobster, and surrounded by a hefty helping of rich, sherry-infused lobster sauce. The only drawback was financial-an appetizer hovering close to the $9 mark makes me squint, even if it is king of the crustaceans.
These two Asian-influenced appetizers were followed by all-American squash soup. It was hearty, plain, and nutritious-I liked it. If it had been snowing outside, we would have had the perfect Norman Rockwell scene.
On to our main courses: Sand Dabs ($12.95), Breast of Chicken Piccata ($13.95) and Roast Sirloin of Beef with horseradish sauce ($14.95).
The sand dabs were delicious-delicately seasoned, quickly sauteed and served with a piquant lemon, butter and capers sauce. They were accompanied by roasted baby red potatoes and a medley of carrots and beans cooked until just crisp. The steak was too plain for my taste, but The Lieutenant enjoyed it immensely. Pieces of fresh garlic had been stuffed inside the sirloin as it was slow-roasting, which gave the two (count ''em) pieces of meat a nice garlicky whiff. Coming off the sharp taste of my caper-and-lemon sauce, I yearned for a more marbled cut of meat, or perhaps a little more seasoning. Still, there''s much to be said for an honest steak.
Our only real disappointment was the chicken. All three of us found it too salty, with not enough lemon. Some of the same caper sauce from my dish was ladled on top, but it didn''t work nearly as well. The accompanying rice was also too salty. (Interesting side note: I later learned that Midge and Leslee shared my views on the dish, and it will undoubtedly be altered.)
Portions were so generous we couldn''t order dessert, but when our server heard of our displeasure with the chicken, he treated us to one of Midge''s fudge-marble brownies. It was dense and dark, with a rich chocolate icing-marvelous. Midge bakes all the pies, cakes and cookies on the menu-a nice touch.
But the meatloaf sandwich I had for lunch a week later was the best I''d ever tasted. By me, meatloaf is a can of Campbell''s vegetable soup mixed with ground chuck, formed into a loaf pan, with ketchup squeezed on top. Lucy''s meatloaf is Midge''s recipe, stolen (with permission) from a tiny deli in LaJolla. It was rich and filled with slow-cooked onions, thinly sliced and piled inside two thick slices of whole wheat bread, slathered with mayo and lettuce. On the side, a generous serving of cabbage and carrot slaw in a tangy vinaigrette-no mayo at all. I heartily-no pun intended-recommend it.
Lucy''s has a full bar (six single-malt Scotches), a nice selection of wines by the glass (16 listed, but they''ll open more), and Guinness on tap. And for lighter appetites and wallets, they offer a "demi menu" daily from 4:30-6pm.