Café Rustica blends creative European cuisine with superlative service.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Dining at Café Rustica in Carmel Valley makes you feel like you have taken a European vacation. The restaurant offers tasty fare from Italy, France, and Germany along with luscious California salads in a courtyard setting reminiscent of continental European restaurants.
My family likes the warm valley weather, as well as the friendly ambience at Café Rustica. On a recent visit for lunch, we conjured up Italian vacation visions by ordering slightly sour lemon soda from San Pellegrino, called Limonata, with our meal. This out-of-the-ordinary drink accompanied the rich foods we ordered for lunch surprisingly well.
For starters I ordered escargots (snails) bourguignons
($8.75), a French specialty. The snails were so tender that
they resembled mushrooms more than meat. Butter, garlic, and
parsley are the most obvious ingredients in the sauce, but
co-owner and chef, Sylvia Medina, told me that her husband,
Paulo Kautz, uses a secret recipe for this sauce that utilizes
no less than fifteen ingredients. I used the buttered slices
of toast that came with the snails to soak up this delicious,
10 Del Fino Place, Carmel Valley | 659-4444
Open daily; closed Wednesdays
lunch 11am-2:15pm | dinner 5pm-owners’ discretion
Laurent and I ordered 11” thin crust pizzas inspired by European dishes. Laurent’s Lorraine Pizza ($10.75) takes its name from Quiche Lorraine and is made up of sautéed, maple-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and gruyere cheese. For me, these are the best ingredients in the quiche, so I really liked Laurent’s choice. (So did he.)
Caramelized onions were one of the ingredients on my
Flammekeuche Pizza ($10.75), taken from a dish from Alsace, an
Eastern French region, which has also been a part of Germany
several times during its turbulent history. I loved the onions
with the cubes of prosciuttio that sat atop a layer of crème
fraiche on my pizza. I thought these ingredients would taste
especially good with a slightly sweet white wine like the
Vouvray, which Laurent ordered on a subsequent visit.
For dessert, Florence ate two scoops of Ciao Bello gelato ($6.95) from San Francisco. Vanilla bean flecks colored the gelato and added flavor bursts to this creamy dessert. Laurent drank a smooth, slightly bitter Lavazza espresso ($2.00) that he said had a lot of finesse. I enjoyed a Lavazza cappuccino ($3.50) that had milk froth piled up so high on it that it looked like meringue.
Laurent and I came back on another warm summer night for another gastronomic treat. We tried the dinner menu this time. I ordered the lamb filets ($20.50) and Laurent had the capellini pasta ($17.75).
The meaty lamb filets came three to a serving and surrounded an impressive piece of vegetable architecture: a perfectly round mound of au gratin potatoes sat on a bed of sautéed spinach with strands of roasted red pepper draped over the top of the potatoes. Sautéed tomato squares flowed down the sides of the au gratin potatoes. The freshly prepared vegetables all retained their individual flavors. A cabernet-shallot sauce covered the lamb filets with pine nuts sprinkled around for flavor. The sauce enhanced all of the flavors in the dish without overpowering any one. The savory lamb, like the rib eye steak, was tender enough to cut with a regular knife.
I ordered the Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia ($11/glass) to go with my meal, especially the cabernet-shallot sauce. My first Australian red was a success. The wine smelled and tasted like black berries, and had a strong, lengthy finish.
Laurent loved his capellini pasta that came with sautéed shrimp. The savory marinara sauce paired perfectly with the briny shrimp. Sautéed halves of sweet cherry tomatoes made up the vegetable contingent in this light, yet filling dish. Laurent drank the Pichot Vouvray ($7/glass) from the Loire Valley in France with his meal. The mildly sweet taste of this wine went well with the marinara sauce.
The pleasant, hardworking staff at Café Rustica make dining there such an appealing experience. Sylvia explains that she and Paulo treat all of their employees, from the dishwashers to the hostesses, with respect. “Everyone contributes to the restaurant’s success,” she says.
This philosophy comes from the fact that both she and Paulo have been employees in restaurants as well as owners. Paulo’s restaurant career spans more than 34 years, and Sylvia’s 20. They are both chefs in their own right: Paulo trained at the Internant School in Germany and Sylvia trained at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. They have cooked together for 17 years. Four-and-a-half years ago they opened Café Rustica and began working their charm on Carmel Valley. Sylvia and Paulo’s dedication to cooking and their high regard for restaurant professionals have helped them create a restaurant that merits a trip.