La Balena in Carmel Looks to Make a Splash
November 28, 2012
Local tour boats didn’t see this Tuscan whale coming, but you can rest assured the other Italian restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea are taking notice.
Open for just over a week, La Balena (250-6295) is employing authentic muscle to create a menu and an ambience that are legitimately northwestern Italian.
Owners Emanuele and Anna Bartolini have been in the area for two years after a move from New York, where Emanuele, who’s originally from Florence, worked for Mario Batali at famed Del Posto.
Combo that pedigree with the Naples-born-and-Italian-trained Chef Salvatore Panzutto, formerly of Carmel bakery Pastries and Petals, and you have a team that knows its way around a meatball.
“We’re serving rustic Italian food like what you get in Tuscany,” Anna says, “keeping things fresh, local and simple.”
So far, she says, the locals have welcomed Carmel’s newest eatery with open arms, even if the tourist response hasn’t been the best.
The key word when it comes to La Balena—and any new restaurant in our current farmers-market-minded climate, fortunately enough—is fresh. It has to be, actually, considering there is no walk-in freezer at the little courtyard spot. The pricey menu changes nightly; the produce is locally grown; and the seafood is locally (and sustainably) caught.
That means one evening the lineup will be zuppa toscana ($8), penne al ragu ($18) and bisteca di ribeye ($27). The next, risotto con funghi ($18) and spaghetti alle cozze ($18). Other menu items that have proven popular include pesce del giorno (or “fish of the day,” MP), minestra di tacchino ($10) and myriad crostinis.
When it comes to wine they have their bases covered—serving local bottles like Silvestri and Wargin alongside flashy Italian imports.
On Dec. 16, Panzuto will partner with CSA-of-the-sea Local Catch Monterey and Savor’s Colleen Logan on a special one-off dinner ($75++). They’re calling it a “pop-up,” but when you do a dinner in your own restaurant, the Weekly refuses to call that a pop-up. Call Logan at 708-8315 for more.
Take notice: The Peninsula has a new pasta place, with a big name, looking to make a splash.
Photo by Shiho Fukushima