It’s possible to leave Shearwater Tavern confused, and happily so.
Imagine a soup in which beef and strands of onion vie for attention. They dangle from the spoon, collapse on the palate and push to the forefront until the broth becomes a swirl of sweet, swarthy, and gently bitter notions. And all of this takes place after you pierce through a pad of melted cheese that lends nutty and toasted notes.
Hang on a minute. Is that a French onion soup loaded up with meat?
Yes, chef Wayne Brooks brings braised short ribs to the classic bowl. And although it lands on the “Small Plates” side of the menu, the heft gained from red meat can make a solid meal.
Another small plate consists of house made "Shearwater tots." So naturally you anticipate potatoes, shredded and formed into bite sized bits piled onto the dish.
You would be wrong.
Brooks’ interpretation of tater tots defies expectation. What arrives at the table is a pair of oversized croquettes with a filling of whipped potatoes so creamy and delicate it melts away. The crust provides a welcome crackle and a streak of smoky, nutty character that plays well with shards of parmesan dusting on top.
They are standouts. What they share with the common tot, however, comes down to shape. Johannes Kepler would have a field day.
Why Kepler? Well, he’s the one who first laid out the geometrical calculations necessary to define a barrel shape—technically a truncated prolate spheroid, we checked. The astronomer stumbled across the equation while trying to determine just how many barrels of wine were needed to satisfy his wedding guests.
Kepler knew how to party with precision.
OK, got a bit sidetracked.
The chef’s Parker House rolls are, well, rolls—which by now comes as somewhat of a surprise. Again, it’s a pleasant one. They are warm and pillowy, and when you spread them with honey butter, the plush sweetness seems to embrace the bread.
Shearwater features a burger of dry aged beef and a selection of entrees. But the small plates menu is for exploring.
Arriving at the restaurant can be a bit of a puzzle, especially for those who tend to do the driving and are unfamiliar with it. Shearwater Tavern occupies a space inside the Carmel Mission Inn that was formerly The Fuse Lounge. Although visible from Highway 1 if you chance to look away from the traffic ahead, the place is tucked behind a gas station and the entrance gets a bit lost.
But it’s a place to know about, especially if you enjoy a surprise or two.
Shearwater Tavern is in the Carmel Mission Inn at 3665 Rio Road, Carmel. Dinner served 4-10pm Tuesday-Saturday. 624-1841, shearwatertavern.com