Folktale Winery appears much like a fairytale – a castle with a beautiful garden patio surrounded by Carmel Valley mountains. Walking in, one is handed a taste of the vineyard’s brut and led to a sunny spot outside or into the small, airy villa.
As for the ambiance, it all depends on when you go. On a quiet weekday evening the service is royal, making the experience relaxing and enjoyable. On the other hand, Folktale can be chaotic on weekends – to the degree that many locals know to avoid it. As we sat there on a Saturday afternoon, servers, guests and even children whizzed around while angry guests complained about the wait times. Our server seemed distracted by a loud community table and bordered on being brusque.
The kitchen is usually pretty reliable, but – as with service – it can suffer from such chaos. On a cloudy Thursday the Niman Ranch meatballs were tender as could be, but on a more hectic Saturday, they came dried out with a noticeable burnt aroma.
On this occasion the meatballs also arrived at least 15 minutes later than everything else. Ample Parmesan was scattered over creamy ricotta, but even all the cheesy goodness couldn’t disguise the flat, overcooked San Marzano tomatoes.
The bad taste in my mouth was made worse by a shortage of water options. Other than a $10 bottle of sparkling San Pellegrino, the only water available came from a self-service tap water stand – a sip that really highlights the tinniness of public water. Affordable bottled water would be a nice palate cleanser.
Naturally, people visit for the wine. And there are pairing options aplenty – sparkling, rosé, late harvest, whites, reds, a 94-point Rhone blend, a 90-point Chardonnay and, of course, a selection of Pinot Noirs. Depending on what you order, you might hit on a perfect wine and food pairing.
Creative boards start the list – a cheese board, an artisan bread board, a charcuterie board – but the rest of the menu is worth exploring. Carrot tacos pose an interesting concept – and flavor, too. A mild jalapeño-pea puree delivers depth with only a little of the expected heat, while a grain crumble adds crunch.
Flatbreads are crowd pleasing, namely the “Fun Guy” – an assortment of mushrooms on brie with truffle oil. Pickled beech mushrooms provide welcome acidity, while a mix of roasted wild mushrooms remain lightly funky. The shiitake duxelle seemed lost, but the pizza was still the most flavorful dish on the table. The elote flatbread with chorizo was a close second, though it maybe seemed a little under-decorated by its charred corn, cotija and fermented jalapeño crema.
St. Andre brie toast is the closest thing to dessert at Folktale – on raisin pecan bread dressed with truffle honey. A pretty presentation showed off crunch from marcona almonds and sweetness from wine-poached currants. It’s not exactly the treat one might hope for at a wine-centered restaurant, but it got the job done. Not all fairytales have perfectly sweet endings.
FOLKTALE WINERY 8940 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. Noon-8pm daily. 293-7500, folktalewinery.com