La Bicyclette – just the name summons up pleasant thoughts of riding around the French countryside on a warm summer day. A cozy corner restaurant in downtown Carmel hints at an equally pleasant experience.

Despite a dining room so packed on a recent warm Friday evening that it was almost communal, high ceilings and huge windows lend the space an airiness. A sip or two of cold, refreshing French fermented cider helped ease the heat too – boasting a heap of apple notes, plus the woodsier touches of time spent fermenting. Sitting by a breezy window, it was all just enjoyable enough that pizza and a heavier pork dish both sounded appealing.

Still, a cooling stone fruit salad started the show as it just looked so good sitting on the kitchen counter and everyone seemed to be ordering one. Grilled peaches and fresh nectarines met a huge pile of arugula perfectly, while blue cheese added depth, marcona almonds provided crunch and dried cherries added sweetness. For the salad’s $17 price tag, the toppings could have been slightly more plentiful, though the amount of greens was just right to share (or eat as a meal).

More salad came on top of the Santorini pizza, with one ingredient offering something of a surprise. “Romaine hearts” were dressed in tzatziki and dotted with green olives and cherry tomatoes, and made an interesting complement to the salty Lamb Chopper, a sheep’s milk cheese, and carrot harissa puree. Or maybe the salt came more from lamb bacon, which was sadly a bit buried under all the other flavors.

Interesting flavors are the name of the game at La Bicyclette. What was more appealing than the twists on the pizza was a cozy dish of pan-seared pork, marinated in grainy mustard which was perfectly subdued by brandy prune sauce. With sweet braised cabbage and luxurious yet simple boiled potatoes, the flavors could not have been more comforting – or more delicious.

And just when I felt subdued myself, my palate was taken somewhere unexpected again. This time it was by a dessert centered around truffle gelato. Mascarpone gelato made an appearance too, and the creams were separated by rows of pistachio cake. Dulce de leche and toasted almond crumbles decorated the plate and the tastebuds.

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Though I’m not one to mix truffle with sweets, I really couldn’t complain as the combination works. Each bite said homemade, good ingredients and a clever touch.

Speaking of good ingredients: The menu is updated weekly, incorporating what’s fresh and available, although the menu does adhere to a classic configuration with a pasta, pork, beef and fish dish.

Between the delectable food and the incredibly friendly and attentive service, I could see why everyone in the room was smiling. In fact, I could see why the room stayed packed. This kind of place is just as simple as a bike ride: happy, interesting and takes you straight to your destination – which in this case, was a satisfied stomach.

LA BICYCLETTE Dolores and Seventh, Carmel. 11am-3pm, 4:45-10pm daily. 622-9899, labicycletterestaurant.com

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