A Visit to Carmel Valley — Visite de la vallée de Carmel

Dinner at Bernardus Lodge, CA

What does Curiosity killed the cat? mean?” I asked P. when we walked out of the fun boutique we had found on Grant street, holding my new T shirt in one hand. I bought it because I fell in love with its light-grey color, thin fabric and cheerful design. Yet I only noticed the words written on it when I looked again more carefully. We did not even have a full day in San Francisco but could not resist an hour shopping before the stores closed on Sunday afternoon.

He looked back at me and smiled.

You don’t know?

Well in the end, curiosity is what perhaps also brought me to the Carmel Valley and the Monterey Peninsula this past weekend. I was just too curious to see what I would found out in this part of the Pacific coast where P. and I — and John, Matt, Ed, Sarah, Chris, Robert and Tony, a few other bloggers — had been invited by a really friendly team at Mazda.

mazda mx5

Driving our Mazda MX5 in Carmel Valley

los lobos state park monterey

You will stay at the Bernardus Lodge. It sits on a winery, and has a spa and a nice pool. You will visit an organic farm, follow Chef Cal Stamenov in a cooking class and discover the Monterey peninsula driving one of our cars,” Melanie at Mazda told me.

Really?

I paused and hesitated. Then I thought about the visit to the farm that I was dying to do, the Marinus restaurant where I was really keen to dine, meeting Cal and follow him in his cooking class, the Mazda MX5 we were going to drive, sunny California with Monterey and San Francisco — one of my favorite American cities — and the buzz word “mini vacation“.

I guess we are going to California in two weeks,” I told P. when he came home later that day.

And what a fun weekend that was. Not only did we indeed have an amazing time, but it was even better than what we expected before we left. And that tells something.

bernardus lodge monterey

bernardus lodge monterey

bernardus lodge monterey

bernardus lodge monterey

The Bernardus Lodge, Carmel Valley

Surrounded by vineyards and a gorgeously flowered garden full of fragrant lavender, Bernardus Lodge sits in the middle of scenic Carmel Valley, only two hours South of San Francisco. With its warm-painted brick walls, the property made us think about the San Catalina convent in Arequipa we had visited in Peru in November; we liked it right away. The lodge offers plenty to anyone looking for a relaxing, cozy and comfortable retreat: a wonderful pool and spa where to pamper yourself, a friendly staff, and a superb restaurant — voted one of Zagat’s top restaurants in the Bay Area. Although we initially felt somewhat shy and overwhelmed by such luxury — quite different from our usual more modest stays — we eventually just did like the Romans: we enjoyed it all. Our generous hosts had indeed meticulously planned every detail of our stay.

bernardus lodge monterey

On the night of our arrival, dinner resembled almost a banquet. We were a jolly bunch sitting around a long family-style table set up in one of the gardens of the property. The air was crisp and clear, but we did not mind. There, we were served deliciously fresh, local food: barbecued whole sea bass freshly caught in the morning, beef tartar, a wide selection of grilled summer vegetables, mixed salads, chicken served with couscous, lamb chops cooked to perfection and to finish, fresh berries and chocolate truffles. I do not know how we managed to eat all this food, or how we could possibly leave the table feeling light, but we did. And still the following morning, we managed to wake up early.

Is it sunny like this every day?” I asked one of our hosts in the lobby.

We had just enough time to start the day with a healthy breakfast — apple juice, Irish oatmeal with fresh fruit, French toast and wholegrain muffins — before heading to Earthbound farm. I could hardly contain my excitement. The drive from the lodge to the farm was short but exhilarating. With the top of our fun all-shiny car down, sun lotion and sunglasses on, it took only ten minutes before we arrived at the farm where Janna Jo welcomed our small group. Despite the fact that she was wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat, the sand-golden tan on her lovely, friendly face proved that she was spending a lot of time in the sun.

earthbound farm monterey

Did you know that Earthbound Farm was created by two New Yorkers who did not know anything about farming when they arrived?” she said, laughing.

I did not know. And I was amazed to hear more, and discover the wide selection of vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers on site, so well-attended it seemed. With a basket and seccateur each, we walked between the furrows and collected multi-colored raspberries, young fennel, salad, basil, zucchinis and zucchini flowers, and pea tendrils.

earthbound farm monterey

earthbound farm monterey

earthbound farm monterey

Janna pointed at a new variety of lemons and apples they were experimenting with; she showed us artichokes and also picked cranberry beans for us to see. As I was smelling the fresh air, feeling the early morning sun on my skin and squishing the soil still wet from the morning dew under my feet, I was beaming.

Laughing, I proclaimed to P. “I think we have to move to California!

earthbound farm monterey

earthbound farm monterey

Earthbound Farm

After about two hours spent on the farm, we headed back to the lodge where Cal and his team were waiting for us to start the cooking class. Once more, we were royally treated by extremely friendly and welcoming people. Cal started by demonstrating how to prepare a Tomato Ratatouille Gratin, a twist on a more traditional recipe. Fennel, eggplant, onion, garlic, Heirloom tomatoes, young zucchinis, thyme, savory and lots of olive oil all went in. He chose this recipe more particularly because of the fact that tomato season was still at its peak; a tomato fest was held the following day. Then he continued with the making of basil bread. Ben, his pastry chef, led a chocolate truffle session first introduced by a short talk about the different varieties of chocolate he typically bakes with; I was pleased to hear that like me, he enjoys using Valrhona by far. We joyfully dipped ganache in cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, grated coconut and finely chopped pistachios. I was so amazed by the vibrant green color of the pistachios that I had to ask Ben where he got it from. “Switzerland,” he replied.

We were not able to taste the ratatouille right away, but I could not wait as I was curious to compare Cal’s recipe to the taste of mine.

bernardus cooking cal

ratatouille

bernardus lodge truffle

You know, I always thought your ratatouille was good,” P. whispered in my ear when we sat down for lunch, around another impressive and memorable meal. “But this one is amazing!

And it truly was, sweet and tangy, melting in your mouth.

I cannot wait to try his recipe when we go home,” I told him back.

bernardus lodge cal

Smell this,” Cal told me as he held a tonka bean in front of my nose. Then, he pointed to a wall in the kitchen where many famous people and chefs had left had-written notes. I recognized some French and exclaimed “Oh, Alain Passard and Michel Richard.”

I worked with Michel Richard for two years,” Cal replied, smiling. “He is so creative.

bernardus meal monterey

After lunch, we managed to squeeze in a few hours for a drive around. We headed south to Point Lobos State Reserve to discover quite breathtaking scenery.

Ah ça c’est vraiment le Pacifique,” (This is really the Pacific ocean) P. told me.

This ocean is indeed quite different from the Atlantic on our side.

monterey

lobos state park monterey

Point Lobos State Reserve, CA

A few hours later, we were hopping in the cars again, this time heading a few miles away, to the Bernardus winery sitting atop a hill. Cal and his team had, once more, prepared gorgeously fresh and tasty food for us: a Dungeness crab salad with avocado, passion fruit and basil olive oil; a portobello mushroom soup and its fresh goat cheese and summer truffle; a slow-baked wild king salmon served with a brown butter vinaigrette; a grilled prime filet of beef accompanied by sweet corn, red wine jus and chanterelle mushrooms; and to finish, a Valrhona Chocolate Mousse topped with toasted meringue and served with a drizzle of yuzu and mint.

I could easily get used to this,” I told P. when we returned to our room, both of us tasting the enjoyable food coma we were in. “I wonder what the race track will be like tomorrow. I have never been to one before.

bernardus winery monterey

Dinner at Bernardus Winery, CA

monterey

So how was the Laguna Seca Race Track?

Fast.

I kept thinking about my brother who would so much have enjoyed to be there to see all these motorbikes race.

seventeen mile drive monterey

The weekend flew by, and the memories of great times started to pile up.

But we could just not leave California without a stop in San Francisco. We were so close.

With not even a full day in Frisco, the choice of restaurants to visit was hard. There was, however, one place I did not want to miss: Tartine bakery. We only had a few hours before heading to the airport, but I was determined to have breakfast at Tartine. It was my curiosity, once more, that took us there. And we were lucky; when we arrived, there was hardly any people waiting inside. We chose two cups of plum brioche pudding, two bowls of muesli with two cups of green tea and found a table outside to sit at, ready to soak in the last moment of sunny California. Two young guys were sitting next to us, chatting away. As friendly Californians, when they saw me sit down, they engaged in a conversation.

Did you take nice pictures?” the tall blond one asked when he caught a glimpse of my camera around my neck.

I hope so,” I replied.

Oh, fun T shirt that you are wearing. I like it!” he added when he looked at my grey T shirt. “Are you French?

Yes.

How do you say Curiosity killed the cat in French?” he added in broken French.

I paused. I actually had to think. How do we say “Curiosity killed the cat” in French?

I think we say la curiosité est un vilain défaut,” I responded.

Do you want a picture of the two of you? I am a photographer.

Sure, why not?

tartine breakfast san francisco

tartine bakery san francisco

Breakfast at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco

Unlike the cat, I am glad to have seen where my curiosity led us to.

Surely, we will be back! There is so much more to see and do in beautiful sunny California.


PS 1: A big thank you to the Mazda team for their wonderful hospitality and warm welcome, and Cal and his team for such great food! We had a blast!

PS 2: I really wished we had had more time in San Francisco as I would have loved to meet many of you who live there. Next time, I hope. Thanks Amy for suggesting to organize a meet-up! Very kind of you.

A few addresses

Bernardus Lodge & Marinus Restaurant
415 Carmel Valley Road
Carmel Valley, CA


Earthbound Farm Stand
7250 Carmel Valley Road
Carmel, CA


Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero St.
San Francisco, CA

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Posted in Food & Travel, Food Styling | 78 Comments

78 comments

  1. what a great “mini vacation” packed full of exciting adventures! thanks for taking me along with this post.

  2. That’s quite a weekend! And with sunshine too (I’m already missing it and it’s only September)

  3. Bea – Your take on the weekend is superb. Like your photography. It blows me away that you can be a foodie and a great shooter all in one! There’s a freshness to your writing – like a soft breeze – that I love. What a talent! Keep it up.

    Chris
    Toronto

  4. Beatrice, it was great meeting you and P. on the trip, and I love your account of the trip. Love your photographs – it’s so inspiring!

  5. Quelles photos magnifiques… je les adore. Tu me donnes envie d’y aller, et avant qu’aujourdhui, je n’avais jamais entendu parler de “Carmel Valley” ! Merci d’avoir les partage :)

    (pardon, mon francais n’est pas encore fantastique….et, en plus, mon clavier n’a pas d’accents!)

    Jane

  6. you remind me why I love California so much! Thanks for sharing your beautiful holiday with us!

  7. I was determined to eat at TArtine too when I went to San fran too! I had their croissant and it was amazing! Michel Richard is an awesome chef. I had the most phenomenal meal at Citronelle. He was a pastry chef before which explains the creativity and whimsy in his dishes.

  8. Oh…Tartine!! I am from the Castro, in San Francisco — my father’s house is a few blocks away — and I can taste their treats as I think about them! I now live in Portland (OR), but I go back frequently, and each time I MUST visit Tartine! The plum version of their bread pudding is absolutely the best; lucky you, for being there when plums are in season.

    Simply the photographs of that busy corner are enough to give me a lump of homesickness in my throat—and to make my mouth water!

  9. This post made me so happy! I met Chef Cal earlier this summer, and was SO impressed. Your pictures of Bernardus are simply gorgeous.

    I’m glad you had fun in Carmel Valley… it’s a beautiful place…

    Definitely let us know when you’ll be back in the area, so that we can meet you!

  10. What a great set of photos capturing the farm and all of Northern California in it’s glory.
    Oh and by the way, it’s not just Californians who are friendly…pretty much the whole west coast is!

  11. You are killing me! We just moved from Santa Cruz – your vacation spots were our ‘backyard’! (We are living in Cambridge, MA for a year) Thanks for convincing me that we must move back there – soon -!

  12. Ohh you perfectly captured the Bay area reminding me of what I miss so! So glad you were treated well- Good times.

  13. You really captured the light in your photos exquisitely….as always! I really want to get out to the west coast now! Always wanted to, haven’t been yet. Ah, life is long. There is always time!

  14. Incredible photos and reat writing, but the heart of your post that I really appreciate is how much you really appreciated your weekend, your experiences, California, SF, the people and the food. You really got that across. And your beaming face in the picture helps to convey that as well!

  15. What a mini vacation! I would love to get a phoe invitation like this one day! Love your t-shirt!
    Awesome pictures…one can only dream…and might one day reach the stars.

  16. What a wonderful post! I am always in awe in front of your perfect photos and the beautiful sceneries…

    Bises,

    Rosa

  17. bonjour B this is one of my fave drive trip in the west coast area…. twice i have done this..what great trip…oh we are peas in a pod in face ;-)

  18. superbe reportage sur ce magnifique endroit : des cotes bretonnes et un environnement presque italien. je rêve d’un endroit paradisiaque comme celui-ci.

  19. Hi Bea

    Pics are amazing–best ever! And of course all the food looks mouth-watering. Love following you and P on your treks–your mother-in-law keeps me updated. Thanks! By the way, what kind of camera do you use? Best wishes, gail

  20. je ne sais pas si tu comprends le français ?!
    je suis allée à monterey avec mon mari, il y a quelques années, et j’ai véritablement adoooré cet endroit et la célèbre route payante ! aurais tu une adresse d ‘hotel sympa pour feter nos 40 ans ?
    Merci.
    Sandra

  21. I heart your blog. This is truly an inspiration for me, and when I don’t feel that great sometimes, it always makes me smile :)
    I don’t know if I say this because I’m a food freak, hehe, but I think food is magical and you are doing a great job by making that magic real. So basically….you are like a wizard :-D
    Fondly,
    Tea

  22. Bea, you are a regular photo dynamo, they are magnifique! I spent a very important year of my young adulthood in Monterey and looking at your photos has me itching to go back for a visit. I loved it there. Thank you for taking us along on your visit.

  23. Don’t feel bad for the cat — the whole saying is, curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back! It sounds like you were well satisfied!

  24. absolutely lovely! fantastic pics, great comments. I’m starting my own blog, but the way will be long to reach level of yours….

  25. Lovely — as always. The part of the US west coast north of LA is just amazing. And the Pacific! Magnificent.

  26. Kat, oh yes, it was a great weekend indeed. Thank you.

    Garrett, yep, totally agree.

    Sophie, it was indeed. We were lucky with the weather, but then as I was told, it is pretty much the case year round.

    Claudia, well no particular occasion, really. We were as surprised as you might be!

    Chris, thank you for your nice words. It was a true pleasure to meet you and your wife. Another time in Toronto, I hope!

    Eleonora, merci.

    Deborah, thank you so much.

    Robert, totally reciprocal. It was a lot of fun. And you have the cutest baby! Let me know how you are doing with your camera!

    Jane, merci. You are doing great with your French ;-)

    Kalli, oh yes quite a cute place to be in! I loved the farm!

    Linda, lucky you! I hope you can go back soon.

    Veron, oh yes, we talked about that together. Cal told me that he himself was a pastry chef first. I would love to try Citronelle one day!

    Lynne, thank you for your kind words.

    Eva, oh lucky lucky you! It must be SO cool to live so close to a bakery like this, and in such cool area too. I hope you can go back soon. Thanks for your nice note.

    Jennifer, thank you so much. I hope to come back soon, so I surely will let you know. And yes, Cal was so friendly and welcoming, not forgetting to mention a very skilled chef.

    Peabody, oh yes, I believe you!

    Kit, ah you and I are neighbors then. CA is a great place indeed.

    Yoyo, merci!

    Callipygia, thank you.

    Ces, :-)

    Madeleine, oh you have to go! I know what it is like, you would always be first attracted to go overseas, but then, there is so much to see in the US too. Thank you. Hope you are well!

    Jeni, thank you. That is very sweet of you. It makes me smile.

    Helen, I know. How incredible that was, and surprising too! We could not believe it was happening either.

    Rosa, thank you. Nice of you.

    Sha, did you do the coast in a boat too? ;-)

    Marie, il est la-bas ;-)

    Gail, nice to read you. Funny that you have the updates by Patricia! ;-) Cute. My camera is a Canon 30D. Thanks for your note.

    Sandra, oui oui, comme je te le disais dans mon message, je suis francaise et tu as maintenant les renseignements que tu cherchais. Bonne chance et felicitations, 40 ans cela se fete avec classe!

    Tea, thank you so much for your sweet note. If I am able to lift your spirit at times, then this makes me really happy!

    Lucy, merci bien. I think there is a plane ticket lurking there then, non ? ;-)

    Gail, ah nice to hear! I did not know.

    Maya, merci.

    Swee, thank you.

    Valka76, good luck. This is a great journey to get on!

    Guylaine, merci.

    Christina, thank you. I am already itching to go back. I was just not there long enough!

  27. Une belle balade qui donne envie de traverser l’atlantique, cette côte est magnifique et pleine de richesses… je suis assez adepte de ce genre de “mini vacances” !

  28. Je ne me lasse pas de tes photos, ni des ballades que tu nous fais faire, évidemment ce post n’échappe pas à la règle, j’apprécie la beauté des paysages, la lumière, la nature que tu regardes si bien mais aussi ces lieux, tes photos laissent transparaître des atmosphères, c’est si rare…Surtout, continue.
    Et puis j’oubliais: quelle chance tu as d’avoir visité des endroits pareils…

  29. Toujours magnifiques photos! je n’ai pas spécialement envie d’aller aux Etats-Unis mais….

  30. oh bea,
    you are so nice and lovely…

    merci de partager tes voyage et tes regards sur le monde.
    je t’attends à paris…

    bisou

  31. Quel weekend Bea, que d’envies tu nous donnes avec tes photographies aux couleurs vibrantes. C’etait un vrai plaisir de visiter la Californie avec toi.

  32. What a marvelous trip Bea! Thanks as always for sharing with your exquisite photos. And I’m so glad you got to try Tartine…and amazed you didn’t find a line out the door like I always do!

  33. What a lovely story Bea! Beautiful pix. I love CA! Sounds like a fab getaway for you and P!

  34. Stunning, stunning photos, Bea. I’ve written about Earthbound Farm a few times and have enjoyed a similar experience (although not in that fabulous Mazda!), and as much as I adore Sonoma County, I always look forward to my trips back down to Carmel Valley. Your photos capture the feel of the place and the people (isn’t Jenna wonderful?) perfectly. Thanks!

  35. Bea, what a wonderful trip! I’ll follow your footsteps and route if I happen to travel there one day :) (Will jot the the addresses…)

    I know I’ve said this a thousand times, but please forgive me, I can’t help to say it again, YOUR PICTURES ARE PERFECT!!!!! Very sharp colours, nice angles; and you know what, this is already the 8the time I read this entry!

    How I wish you’d disclose some EXIF datas and give us guys some tips!!!

    Hope you will have some kind of workshops in the future and I’ll definitely fly all the way to attend!!!!!!!!!!!

    Cheers (muah and hugs…)

  36. J’ai visité la Californie en 1985. Un road trip de filles. Je vois le tien, et je souhaite y retourner tant ce coin de pays m’attire et m’enchante. Tu as fait de magnifiques photos et moi aussi, j’ai hâte de lire ta nouvelle version de la ratatouille. (J’ignorais qu’on disait Curiosity killed the cat¸)

  37. Le Big Sur en Mazda! Carmel. Mais c’est du Paradis dont tu reviens. Voilà. Tu viens de prouver que le Paradis existe!

  38. WOWZA!
    No need to go. These pictures are incredible.
    The most tempting is the plumb brioche thing at the end from Tartine!
    Almost better than a macaron…
    Big merci Bea

  39. Cool beans! Wow, your photos are incroyable! So happy to see a mention of Tartine bakery in SF – it’s one of my favs!!!

  40. Béa, I visit your blog for the first time ! It’s amazingly beautiful ! You can count me among your Fans form now on !

  41. Merci Valerie, oui des vacances comme cela, je m’en prendrais bien souvent ;)

    Merci Cecile, tres sympa a toi.

    Tifenn, merci. Tu devrais, il y a plein de coins tres chouettes, contrairement a ce que l’on croit.

    Daniela, thank you. En octobre alors!

    Gracianne, merci.

    Anita, oh yes Tartine was fun. I hope that next time I am in SF, we will manage to meet!

    Kim, thank you. It was indeed.

    Swirlingnotions, oh yes I fully agree Janna was so friendly and nice to meet. You are lucky to have this farm close by then. I loved my time there. Made me feel I was in deep countryside.

    Cintia, you make me smile. Thanks SO much! It warms my heart to read your encouraging words.

    Karin, thank you! Welcome.

    Tarzile, ah oui, vu de cet angle la, je suis bien d’accord. On en reprendrait bien!

    Carol, yes better than a macaron by far for me anyhow ;-) Thank you

    Ms Glaze, yes yes! I am with you!

    Wendy, thank you Yes we had a great time.

    Francesco, thank you.

    Steve, oh nice to hear. Welcome! Thank you.

  42. Bea, I just wanted to express my admiration for all your beautiful photos and your ability to make me feel like I just took the vacation with you from the comfort of my living room! Truly stunning!

  43. Bea – It seems like you boarded this magical rocket and blasted into the stratosphere of blogging heaven where you get to spend fantastic luxury weekends!

    You have done an amazing and beautiful job of documenting it, well done.

    You have managed to turn every last even vaguely jealous bone in my body into raging green jealous ones!

    So happy you had such a great time!

  44. wat a great weekend u had =) lots of sunshine, colors and good food! and the pics,amazing. and of course hav to mention the car.love the Mazda MX5 man!

  45. Oh Bea, what a wonderful post and such gorgeous pictures! Makes me want to get on the first plane over there. Your photos constantly inspire me to improve my own skills.

  46. Wow!!! Great pictures and how amazing to get invited for a trip like this! I’ve always loved those Miatas. They are so cute and I was actually considering one before I got my Bug!

  47. Pingback: Dreaming of a Plum Brioche Pudding — Rêve de pudding de brioche aux prunes by La Tartine Gourmande

  48. Thanks Michele for your nice words. I like the idea of sitting comfortable in your living room too.

    Nika, ah yes, I felt spoiled!

    Jann, yes sort of ;-)

    Ironeaters, oh yes a pretty cool car indeed. Thank you!

    Jeanne, thank you. Sweet of you.

    Anali, your car is not bad either. I like them just the same.

  49. Waouh : I have enjoyed reading your post and viewing the great photographs. You really offer brilliant posts; they make me travel and, for a moment, I forget all about my life here, in a small French town… Thanks !

  50. That was marvelous! I did feel a little breathless by the end but I can tell you had a grand time and probably felt a bit breathless also. Loved the healthy breakfast.
    I enjoyed you exchange with strangers – great picture!

  51. Beautiful! Reading your post was a great escape from my workday!

  52. Incredibly, wonderous photos! Incredible, period. Thanks for making my day beautiful!

  53. Chouette!
    Des amis à moi vont démenager à Santa Monica le mois prochain et j’ai tout noté pour ma prochaine visite….

    Top top, je vais plus souvent lire ton blog!

    Merci!

  54. Dear Bea, I love your photos, your dishes, your table cloths, your spoons, your glasses…. I love your web….. I can see why are you so proud of your little Mazda, we will be getting ours in four months… this waiting list kill me. Take care. B

  55. Pingback: La Tartine Gourmande visits Bernardus at Bernardus Kitchen

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  57. Merci beaucoup Bea for your beautiful photographs and descriptions of the gorgeous Monterey Peninsula ! Every summer for around ten years,twelve of my girlfriends and I rent a home there in the summer.We call ourselves the “Beach Bunnies” ! We love eating lunch in Carmel Valley at the Corkscrew.It reminds me of being in Provence ! We love to eat their nectarine crisp with lavender icecream for dessert….yummo !!! May God bless you,your family,and your wonderful work that you graciously share with us. Au revoir !

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