I have seen and heard restaurant owners for years use the phrase “dining experience” to describe what it is like to have a meal at their establishment. For a long time I considered the phrase to be poor marketing at best and false advertising at worst. If I wanted an experience I would go see a good movie or play, not eat a plate of ravioli with a side Caesar salad. However, my attitude changed several years ago when my wife and I took a trip to San Francisco, which also included a drive down the coast on Highway 1 to spend a night at Carmel-by-the-Sea. We were only there for a short time, and we wanted to have a good meal before heading out the next day. We began searching for restaurants online and decided on a place called Casanova in the little village of Carmel. Nestled among the shops and galleries there, Casanova is a quaint, unassuming place with a simple façade that would be easy to walk past unnoticed. And that would be a mistake.
Casanova is a family owned and operated restaurant that serves rustic and classic cuisine, obviously with an Italian flavor. Ingredients come from local, small organic farms and fisheries. The world-class wine cellar is managed by a certified wine educator. The chef’s menu selections range from veal dishes to lamb, beef, and seafood. They have inside and outside seating. We were seated outside in a small courtyard area with plastic sheeting and heaters. It wasn’t closed off enough to keep small birds from flitting in and out looking for crumbs on the ground left by diners, which we decided was charming instead of a deterrent or distraction.
Our meal was exquisite, from appetizers all the way through the courses to dessert. We were there for almost two hours but never once felt like the evening was dragging. We were not in a secluded, dimly-lit corner of a dining room, but the setting was still completely romantic. We could easily forget that there were other diners around us, which was made possible by the most professional waiter I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I don’t recall his name. I do remember that he was a middle-aged man who was extremely well-spoken, impressively knowledgeable about the restaurant’s offerings and specialties, and very skilled at his profession. He was attentive without hovering, interesting but not intrusive. The food and our waiter turned that dinner into a true dining experience that I will not forget. I never had a meal in Rome, Italy, that was better than what we had at Casanova.
The restaurant’s website now announces that they have acquired the table at which Vincent Van Gogh enjoyed his meals at the Auberge Ravoux. The arrival of the table marks the beginning of a cultural exchange between these two artistic communities: Carmel-by-the-Sea and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, where Van Gogh spent the last days of his life. Dining at Casanova involves much more than just enjoying a delicious meal. It is about being transported from the malaise to the magnificent! As they say in the book reviews: “highly recommended.”