The 11 mile stretch of road from Highway 1 to Carmel Valley Village was always a gorgeous drive but in the many years since I’ve lived in the area things have changed.  Now there are a number of wineries and wine tasting rooms , such as Chateau Julien Winery, Durney-Heller Estate, Bernardus, Georis, Jouillian, Talbott, and others.  But before the winery tour, we would have a memorable lunch at Cafe Rustica, described by Zagut as follows:
“It’s understandably “crowded with locals”, but carloads from the coast declare it’s “worth the drive inland to laid-back Carmel Valley” for the “friendly hospitality” and “reasonably priced” “variety of hearthy”,”creative” Californian dishes (with shout-outs to the “delicious” “thin crust”,wood fired pizzas and “enormous salads”) proffered at this “terrific” cottage; inside can get a little “cramped and noisy”, but on a “hot, dry day or a starlit night”, the “gorgeous patio” “feels like Tuscany.”
It really did feel like Tuscany when I walked through the patio (too cool to eat outside) and stepped inside and saw the pizza oven and drank in the warm feeling of the restaurant.  We were the first diners of the day so we had the whole place to ourselves for awhile.  I wanted to have something fresh, knowing how excellent the produce is in this area.  I selected the Red Leaf Lettuce, Crumbled Blue Cheese, Pears, Caramelized Pecans and Creamy Balsamic Salad.  Yo had to have his favorite Escargots a la Bourguignonne (classic French snails baked in garlic, shallots, and herb butter.)  He also likes their Grilled Eggplant Napoleon on Toasted Brioche with Fresh Mozarella, Roasted Red Bell Peppers, Basil, Pine Nuts, and Kalamata Olives.
We ordered the Lorraine pizza with caramelized onions, maple smoked bacon, Gruyere cheese, and Italian parsley.
 
The salad was fresh, a winning combination of flavors and textures with the sweet pear, crunchy pecans, and tangy blue cheese.  The creamy balsamic added just the right amount of tartness.  This is a salad I would like to have again, meaning I will have to make it myself from Texas ingredients, which I will one day.
Red Leaf Lettuce Salad
 
Grilled Eggplant
 
Escargots
I tried one of the snails, a first for me, and it wasn’t bad–but not good enough that I have become a fan.  Some things just don’t appeal to me.  Sorry, Yo, but I did really enjoy the Grilled Eggplant dish.  The charred eggplant was cooked just right and was nutty and sweet.  It was beautiful to look at as well.
 
Lorraine pizza
And, the pizza was fabulous.  The thin crispy crust, sweet onions, Gruyere cheese and bacon were right together.  Too bad we were already stuffed and could barely eat a piece of this terrific pizza. Off to taste some wine at Georis and Talbott Wineries.  It was a beautiful day, perfect weather, great company, and another unforgettable meal.