Carmel and the Carmel Valley aren’t exactly the culinary world’s epicentres. However, apart from the fantastic Aubergine in Carmel itself, another restaurant is well worth exploring: Marinus at the Bernardus Lodge.
Whilst your first impression of Marinus will inevitably be the room, do not let yourself be too much influenced by it. Yes, it certainly looks a little classic, if not to say outdated, but anyone who comes to a restaurant such as this just for the room is probably here for the wrong reasons. And here, the room is, just like at Aubergine, the only thing that somehow doesn’t quite fit in with the food and concept behind it.
For the chef of Marinus, Cal Staminov, is someone who cooks very puristic, and product-driven dishes that make full use of the local seafood, vegetables etc. His food is not particularly heavily manipulated, nor is it trendy in any way. Rather, it feels like someone here really understands what one should do with a beautiful piece of tuna belly, an abalone or some wagyu beef. There is no need to have countless embellishments on the plate. No need to cover the food with foams, or jellies. What you want with products of the quality that are used here is straightforward cooking.
This is exactly what happens here. Staminov for instance has access to exceptionally beautiful tuna belly. All he does is marinate it and serve it with a few vegetables. This is a remarkably fresh dish, where everything underlines the meltingly tender piece of tuna. The vegetables, still a tad crunchy, give you a different texture and a freshness that offsets the tuna’s fat and leave you with a dish that is incredibly simple, but at the same time remarkable.
The same can be said for something that’s a little more hearty: A Monterey bay abalone that is served with pasta and a lobster/tomato sauce. This is comfort food that you could eat tons of. The abalone is cooked to a more tender state than it is often found and the lobster sauce with the pasta gives it a rich background with which it works perfectly. Such food is simple, rich in flavour and quite simply delicious.
This is really what makes Marinus a special place. Just like Aubergine, you hardly know what expects you here, and when you walk in, you have the feeling that it will be a very classical meal. However, once you sit down and the food starts appearing, things go down a radically different way. Staminov cooks food that really seems to understand what great products need, namely not a lot. His food is beautiful, tasty and very much enjoyable.