Marinus (and Wickets)
415 Carmel Valley Road
415 864 8643
Marinus is the restaurant at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley. It should be enough to say Carmel Valley, but we are sure it is possible to get a bad meal, even here in this valley east of upmarket Carmel. Of course, you'd be hard pressed to do so at Marinus, or at its sister restaurant Wickets.
Bernardus Lodge, about ten miles east up Carmel Valley, was once a vineyard, and there are still a few grapevines growing there. It is now a luxurious spa, with fountains and gardens, nestled in the hills. The rooms are large, well decorated, and comfortable. We've stayed at other hotels in the area, so we know that luxury does not necessarily imply comfort. Bernardus has air conditioning, fairly good light blocking shades and is wonderfully quiet after dark.
Marinus, the main restaurant, has a hushed air and professional service. The wine list is extensive and well chosen. The mid-range bottles are well priced. We could not resist. We yielded to temptation and indulged in burgundies, right here in California wine country. As for the food, it is first rate, with an imaginative chef and wonderful ingredients. Some hotel restaurants lack character, but Marinus has personal touch. One can sense the cook behind the curtain.
Our favorite dish was the duck egg served with bacon, spinach and cream on a brioche. The duck egg had a rich egg flavor, so unlike the usual commercial chicken egg. On our first night it was lightly seasoned with black truffle, and the bacon brought the egg flavor to the fore. One our second visit, the bacon was in the background, but the chef had reached into the larder and shaved a rather awesome quantity of white truffle on the dish. We greatly enjoyed both versions of this dish, but we have to admit a certain leaning towards the latter.
The cooking was precise, with well executed classical French techniques applied to modern, high quality California based meat, seafood and produce. We had red abalone with salsify and a portabello mushroom hash, a stupendous partridge terrine on brioche with an apricot jelly, venison with cardoons, pork loin with peach and spot prawns with a citrus emulsion, endive and radicchio. Every combination worked; every dish was delightful and imaginative.
We also enjoyed another aspect of Marinus, its avatar as a fine steak house. This is not immediately obvious, but the menu included an amazingly good, well aged, well seared Kansas City steak that would put most steak houses to shame.
We've mentioned brioche several times, so we should also mention that Marinus has an excellent pastry chef. Not only was the brioche done right, but so were the little cheese puffs that started our meal, and so were the spectacular desserts and petit fours. Our advice is that everything was wonderful, but if you can, try the chestnut souffle with armagnac ice cream. Of course the food was good. Someone in the kitchen has discovered Gascony.
Marinus has a less formal, slightly less expensive sister restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We always went for the huevos rancheros, and we enjoyed the wild mushroom pizza, but for dinner, take advantage of their Marinus steak house connection. We went beef across the aisle with the Wagyu beef hamburger and their flat iron steak. Wickets clearly shares a kitchen with Marinus. The food has a certain precision, and the quality is first rate. The menu was simpler, the dishes less complex. If you want a bit less fuss at the lodge, Wickets is a definite option.