While planning for activities to do and places to eat during our long weekend in the Monterey/Carmel area for a friend’s wedding, I found this lovely Mexican restaurant called Cultura Comida y Bebida on one of Eater’s must eat lists. After reading many good reviews and perusing through great food photos on Instagram and Foursquare, I was convinced that this was where Rich and I would have dinner on our first night. So before leaving NYC, I made a dinner reservation for us. All we had to do was wait to the next evening to try Oaxacan style Mexican food!
It was a brisk and chilly night when we arrived in Carmel. Rich and I were not dressed warmly at the time. We had left hot and humid weather in NYC (felt like 100 degrees on some days), and the cool welcome of mid 50s to low 60s was nice, but it was a lot cooler than we had expected. Cultura was a quick drive from our hotel - it’s located in a small shopping square, about a three minute drive or if we walked, it would have be about ten minutes.
Inside Cultura, there were two main rooms. Left from the entrance was a smaller dining room with a bar and to the right was the larger one. The interiors were mostly dark wood with warm lighting. The seating area by the windows in both sides of the restaurant overlooked the pathway that ran through the shopping square and to the outdoor, communal tables. We chose to sit inside in the larger dining room since it was warm and we needed the warmth! Although there were heat lamps and fire pits at the outdoor tables, it was a bit cold for us to dine there. It would have been quite nice if it was bit warmer or if we dressed in layers.
Once we were seated, Rich ordered a cocktail but I stayed with water. As much as I wanted to try some of the cocktails and wine, I had come down with a cold once we arrived in California. To start we ordered some chips with guacamole, rock cod ceviche, and a unique snack named chapulines with chile and lime which were toasted and seasoned grasshoppers. At first Rich was not in the mood to try something new like the chapulines, but I was totally into it. However after a bit of convincing, Rich finally tried some of the grasshoppers and liked it.
The rock cod ceviche was refreshing and light. A meaty, local white fish, it was seasoned with habanero, lime, cilantro, avocado, and jalapeno and was served with blue corn tostada. I enjoyed the tartness of the lime and the zesty of the cilantro that was tossed with the fish. Rich was a fan too. Our chips with guacamole were solid - nothing out of the ordinary but it was a good, chunky guacamole. These were nice dishes to prep ourselves for a hearty dinner.
Next up were our main dishes. I ordered the chicken enchiladas and Rich chose the Cultura mole which came with smoked pork and saffron tortillas. The chicken enchiladas were out of this world When I took my first bite, I was blown away by the tartness of the lime and smooth, black bean puree and quesillo cheese. I felt like I could eat this every night. It was so comforting and delicious. The Cultura mole that Rich ordered was warm and tangy. He thought it was a good choice to warm him up on a chilly night. The sesame and orange flavors really complemented the smokiness of the pork and paired very well with the saffron tortillas. Our traveling bear Rilakkuma made an appearance at dinner with us. We thought he would want share this dining experience with his dedicated Instagram followers. He loved Rich’s mole with the smoked pork. Our main dishes were satisfying. I am so glad we decided to try them both.
Finally it was time for dessert. The choices on the dessert menu were enticing, but when we saw that there were churros, Rich and I were thrilled! Our churros were served with a warm chocolate sauce that had a hint of orange zest. When the churros were dipped in the sauce, you could say that Rich and I felt that it made our dining experience complete. Our savory and sweet taste buds thoroughly loved dinner that night. I would totally go back for the chicken enchiladas and the rock cod ceviche. Also the chapulines because that was something I had never tried before and not only was it new to me and Rich, the toasted and seasoned grasshoppers were an interesting and tasty snack.
Though I wish I was able to enjoy some wine and cocktails since I had just caught a cold, RIch liked the cocktail he ordered. I can’t remember what it was, but he thought it was unique. Would we go back to Cultura? Of course, definitely on our itinerary during the next visit to Carmel! There were many more foods Rich and I would have liked to try if our stomach allowed. We loved the food and the ambiance. The servers were nice and helpful when we were deciding on what to order. Overall, dinner was a pleasant and comforting experience. We appreciated the quaint and chill atmosphere of the town.. Apparently Daniel Boulud visited the restaurant a few months before. How nice to know a great chef had a wonderful time here too!