A bohemian rhapsody

In case you missed it, here’s my review of La Bicyclette that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

La Bicyclette was the perfect spot to catch up with a friend over a fine dinner.

It had been ages since my friend Claudia (name changed to protect the guilty, er, innocent!) and I got together for dinner. With stories to share from our respective misadventures — she to Hawaii and me to the Coachella music festival — we knew a long dinner was in order. Carmel’s La Bicyclette, with its bustling café, atmosphere, felt like the perfect choice.

We’d called ahead for reservations and despite being 10 minutes late — curse you, parking gods! — the hostess was friendly and welcoming, seating us in the “house,” tucked away from the rest of the dining room with plenty of privacy to spill the beans on our recent trips.

The velvety mushroom soup du jour.

We split the soup du jour (mushroom, $7). It arrived family-style in a big pot, as if fresh off the stove, to serve yourself. The soup was rich, but not overwhelmingly so, with bits of mushroom in a velvety cream. Next, we split the field greens salad ($8), dressed in Calabrian olive oil, a touch of balsamic and sea salt. I loved the addition of pickled onions — a pleasant surprise for the palate.

Pickled onions were a nice addition to the mixed field greens salad.

The three-course prix fixe menu didn’t have anything we were particularly in the mood for, so we opted to split two pizzas ($14 apiece) instead.

The butternut squash pizza was outstanding.

First up was the butternut squash pizza, with speck ham, sage, Gruyere and fresh arugula. The sweet squash paired perfectly with the savory ham and cheese — even more so when finished with the slightly bitter kick of arugula. But the realstandout was the dough. La Bicyclette recently (well, last fall) expanded and installed a wood-fired oven for pizzas. In my opinion, too few restaurants here on the Peninsula serve these delicious pizzas — and even fewer do them right. La Bicyclette nailed it — the crust was slightly charred and thin, and it melted in your mouth with each bite.

Alas, the mushroom pizza was a disappointment--at least for me.

Claudia and I agreed to disagree on our second pizza — wild forest mushrooms, with black truffle oil, Parmesan, thyme and shallots. I wasn’t a fan — the sauce was bland and there weren’t enough mushrooms for my tastes — but that saucy gal Claudia loved the sauce. However, we both agreed the kitchen was far too conservative in the application of truffle oil — we barely tasted any. I’d skip this combination next time and go for the heirloom potato, with thyme, roasted garlic and Midnight Moon Gouda.

A cappuccino and dessert made for a grand finale for dinner.

In a true test of gastronomical endurance, we ordered the strawberry rhubarb galette ($8) for dessert. Sure, we were stuffed, but how could we skip a dessert like that? I sipped on a cappuccino ($4) — and she on lemon lavender tea ($3.50) — while we waited.

The strawberry rhubarb galette was the perfect sweet bite to finish our meal.

The galette arrived and was beautifully presented with dark caramel and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Piping hot, we dove in, despite the risk of scalding our tongues. The strawberries were so tender, cradled by crispy crust.

Whether it was giving advice on wine pairings or offering to clear (and store) leftovers to keep our little table clutter free, our servers made dinner smooth and pain-free. We never felt rushed to finish our meal and leave the table so we had plenty of time to linger and catch up. Our quaint and cozy table had the perfect bohemian vibe. The loud, bustling restaurant with tables deep in lively conversation really evoked France’s café culture.

Claudia and I shared story after story at La Bicyclette — we laughed, we cried (OK, maybe we didn’t cry); we had a great time with great food.

La Bicyclette prides itself on its vibrant cafe atmosphere.

Ultimately, restaurants are judged just as much on their food as they are on the experiences they foster. Food, friends and fun go hand in hand — and it’s a welcome treat when restaurants, like La Bicyclette, bring these together.

La Bicyclette, corner of Dolores Street and Seventh Avenue, Carmel.
Information: 622-9899;www.labicycletterestaurant.com

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