Small bites, big flavors

In case you missed it, here is my review of Mundaka 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.

Recovering from a gut-busting Thanksgiving feast last week, I was reminded that good food doesn’t necessarily need to stuff you silly — small plates can be just a rewarding as a hearty feast. Perhaps nowhere better is this represented than Mundaka, a tapas bar with a bit of a cult following in Carmel.

Mundaka serves up tasty tapas, tucked away off the main drag in Carmel.

It’s always a bit of an adventure dining at Mundaka. A restaurant that prides itself on seasonal fare, Mundaka’s menu changes all the time. A handful of items stay the same, but most items come and go as the seasons change.

The croquetas are always a good start to a meal at Mundaka.

We started dinner with traditional croquetas fritters, tonight stuffed with applewood-smoked bacon, corn and béchamel ($7.50). These little golden balls were an indulgent treat.

Say what you will about foie gras, but this was a tasty preparation of the soon-to-be illegal meat.

The seared foie gras with beet gastrique and caramelized banana ($19.50) was unexpected. I was surprised how well the sweet banana paired with the earthy foie.

I'm bummed the bocadillo slider is off the menu now. Hopefully it's just temporary!

The bocadillo slider with slow-braised pork and balsamic barbecue sauce ($8.50) was a little messy, but totally worth it. The pork was so tender, with a sweet caramelized glaze. (Sadly on a follow-up visit, this dish had been retired from the menu.)

The ravioli is absolutely to die for!

But the most delicious bite of dinner was the ravioli ($13.50). It was the perfect combination of rich and savory fall flavors — slow-roasted duck breast, butternut squash, mushrooms and housemade ricotta in a chanterelle mushroom jus.

To ease our palate from savory into sweet, we ordered the queso plate — a duo of local goat cheeses, made down the coast in Big Sur ($11.50) — before dessert.

Cheeeeese, Wallace!

One was a fresh chevre, topped with balsamic; the other an aged Manchego, made with goat milk instead of the traditional sheep’s milk and paired with honey.

The crepes were a sweet dessert, tempered with a kick of dark rum.

We finished with the crepes, served with bananas, brown sugar and dark rum ($8). The dark rum nicely balanced out the sugar rush.

A few days later, when my friend proceeded to gloat about the new menu items she sampled at Mundaka, my mouth started watering.

The siren’s call was too great to resist and I was back at Mundaka earlier this week to sample some of chef Brandon Miller’s menu additions.

Persimmons are becoming popular on menus--and this salad was an excellent example of how tasty they can be!

The mixta salad with wild arugula, persimmon, Valdeon blue cheese and candied walnuts ($8.50) was refreshing yet filling. The persimmons added a nice kick of flavor.

These crispy root vegetables were the perfect fall treat!

The vegetales — crispy yams, sweet potatoes and squash ($7.50) — were the perfect comfort food for the cold weather outside.

These mushrooms would have been perfect with a little lighter hand with the raw scallions.

I wanted to like the hongos plancha — local mushrooms with scallions ($10.50) — but the big bites of raw scallion sometimes overpowered the subtle, earthiness of the mushrooms.

The terrine combined simple flavors of goat cheese, herbs and beets into an elegant tower.

The terrine de remolacha — made with slices of beet wrapped around a mix of herb goat cheese and hazelnuts ($8.50) — was simple, but tasty. I wish there had been more beet — layers of beet inside the terrine would have helped balance out all that cheese.

Mundaka's signature dates are back on the menu!

I was pleased to see Mundaka’s signature datiles — bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and almonds ($8.50) — back on the menu. The thin bacon provided a salty counterpoint to the sweet dates and creamy cheese.

The pan chocolate combines rich chocolate with a touch of salt and olive oil.

This time, we finished dinner with pan chocolate, a dense chocolate mousse drizzled with olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and served with crostini ($7.50). It’s a simple dessert that’s good for cleansing the palate.

The bombon combined sweet condensed milk with bold Ritual coffee.

I couldn’t pass up a sip of San Francisco’s famous ritual coffee after dinner. The bombon — espresso with condensed milk ($4.50) — was appropriately bold and sweet. With flavors a bit like an Irish coffee without the booze, it was easy to sip.

The plates at Mundaka might be small, but they make a bg impact on the palate.

Miller is one of the most creative chefs around town. He’s always putting together unique combinations of flavors, often with spectacular results. Sure, it can get a little pricey, but those small bites pack a serious punch of flavor and are worth the extra pennies.

Mundaka is on San Carlos Street, between Ocean and Seventh avenues, in Carmel. 624-7400 or www.mundakacarmel.com.

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