Al fresco finds

In case you missed it, here is my review of the afternoon menu at Cafe Rustica that appeared in last 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.

This Saturday, the weather was too nice to stick around and just laze about. My friend and I decided an outdoor dining adventure was in order.

We scrolled through a list of eateries with outdoor seating, stumbling a bit when we realized we missed lunch service for most spots. After a couple of phone calls to see who was still open after 2:30, we headed out to Carmel Valley for a late lunch at Cafe Rustica

Ask any foodie for their dining recommendations in Carmel Valley and Cafe Rustica is usually at — or near — the top of the list. Whenever I’m feeling the need to escape the Peninsula’s dreary blanket of fog, I head out to Cafe Rustica for a bite on their outdoor patio.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Cafe Rustica offers expanded hours with a limited menu between the close of lunch service at 2:30 and the start of dinner service at 5.

Cafe Rustica features an afternoon menu with pizzas and salads available between the close of lunch service and the start of dinner service.

This “afternoon” menu features small bites, salads and pizzas — perfect if you’re looking for a quick bite after spending the day in the valley or if you simply got a (very) late start on your day.

The escargots were a little chewy, but the garlic butter was superb!

We started with the escargots, six snails out of the shell and baked in garlic, shallots and herb butter ($10.75).

The snails were a little overcooked, but that butter was absolutely decadent. We unabashedly used every last crumb of bread to sop it up.

A Leffe blond was the perfect pairing for the buttery snails.

A Leffe Blond ($4.95) paired nicely with the buttery, garlicky escargots. And let’s face it, there’s nothing better than a cold beer out on the patio on a sunny Saturday, no?

I split a salad with my partner in crime. We ordered the red-leaf lettuce salad, with crumbled blue cheese, pears, caramelized onions and creamy balsamic dressing ($9.50).

The salad was a nice combination of sweet and sour, crisp and creamy.

It was a classic combination with sweet pears, tart blue cheese and tangy balsamic dressing. I loved the crunch from the pecans — a nice contrast between crisp pears and the generous crumbles of cheese.

And what visit to Cafe Rustica would be complete without pizza?

Usually, I default to the Flammekeuche (diced prosciutto, onions, thyme and crme fraiche, $12.95) or the Lorraine (caramelized yellow onions, bacon and Gruyere cheese, $13.50). These French favorites are always winners, but this time I ordered the barbecue chicken pizza ($13.95).

The crust was superb — thin, tender, wood-fired dough.

The crust was great, but the barbecue chicken toppings missed the mark just ever so slightly.

The hickory-smoked barbecue sauce was great — a good balance between sweet and smoky. And I liked the crunchy roasted peanuts and the thinly sliced red onions. But the kitchen had a heavy hand with the cilantro and I was disappointed that a thick layer of Monterey Jack on top dulled the flavors of the pie.

A late lunch at Cafe Rustica was the perfect respite for a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Remember, Cafe Rustica isn’t the only spot to grab a bite in the summer sun. Toast — also in Carmel Valley — offers outdoor seating. And a trek down to Big Sur reveals many good outdoor dining spots.

But you don’t have to hit the road to find al fresco dining. Closer to home, Pacific Grove’s Red House Cafe has a lovely patio perfect for lunch when the sun’s out. And the outdoor fire pits at Restaurant 1833 are perfect for drinks after work.

Cafe Rustica is at 10 Delfino Place in Carmel Valley. 659-4444. www.caferusticacarmel.com. Closed Mondays.

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