CARMEL-By-THE-SEA, CALIFORNIA - Looking for a romantic restaurant for your sweetie and yourself on Valentine's Day? You could do worse than Casanova, which bills itself as the most romantic restaurant in Carmel.
Casanova, tucked away in a renovated and expanded cottage in this picturesque former artists' colony on California's Pacific coast, is more than a (borrowed) famous name and more than a place for a tryst, though. It is a first-rate eating house, specializing in country Italian and French fare, enlivened by a typically happy crowd of diners, served by polished, correct professional waiters - never a given in American restaurants - and boasting a first-class wine list. The wine cellar, hand-dug to a depth of 14 feet below the restaurant and holding 30,000 bottles of wine, can be toured gratis if you ask your server, as my wife and I have done. I love the appealingly musty smell of the cellar.
Casanova is owned and operated by the Georgis family, who come originally from Belgium, which explains the European feel. The family opened the restaurant in the mid-1970s and it has never fallen from favor among locals and visitors. When my wife and I were last there, the place was busy but quiet enough in the smaller nooks and crannies to hold a quiet conversation. The enclosed patio is bigger and louder.
Prices run moderate to high. Reservations are a must. The menu changes often, but we have never found anything that didn't work on our four visits. If you go, don't miss the rack of lamb and the slow-braised rabbit. Be sure to try the delicious, Belgian-style mussels and frites.
If you're traveling in northern California, Casanova (www.casanovarestaurant.com) is worth making a detour for, romantic holiday or no. It's located in downtown Carmel on Fifth Street, between Mission and San Carlos streets, near the Shell station. Tel. 831.625.0501. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.