Monday, December 3, 2012

Edible Notables: La Balena

This piece - part of Edible Notables - was printed in Edible Monterey Bay's Winter 2012 issue, hitting news stands on December 1, 2012. Read the entire issue online here.

A California restaurant with a Tuscan heart
 Story by Camilla M. Mann
Photo by Geneva Liimatta

Carmel’s budding community of young, creative and sustainability minded restaurateurs has just expanded with the addition of Anna and Emanuele Bartolini and their La Balena, an informal nod to Northern Italy on Junipero Street between Fifth and Sixth.

The Bartolinis had been tossing around the idea of opening a restaurant for more than a decade. Emanuele’s grandparents, who were originally from Sardinia, had a restaurant in Florence years ago, and after emigrating from Italy to New York, Emanuele started work in the city’s restaurant world before he even knew English. By the time he left New York to move to Carmel, he was working as a senior manager at Del Posto, which is owned jointly by Mario Batali and Lidia and Joseph Bastianich and is one of the most highly regarded Italian restaurants in New York. In Carmel, he was most recently a general manager at Cantinetta Luca and helped open Salumeria Luca.

For Anna, a designer, opening La Balena—and getting to know the local farmers and other purveyors who will become a part of it— feeds a passion for supporting young people who farm and care about food the way that she does.

Anna and Emanuele strive to uphold the idea that food and wine taste better when served near where they are grown and when produced with ethical standards.

La Balena’s menu will be simple, seasonal and sourced from local organic suppliers as much as possible while remaining faithful to true Italian—and particularly Tuscan—cuisine.

The restaurant will have two chefs. Chef Salvatore Panzuto— who obtained a culinary degree from Naples’ Instituto Professionale Alberghiero di Stato—will prepare traditional, rustic food with the spirit of a classic Italian enoteca, or wine bar.

La Balena’s other chef will be Brad Briske, who is best known in the area for his turns as chef at Main Street Garden and Gabriella Café in Santa Cruz County as well as his farm-to-table meals. Briske, who most recently was hired by Carmel’s Casanova to take over their charcuterie program, will bring to La Balena his deep relationships with local organic farms and his creative style in cooking their bounty. Briske and the Bartolinis first met at Live Earth Farm in October, when Briske cooked a sensational dinner for Edible Monterey Bay’s 1st anniversary.

As this issue of Edible Monterey Bay went to press, the Bartolinis were planning for a late November opening and still working on the restaurant’s interior. But already, the former location of the Carmel Food Co. was showing plenty of character—and was reflecting the style and interests of its owners.

In evidence of the Bartolinis’ intent to run their business in as sustainable a manner as possible, the tables in the main dining room are made from reclaimed tropical hardwoods that were salvaged from trans-Pacific shipping crates. The cushioned wooden bench seating came from the local Habitat for Humanity store; the Bartolinis have refinished and re-upholstered them in two shades of coffee—one in the color of espresso and the other, caffè latte.

Hand-marbled papers, vintage postcards and posters, and some artwork that they collected during their time in Florence and its environs lend an authentic air to the space.

One of the pieces is the whale’s tail seen in the couple’s logo, which is by Florentine artist, Maurizio Bomberini. The restaurant’s name was inspired partly by the work, and partly by Emanuele’s deep passion for whale conservation.

Opening the restaurant and settling in Carmel are something of a homecoming for Anna, who as a child would travel from her home in Georgia to visit her grandmother’s first cousin, a Carmel resident, and could only dream of one day living here.

Camilla Mann is a food writer, photographer, adventurer and passionate cook based in Monterey.

La Balena • Junipero Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, Carmel • 831.250.6295 •

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