Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Dinner Belle is Ringing {Edible Monterey Bay}

June 17, 2014 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay website. Read it there.

The Dinner Belle is Ringing
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

Carmel Belle, a longtime breakfast and lunch favorite for locals, officially opened for dinner this week. Now, from 4 pm to 7 pm, Sundays through Thursdays, The Dinner Belle is filling a casual dining niche with good, unpretentious organic food. “Customers have always asked us to do dinner,” owner Jay Dolata explains. In recent years Carmel Belle opened its doors for a pop-up dinner series organized by Post Ranch Inn’s Yulanda Santos. She transformed the space into an impromptu ramen house for one dinner and sold karaage, Japanese fried chicken, for another. The two-seating dinners were always a hit and always sold-out. So, they knew that the dinner concept would be popular. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for until recently,” says Jay.

Yulanda was also the person who introduced Jay to chef Kyle Odell who is running the kitchen for The Dinner Belle. Though Kyle has a pedigree in fine dining—his previous posts were at Parallel 37 in San Francisco’s Ritz Carlton and Michelin-rated Commis in Oakland—he aims to show that “joy can be found in honest, simple food.”

Jay underscores that sentiment. “You can count on getting approachable, casual food without the formality of tableside service. You can come in your flip-flops and sweats or come dressed up in heels.”

That philosophy has earned them a loyal following with the breakfast and lunch crowds. After visiting for their inaugural dinner, this weekend, I am confident that their fan-base will embrace the evening offerings as well.

When talking to Kyle about possible selections, he shares that the menu will be fresh, tasty, limited, and thoughtful. He mentioned meatloaf. “Imagine food that’s made with lots of love and happiness,” he urged. “Think mom’s meatloaf. But it’ll be the best meatloaf that you’ve ever had.”

Jay agreed, “I like to keep it simple, letting the flavors of the food shine. It’s not about complicated recipes or special techniques.”

Diners will have the choice of two entrees, two soups, two or three side dishes, and one or two sweets on a rotating two-week cycle.

On Sunday, my family and I went to The Dinner Belle for their inaugural dinner and an unfussy Fathers’ Day celebration. Jay and his wife and business partner, Chloe, manned the counters while Kyle was busy in the kitchen.

We feasted on the best oven-baked chicken I’ve ever had. The buttermilk-marinated Mary’s organic chicken (4 drumsticks per platter at $13) was tender and juicy; the outside crust was crisped and intriguingly spiced. Piquillos (2 peppers in the bowl for $10)—diminutive, sweet peppers—were roasted and stuffed with red quinoa, cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs.

The broccoli de cicco ($7 a platter)—a sweet heirloom variety of broccoli—was chargrilled, slightly piquant and earthy, served with vinaigrette and toasted hazelnuts. The caprese salad ($10 a plate) featured heirloom tomatoes, garden fresh basil and olive oil from McEvoy Ranch in Marin County. And the field green salad showcased two of summer’s stone fruit darlings—pluots and white peaches from the farmers’ market.

We dug spoons into bowls of thick black bean soup ($7 a bowl, $4.50 a cup) topped with dollops of sour cream.

And for dessert, we shared fresh-baked cookies, cheesecake flan ($5 per slice)—a charming marriage of cheesecake’s creaminess and flan’s sweetness—and washed it all down with potent coffee drinks made with Mr. Espresso beans.

The Dinner Belle idea: order at the counter, eat there, or grab and go. Diners, both locals and visitors, can eat without the pressure or price of a sit-down restaurant.

I definitely see The Dinner Belle in my future—when I want to pick up something fresh and tasty on my way home from work, but don’t want to eat pizza or burgers.

Carmel Belle – San Carlos St. Carmel – www.carmelbelle.com

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