The Exquisite Flavors of Oaxaca
From the beautiful coastline in southern Mexico, this country’s cuisine has found it’s way to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Cultura, located in an interior courtyard on Dolores Street, echos the earthy, organic flavors of Oaxaca. Pronounced “wa-ha-ka.”
It’s unpretentious positioning off the main street, gives that special feel of discovery. I loved it the moment I stepped inside. Dark walls against vibrant covered booths, an open kitchen and a wooden podium framing a fossilized vertebrae tells you that somehow the food will not disappoint. One wall of the restaurant is covered in a series of paintings that speaks to a commitment of bold style adjacent to a separate bar with a hammered copper surface topped by a stained glass drop ceiling.
My server, Blanca, is young, well-versed in all aspects of the menu, who has tasted each dish. Wanting to experience their signature margarita, I order the Cultura Mezcalrita. It arrives in a slag glass cup, with a smear of “Sal de Gusano” on the outside of the rim. My first sip takes me back to a $40 cocktail I once had at the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, sitting in the glass penthouse bar. Complex flavors of Mezcal, lime and orange make for the most intriguing margarita I have ever tasted.
Starting with chips and salsa was not what one would expect. Huge black and yellow corn chips arrive with a dish of heirloom tomato salsa. Impressive and totally addictive. The menu offered selections such as a Squash Blossom Quesadilla, Oak Roasted Steelhead Trout, Black River Siberian Caviar, Monterey Red Abalone and a Wagyu Eye of Ribeye.
I find the best way to get many tastes of a menu, is to order appetizers and small starters. I opted for one oyster with hibiscus, prickly pear, finger lime, chili oil and smoked shallot. This was followed by street corn smothered in a cotija corn sauce. Tamarind Yams of orange and purple slices, covered in a mole with a snowfall of cheese, came next. But, it was the Calabacitas, that won my heart. Thin ribbons of squash, heirloom tomatoes, corn and chives atop a puddle of cauliflower pudding created a tsunami in the mouth.
The exquisite menu of Cultura, with it’s rich décor and earthy tableware, is an experience in dining, which echoes roasted, subtle, rich, layered flavors. Their service is memorable. Their flavors are on trend.
Cultura . 100 Dolores Street . Carmel-by-the-Sea