La Balena Cucina Toscana & Foradori Fontanasanta
Dappled sunlight bathes La Balena’s patio in a warm and languid light, and, in spite of the fact that it’s mid-January here in Carmel, I’m regretting the jacket I’ve worn over my light cotton dress. A nearby fountain with a salt-stained patina, seated in front of a hedge of flowering Bougainvillea, lends the atmosphere to a place that hardly requires further embellishment.
We had with us, a chilled and golden-hued bottle of Foradori Fontanasanta Vigneti Delle Dolomiti Manzoni Bianco. My first encounter with this biodynamic producer would also be my first time sampling the aromatic Manzoni Bianco grape. A cross between Pinot Bianco and Riesling, Manzoni Bianco (or Incrocio Manzoni) is well-suited to the cooler climes of the Veneto, Friuli, and Trentino-Alto Adige. All of these winegrowing regions are linked together by the rugged spine of Italy’s Limestone Alps, the Dolomites.
Winemaker Elisabetta Foradori champions biodynamic methods of farming and uses a natural approach in the winery, including, as is evident here, extended maceration on the skins. 2012 is bursting with notes of unripened pear, alpine flowers, chamomile tea, dried herbs and a whiff of chalk dust. Medium-bodied, it boasts a lovely texture, fine intensity and saline-dusted mineral accents of granite and chalk. This crisp Trentino-Alto Adige white proved to be a fine match to La Balena’s classic grilled octopus ($21).
Having ordered the octopus on my last visit, I decided to order it again, and as before, it was the most tender, delicately flavored interpretation of Polpo Grigliato I’ve ever tasted. I suspect this is because everything is sourced locally, and the dishes have an entirely honest feeling to them, because owner, Emanuele Bartolini insists on keeping the cuisine authentic to his native Florence, Italy. Superbly balanced, with each ingredient shining through, as in this case, the octopus is served alongside grilled fingerling potatoes, red onions, parsley, and lemon. Because everything is very fresh, the combination is nothing short of magical.
We were told, too, that the Lingua or beef tongue had arrived, fresh from a local butcher, that same morning, so for the main course we ordered a simple panini with beef tongue, arugula, and aioli ($12). The tongue was also tender and perfectly seasoned, and the panini was light and airy.
As our meal drew to a close, we finished with an Affogato ($8) and a decadent slice of Crème brûlée Cheesecake ($7). The Affogato, my favorite, was a refreshing and very fitting end a leisurely afternoon in downtown Carmel.