Sanddabs, a seafood delicacy unique to the Central Coast of California, can be found at restaurants throughout Monterey. And last week, I ventured into PortaBella, a quaint restaurant in Carmel by-the-Sea to feast on these tasty little fishies. Granted, you can enjoy much more than sanddabs here. This venue is a hot spot for locals, travelers, oenophiles and foodies seeking haute cuisine and hearty servings of European charm. PortaBella PortaBella hosts a great ambiance for just about any occasion, and for my group of six hungry dining companions, I could tell we were in good hands. We were greeted by friendly staff and seated in the warm and Euro-esque dining room. After a brief peek at the menu, I was happy to find an emphasis on local wine, produce and carnivorous fare. Our group opted for a local Pinot Noir crafted by Morgan, one of my favorite Monterey County vintners, and settled into the tapas plate we ordered as a shared appetizer. Edith Piaf crooned in the back ground and I couldn’t help but imagine myself in this romantically lit dining room with my amore (ahem, Mr. Amore: hint, hint!). Thoughts of candle lit proposals vanished from my mind as the sanddabs arrived. Situated nicely atop a bed of fresh green beans and creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes, the dish provided a slice of heaven! The lemon caper butter sauce the fish was prepared with was perfect – fresh, light and perfectly complimented the flaky fish. The Morgan Pinot Noir paired nicely. Sanddab mission accomplished for a mere $22. My companions enjoyed their meals as well, ranging from the vegetarian fare to the grilled salmon with fresh ratatouille. I will most certainly be back for the Coq Au Vin and to eat outside on their adorable little patio. Now, I must note here for all you dessert fans: PortaBella is home to one of Monterey County’s best crème brulee renditions. My companions confirmed this assertion. The custard, smooth and sweet. The topping, perfectly caramelized. The cracking of our spoons across the crème brulee made for a sweet end to a beautiful dining experience in Carmel-by-the-Sea. PortaBella Ocean Avenue & Monte Verde Str Carmel, CA 93923 (831) 624-4395