Just past Point Lobos State Park and overlooking Otter Cove, The Hyatt Carmel Highlands sits on a cliff above the Pacific. Opened on July 28, 1917, as the Highlands Inn by J. Franklin Devendorf, co-founder of the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the property was purchased prior to the opening of Highway 1.
According to Managing Director Melvin Bettcher, back then, people thought Devendorf was out of his mind to expect travelers to make an all-day horse and buggy trip down 10 miles of coastline from Monterey.
A brochure from the time depicted the inn in a manner that could be applicable a century later. “Each chalet is equipped with electric lights, heat, and either a tub or shower bath. The dining room is noted for its wonderful ocean views from large windows and its splendid meals, featuring fresh vegetables and fruits. The daintiness of the service and the colorfulness of it make it ‘just different’ and unique among the world’s hotels.”
Five years after opening, the inn was purchased by Senator and Mrs. Edward H. Tickle and his sister Ella Shaw Fisher. The inn passed through several more owners until becoming part of the Hyatt Hotel Corporation in 1999.
Recently, the 48-room hotel and 94 time-share suites have undergone an extensive remodel with brand-new furniture, finishes and lighting.
“It’s an all new feel but we are still following the rustic coastal elegance throughout the property,” Bettcher says. “Guests are looking for a place to get away that’s somewhat intimate with the surroundings and each other. It’s such a unique property. We didn’t want to lose what people find interesting but we wanted to update it with more options.”
Perhaps the most striking change for longtime guests is the relocation of California Market from the first floor and its integration and expansion into Pacific’s Edge restaurant upstairs, complete with an upstairs deck offering dining looking out at the ocean under the stars.
Sous Chef Pancho Castellon has influenced Executive Chef Chad Minton’s menu with a growing list of plant-based options. Brussels sprouts with kimchi, toasted hazelnuts and dulse seaweed have become an unlikely and delicious hit, with Castellon acknowledging it took a bit of convincing to get Minton and Executive Sous Chef Alvaro Dalmau to endorse it. Still, he says the collaboration of the three chefs makes for a very enjoyable and creative kitchen.
“I am from Chile and Alvaro is from Argentina and is really good with Peruvian food,” Castellon says. “We focus on food from the whole Pacific, not just the California Coast. Chad has a more classic approach to food. I have more modern. It’s really fun to work with them and they give me the freedom to create menu items and encourage me to contribute. We understand each other.”
“They complement each other very well,” adds Bettcher. “It’s fun to watch the kitchen when they are getting creative. There’s been an evolution of the menu and now guests can enjoy three meals a day in one location and the bar is open all day.”
Executive Chef Minton explains that the restaurant wanted to “create a ‘yes culture’ ” with food that pleases all types of palates.
“We really want to celebrate California rustic coastal cuisine,” says Minton. “We focus on sophisticated but not complicated food. There is such a diverse cultural history of the area and the state and we use authentic Latin food, local farms and foragers and the Seafood Watch program. It’s a pretty dramatic renovation…the restaurant is more modern and airy and we considered the flow of the room and how your eye goes to the windows by lowering the chair backs and sinking the bar. We wanted to create a seamless flow.”
Delicious craft cocktails include the lavender lemon drop with housemade lavender syrup and the Highlands margarita. Plates are encouraged to be shared family style. Delights include octopus with local heirloom baby potatoes and Kalamata olive aioli; popcorn polenta with chicken roasted in Gilroy garlic jus; short ribs; handmade pasta; and heirloom beets with smoked cashew ricotta, quinoa, avocado, grapes, shallot vinaigrette.
Breakfast and brunch options include banana pancakes with warm Nutella, Point Lobos Benedict with Dungeness crab and avocado and Seafood Cioppino.
The restaurant is adjacent to the Sunset Lounge, where one can spot whales and dolphins, creating a perfect space for food events such as the upcoming “Local Legends” gala on Saturday, July 28, which offers 100
guests the opportunity to celebrate the 100th anniversary with local chefs and winemakers for $100. Reservations are required.
A popular past event returns as well: the “Forks.Corks.Action!” winemaker series just relaunched in April, and two more events in 2017 will take place in September and in November. The September 28 event takes place at 6pm and honors California Wine Month and features a fourcourse dinner paired with DeTierra wines benefiting the National Steinbeck Center, for $140.
The property remains perfect for special events such as weddings and anniversaries, but also offers an opportunity for locals and guests who want a more casual experience, including happy hour and live music.
“The remodel makes sense,” Bettcher says. “It brings the property back into balance.”
The Hyatt Carmel Highlands is located at 120 Highlands Dr., Carmel. 831/620-1234 or www.highlandsinn.hyatt.com for room or dining reservations or for details on upcoming events.