Edible Monterey Bay

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The Pocket Arrives in a Wave of Flavors

March 10, 2020 – There’s a thrilling calm to surfing. Amidst the rough and tumble of the waves, there’s a sweet spot—the pocket—that makes for a smooth and thrilling ride. Here, all other troubles slip away as you go with the flow. 

“For surfers, being ‘in the pocket,’ it’s riding the barrel in the perfect place,” explains Federico Rusciano, co-owner and executive chef for The Pocket restaurant and an avid surfer. He was even a professional windsurfer in Maui, “30 years ago, when I was young, before reality set in.”

Kent Ipsen and Federico Rusciano, owners of The Pocket in Carmel (photo: David Gatti)

When planning a new restaurant, Rusciano and business partner Kent Ipsen saw natural pocket parallels: “The name is for the right place, the perfect place,” says Rusciano. 

When it breaks on the shores of Carmel next week in the former Christopher’s restaurant, the pair hope The Pocket creates a space for locals to linger and savor an easy and effortless ride of good, affordable food and wine—casual fine dining.

A combined 80 years of experience in the industry and deep roots in the restaurant business will certainly help ensure smooth sailing at The Pocket. 

Rusciano was born in Rome and raised in Capri, where his father owned a restaurant. “When I was six years old, I was working in my dad’s restaurant,” he recalls with a laugh. After attending culinary school in Capri, Rusciano’s career flowed to restaurant kitchens in Italy, Mexico and California, and for the past eight years he was general manager at Pèppoli in Pebble Beach.

Ipsen also grew up in the restaurant business. His father Skip established Skipolini’s Pizza in Clayton, California, and Kent has now grown the business to seven restaurants reaching from the East Bay to Reno.

Fresh seafood for Spaghettoni Frutti di Mare (photo: David Gatti)

Rusciano will serve as executive chef. Joining him in the kitchen are chef de cuisine Sean Shelton (sous chef at Pèppoli from 2010 to 2013 and more recently sous chef at Corral de Tierra Country Club), sous chef Nicholas Consoli (formerly of Roy’s and more recently Hollister’s Léal Vineyards) and pastry chef Denise Consoli (formerly of The Inn at Spanish Bay).

“Our culinary team is fantastic. They’ve been working with me at Pebble Beach for years. They wanted to join me in this venture and I’m blessed to have them,” explains Rusciano. “There’s a lot of love among us, and we care about each other like a family.”

The Pocket won’t be tied to any single cuisine or region. “I grew up in Italy, so Italian food is obviously influential, but it’s not the only type of food we’ll have,” Rusciano emphasizes. “Our team has a background in many different types of cuisine.”

Carne asada street tacos from the tapas menu (photo: David Gatti)

The menu draws inspiration from around the globe—chorizo sausage and octopus from Spain, seafood spaghetti and carbonara bucatini from Italy, chilaquiles and carne asada tacos from Mexico—alongside the new American and coastal Californian favorites found closer to home.

“We’ll cook most everything,” says Rusciano. He emphasizes their opening menu is just a tease of what’s possible, with the team holding back a number of additional dishes for later on. “The beauty of our restaurant is we’re able to adapt—we don’t have any limitations on our menu.”

Beyond flexibility of cuisine, Rusciano plans to offer flexibility in service. “Long four- or five-course meals are disappearing,” he says. “Everybody’s moving these days, so we want to offer affordable small bites to grab if you’re on the run, on a budget or just want to have a happy hour moment with a glass of wine.” The Pocket will serve a selection of tapas from 11am to 5pm. 

While the menu looks abroad for inspiration, The Pocket will have a local focus, “We’re really catering to the local crowd—we want locals to eat here often, not every once in a while,” he adds.

Whole roasted Branzino (photo: David Gatti)

Rusciano’s experience as a certified sommelier will guide The Pocket’s wine program, which boasts a menu of 400 wines. “We’re a wine-driven concept,” he says. He has curated an eclectic library of international selections. “I’ve tried every single one to make sure it’s exactly what our guests want. I’m not buying something just because it’s popular, but because it’s a phenomenal wine.” Affordability again is a consideration for Rusciano, who aims to find selections that offer luxury and value. 

The Pocket also features a full bar with a selection of classic and specialty cocktails. The bar and lounge invite you to linger over a cocktail or a glass of wine.

The dining room seats 50 in a space rich with dark wood, marble, slate and tile. Accordion windows bask the room in sunlight and bring the outdoors inside with a peek at the chef’s garden out front too. “It doesn’t get any more farm to table than that,” says Rusciano.

A chef’s table offers more than just a look inside the kitchen—sliding windows allow diners to have an interactive experience with the chefs during their meal here.

Outside, a patio seats 36 people and a private dining room affords space for private events or overflow when the main dining room is busy.

The piazza will eventually be home to a new tasting room for Talbott Vineyards and a pair of short-term rentals, including one with a club room in the basement with a state-of-the-art golf simulation system.

“We put our heads together to make this a special place,” says Rusciano. He’s excited to share the fruits of 15 months of hard labor and construction to diners next week.

Rusciano expects to open on March 19, with limited to dinner service for the first few days. Breakfast and lunch will arrive the following weekend (March 21 and 22), and by Monday, March 23, The Pocket should be open for breakfast (8am to 11am), lunch (11:30am to 3pm) and dinner (5pm to 10pm). Breakfast and lunch will be walk-in only, but reservations will be available for dinner.

The Pocket • Lincoln Street, between Fifth and Sixth, Carmel • 920-8064 • thepocketcarmel.com • Open 8am-10pm daily

About the author

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Raúl Nava (he/him/él) is a freelance writer covering dining and restaurants across the Central Coast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @offthemenu831.