The Mediterranean is at the intersection of Asia and Europe, with the world's earliest civilizations forming centuries ago on the borders of the Mediterranean Sea. Traders sailing the sea and traveling overland exchanged a bounty of commodities, including spices, herbs, vegetables, meats and other foods, resulting in the wide dispersal of certain ingredients that became the basis for many ethnic cuisines in the vast region.
But while they share many common ingredients, Mediterranean cuisine isn't the product of one ethnic group or culture, but a product of many influences, exchanges and culinary trends shared by a wide variety of peoples and cultures around the Mediterranean Sea.
Artemis restaurant in Carmel is the epitome of the global nature of Mediterranean cuisine, drawing inspiration from a rich and diverse tradition that spans the entire region, from Southern Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean.
While savory Turkish dishes still form the centerpiece of this burgeoning new culinary gem in the heart of Carmel, dishes from other Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Morocco and others also star in Artemis' revised new menu.
“As a result of customer feedback, we've made revisions on the menu since we first opened,” says Artemis manager Sara Allen. “We wanted to be more open for more people to enjoy our food.”
So they added a few new favorite dishes and simplified the language on the menu, which customers found hard to remember and often difficult to pronounce — dishes such as piyaz (a traditional Turkish salad made with beans, onion, parsley and sumac) and kizartma (an eggplant dish with tomatoes, onion and garlic), to name but a few. But what didn't change was the basic nature of the food.
“The focus here is on real Mediterranean food, made and served as it is over there,” says owner Erkan Demir, who started in Carmel with businesses selling boots, leather jackets and carpets. “It's all homemade food, from scratch, all seasonal, organic when we can, fresh and very healthy. The bottom line is that it's 100% honest food.”
Demir, like his Executive Chef Mustafa Yuzer, is a native of Istanbul, Turkey.
When it first opened in March 2017, the 40-seat Artemis (then called Artemis Turkish Kitchen) got rave reviews from local food writers and reviewers.
“Artemis Turkish Kitchen is bound to be one of those Carmel establishments that stays put. It’s classy, the food is delicious and the owner – Erkan Demir – knows his way around the town’s bustling businesses as much as he does his native fare,” wrote Taryn Yudaken of the Monterey Weekly.
The restaurant was a hit coming out of the gates, but Demir and his staff felt that the emphasis on Turkish cuisine and the confusing and hard-to-pronounce names of the dishes may have intimidated or discouraged some potential customers.
The dinner entrees still retain favorites such as shish kabob, moussaka, stuffed eggplant, miniature beef patties called kofte and lamb chops or kuzu pirzola, but also other Mediterranean favorites such as spaghetti, seafood pasta, fettuccine with lamb ragu, sea bass and grilled salmon.
Plus, Artemis has a small selection of Turkish wines and a number of healthy vegetarian options, including salads, lentil soup (“Best in Town!” the menu exclaims) appetizers, cauliflower gratin, vegetable medley, vegan eggplant, and veggie wraps. Artemis buys and uses organic produce when possible.
Artemis is also open for lunch with several items from the dinner menu available, so hesitant diners can get a sneak preview of dinner to see if they want to venture into deeper waters, as it were. Demir's recommendation is simple: “Try us, you'll like us.”
“People who come in and eat here, they love it,” he says. “They can't believe there's a restaurant like this in Carmel. Once they come in, they love it.”
And getting better every day.