By Jennifer Moulaison | Photos by Manny Espinoza
On the corner of 6th and San Carlos in Carmel-by-the-Sea, cuisine, wine, and music playfully converge at the tables of Affina restaurant. Aptly named, Affina means “refine.” This is demonstrated in their everchanging menu, generous wine cellar, and nightly live music performances.
Celebrating their fifth anniversary this year, Affina is the concept of owner Dexter Salazar, whose journey in the food industry began as merely a means of supporting himself through college. Bussing tables and washing dishes at a well-known Carmel restaurant quickly grew stale for Salazar. “You could be the best dishwasher in the world, but there’s no reward or recognition for it,” he says. Working his way up to waiting and bartending, Salazar discovered a passion for wine. Eventually, the space next door to where Salazar was tending bar became available, and he was able to open his own wine bar through the help of the building’s owner, Constance Laud. “She was like my fairy godmother,” shares Salazar. “I was roommates with her son through college, and she made my ambitions possible.”
Though Salazar enjoyed working with wine, he had further ambitions. It wasn’t until Fabian Osorio sat down on a stool in Salazar’s wine bar that he knew precisely whom he should place at the helm of his restaurant’s kitchen. Osoria is currently chef and creator of Affina’s menu. “[Osorio] really is the driving force behind Affina,” says Salazar. The driving force became a dynamic father-son duo when Osorio’s son, Andres, joined Affina to run the front end of the restaurant. “We’ve become one big family,” he adds.
Stepping into the dining room, the workshop mood is revealed with rustic reclaimed wooden tables, earthy canvas materials, and industrial touches, accented by a welcoming wine bar and a large, white piano. The menu’s theme is California fusion and leverages Osorio’s experience with Mediterranean and Oaxacan cuisine, but also has a strong focus on quality of ingredients. “We have a large walk-in fridge and no freezer, so everything is influenced by what’s available locally,” Salazar explains. “Even our version of clam chowder is unique. We make it fresh, without the bacon or bacon fat—it’s no fisherman’s wharf chowder.”
Being in Carmel and having community support, including at the city level, ultimately provided infused Affina’s capricious beginnings with beautiful memories. “The journey has undeniably been a roller coaster ride,” says Salazar. “My partner, owner of Carmel Bouchée Richard Oh, and I have experienced everything from challenges building the restaurant and acquiring necessary music permits to serendipitous blessings working with high-profile people who came through with vital last-minute funding.”
As for future plans, there are some on the horizon, but for now, they’re steadily cruising. “We want to bring more music and talented artists to come and play, and we’re always learning and improvising the menu,” says Salazar. “For now, we’re honored to be in Carmel and to serve the people in the community as well as the many visitors that come from all over the world to enjoy this beautiful place.”