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In the Pocket

By Nora Heston Tarte | Photos by Manny Espinoza

The Pocket Restaurant in Carmel got an unconventional start. Slated to open in spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic altered the course for this winedriven concept restaurant. It had to delay a traditional opening and instead shifted to a takeout model for its big debut on June 1. Despite the challenges, the eatery, brought to Carmel by restaurateurs Kent Ipsen and Federico Rusciano, former general manager of Peppoli at Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, is thriving.

Both owners grew up in food families, learning the tricks of the trade in the kitchen while their families operated local eateries. For Ipsen, it was Skipolini’s Pizza, which he has since grown into a seven-location chain from its modest one-location beginnings in Clayton. Rusciano spent his adolescence in Capri, Italy, where his family owned the seafood restaurant Caprice.

“Growing up in a restaurant family, you’re never standing around not doing anything,” says Rusciano. It was his father’s wish that, before leaving home, Rusciano knew how to cook. He wanted his son to have a trade to fall back on. Rusciano moved from a youngster learning the ropes to co-owning an expansive coastal eatery celebrating seafood and other global cuisines.

As a concept restaurant, The Pocket doesn’t focus on one type of food, though Italian and seafood dishes are well represented. Instead, the menu features a long list of eclectic meals, including those with Asian, Spanish, Mexican, and Californian roots, evoking casual luxury. When it is allowed to open at full capacity, The Pocket will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and will offer a full bar. A lover of seafood, Rusciano recommends the seafood pasta and seafood risotto to guests, but he says the steaks are also divine, and the Grecian roasted sea bass, deboned tableside, is an experience. All of the accompaniments—the dressings, pasta, gnocchi, sauces, and stocks—are made from scratch, which only adds to their decadence. “It’s hard for me to say which one is the favorite,” says Rusciano.

While the food takes center stage, experience is just as important to Ipsen and Rusciano. They have a strong culinary team of chefs and servers, and Rusciano lends his talents both in and out of the kitchen. As an advanced sommelier, he is poised to assist guests in pairing wine with each dish, a task the curated wine list was made for. “The experience is going to be different than the rest of Carmel, just because of the personal investment,” he explains.

Guests are invited to create their own dining adventure, choosing between several settings. This includes casual meals on the patio, where a pergola opens and closes to the elements, and private dinner parties in a secluded dining room that seats up to 20. The openconcept kitchen, the building’s centerpiece, allows guests to glimpse behind-the-scenes action as they dine. Outside, towering olive trees, a 15-foot fountain, and fire elements elevate the space. “We are giving the guests the opportunity to choose what they want to eat, what they want to spend, the experience they want to have . . . all of it,” says Rusciano.

The Pocket sits on a large property owned by Ipsen, and includes two residences available for short-term rentals and a wine shop. Each unit boasts ocean views, a private golf simulator in the residence basement, a balcony fireplace, and luxury touches everywhere you turn. “There’s no other way than to go all out,” says Rusciano.

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