Thursday, August 20, 1998
Hampar Kocek likes to recall carefree summer days, spending time along the French and Italian Riviera, when dinner plans often meant staging an impromptu barbecue after a day of swimming and cavorting in the sun. It's been a while since those days, but his enthusiasm for slow cooking over a wood fire is as pronounced now as it was then. Kocek also remembers sporting a little more hair back then. So when he launched Curly's Barbecue in Seaside in mid-June, he decided to make a full fledge salute to the old days, and named the place after himself in more hirsute times.
If you're driving down Fremont Street around lunchtime, you might also find yourself downwind of what can easily be detected as the beckoning scent of seasoned oak wood smoldering over a lick of hot flames, a smell that triggers automatic salivation in barbecue fans, and sometimes causes them to make illegal u-turns or execute other sudden traffic maneuvers to find the source.
On the former site of Seaside's Dairy Queen (and, more recently, Burger Joe's), Curly's features a number of rotisserie-cooked meats like barbecued chicken, pork ribs (available also by the whole or half rack), hot links, tri-tip or turkey. They're all offered either as a complete entre with a complement of traditional side dishes like coleslaw, potato salad, mashed potatoes, corn or chili beans, or as a sandwich. Other sandwich choices include barbecued pork, and smoked ham or turkey.
This barbecue-meister maintains that everything at Curly's is fresh and homemade, including the sauce. "Our barbecue sauce is done Southern-style, and tangy and sweet rather than spicy," he points out. But since this is California where we're known for our predilection toward 'wraps,' burritos are also found on this barbecue menu, with a tortilla standing in for the usual bun.
Since leaving a career as a jewelry craftsman, Kocek has gotten into the restaurant business in a big way. Acquiring Wyatt's Steakhouse in Prunedale meant installing his son, Haig, as manager in this longtime dining establishment in Prunedale.
While barbecue aficionados will happily find oak-smoked specialties like baby-back ribs and barbecued chicken breasts, the menu also branches out with a full array of other choices like beef lovers' perrenial favorite, the aged, slow-roasted prime rib au jus, served with horseradish sauce. New York steak au poivre, sirloin tips in red wine and mushroom sauce, and filet mignon are also represented. Roasted pork loin and chicken are both offered with Marsala sauce, and the Cajun jambalaya with shrimp and sausage is also popular, along with charbroiled lamb chops.
Pastas and seafood comprise the rest of Wyatt's ample menu, running the gamut from spinach ravioli and the classic fettucine Alfredo, to no fewer than 10 seafood selections, including fresh salmon in a Chardonnay mushroom sauce, grilled snapper, sand dabs, prawns done scampi-style, calamari steak in lemon butter, and lobster tails served with drawn butter.
Overseeing the operation of two restaurants doesn't leave much time these days for vacationing along the Riviera, and Hampar Kocek will testify that it's not really a recommended formula for getting your hair back. But it is a lively and interesting way to make a living--and as long you buy two, you might as well have a little fun while you're at it and name one after yourself. cw