Thursday, January 10, 2013
All four nominees for the third annual John “Spud” Spadaro hospitality award – Carmen Banka (formerly of Mike’s Seafood), Rosine Culcasi (Rosine’s), Terri Scardina Hernandez (Sandbar & Grill) and Anna Vindiola (Schooners) – have huge hearts.
Huger still: Their track records of making folks feel like family, which made voting for one harder than finding a 5:15pm parking spot at Trader Joe’s. Banka’s been a force of benevolence in the restaurant scene since the days of Herman’s Inn on Alvarado in 1958. Hernandez was making expert elixirs when the Sandbar was the Windjammer, and at Chevy’s when it occupied the Crossroads. Vindiola seems to give out as many hugs as she does drinks, from the Sheraton era (now the Marriott) to today.
Committee chair “Cousin” Johnny Aliotti says the vote, which polled 50 members of the media and the restaurant industry, was tight because each woman’s generosity and magnetism evoke the award’s namesake, the late, well-loved owner-operator of Spado’s in Salinas.
“Each one is truly special,” Aliotti says. “They exemplify John’s qualities.”
Culcasi, who happened to be a dear friend of Spadaro’s, claimed the most votes in the end, and not just for her addictive from-scratch soups, pies and towering cakes that help her eponymous restaurant (375-1400) dominate our readers’ poll for Best Family Restaurant and Best Desserts. Her charity work with Salvation Army, Rotary and the Italian Catholic Federation, among many others, is legion. And her heart and soul are thoroughly invested.
“She’s a great example of a self-made individual with the culinary talent and the personality to thrive in restaurants,” says Sardine Factory co-founder Bert Cutino. “She inspires people. She created her own style. But she’s still the same woman she always was – down-to-earth, giving, humble and dedicated.”
I caught her en route to a pizza party for her 60-plus employees at Gianni’s.
“When I began I felt like my customers were coming as guests in my home,” she says. “That’s never changed. They tell me they get a good feeling when they come in. It’s so inspiring and fulfilling to me and my family to see them come back. We’re truly blessed.”
This Monday, Jan. 14, a celebration and coronation happens with a 5pm meet and greet (with hors d’oeuvres and no-host bar) and a 6pm presentation at Point Pinos Grill (648-5774). Culcasi may be the honoree, but with a bank of beautiful people like these four stewarding our restaurant community, the real victors would be you and me.
• Rhonda Motil’s out as Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association exec director. Meanwhile, Wine Enthusiast named MoCo a top 10 wine travel destination in the world. More juice on the blog.
• Big Sur Foragers Festival picks up the Chanterelle Cook-off mantle this weekend at the Big Sur Lodge and Ventana, among other spots. Jump to the A&E calendar (p. 28) for more.
•The King lives. Fluff Cupcakery (975-5598) celebrates Elvis’s birthday all week with cupcakes loaded with bacon, banana, peanut butter and a drizzle of chocolate ($2.50).
•The 26th anniversary bargain deal at Fandango (372-3456) has been extended to six days a week, Monday through Saturday: lunch for two – soup or salad, entrée choice and profiteroles – for $26.
• Last month Casa Munras hotel – and its Esteban restaurant (375-0176) – sold to Cannery Row Company (whose holdings include Sardine Factory and a ton of properties in New Monterey) for $14.5 million. I observed the moment the best way I know how: with one of the best happy hours (5-7pm daily) in the area – $4 sangria, $5 mojitos, and bargain bites like $5 mussels and $4 garbanzo bean-shrimp salad.
• Cannery Row Brewing Company heads south all weekend long Jan. 17-20 with a San Diego Beer Invasion – kickoff Thursday, Jan. 17, with 35 Stone Brew, 20 Green Flash and 14 Port Brewing and Lost Abbey drafts, a Stone Brewing seminar-tasting-dinner ($55) Jan. 18 with Head Brewmaster Mitch Steele, beer geek nirvana Saturday, Jan. 19 with Lost Abbey’s Tomme Arthur and a pig roast ($35) Jan. 20 with all sorts of Green Flash flavor. The next night CRBC sister 1833 hosts a wine dinner ($85) with Elisa Scavino, four single vineyard Barolos matched with four insane Levi Mezick courses and all magnum wines.
• Wine-down Wednesdays at Tarpy’s (647-1444) translate to tastings, special pairings menus and a nice community vibe. Jan. 16 brings Bernardus, Jan. 23 Kim Crawford and Jan. 30 Pessagno, with humpday wine sessions rolling through the spring.
• Point Pinos Grill partners with pioneering Uncommon Brewers for a four-course beer dinner ($60) Friday, Jan. 18. Tasty ticket.
• The revamping of Aubergine (624-8578) is wrapped, with a new cheese cave in place on the way into the 10-table dining room, and new textures and finishes on all sides. Open houses with complimentary canapés take place 4-5pm Jan. 18 and 25. Ask to see Chef Justin Cogley’s fish tank. Another tasty Aubergine nugget: Their Terroir series ($85) features Singapore street food Jan. 22.
• Dear shrimp cake ($8) at Tommy’s Wok (624-8518) in Carmel, I love you.
• If your New Year’s resolution is to learn to make cheese, Cantinetta Luca (625-6500) is your spot: Jan. 17 Chef Jason Balestrieri tutors on crafting fresh mozzarella and burrata ($50) – and his is some of the best in the county.
• Monday, Jan. 14, is National Dress Up Your Pet Day. And you thought the holidays were over.
• “To eat is a necessity,” François de La Rochefoucauld said, “but to eat intelligently is an art.”