Salinas Italian Classic
Café Spada gets a slight name change and retains its popularity.
Thursday, December 2, 2004
Café Spada is one of those restaurants that could quadruple in size and still pack the house. Luckily one of my friends advised me to make reservations for dinner at this hopping restaurant right off Main Street in Salinas. When I arrived at 6pm with my friend Linda and our daughters Alexis and Florence, the place was already almost filled to its 60-seat capacity.
Most regulars still refer to the restaurant as Spado’s, its name from the mid-nineties until 2002. A few years ago, owner Jon Spadaro wanted to relocate to Old Town Salinas’ Main Street and give up the restaurant while maintaining his catering business. The proposed location never became available, which prompted Spadaro to reopen this September as Café Spada.
When we entered the restaurant, a wonderful aroma of oregano, garlic, and tomato wafted toward the four of us. Spadaro told me later that the restaurant only uses fresh herbs in its dishes and that includes the minced garlic sprinkled with red chili seeds, which comes with warm bread at the beginning of the meal. I spread the fresh garlic on my bread and drizzled on olive oil. After eyeing the fire flickering in the pizza oven and the mural-covered walls, I felt like I was transported to Naples.
Alexis and Florence eschewed pizza and ordered Spado’s chicken ($13.99). I tried the fettucine francesca with smoked salmon ($14.99), and Linda ordered pork scallopini ($12.99).
The scent of rosemary steamed off the chicken when it arrived. Café Spada roasts this chicken with lemon, garlic, and rosemary. A single sprig of rosemary is enough to perfume an entire chicken, and the chef did not overpower the chicken by using too much. Pan juices covered the half chicken and made delicious gravy for the dense mashed potatoes.
My fettucine francesca pleased the palate and eye with its color contrasts of delicate pink house-smoked salmon, yellow artichoke hearts, black olives, sun dried tomatoes, and green sprigs of basil. The flavor contrast of smoked salmon, salty olives, and slightly sour artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes blended with the cream sauce to make each bite delicious. The thick sauce made it easy to twirl the fettucine with my fork and stay put for eating. The pasta had a perfect bite to it. Café Spada does not pre-cook its pasta, so it never arrives at the table in a soggy state. Spadaro told me that all of the restaurant’s dishes are made to order, which did not seem to add onto the time they took to arrive at the table.
Linda ordered the pork scallopini with marsala sauce. It was tender and tasted of the sweetish marsala sauce seasoned with rosemary and mountain mushrooms.
Marsala is a red dessert wine that comes from Sicily. The wine’s name is a vestige of the Arab occupation of Sicily from the 9th to 11th centuries. Marsala is named after a town whose name comes from the Arabic words “Marsah Allah,” meaning “Port of Allah.”
Marsala is just one of the gifts that southern Italy has given to the national cuisine. Café Spada offers several southern specialties that merit a try. What is amazing about this cuisine is that you can use simple, fresh ingredients to work tasty culinary magic to create dishes likes Caprese salad ($6.50) and Margherita pizza ($6.50).
Caprese salad, invented on the garden paradise island of Capri off the coast of Naples, is made up of sliced Roma tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. The juice from the tomatoes mingles with the olive oil to produce a luscious dressing. Neapolitans use these same ingredients on a thin-crust pizza that they call Margherita. At first, it may seem strange to eat a pizza without tomato sauce, but a bite of Margherita pizza will convince most skeptics that this is a sophisticated combination.
Some of my fellow diners’ choices looked appetizing from my table—the fresh crab ravioli ($14.99) and lamb shanks in cabernet tomato sauce ($16.99). Frankly, I would like to come back and try everything in this convivial restaurant.
Café Spada represents a good value for dinner, but it appears to be an outright bargain for lunch, as Spadaro told me about the antipasti bar deal he offers during the week. On Monday through Thursday, the restaurant serves twelve different salads, pizzas, sandwiches, and three hot entrees that change daily for $6.99. On Friday, Spadaro adds calamari, shrimp, and salmon to the antipasti for the same price.
With food and prices like Spada’s, it’s no wonder you need
66 West Alisal Street, Salinas
Lunch 11am-1:30pm • Dinner 4pm- 8:30pm
Open every day (closed lunch Sunday, and closed dinner Monday)