The Tasting Panel magazine

January/February 2015

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Page 53 of 120

january/february 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  51 When I think about my time here, the great cuisine, the spectacular wine list, I still think about service first. That was the first thing I learned when I went on the floor here. Ted: That's true. We have always been rated number one by the surveys and reviews for service. Couple that with Bert's menus and the extensive wine list and you see why we're still standing! And of course, looking out over Cannery Row isn't all that bad either! Bert Cutino: The service was great and the food was at the leading edge of California cuisine. We had abalone, prawns, all that was great from Monterey Bay. Of course, we had to have a little Italian flair! I remember four sommeliers on the floor here on a busy evening. Most spots didn't even have one. I distinctly recall the mission I was given to get the Grand Award. We managed to do it in just one year. It was always about the goal, the commitment and then the achievement. The evolution continued as we started all the verticals and adding regions. Always chasing the elusive Bern Laxer [of Bern's Steak House in Tampa, FL] for the number-one spot. If I put on 100 wines, he'd put on 200. We started the Yquem program and he built a des- sert wine room! Ted: I remember he would come for the Monterey Wine Festival, come to dinner and look over every page of the wine list. Bert: We still have diners coming in and buying wines to take with them. Freddy, it's getting harder and harder to replace them. We had a guest spend $30,000 right off the wine list recently. Ted: One thing to remember is that most of the lists in the '60s were mainly French/ European Wines. We started putting American wine, first by varietal and later by region. And we've always put California first, then Monterey County. Everyone in fine dining thought we were crazy! No crazier than sending me to the U.K. for the Master Sommelier examination! And then helping us bring the exam to the U.S. Not many people know that the first MS exam in America was held right here at The Sardine Factory. Ted: That is true. Before that we started our own wine school. I think you really enjoyed teaching it. Dishwashers, busboys—anyone could attend. That was a real eye opener. We found our first female floor sommelier out of that program. Bert and I have always matched talent with opportunity. It's served us so well over these many years. I was looking at a number of the menus from the Wine Cellar Private Events. We were really doing cutting-edge cuisine even then. And the wine pairings—wow, good luck finding those wines today. Bert: The Wine Cellar really gave us a challenge. We did a great amount of research and tasting to produce those unique menus. I really believe that it was a catalyst for our à la carte menu to improve and challenge the culinary team to do it. Ted: I agree, and it also energized the waitstaff and sommelier team. I really loved it when we started matching the music, the food and wine in concert, course by course, to each pairing. I still love dining in the Cellar as much as I did the first time. How much white glove service is left in the world? I am still in shock when I see a television in the bar here. That was always a cardinal "No"! Bert: Let's be honest, you have to change with the times. It's a more casual world. We don't have the tuxedos anymore; we have casual dining in the bar. The customers' needs have always come first with us. Ted: Absolutely. We started off in the '60s when people actually dined. Our table turn was two to two-and-a-half hours. We had a jacket requirement. Now it's one to one- and-a-half hours and I could count on one hand the number of ties being worn. We had to change. The Wine List at the Sardine Factory has many wonderful wines with 1,800 selec- tions! Very few establishments have the resources to manage and store even that. And where do you find the wines? Let's open up this bottle of Inglenook 2009. Just like the old days. We still have the Inglenook Cask Wines back to 1949. Jeez, I'm still saying "we!" Ted and Bert: Classic Napa Valley. When you opened the door and went into the cellar, we were sure it would be one of the remaining treasures. Freddy, have you lost your touch? (laughing) This wine is deep ruby, wonderful nose of cassis, black cherry and excellent balance. Ted: How about the 1870 Lafite! The one we opened for Leon Panetta as a tribute to his heroic work in catching Bin Laden and honored him with you serving it in CIA shot glasses to 50 guests. What a wine! Let me put you both on the spot here. The Sardine Factory has been open 46 years this year. How much longer are you going to keep it going? Ted: As long as we are still having fun. This is a small part of our businesses today, but it's still our first child. This is where two young guys loved what they did and still love it to this day. That's the most important part of life: love. We put it in everything we do here. So let's say the angel comes down and tells you both you are opening a new restaurant. What is it going to be? Bert: Well, you better tell him to give us another 30 years to get it right! I would love to open just the way we started. French service, guéridons, tuxedos. But today it would be upscale casual if I want to make it a success. Ted: I'd open just The Wine Cellar. The most formality, incredible wine and food pairing, the music, the atmosphere, the grandeur. To be a commercial success, likely a steak- house. They have some formality but really touch the casual diner. They go right through the trends and have longevity. And no cellphones! And Freddy, no matter where you are, you'll always be a member of The Sardine Factory family.

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