A Salinas restaurant worthy of the valley’s
produce is leading a culinary renaissance
By Kathryn McKenzie
Photography by Margaux Gibbons
For a city that has contributed as much to America’s dinner tables as Salinas has, it’s remarkable that Salinas itself has not produced a great number of restaurants that celebrate its agricultural bounty. With the exception of landmarks like the Growers Pub, casual chain restaurants and fast food joints have long dominated its landscape. Fine dining establishments in particular have been few and far between.
But that is beginning to change as Oldtown Salinas transforms itself into a dining destination—something that seemed unimaginable a few years ago.
Just witness the rise of Patria, arguably one of the best new restaurants anywhere in Monterey County.
There is nothing quite like Patria anywhere in the area, a difference which you can feel upon entering underneath its rustic antler chandelier. Colorful impressionistic paintings hang on the hand-scraped plaster walls, which are half-timbered like quaint European cottages.
Whimsical collections can be found around every corner—Tyrolean hats above the baby grand piano, for instance, and a clutch of cuckoo clocks nesting in an adjacent room.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Patria’s chef, Paulo Kautz, is also the chief artist here—self-taught, he did almost all the paintings himself— and Kautz and business partner, Gloria Magdirila, personally did much of the remodeling that gives Patria its distinctly European flair. Making Patria so different from other local restaurants was a calculated risk, but one that’s paid off.
It took more than two years of planning before Patria’s doors opened, with Magdirila and Kautz ironing out ambiance, service and menu well in advance. Such attention to detail has not gone unnoticed among Monterey County diners, who flock to Patria not only for the food, but also for the restaurant’s homespun, relaxed atmosphere.
“Our customers come in and tell us that they feel like they’re in Europe,” says Magdirila, whose family has owned the building since the 1960s, and who decided to get more involved in the property after leaving a federal service position, following stints working in aerospace and high tech in contracting, human resources and business finance. She also received culinary training from the California Culinary Academy, now Le Cordon Bleu, in San Francisco.
The seeds of Patria were sown through chance and good timing. Kautz moved into Magdirila’s neighborhood in Salinas while he took an extended leave of absence from the restaurant business; the two became friends.
“I got to know Paulo as a neighbor first, chef and restaurateur second,” says Magdirila, who witnessed how Kautz fixed up a dilapidated house and made it beautiful. “But aside from all his obvious talents, what really shined and stood out about him was, and still is, his personal nature: He is very kind, caring, generous and compassionate.”
Magdirila and Kautz began talking about possibilities for a new restaurant in the space, and Kautz, who previously was a founder of Carmel Valley’s Café Rustica and Taste Café in Pacific Grove, was no stranger to such an undertaking.
The restaurant building belonging to Magdirila’s family had previously been the site of Hullabaloo, started by celebrity chef Todd Fisher (now executive chef at Tarpy’s Roadhouse in Monterey) and sold to new owners in 2007, only to close its doors the following year. Patria opened quietly in December 2013—and still has no website of its own, although it does have a Facebook page—but food lovers have managed to find it nonetheless, through word of mouth as well as glowing reviews on Yelp and other sites.
For the Oldtown area of Main Street, the impact has been significant.
“We had totally been waiting for this,” says Trish Sullivan, an Oldtown Salinas Association board member and operator of the Destination Salinas visitors’ center and art gallery, who counts Patria among her favorite dining spots.
Sullivan has seen a big increase in evening foot traffic at Destination Salinas, which is open until 8pm, and credits this to Patria as well as other new downtown restaurants, such as Giorgio’s and Dubber’s Sports Bar, both of which opened in 2014.
Other new eateries that are both benefiting from and contributing to a more vibrant downtown include Ticino Coffee Shop, which, like Giorgio’s and two others—Citracada Tapas Restaurant and Grapes of Eden Wine Bar—is housed in the brand new 201 Main Complex, as well as Farm Fresh Deli & Café, The Bakery Station and Blue Aces Bake Shoppe. And as of press time, they all were also expected to get a big boost from the opening in July of Taylor Farms’ headquarters near the National Steinbeck Center, which will be a workplace for 400 employees. (See story p. 8.)
“There are now a lot of choices and price ranges, from the sports bar to fancy fine dining,” says Sullivan, who herself appreciates that she doesn’t have to drive out of town to find good food.
Patria, Latin for “homeland,” is just that for Kautz, who was raised in the Black Forest region of southwest Germany and trained in classic European cuisine. He has cooked for restaurants in Europe and the United States during his 45 years in the business.
“Everything I make, I’ve made for a long time in my life, and improved it,” says Kautz, who smiles often when he talks about his favorite dishes: jaeger schnitzel, pappardelle with wild boar, and salmon in parchment paper, for instance, reflecting German, Italian and French influences. There’s room for coastal California classics on the menu as well; Castroville artichokes, Monterey Bay calamari and baby clams are available as appetizers.
Kautz relies on the freshest local ingredients to make his dishes from scratch, smoking meats and curing olives in house and making his own fresh pasta; delectable desserts like pear strudel and chocolate almond hazelnut cake are also housemade. The beer selection includes both California and European brews, and the wine list highlights Monterey Bay vintages.
In addition to lunch and dinner, Patria offers a L’Apres Midi menu for afternoon noshing and a happy hour with olives, frittatas and other free goodies weekday afternoons. Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays has elegant selections like quiche d’Alsace in puff pastry crust, crab cakes Benedict and chicken curry crepes.
Kautz and Magdirila say the community support they’ve received since opening has made all the difference, and they’re pleased to be a part of Oldtown’s renaissance.
“The more restaurants, the more businesses, the better for all of us,” says Magdirila. “It all contributes and helps to elevate us all.”
Kathryn McKenzie writes about sustainable living, home design and horticulture for numerous publications and websites and, when not at the computer, attempts to grow tomatoes at her home in foggy northern Monterey County.
Patria • 228 S. Main St., Salinas • 831.424.5555