Local books: Cooking in the kitchen with the Culcasi family

March 15, 2024

Their lasagna slices like butter. On the first sip of creamy tomato bisque with grilled cheese, croutons or their hearty beef minestrone soup, some people close their eyes. And diners tend to order the chocolate layer cake with cream cheese first to ensure a slice will be available by the time they finish their meal. Established in the fall of 1980, when the Culcasi family began offering their well-loved dishes and signature desserts at Del Monte Shopping Center in Monterey and relocated to Alvarado Street when Rosine, her husband Jim and their family expanded the business in 1986, “Rosine’s” family restaurant has been winning customers and culinary awards ever since.

The good news is that family members of the legendary restaurant have shared some of their most popular recipes via a newly published book, “Rosine’s Cuisine.” The bad news is that many people will be hard-pressed to recreate these dishes without the kitchen magic possessed by the Matriarch herself.

Jim and Susan Culcasi (Courtesy photo)
Jim and Susan Culcasi (Courtesy photo)

“My mother-in-law, Rosine, and father-in-law, Jim, are still at the helm of the family, while my husband, Jim Jr. and son, John, are now at the helm of the restaurant. Rosine and Jim have retired from the restaurant but tend to come in and mingle with customers,” said Susan Culcasi who, with support from Sue Wecker of The Wecker Group Graphic Design in Monterey, has written the new “Rosine’s Cuisine.”

“It took me almost a year,” Culcasi said. “We touched every single recipe, introduced trendier ingredients, added new recipes and chapters, and a new cover, whose image is similar to the front of the restaurant.”

Culcasi’s sister-in-law, Renee Davi, wrote the original Rosine’s recipe book back in the 1980s. Yet there has not been an available book sharing the secrets of the kitchen for many years. While the new recipe book introduces updates and modifications — the array of soup recipes has increased — Rosine’s culture remains constant, with signature desserts, like Rosine’s legendary carrot cake and the traditional family focus, both in their enduring business and in their menu.

“People love our servers, who also love them,” Culcasi. “We have very loyal, generous customers, who feel at home here. We’ve seen customers pay the tab for other customers in military uniform. Everyone sings when it’s a birthday. We have a warm and friendly atmosphere, and both our staff and our customers have a lot to do with that.”

This is, perhaps, most evident in the family photographs and the storyline woven among the recipes, presented in chapters of the Culcasis’ lives and the recounting of daily life in the restaurant over the many years in business.

“People have been asking for a new recipe book for about 10 years,” Susan Culcasi said. “We included a picture of  Rosine and told her story, followed by a welcome page from my husband, Jim Jr. and me. We also introduced our son John’s cocktail and mocktail recipes. Representing our third-generation as our general  manager, he’s also a wonderful mixologist, who has grown this part of the business.”

The book also features an array of accolades and awards, as well as a photo of Food Network star Guy Fieri, who filmed an episode of his hit series, “Diners, Drive-ins and Drives” at Rosine’s Restaurant (2014).

Rosine Culcasi, holding the recipe book. (Courtesy photo)
Rosine Culcasi, holding the recipe book. (Courtesy photo)

In the first month following their November release, the Culcasis report selling more than 400 copies of “Rosine’s Cuisine,”  which is available at the restaurant and via their website at rosinesmonterey.com. The book, which retails for $38 plus tax, has been shipped across the country for an additional $8.

“Although we are sharing so many of the stories and recipes legendary to Rosine’s, we are holding a few signatures aside to keep things special at the restaurant,” Susan Culcasi said. “Still, my husband had to be willing to share his soups. When the family started Rosine’s so long ago, we didn’t even think about giving away secrets. But people who know our restaurant recollect their own memories associated with eating our food and enjoying family celebrations, so we found a way to become part of their family traditions.”

Those who missed Fieri’s visit to Rosine’s for “Diners, Drive-ins and Drives,” can view it at rosinesmonterey.com.

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