Although it’s been a favorite for 20 years, Scalini Italian Restaurant & Piano Bar has been emanating a new energy lately, just in time for polo and racing season to kick into high gear.
The elegant dining room and breezy patio overlooking the Del Mar Polo Club remain the same, but the air in the room is abuzz with something new, and it starts in the kitchen, where Chef Frankie “The Bull” Terzoli busies himself creating classic Sicilian cuisine.
Terzoli (given his nickname for his brash cooking style and no-nonsense demeanor) came over to Scalini on New Year’s Eve, following his success on the second season of Bravo’s hit reality TV show “Top Chef.” When asked about his experience on the top-rated program, Terzoli explains that the cooking challenges helped bring him back to his Sicilian roots. “When push came to shove, I went back to my basics,” he says. “Classics are there to be classics. They’re not meant to be changed.”
The Old World dishes are what Terzoli has injected back into the Scalini menu, from spicy Penne all’Arrabiata to the chef’s signature dish — Sicilian breaded swordfish, grilled and served with lemon, tomato and garlic salsa, and gorgonzola polenta. “I went back to my grandmother’s index cards,” says Terzoli. “I revisited every sauce and every dish and realized how pure and true they are.”
Outside of the Scalini kitchen, “Top Chef” has afforded Terzoli the opportunity to pursue other passions, one being his dedication to philanthropic work. On a rare day off, Terzoli can often be found creating dinner for a charity function, his favorite causes being breast cancer research, foster children and autistic children. “I’d rather spend my day off giving back, because I can,” he says. “I have the opportunity to do that. I’m not going to be one of those people who sit by and watch. … And there is not a greater feeling in the world.”
In the end, the “Top Chef” contestant with the most raucous personality is just pleased to be doing what he loves, perfecting the classic Italian dining experience. Scalini maitre d’ Paulie Alfano said Terzoli is also in the business of making memories. “Frank does cartwheels across the floor and sings opera,” he said. “If we see you once, chances are, we’ll see you again.”
Owner Ara Shamlyan echoes Alfano’s sentiment about the charismatic chef: “I love [Frank’s] energy, his talent and creations. He brought the restaurant to a different level.”
“It is hard to reinvent yourself after 20 years,” Shamylan continues, “But now we are going back to the classics, like mama makes.”
Terzoli — who has two new TV shows in the works and will teach a cooking class with other “Top Chef” favorites Brian Malarkey and Brian Hill at the San Diego Bay Food & Wine Festival set for Nov. 14 through Nov. 18 — offers this advice for aspiring culinary artists: “Find out what you do best and find what you want to do, and if God is smiling on you, they’re both the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you dig ditches, do it with your heart and with passion, and you’re going to succeed. Happiness is pretty much what success is about.”
Scalini is located at 3790 Via De La Valle in Del Mar. For updates and more information on Chef Terzoli, visit his LinkenIn profile.