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The Mikulas: Nurturing Love — and Diverse Passions — at NYC’s Salinas


To get ready for Valentine’s Day, we asked some husband-wife chef and restaurant management duos to share their romantic stories: how they met, what they like to cook to celebrate the holiday and whether their restaurants go all out in the name of love.

Written by Mary Catherine Mikula, a partner behind NYC’s Salinas restaurant, along with her husband, Donald Mikula, and Nicolas Matar. Inspired by their extensive travels along the Mediterranean coast of Spain, they opened this Spanish tapas restaurant in 2011 with chef Luis A Bollo at the helm.

Donald and I met while on a photo shoot for Neiman Marcus in San Francisco. He has been a celebrity hairstylist for 25 years; by the time I returned to New York from the trip, he had left a message with my agent insisting I come in to his salon for a haircut. I obliged, and the rest is history.

Together, we bring our diverse backgrounds and passions to Salinas – an unusual formula that works well for the restaurant, we think. Everyone calls Donald “the captain” – he makes the restaurant livelier by engaging guests in conversation and forming personal connections, and adorns the walls with photos he’s taken during our travels. And I am known as “mama bear;” I like to make sure all is well with the staff, handle all the office tasks – scheduling, reservations – and create a new playlist for the restaurant every day.

Before Salinas, we rarely went out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. We could never find a spot that felt romantic and cozy (or well-lit – a major pet-peeve of mine), and so we (and by we, I mean Donald) would cook. Ironically, one dish we loved to prepare was paella – and this was years before we opened the restaurant. We would open up a bottle of wine and share some Manchengo cheese while cooking.

Donald is very romantic; he’s always bringing flowers home. But on Valentine’s Day he remembers the flowers I carried for our wedding: Black Baccara red roses. He goes to the flower market first thing in the morning and brings them home for me before I wake up, along with a bottle of Opus One red wine, so we can share it later. (It’s special for us because we went to Napa during our courtship and connected over our love of red wine and great food while among the vineyards). But before we open the wine, we start off with a cocktail. A simple favorite of ours is tequila pineapple: Shake Alacran blanco tequila over ice in a martini shaker, add pineapple juice, some lemon juice and a splash of Fuji apple juice and shake really well. Pour into a martini glass and serve!

Now, our perfect Valentine’s meal is at Salinas. Last year Chef Bollo created an amazing menu with wine pairings. We sat down together at the very end of the dinner service by the fireplace; just a few tables were still dining at that point. We asked Courtney, our mixologist, to whip up something for us. Our new favorite of hers is Humo Rojo (recipe below). I make the music selections daily at Salinas so Valentine’s is my favorite night to prepare. I strive to find songs for each moment of the evening that are both meaningful and unique. Valentine’s Day is about love – romantic or not – and I enjoy creating an environment where that love can be nurtured and celebrated.

Rossejat Rapida
Recipe courtesy Salinas Executive Chef Luis Bollo
Ingredients
For the Sofrito:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 8-ounce can of peeled plum tomatoes

For the Saffron Aioli:
2 garlic cloves
A pinch of saffron
3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup mayonnaise

For the Rossejat Rapida:
6 ounces Fideo pasta (Vermicelli can be substituted)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
4 ounces chicken breast, small dice
White wine for deglazing
1 tablespoon sofrito
12 ounces chicken broth
Salt, to taste
8 Cockles
3 ounces dried sweet chorizo, small dice
2 ounces fava beans, blanched and peeled
1 teaspoon parsley, chopped fine
1 tablespoon saffron aioli, for garnish
Watercress, for garnish
Lemon wedge, for garnish
Paprika, to taste

Directions
Prepare the Sofrito:
In a sauté pan, heat ¼ cup olive oil and caramelize 1 onion and 3 garlic cloves on low heat
Once browned, add 1-8oz. can of peeled plum tomatoes
Cook for an additional 30 minutes and blend in a food processor until smooth

Prepare the Saffron Aioli:
Place 2 garlic cloves, a pinch of saffron, and 3 tbsp water in a blender and puree
In a bowl, mix ½ cup of mayonnaise and the garlic saffron puree

For the Rossejat Rapida:
Take the Fideo (or Vermicelli) pasta and break into 1 inch pieces.
In a saute pan, add the canola oil. Heat oil to 250F. Add pasta and toast pasta until light brown.
In a saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook the minced garlic and diced chicken. Once garlic is browned, deglaze the pan with white wine.
Add sofrito, pasta and chicken broth to pan. Add salt to taste. Once mixture is boiling, place the pan in a 350F oven.
Cook until nearly all the broth has been absorbed. Add cockles and return to oven until they open.
Remove pan from oven and add chorizo, fava beans, parsley and saffron aioli. Mix well.
Place into large bowl and garnish with a tablespoon of saffron aioli and watercress. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice and paprika, to taste.

Humo Rojo
Recipe courtesy Courtney Tietze, mixologist at Salinas

Ingredients
2 ounces Alacran Mezcal tequila
3 fresh lemons
Splash of Cherry Heering
1/2 ounce jalapeno simple syrup
Splash of Agave

Directions
Shake ingredients well and strain over ice. Add a twist of lemon and a twist of orange for color. Enjoy!

Want more ideas for your Valentine’s Day celebration? Get recipes and inspiration from Cooking Channel.
Check back tomorrow for another romantic restaurant story and recipe.
Click here to read more Love in the Kitchen stories from chefs and restaurant management couples.

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