November 1, 2006
Birthday Plans Shaping Up

Before lunch today, I hadn't given much thought to how a banquet menu materializes. I suppose I thought you went to a caterer, told them how much you'd like to spend, and be shown a catalog of potential dishes and their costs, and from that you'd assemble your menu.

In some instances, that indeed may be how it's done. In other cases, however, hosts actually want to taste beforehand dishes that might be served. Thus, the chefs of Classique Catering this lunch hour spread out for a few members of The McClatchy Company 11 dishes under consideration for a soiree the corporation will throw at Memorial Auditorium in February to celebrate the company's 150th birthday.

I sat in hoping to weigh in on the wine options, but no wine was poured, other than a splash of Champagne on the two sorbets and one granite vying to be the intermezzo between the starter and the entree. I don't want to ruin the surprises that await the 500 or so invited guests, but I think it safe to say they can expect the icy and tangy grapefruit granite to refresh their palates between the courses. The sorbets were too sweet and creamy, coating the palate rather than prepping it for the heavier entree to follow.

I think the group settled on a menu representative of the freshness of California Cuisine while being fittingly robust for what could be a chilly and foggy night. It will be more conservative than liberal, with foie gras getting the hook early and lobster also failing to make the cut. On the other hand, a warm and gooey chocolate cake with "decadent" in the name looks like it will be dessert, but with more fruit than the caterers originally proposed.

The entree will be fowl, but it won't be the quail or the squab, which pretty much means chicken, though several details still need to be resolved as concepts and details were taken from this and that proposed dish and combined. (Chicken for this sort of event isn't without precedent. When The Sacramento Bee celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1882, all 51 members of the staff sat down to a dinner than included chicken fricassee.)

The wines also have yet to be determined. I put in a pitch for the two most versatile wines at the table, riesling and pinot noir, not a single example of which, oddly, was on the Classique Catering wine list. The McClatchy Company could be facing a $10 per bottle corkage fee to bring in their own wine. As a stockholder, I may have to revise my recommendation to chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.

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