November 30, 2007
Tex-Mex Food Returns Downtown

Downtown Sacramento's Texas Mexican Restaurant, closed for more than a year in the fallout from the city's staggering efforts to redevelop the lower stretch of the K Street Mall, is back in business at its original site and will celebrate its revival with a grand-opening party from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3.

In late summer of 2006, owner Griselda Barajas closed the business after the city's redevelopment agency pressured her to leave or face legal action as officials were on the verge of revitalizing the area, plans that have since stalled.

Now, however, Barajas has arranged with the building's owner, Moe Mohanna, a month-to-month lease that allows her to return to the quarters the restaurant occupied for 14 years before it closed, says her husband, Mike Keolanni. The restaurant quietly reopened about two weeks ago, and the crew now feels ready to handle a larger influx of customers, thus Monday's kickoff.

The restaurant has been expanded and remodeled slightly, says Keolanni. The original menu is back in place, and after the first of the year the family hopes to add dinner as well as several new Tex-Mex plates, including buffalo fajitas, roasted quail and seafood soups.

Barajas also operates Griselda's Catering & Event Planning at the cafe Tex Mex in the Capitol, which she will continue to run.

Texas Mexican Restaurant, 1114 8th St., is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

November 30, 2007
Randall Grahm Steps Up

In a move believed unprecedented in the American wine trade, Bonny Doon Vineyard of Santa Cruz next year will start to list ingredients on the back label of its wines.

Randall Grahm, the winery's owner, is making the move because he wants to make his winemaking more transparent and because he is aware that some consumers are concerned about allergic reactions to elements used to produce wine, says Burke Owens, spokesman for the winery.

Grahm's ingredient label, recently approved by federal authorities, will consist of two parts, one listing ingredients known to be in a wine, such as grapes and sulfur dioxide, the other outlining products used to process wine that may leave behind trace elements, like yeast hulls and bentonite, a fining agent, says Owens. Unlike some wineries, Bonny Doon uses no animal or dairy products in its winemaking, so none will be listed, says Owens.

The first wines with the new labels, under the Ca' del Solo brand, are to be shipped to markets in February. Ingredient labeling will be affixed to all wines released from the 2006 vintage forward.

Grahm is taking action voluntarily, though federal officials are weighing a proposal to require vintners to put on their bottles a warning that major food allergens have been used to help make the wine.

November 29, 2007
Warming Up To Zinfandel

IMGP2070_edited.jpgThe rising popularity of California wine abroad had UC Davis viticulturist Dr. James Wolpert, far left, standing in a Napa Valley vineyard earlier today explaining to three European wine distributors how viticultural practices affect the nature of zinfandel.

The three, from left, were Carin Widoff and Kajsa Ekman, both of Stockholm, and Eric Remlinger of Nuits-Saint-Georges in Burgundy. All three distribute imports throughout northern Europe, where sales of California wines are increasing, thus their visit here to get a better grip on releases they are adding to their portfolios.

Their visit to the UC Davis Oakville Experimental Station in Napa Valley included a tasting of California zinfandels as well as a trek through the station's Heritage Vineyard, devoted to zinfandel vines grown with budwood gathered from some 90 vineyards about the state, several of them ancient and endangered.

Like some Californians, the three Europeans were taken aback by the high alcohol levels of a few of the zinfandels they tasted. In Sweden, noted Ekman, consumers just don't find such potent wines unless they are dessert wines; the government, she added, restricts table wines with more than 15 percent alcohol.

The three, however, quickly warmed to the heftier zinfandels. "I was surprised that the wine I felt was most balanced and elegant had more than 16 percent alcohol," said Remlinger. "The French view is that too much alcohol is a problem, but here the alcohol belongs to these wines. This is a very sunny and warm climate."

Their next stop, San Francisco, where the climate also may be sunny, though probably not as warm as what they found in Napa Valley today.

November 28, 2007
From Sacramento to Granite Bay, Change

News to me...

...Under the new ownership of Renee Nash and Carol Morehouse, the Granite Bay restaurant Spoons has a new executive chef, Jess Millborn, a new menu, and a new program of special events, which includes wine tastings on Friday nights, jazz on Saturday nights, and pizzas on Thursday nights, when they fire up their outdoor oven. On Dec. 9 they are to add Sunday brunch, and in January they are to resume cooking classes. In keeping with their "American bistro" theme, they've revised the menu to offer dishes both traditional and fashionable, the former including a grilled cheese sandwich ($6) and meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy ($12), the latter including grilled rib-eye steak with a housemade steak sauce ($24), a wild-mushroom risotto ($11.50), and a soup of roasted butternut squash and apple ($4.50 and $6.50). Spoons, 8230 Auburn-Folsom Road, Granite Bay, is open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; (916) 797-2233.

...Dunni Iredia, a registered nurse and longtime avid home cook, has opened Taste of African Cuisine in a former furniture warehouse in south Sacramento. Though the restaurant has been open since earlier this fall, she and her husband Osato will preside over their "grand opening" from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Iredia says her "natural, fresh, home-style" cooking draws inspiration largely from West Africa, Nigeria in particular, where her mother and grandmother both ran restaurants. The menu is divided primarily into rice, bean, yam and plantain plates, plus several combination platters. Individual dishes include rice with a choice of curried chicken, beef or goat ($9.95), yam porridge with African spinach ($10.95), and a plantain stew with a choice of chicken, beef, goat or fish ($9.95). She expects the restaurant's signature dishes to include "jollof rice" seasoned with habanero chile peppers, tomatoes and garlic, served with a choice of chicken, beef, goat or fish ($9.95); "suya," a kebab of chicken, beef or goat rolled in a spicy peanut-based flour before grilling ($5.95); and black-eyed peas prepared in several ways, such as with plantains with a choice of chicken, beef, goat or fish ($9.95). Taste of African Cuisine, 75 Quinta Court (off Stockton Boulevard south of Mack Road), is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 1-8 p.m. Sundays; (916) 525-2600.

...Sacramentans look to be as hungry for crepes as they are for cupcakes. Murad Bshara opened his Crepe Escape along Freeport Boulevard only in October, but already he's working on a second location, this one to be at 5635 H St., quarters that have been housing the coffee shop Gino's, and before that Muffins Etc. That site, however, isn't expected to be ready for customers for another three or four months, says Bshara. In the meantime, anyone with a hunger for crepes savory or sweet, as well as omelets, salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes, can find them at the existing Crepe Escape, 3445 Freeport Blvd. It's open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; (916) 444-6579.

November 27, 2007
Bam! There Goes Emeril

People Emeril Lagasse.jpgEmeril Lagasse, arguably the most popular of the nation's television chefs, is losing his principal platform, The Associated Press is reporting. Lagasse's "Emeril Live," a fixture of the Food Network for 10 years, is ending production in two weeks, a network representative has confirmed to AP. "All good things must come to an end," publicist Carrie Welch told AP without elaborating on the impetus for the change.

The Food Network will continue to produce a second Lagasse show, "The Essence of Emeril," and he is to be involved in specials and other possible programs. Also, reruns of "Emeril Live" are to continue.

November 26, 2007
Finding Curds in the Whey

A little more than a year ago, Mandy Johnston was a Chico magazine editor. She worked reasonable hours, and she dressed fashionably. Today, she's a farmer, working 14-hour days, milking 35 cows, and wearing rubber pants and a hairnet while she makes cheese at her family's Pedrozo Dairy & Cheese Co. of Orland. "Before, my mornings were leisurely. Here, the mornings are cold and dark," says Johnston.

Concerned about losing her feminity because of her career change, she dashed off an email to TV cooking and talk-show maven Rachael Ray to ask Ray how she seems so feminine after a day in the kitchen. Ray invited her to New York for a makeover, and to appear on "The Rachael Ray Show." Johnston's appearance is to be this Wednesday, airing in Sacramento at 3 p.m. on Channel 3 (KCRA).

(I asked for before-and-after photos to go with this posting, but the show's publicist said they wouldn't release any until after the show is telecast to preserve the "surprise" for viewers.)

"I'm now an ash-blonde cheesemaker who still works 14-hour days, but with a little more confidence and a little less boyishness," says Johnston, who before the makeover was a brunette.

To prepare for the makeover, the show's fashion consultant, Steven "Cojo" Cojacaru, visited the family dairy to check out Johnston's wardrobe and to get a lesson in cheesemaking. "He dug through my closets and labeled my best dresses 'placemats' and 'aprons,'" says Johnston.

In New York, the show's producers took her to a fashionable boutique to select a new wardrobe. "I saw labels there I'd only dream of trying on. The pricetags were equivalent to a load of hay," recalls Johnston.

The biggest change, however, was switching from being a brunette to being a blonde, a transition that continues to throw her, especially when people at the Sacramento farmers market don't recognize her. "They do say blondes have more fun, but I'm still working so hard I haven't had a chance to test it, though I do feel more brassy."

On the farm, she makes between 800 and 1,100 pounds of cheese a month in nine styles. With Cojocaru, she made Northern Gold, a traditional semi-firm cow's-milk cheese. On the show, she hands out samples of Stout Cow, a creamy cheese aged in Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. stout. One of her other cheeses is the light but buttery Blondie's Best, which predates the makeover and takes its name from Johnston's pet cow.

In Sacramento, Johnston sells Pedrozo cheeses at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Taylors Market and the Sunday morning farmers market under the Capital City Freeway at 8th and W. Cheeses also can be ordered online.

November 26, 2007
Time To Geat Some Mead

Paramount Pictures and Shangri-L

If only the principals of "Beowulf" had used the "royal dragon horn" as it was intended, as a vessel for drinking mead, poem and now movie would have been shorter, though less interesting and less symbolically meaningful.

The horn's periodic appearance in the new film, however, did remind me that Northern California is home to an award-winning meadery, Mountain Meadows Mead at Westwood, 5,120 feet up the eastern slopes of Lassen County east of Chico.

So far, however, the movie "Beowulf," despite its numerous references to mead and the beverage's contributions to wanton wassails, hasn't boosted sales of the several styles of mead made by Mountain Meadows Mead, says Ron Lunder, who in 1995 founded the company with Peggy Fulder.

Instead, they're relying on their usual sources for sales - tourists who pass through the area in the summer, a spike in interest in meads during the year-end holidays, publicity from awards their meads regularly win in international competitions, and outlets in a few far-flung metropolitan areas, especially Portland, Ore., where mead is increasingly popular among a younger-skewing clientele. The couple's meads also are available in Sacramento at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Nugget Markets and Corti Brothers.

Lunder and Fulder produce a half-dozen styles of mead, totaling about 1,500 cases a year. Often called "honey wine," mead basically is an alcoholic beverage of fermented honey and water frequently seasoned with herbs and spices. Their signature mead is "Honeymoon Nectar," a traditionally sweet mead made with wildflower honey. "I read somewhere that a pound of honey represents four million wildflowers, so we like to say that there are a million wildflowers in every glass," says Lunder.

Other popular meads are the sweet and tart cranberry, made with Oregon cranberries; the semi-sweet Spice, seasoned with ginger; and the semi-dry Trickster's Treat Agave, made with nectar from the same plant that produces tequila.

Over the past decade. Lunder and Fulder have been tweaking their meads to be lighter and drier, hoping to attract more wine drinkers. It could work, but they also might want to consider retaining a goldsmith to hammer out a line of "royal dragon horns" to give their meads a more romantic and poetic flavor.

November 26, 2007
Caveat Emptor

Vintage dates on bottles of California wine don't mean much. While rainfall totals vary from one year to another, and a freak freeze or surprise hail storm could affect yield, the growing season from one year to another in California is fairly steady. Thus, vintage dates only rarely amount to a helpful buying guide. Not so in several of the world's other wine regions, where fluctuations in weather can have more profound impact. As a consequence, the quality of the vintage can vary relatively dramatically from one year to the next. Then, vintage dates mean something.

I was reminded of this over the weekend while browsing through the wine section of a local supermarket. A sign over one bin boasted that the 2005 vintage of this imported malbec had received 91 points from the critics of a prestigious American wine magazine. As I dove into the bin, however, all I could find was 2004 and 2006 vintages of the wine, not a single bottle of the 2005.

I suspect this was simply a case of sloppy stocking, not an intentional attempt to mislead consumers who might not pick up on the difference in vintage between what was on the promotional sign and what actually was in the bin. If I remember correctly, supermarkets have been slapped with fairly stiff fines for misguiding consumers with this sort of promotional ploy, whether intentional or not. At the least, consumers currently caught up in the year-end frenzy of wine buying should pay close attention to whether the wine in a bin is the same wine promoted in the placarb above the bin.

November 23, 2007
Yesterday's Wines

Merry Edwards.JPG Yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner reaffirmed my feeling that no two varietals are more flexible at the table than riesling and pinot noir. It helps when the wines are ample in build, complex in flavor, and sharp in acidity, as these were.

In addition to a traditionally roasted turkey, the dinner included a stuffing rich with bacon and sweet with caramelized pearl onions, two kinds of cranberry relishes (one spicy with jalapeno chile peppers, the other zesty with orange), mashed sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts with coffee-glazed macadamia nuts, carrots with Moroccan spices, a spinach salad with persimmons, and whipped white potatoes with a gravy I oversalted. That range of flavors and textures is a lot to ask of any wine, but both the riesling and the pinot noir had the muscle and fruit to not only hold their own but enhance each dish, except for maybe the gravy.

The wines were the peachy and applely Madrona Vineyards 2005 El Dorado "Black Label" Riesling (sold out; just 23 cases were made) and the Merry Edwards Wines 2005 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($39). That was a very good year in Northern California, to judge by the complexity and balance of both these wines. In fact, as I flip back through my tasting notes for 2005 pinot noirs from California appellations - Santa Lucia Highlands, Anderson Valley and Carneros, as well as Russian River Valley - the vintage looks to have been especially strong throughout the North State, something worth keeping in mind by anyone looking to please a pinot-noir fan with a year-end gift.

November 21, 2007
True Grit Rewarded

WINE_PARDUCCI2004.JPGLast night's wine couldn't have been opened at a more appropriate time. It was the Parducci Winery 2004 Mendocino County "True Grit" Petite Sirah ($25), and we savored its dark and meaty fruitiness just as Gov. Schwarzenegger was revealing his Environmental and Economic Leadership Awards for 2007.

One of the 18 recipients was the Mendocino Wine Company, Parducci's parent company, recognized by the governor as the first carbon-neutral winery in the nation, which it achieved with such measures as installing solar-power and wind-energy systems, converting company vehicles and farm equipment to bio-diesel, and switching to soy-based inks for its packaging. The company's efforts to go "green" were outlined in a Sacramento Bee article last month.

The company's "True Grit" petite sirah, incidentally, is just what fans of the varietal appreciate - inky color, floral smell, solid structure, and juicy berry flavors accented with a note of licorice. Company officials chose the name "True Grit" for the wine to represent the determination, optimism, patience and vision represented by Mendocino County's immigrant grape growers in the 1800s.

Local recipients of the governor's environmental awards were the Sacramento Tree Foundation and the Leonardo da Vinci School in Sacramento.

November 21, 2007
This Thanksgiving, Crabs Unwelcome

If your Thanksgiving dinner traditionally includes fresh Dungeness crab, you can just about forget tradition this year. In the wake of the Cosco Busan fuel spill in San Francisco Bay, Gov. Schwarzenegger closed commercial and sportfishing seasons in the potentially affected area until Dec. 1. That zone includes all of San Francisco Bay west of Carquinez Bridge and three miles off the Golden Gate from Point Reyes Lighthouse south to San Pedro Point just north of Half Moon Bay.

San Francisco's crab season, customarily just under way, is on hold until late next week as state authorities collect and analyze marine samples for chemical contamination. Almost 1,000 crabs, mussels, herring and Shiner surfperch have been gathered in the bay and along the coast and are being tested for the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, says Sam Delson, spokesman for the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the science arm of the California Environmental Protection Agency. Results are expected next Wednesday.

"We plan to complete our evaluation within a day or two of receiving the results and hope to make an announcement before the end of the month," Delson says.

At the request of commercial crab fishers, the agency will collect additional samples this weekend from beyond the three-mile limit of the defined spill zone, he adds.

In the meantime, a San Francisco Chronicle article today reported that nearly 100,000 pounds of live Dungeness crab caught by Oregon fishermen near the Farallones had been offloaded in Monterey. The crabs reportedly were bound for sale in San Francisco, though buyers contacted by the paper said they weren't buying any.

Unless consumers know for sure that the crab they plan to serve tomorrow is from the unaffected waters of the Pacific Northwest, they should exercise caution, indicates Delson. "It's better to be safe than sorry," he says. "It's best to err on the side of caution until we can remove all doubt."

November 21, 2007
El Dorado Shines in Italy

At least two El Dorado County wines travel well. After being shipped to Italy, they just won medals in the Third International Barbera Competition in Alessandria, a city in the northern province of Piedmont, the area most historically identified with barbera.

The wines are the Charles B. Mitchell Vineyards 2005 El Dorado Reserve Barbera ($28), which won a silver medal in the non-Italian class, and the Latcham Vineyards 2005 Sierra Foothills Barbera ($25), which won a bronze medal in the same category. They were the only California barberas to medal in the judging, which drew 313 entries, all of which had to be at least 50 percent barbera. The gold-medal wine in the non-Italian category was the Chalk Hill Wines 2006 McLaren Vale Barbera from Australia.

The El Dorado wines were two of 49 to receive the Diploma Monferrato Festival, awarded only to entries that receive at least 85 points out of a possible 100 on the competition's scoring sheet.

The sweepstakes winner was the Malabaila di Canale 2006 Mezzavilla Barbera D'Alba.

November 19, 2007
Word of the Year on Everyone's Tongue

Well, what's it going to be - "locavore," "localvore" or "loctarian"? To the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary, it's "locavore" as the most fitting word to define eating locally grown foods in season. They've declared "locavore" their word of the year for 2007.

"The word 'locavore' shows how food lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment," said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press, in a prepared statement. "It's significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way."

In preparing meals or eating out, locavores tilt toward dishes made with ingredients grown close at hand, thereby reducing storage and shipping costs seen as detrimental to the environment.

Oxford editors trace the origin of "locavore" to four San Francisco women who two years ago introduced the term to describe people who try to eat only food grown or produced within 100 miles of where they live.

Locally, locavores often can be spotted shopping at farmers markets, tending a garden in their yard, or eating at such restaurants as Mulvaney's Building & Loan, The Waterboy, Monticello and Hawks. They may or may not be in the company of a "cougar," an older woman romantically pursuing a younger man, which Oxford editors chose as a runnerup to locavore for word-of-the-year honors.

November 16, 2007
Whiskey Wild Set to Debut

Whiskey Wild Saloon, the prototype of an anticipated chain of entertainment-oriented, country-style bars, is to open Saturday night as midtown Sacramento's latest dining and drinking venue.

But don't drop by expecting the joint's regular menu, which likely won't be introduced until after Thanksgiving, says general manager Kirsten Look. Then, it will be "high-class pub grub with some Southwestern influence," including a pulled-pork sandwich, burgers, salads and wings. In the meantime, the bar's casual fare will be catered.

By day, Whiskey Wild Saloon is to be a "fun and casual" bar. By night, it will be more entertaining, she says. The staff has been hired in part for its skills at singing, dancing and the like as well as its ability to be hospitable. Think Max's Opera Cafe with a twang.

Larry Wycoff and Jon Glover are the owners. The saloon's Web site describes Wycoff as a drag-racing and hot-rod enthusiast, Glover as "modern-era biker." The bar's hours initially will be "spotty," says Look. Eventually, it's to be open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Whiskey Wild Saloon is at 1910 Q St.

November 16, 2007
Napa Valley Gift for UC Davis

With a historic Napa Valley ranch for a backdrop, officials of UC Davis revealed one of the larger gifts in the institution's history this afternoon. They announced that $12.5 million has been earmarked for the rising Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science from the estate of Napa Valley native Louise Rossi.

The money, from the sale of the Rossi family's 52-acre Rutherford ranch to Frog's Leap Winery earlier this year, will be used to underwrite research focused on improving sustainable farming practices and on enhancing the flavor of grapes and wine, said university authorities.

Early expenditures are to be for equipment in the new institute, the first phase of which is to be finished next June.

Louise Rossi died in February at 99. She and her brother Ray, who in 1930 earned a two-year degree certificate in agriculture on the Davis campus when it was called the Northern Branch of the College of Agriculture, had been longtime supporters of UC Davis. In 1979 they'd established the Rossi Prize to help viticulture and enology students from Napa Valley. Ray Rossi died in 1997 at 91.

To honor the gift, university officials said they will name the terrace to overlook the institute's central courtyard after Ray and Louise Rossi.

Their parents, Ferdinando (Fred) Rossi and Rachel Sculatti, immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s from Switzerland and Italy, respectively. Ferdinando's brother, Antone Rossi, had bought property on the east side of Napa Valley and begun to grow grapes and run a wine cellar in 1879. Eventually, the winery closed and the family concentrated on growing grapes and selling the fruit to Napa Valley wineries.

"Wines have been made from this piece of earth for more than 100 years, and my family and I were very pleased that Louise saw fit to allow Frog's Leap to acquire it," said the winery's owner, John Williams, in a prepared statement.

November 16, 2007
Houston, We Have a Winner

The power of California cabernet sauvignon has just been reaffirmed with the release this morning of the results of this past weekend's Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. For the fifth straight year - as long as the young competition has been running - a wine based on California cabernet sauvignon has won Grand Champion Best of Show, the judging's highest honor. This year it's the Stag's Leap Winery 2004 Napa Valley Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon ($45).

The competition drew 1,969 wines from 606 wineries in 16 countries.

The Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show - basically, runnerup to the Grand Champion - also was a California wine, the Orogeny Vineyards 2005 Green Valley Orogeny Vineyard Pinot Noir ($36). (Green Valley is in Sonoma County.)

Two local wines did exceptionally well. The Michael-David Winery 2004 6th Sense Syrah ($17) was named top red wine (aside from the champions), while the Montevina Winery 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($10) was named the champion sauvignon blanc.

The top white wine was the Pacific Rim 2006 Chenin Blanc ($10), while the top value wine was the Marquis Philips 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($15).

November 16, 2007
France Rules

Now that the Wine Spectator has completed its countdown of the top 10 wines for 2007, what are the surprises? None, really. As usual, high-priced wines dominated the list. And as usual, the roundup was spread rather fairly among the regions seen as the globe's top wine producers - France, Italy, California and Australia.

The magazine's editors really like the 2005 vintage from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Two of the top three wines were from the appellation, the Le Vieux Donjon at number three, the Clos des Papes at number one. Even if those two can't be found hereabouts, any of the 2005s from Chateauneuf-du-Pape might be worth seeking, especially if you aren't already familiar with the robust and complex wines of the appellation.

For Californians, the big surprise on the list is the number-two wine, the 2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay from Ridge Vineyards, a winery customarily recognized more for its cabernet sauvignon and its wide range of zinfandels. The chardonnay also may not be easy to find, with just 2,000 cases made, but the $35 price makes it appealing to enthusiasts of the varietal.

The top-10 list can be found here.

November 15, 2007
Anatolian Table set in Rocklin

To Turks, it's pide. To Italians and Americans, it's pizza. Pizza is all over the Sacramento landscape these days. Pide, not so much. That's changed with the opening of Anatolian Table Restaurant in Rocklin, where I stopped in for lunch today and where I couldn't pass up the "kusbasi pide" ($8.95).

The menu described it as "chunks of tender lamb meat mixed with spices on crusted dough." What I got was a long boat-shaped vessel of baked bread with deftly rolled up edges. The small chunks of lamb were tender, all right, as well as sweet and mildly seasoned. Also crowding the boat were cauliflower, broccoli, red pepper, squash, onion and mushrooms. On the side was a zestly seasoned salad partitioned into three segments - shredded greens and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, slivers of salty red onion, and crunchy red cabbage. Diners are greeted with a plate of hot rustic bread and a gentle hummus glistening with an exceptional olive oil. Be forwarned that the black olive in the middle of the hummus hasn't had its pit removed.

Anatolian Table Restaurant is bright and casual, with service that while a bit slow in my case was cordial and proud. A couple of surprise touches: The classy metal tray on which individual glasses of dark Turkish tea are served, and the decorative box with hinged lid in which the bill is delivered.

The menu is extensive and varied, with several fish and poultry selections in addition to lamb kebabs in numerous arrangements. Anatolian bills itself as patisserie as well as restaurant; trays of traditional Turkish pastries in and on a display case along the exhibition kitchen emphasize that point.

Anatolian refers to a peninsula of Turkey. The restaurant opened six weeks ago, and its grand opening is to be this weekend. It's in Blue Oaks Marketplace at 6815 Lonetree Blvd.; (916) 772-3020.

November 15, 2007
Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrive

The holiday season, which began with Halloween, picked up speed today with the release of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau. According to French tradition, the quality of Beaujolais Nouveau purportedly reflects the quality of the vintage overall, but it's always "great," so that marketing scheme pretty much has lost its impact.

Nowadays, Beaujolais Nouveau is seen more realistically as just what it is, a youthful, fruity, zesty and easily drinkable wine best suited for casual harvest parties, including Thanksgiving.

I just tasted three releases at David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods, and the wines are just what Beaujolais Nouveau should be - fresh, buoyant and unchallenging. My favorite was from Domaine DuPueble ($16 regularly, $14.50 on special), which won me over for its bright cranberry color, fruity fragrance, slim build and earthy flavor, which ran to beets, cranberries and spice. I wouldn't, however, refuse a glass of the other two being poured, the frisky and cherry-accented Louis Tete ($13 and $11), put up in a traditional Beaujolais "pot" bottle, and the fleshy, firm and noble Georges DuBoeuf ($16 and $13.50).

As he poured the wines, David Berkley said that drinking Beaujolais Nouveau on the day it's released assures the consumer of "fun, frolic, good will and prosperity" in the new year. Could be another marketing scheme, but we'll suspend judgment until this time next year.

November 15, 2007
Last Night's Wines

In The Bee's Taste section yesterday, I vowed to serve just two wines at this year's Thanksgiving dinner, a riesling for the white, a pinot noir for the red. My resolve is weakening, especially after tasting two new zinfandels last night. Zinfandel long has been my first choice with turkey, stuffing and the like, even if I do believe riesling and pinot noir are more adaptable companions at the table.

Last night's zinfandels, poured with a vegetarian pizza, were far different stylistically, even though they were from the same producer, Montevina Winery in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley. "Our single-vineyard zinfandels are a paradox and a pleasure," says Montevina winemaker Chris Leamy in a press release with the wines. "They are varietally true to zinfandel, yet distinctive from each other. Clonal selections, vine-age, field blending, unique micro-climates and terroir produce fruit with such interesting, distinctive, delicious character I cannot be physically forced to blend them away. This makes my job a little less interesting, but I have plenty to do." (I usually don't like to quote so extensively from a press release, but these comments are unusually enlightening and to the point.)

Of the two, the Montevina 2005 Terra d'Oro SHR Field Blend Amador County Zinfandel ($30) was my favorite. It's a throwback to the old California practice of planting different grape varieties in the same field, then picking and fermenting the grapes together rather than separately. In this case, the vineyard and the wine is 80 percent zinfandel, 13 percent petite sirah, and 7 percent barbera. The result is an unsually floral zinfandel, but the smell of raspberries and blackberries also is forthright. On the palate, fresh cherry as well as berry flavors come across brightly. It's a graceful zinfandel, with readily tolerable tannins and a refreshing finish. The alcohol is a reasonable 14.5 percent.

The Montevina 2005 Terra d'Oro Home Vineyard Amador County Zinfandel ($30) is a far different and much bigger cat. It's also a throwback, not to the days of field blending but to the jammy, spicy, oaky and sweet style of Shenandoah Valley zinfandel. It's all about fully ripe fruit in which the summer sun still blazes. A lot is going on in this wine, including suggestions of chocolate, cinnamon and walnuts seasoning its core of jammy red fruits. The alcohol is a warm 15 percent.

Either would grace the Thanksgiving table, and, yes, I'm wavering.

November 15, 2007
Critic Nightmares

PEOPLE GORDON RAMSAY.jpgWhen I opened my email this morning I was really sorry I fell asleep last night during my favorite food show, "Kitchen Nightmares," starring the irascible chef Gordon Ramsay as a shining knight who rides to the rescue of foundering restaurants. I'm getting messages from restaurant critics around the country who are mightly upset about the restaurant critic featured on last night's show. Apparently she announced herself at the outset, appeared on camera, and got in a tiff with one of the owners, none of which any respectable critic would do.

Once I catch up on my sleep I'll have to check out the episode on the show's Web site, here. I've already checked out the snooze of a review by the critic who appeared on the show, Sabrina Mashburn of Dan's Papers in the Hamptons.

November 14, 2007
Cake and Ice Cream

Freeport Bakery has been a Sacramento institution for 20 years, but there's still things to learn about the people who run it. One is that co-owner and head baker Walter Goetzeler makes a mean vanilla-bean ice cream, according to his wife Marlene Goetzeler. She raves about the ice cream, and provides a bunch of other inside stuff about Freeport Bakery in an interview with a group of Seattle bloggers who track the country's baking scene, Cakespy. Maybe when the Goetzelers move their bakery to larger quarters they'll consider adding ice cream to the menu.

November 14, 2007
Enotria Shakeup Continues

Michael Chandler, who as sommelier and manager at Enotria Restaurant & Wine Bar has been hugely responsible for building up the restaurant's popular wine program over the past five years, is out of a job. "It was time for me to move on," said Chandler, indicating that he sensed he wouldn't be able to develop the restaurant's wine list and ambitious tasting program beyond its current level.

Chandler was the second key person at Enotria to leave this year. Earlier, executive chef Christian Sieck left the restaurant after a 10-year tenure; he's now at the Placerville restaurant Sequoia.

Chandler's plans are uncertain. A fifth-generation Sacramentan, he expects to stay in town, and as soon as this Saturday hopes to launch a Web site - - to set himself up as a personal wine adviser and as a consultant to corporations creating or retooling their beverage programs. "I don't know what's in store, but I'm looking around and getting a lot of offers. I'm eager to work."

Enotria owner David Hardie wasn't available to discuss Chandler's departure and the transition under way at Enotria.

November 14, 2007

cntphoto_wines03.jpgIn the world of wine, fall is the silly season. Not only does the release of Beaujolais Nouveau 2007 occur tomorrow, the Wine Spectator is in the midst of its countown of the top 10 wines of the year, which is a teaser to its top 100 wines of the year, which will be revealed after the world's best wine is revealed Friday.

Best, that is, to the esteemed palates of the Wine Spectator's editors. They have dear tastes. The average price of the six wines revealed so far - 10 through 5 - is $126. Their roundup isn't doing much to dispell the illusion that people have to pay big bucks for an outstanding bottle of wine, though they do say that by the time the identities of all 100 wines are released the average price will fall to $42, down from last year's $49, an encouraging trend.

So far, just one California wine is in the top 10, the Robert Mondavi Winery 2004 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It sells for $125.

This year's roundup, incidentally, includes videos of Wine Spectator editors commenting on each of the top 10 wines. You can find the countdown and the videos here.

November 13, 2007
Besh Falters, But His Luke Hums

IMGP2029.jpgAs the waterproofing of New Orleans continues, the Big Easy has something new to fret about. Its reputation as one of the nation's top three cities for dining out - New York and San Francisco are the others, right? - sustained a critical blow Sunday night when Michael Symon defeated John Besh to win the Food Network's "The Next Iron Chef" series.

Besh is from New Orleans. Symon is from...Cleveland. Besh owns Restaurant August, which seems to be topping every visiting critic's list of the city's best restaurants. He also owns La Provence just outside New Orleans, Besh Steakhouse in the New Orleans branch of Harrah's Hotel Casino, and his newest restaurant, Luke, at the Hilton Hotel along St. Charles Avenue in the Central Business District, on the edge of the French Quarter.

Luke is where we ended up last night, savoring Besh's French-inspired and modern-oriented take on Southern cooking. Watermelon pickles endure, but the pates they accompany are apt to be made of wild boar or Louisiana rabbit. The chicory salad was spiced up with lardons and Creole mustard. My jumbo Louisiana shrimp came on creamy white-corn grits enriched with andouille. Long before you get to desserts like housemade butter-pecan ice cream and a tangy and toasty "tarte Tatin" of apples, pears and red currants, you recognize that Besh goes in to for a muscular style of Southern cooking, at least at Luke.

He conceived the restaurant as a throwback brasserie, with ceiling fans turned by an oldtime pulley-and-belt system, wooden newspaper racks arranged tidily across a front partition, big gleaming bowls of oysters on ice at the entrance, and even its own lineup of beers. The wine list is strictly German and French, and wines are poured into tumblers rather than stemware. The place is comfortable, boisterous and loud. My only serious complaint abut Luke was that service was way too slow. Now that Besh is finished with the TV series he can get back home and get his staff at Luke into more attentive shape.

Anyone planning to visit New Orleans in the near future also should be aware that the city's restaurant scene again is buzzing. Even on a Monday night last-minute reservations were nearly impossible to book, at least at restaurants of the kind rated by Zagat. The earliest we could get into Luke was 9 p.m. I wonder if visitors to Cleveland have the same problem.

November 12, 2007
A Streetcar Named St. Charles

IMGP2008_edited.jpgAs reported everywhere over the weekend, the celebrated St. Charles Avenue streetcars in New Orleans again are clattering and swaying from the French Quarter out to Napoleon Avenue, about the midway point of its total 6.5 miles. That's long enough to appreciate the stone and brick mansions that line the broad route and to see plenty of evidence that New Orleans is continuing to heal since Hurrican Katrina more than two years ago.

When the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Wine Competition ended Sunday afternoon, I hopped over to New Orleans for a visit with the son who lives here. I got in too late to really want to eat, though a cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe de Monde perked me up for a balmy evening stroll about the French Quarter.

Besides, on the way out of Houston we stopped at Luling City Market for some hot links, brisket and ribs. Luling City Market was the barbecue joint several Houstonians recommended as we left the judging. It specializes in "Central Texas" barbecue, which must mean intensely smoked brisket and ribs not as juicy as I prefer. Thankfully, the joint's mustrard-based barbecue sauce juiced up the meat with welcome tang.

On the other hand, the spicy beef and pork hot links didn't need any seasoning at all, other than some Shiner Bock to tamp down the heat. They're outstanding links, and on the way out the door the bartender said they, along with the sauce, ribs and so forth, can be ordered online.

I'm not sure where I'll be eating in New Orleans, though I'd better decide soon to judge by the crowds I saw last night in Stella!, Bayona and other hot spots. I'd been wanting to check out the city's best-known restaurant for Creole cookery, Dooky Chase, but when I called owner Leah Chase a few days ago she said she isn't likely to open for anything but takeout until around Thanksgiving. The place has been refurbished after being swamped with four feet of water during the hurricane, but she said she's having trouble getting servers of the caliber she prefers. Elsewhere, many of the city's signature restaurants are back in business, so I'm not likely to go hungry.

November 10, 2007
101 Cabernets In The Hall

IMGP1969_edited.jpgThey tell me that fall is the best time of the year in Houston. Among those telling me that are these four Houstonians. From the left, they are John Saladino, a wine broker; Robert Gilroy, the Texas sales manager for California's Kendall-Jackson Vineyards & Winery; Guy Stout, a Master Sommelier and director of beverage education for Glazer's, a chain of wine, spirits and malt stores; and Rich Ogle, a retired environmental consultant who now teaches technical writing at the University of Houston.

The five of us just spent eight hours judging wine for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. That whole time we were in these curtained quarters inside the massive Reliant Center, next door to the even more massive Reliant Standium, home of the Houston Texans. Fourteen other panels were similarly sequestered. I know the weather outside is wonderful only because the temperature gauges in the vehicles shuttling us from hotel to judging have been telling us that the highs have been fluctuating between the upper 70s and low 80s.

Our panel judged 134 wines today, 101 of which were a single class of cabernet sauvignons priced $15 or less. This is an important class, given the popularity of cabernet sauvignon and the appeal of inexpensive wines. As a group, they were pretty impressive, offering a generally bright drinkability if not a whole lot of weight and complexity. We won't get the results until Friday, but I suspect we gave an unusually high proportion of silver and bronze medals. While we didn't award a whole lot of gold medals, I look forward to seeing the winners, knowing that we were patient and focused in our deliberations. There was little unanimity in our group, but our differences were more narrow than wide. The characteristic that stood out among the wines was their virtual flawlessness, which speaks to the technological advancements that have been made in grape growing and winemaking over the past three decades or so.

Amazingly, not a single wine we had today was "corked," which is to say spoiled by a bad cork. When I remarked on my surprise at the end of the day, another judge said that could be because the competition has someone smell each wine before it is sent out to the judges to make sure it isn't tainted. I haven't confirmed that, but if that's the case I haven't heard of another wine competition on the planet going to that extreme.

Much to my surprise, none of these Houstonians was wearing cowboy boots. One even wore sandals. The only judge I've seen with a pair of boots on is from...Bordeaux.

November 9, 2007
Saddle Up

At 7 a.m., the wine bar Vino Volo in Terminal A of Sacramento International Airport isn't open. No matter. Soon enough I'll have plenty of wine early enough. I'm en route to Rodeo Uncorked!, the commercial wine competition of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. For the next two days I'll be sequestered with other judges at Reliant Center to appraise an anticipated 2,000 or so wines.

Whenever I tell someone I'm going to Texas to judge wine, the reaction almost invariably is smarmy. Texan wines? Do they even know what wine is in Texas? In fact, Texas is one of the nation's major wine markets, and while there will be Texan wines in the judging, this is an international competition, so we can anticipate releases from Latin America, Australia and Europe as well as the United States.

Rodeo Uncorked! has been good to California wines. In each of the four years the competition has been held, a California wine has won the judging's top honor, Grand Champion Best of Show. Last year it was the Clos du Bois 2003 Alexander Valley Marlstone, a blend of black grape varieties common to Bordeaux.

They do a couple of things different to set apart the Houston competition from other judgings. The major winners get saddles, chaps and buckles in addition to the usual medals and ribbons. Also, each spring, when the livestock show and rodeo is held, they'll have an auction of oversized bottles of the major award winners. Earlier this year, a 9-liter bottle of the Clos du Bois Marlstone sold at the auction for $125,000. Despite skyrocketing fuel prices, the oil economy of Texas must be hurting. The year before, a 9-liter bottle of the Grand Champion wine - a cabernet sauvignon from Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley - sold at the auction for $200,000.

November 8, 2007
Awaiting The Verdict

Paul Newman - actor, race-car driver, philanthropist, organic-food enterpreneur and now, vintner. Next spring, the Newman's Own brand of specialty foods will add two California wines to its lineup, a 2006 chardonnay and a 2006 caberent sauvignon. The wines are to sell for $16. Though Newman has a line of organically made products, the wines won't be organic, says Mira Bieler, spokeswoman for the project.

Newman is teaming up with Rebel Wine Co., a Napa Valley collaboration of the Three Thieves and Trinchero Family Estates brands, to make the wines. They will bear a California appellation, and are being made from grapes grown in coastal vineyards, says Bieler.

In a press release, Newman notes that the wines will bring his 25-year-old food company full circle. His first product, a salad dressing, was put in old wine bottles with parchment labels. "We are back to wine bottles, but this time we are filling them with a wine that will complement my salad dressing and pasta sauce. Wine was the only thing missing at dinner time. Now the meal is complete," says Newman in the press release.

As his other products, all profits and royalties from the sale of the wines are to be donated to educational and charitable groups.

November 7, 2007
Sofia Falls, But Could Jump Back Up

Struggling restaurants try desperately to hang on during the year-end holidays, counting on extravagant soirees to give them a last chance at solvency. They sure don't like to give it up on the eve of the holiday season, but that's what has happened with the Italian restaurant Sofia along 11th Street in downtown Sacramento.

The closing, however, may be just temporary. Though Sofia owner Jim DiPinto couldn't be reached for comment, Evan Elsberry, Sofia's most recent chef, and Chris Tucker, who had been managing the restaurant, said a partnership has been formed in hopes of reviving the place within the next few weeks. In the meantime, they are continuing with banquets that had been booked long before the closure, provided the revelers don't want alcoholic beverages; the new group hasn't yet been granted a liquor license. Tucker says he's one of the new operators, along with Jeremy Bennett and a third, silent partner.

When the restaurant reopens, it will be renamed Sofia's on 11th. Elsberry will remain the chef, though the menu will be redrawn to feature more traditional Italian dishes, says Tucker.

For years, the building housing Sofia was home to the steakhouse Bull Market, but since it closed no restaurant has flourished for long on the site.

November 7, 2007
Put A Cork In It, Fella

Thanks to a tip from Andy Perdue, I now know the answer if anyone ever asks, "If you were a wine, what kind of wine would you be?" Intuitively, I long have been ready with a reply, and that would be zinfandel, simply because of longtime consumption. But now I have a more scientifically grounded answer, which is pinot noir. I have no quibble with that. While pinot noir is generally fickle, unpredictable and often a letdown, when it's at its best it's complex, strong and noble, and those aren't bad qualities.

In his blog, The Wine Knows, all about the Pacific Northwest wine community, Andy a few days ago posted a link to Vintage Sentiments, where another Washington state resident, Maureen Kelly, invites readers to take a quick test to define their wine personality. About an hour later, your wine profile appears in your email.

Kelly, who writes greeting cards, designs Web sites, teaches yoga, and leads Myers-Briggs seminars, also has written a book on wine personalities, "Wine Types: Discover Your Inner Grape," which she hopes to soon sell through

Also a consultant in human behavior, she says her wine profiling is based on Myers-Briggs principles, a personality questionnaire inspired by the research of Carl Gustav Jung, but that the results are to be taken lightly.

So what's a pinot-noir personality expected to be like? He or she is a visionary and perfectionist who can appear cool or aloof. Pinot noirs also prefer to be convinced; they're reluctant to accept claims on blind faith. Say, give that guy a gold medal.

November 5, 2007
From La Provence to Bella Bru

La Provence Restaurant & Terrace, Roseville's classy outpost for Provencal dining, is underoing a major shift in personnel following the departure of opening chef-partners Bernard Brun and Joshua Rabbie. Brun left in July to return to his native France, while Rabbie left a few weeks ago to join the Bella Bru group of restaurants and bakeries.

Stephen Des Jardin, the owner of La Provence, said in an email from France that Shane McMahon has moved from sous chef to executive chef and that Derrick Sand now is chef. Both have been at the restaurant almost from the day it opened in early 2004. No change in the restaurant's concept is anticipated, says Des Jardin. Brun was "horribly homesick" and wanted to return to France to help his mother recover from a knee operation, while Rabbie was eager to tackle a new challenge, adds Des Jardin.

Rabbie acknowledges that while he was up for a new challenge other factors also influenced his decision to leave La Provence. "Mr. Des Jardin was going one way, we were going in another. It became a matter of false hopes and false promises. I never put my heart into a project like I did with that restaurant, but it became more about real estate than the restaurant," says Rabbie.

He joins Bella Bru as executive chef and director of operations just as owners Steve and Liz Mishler are putting together an ambitious upgrade of their four restaurants, starting with the Carmichael site, where they recently added Luna Lounge, a bar with a small-plate menu. Rabbie is retooling the Carmichael restaurant's dinner menu to give it a modern Mediterranean tone, a change expected to be introduced in a few weeks, says Liz Mishler. The Folsom site is to be remodeled to include a kitchen, while other changes eventually will be added to the El Dorado Hills and Natomas branches.

"I didn't want to leave Sacramento," says Rabbie. "That would have been easy. Las Vegas is out of control, and there are a lot of opportunities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but I wanted to continue pioneering Sacramento."

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