December 31, 2007
'Green' Wine for New Year's Eve

Midnight tonight will be our last chance in 2007 and our first in 2008 to show that all the concern expressed about global warming this year has had some impact on our lives.

If you are here and you toast old and new with a California sparkling wine, you're doing good. If it's Champagne or Spumante or Cava or some other sparkling wine from Europe, shame on you.

This is the conclusion I'm drawing from an opinion piece that appeared in yesterday's New York Times. In the essay, wine blogger Tyler Colman urges New Yorkers to celebrate New Year's Eve with bubbly from the immediate area or Europe. He calculates that a bottle of sparkling wine making the trek by truck from California to New York or Connecticut is responsible for contributing 5.7 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. By comparison, a bottle of Champagne from France adds only about three pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, he suggests. Somewhere in Ohio, he calculates, the traveling wines meet a break-even point, meaning that west of the Buckeye State wines from California have the "green" edge, while to the east the French have the advantage.

His essay is brief - read it here - and he doesn't substantiate his figures, but this is the New York Times, after all, so there must be some substance there. And in the new year I suspect we will be able to learn more of Colman's reasoning. He's to publish a book with the intriguing title of "Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink."

In the meantime, I've got my bottles of sparkling wine on ice. I chose them before I read the Colman column. I'm feeling good both are from California.

December 28, 2007
Wrecking Crew

The fun-loving folks of Downtown Sacramento Partnership have cooked up a scheme to ruin everyone's New Year diet. For the third straight year, they will be orchestrating a promotion called Dine Downtown Restaurant Week.

Here's the game plan: Starting Jan. 12 and continuing to Jan. 18, 22 downtown restaurants will offer special three-course prix-fixe dinner menus for $30 per person. The participating restaurants include The Broiler Steakhouse, Fat City Bar & Cafe, Mason's at the Park and Restaurant 55 Degrees. If you've never been to one of the participating restaurants, it's a great opportunity to be exposed to their style.

Sakura Sushi & Teppan Grill, for example, will offer diners a first-course choice of tuna sashimi or shrimp tempura, a second-course choice of nigiri and roll or "splash and meadow," a combo plate of filet mignon and shrimp, and for dessert mochi ice cream. Morgan's at the Sheraton Grand also offers diners a choice, including butternut squash soup or Caesar salad for an appetizer; grilled filet mignon, penne pasta Romano or thyme-basted sea scallops for an entree; and caramel cheesecake or vanilla-bean creme brulee for dessert.

More restaurants and menus are at the organization's Web site.

December 26, 2007
She Makes The Tamales, He Sings The Song

Just about everyone likes a good tamale, but former Sacramentan Ed Murrieta is downright passionate about them. Now the restaurant critic at The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., which like The Sacramento Bee is a member of the McClatchy Co., Murrieta has put his affection for tamales to song. His "My Lady of Tamales" has been recorded by Tacoma singer Dave Barfield and posted to Murrieta's blog, Ed's Diner.

Murrieta told Editor & Publisher that the song began to materialize in his head last month as he worked up an appetite for tamales while walking his dog. "I was in a song mood and in the mood for tamales," Murrieta said. Within a month, the song was written, recorded and sold to HGI Publishing.

You don't have to be a music credit to identify the sentiments and enjoy the lyricism; just give a listen.

December 26, 2007
The Ultimate Food List

I look forward to each issue of the food magazine Saveur, but especially the year-end edition in which editors list their 100 favorite restaurants, drinks, foods and the like.

A few generally are from Northern California, and occasionally even Sacramento. This year, however, the North State pickings are slim. Rancho Gordo, a Napa company that sells heirloom beans, chilies, spices and herbs indigenous to the Americas, was singled out at No. 2. But beyond that any mention of a Northern California culinary discovery or icon is in fine print, including Taylor Boetticher of the butcher shop Fatted Calf in Napa, included in a tribute to the reemergence of independent butchers in the United States (No. 60).

Several items are generic enough to be found most anywhere - chopped liver (No. 4), the Latin American dessert pastel de cuatro leches (No. 9) and wonton soup (No. 30). Some selections are over the top, such as the entire state of Maine (No. 55), hand-washing dishes (No. 36) and edible weeds (No. 33). Other choices include the classic New Orleans sandwich muffuletta (No. 89), New Mexico road food (No. 18) and Bronte pistachios from Sicily (No. 75). At any rate, they all make for provocative reading, and they're all in the January/February 2008 issue.

December 26, 2007
Where's Sweeney Todd When You Need Him?

Man, I knew there'd be something I'd forget to get in Mexico, but until I just watched Harry McWatters open a bottle of sparkling wine with a machete I didn't think it would be one of those long, wide-bladed knives. McWatters, president of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in Summerland, B.C., makes the loping off of the top of a bottle look so easy I can just see all sorts of celebrants trying to emulate his touch with a sabre this New Year's Eve. Be forewarned, however, that the maneuver is more difficult than it looks, taking practice, patience and precision.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman of Wine Press Northwest called upon McWatters to demonstrate the ancient art of sabrage to celebrate the 100th episode of the weekly winecasts they launched two years ago. To view the McWatters video, visit the complete list of their winecasts here and click on the Dec. 11 episode.

December 24, 2007
Search(es) Suspended

IMGP2394_edited.jpgWe're ending our sojurn in San Jose del Cabo just as we started, by looking for the best shrimp tacos in the region. This search took us back to La Playita and the city's new marina along the Sea of Cortez on the northeast edge of town. There, at La Marina Cafe and Bar, Benito Fernando Collins and Lupita Zumaya Collins just were opening for the day's business, which developed rapidly. Word must be getting around that their hamburgers, fajitas, ceviche, octopus - and shrimp tacos - offer fine quality and value in a bright setting overlooking the marina and the pangas trolling the sea just offshore.

La Marina is the place our friend Connie claims makes the best shrimp tacos in the area, and she's a year-round resident who tirelessly searches out the region's treasures. The shrimp tacos of La Marina are good, the shrimp big, fresh, sweet and tender, their coating dark, seamless and unusually toasty. The coating reminded me of the batter used for a good corndog, though not as thick or sweet. A serving of three, accompanied by beans, rice, pico de gallo, peppers, limes and assorted other condiments, costs 60 pesos, about $6 in U.S. currency. The beer is 20 pesos. The view, which included a starfish atop the Christmas tree, is colorful and calming.

But are they the best shrimp tacos in the area? They are very good, but I'm not ready to side with Connie on that. We've found several splendid takes, and leave knowing there are many more we didn't get around to trying. All the shrimp have been plump, fresh and sweet - almost invariably they are from Matzalan - but the coating has been so variable it calls for a dissertation of its own by an industrious student of the culinary arts. Naturally, we'll have to return for more research.

In the meantime, I read in the local Daily News that the Baja California Sur National Restaurant Industry Chamber has declared the seafood dish "discada de mariscos" the most typical dish of Los Cabos, which includes Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. "Mariscos" I recognize as Spanish for "seafood," but "discada" throws me, and our Spanish dictionaries here are no help. I wonder if it should be "deshidratado," as in "tomate deshidratado" for "sun-dried tomatoes," which I have seen on a local menu. But soon we have a plane to catch, and for the time being further exploration of "discada de mariscos" will have to be suspended, giving us one more reason besides shrimp tacos to return to San Jose del Cabo.

December 21, 2007
A First

IMGP2331_edited.jpgI'm not big on collecting souvenirs, but I got one last night I just may have to frame. It's receipt No. 0001 from the newest restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, Restaurant H. It opened last night, and we were the first paying customers, said chef Luis Herrera, left, who with his father, Luis Herrera Blanc, right, own the small but exquisitely designed restaurant in the heart of the community's art district. We happened upon it largely because it's adjacent to El Moro, my favorite cantina in a town with just a handful of bars (another is just down the street, Baja Brewing Co., also brand new, the first brewpub in Baja California Sur).

We didn't know it when we walked into Restaurant H, but father and son are well poised to further enhance San Jose del Cabo's reputation as the dining epicenter of Los Cabos. Cabo San Lucas about 20 miles to the southwest is the better known of the two towns, in large part because it's much bigger and because that's where the cruise ships tie up (48 are scheduled to pull into port in January alone, reports a local newspaper). Cabo San Lucas has its Ruth's Chris Steak House, Johnny Rockets, Cabo Wabo and the like, but San Jose del Cabo is where diners in search of individual artistry head when they are hungry.

Restaurant H is the 38th restaurant the elder Herrera has opened. He's been in the business 43 years, playing key roles in establishing such signature restaurant groups as Carlos O'Brien's and Senor Frog's throughout Mexico. The younger Herrera started his culinary training in Mexico City, then attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He put in stints with restaurants in New York City before returning to Mexico about a decade ago, first to be executive chef at the exclusive golf club Querencia, then at the equally posh Club Ninety Six of the One and Only Palmilla.

At Restaurant H, the junior Herrera describes his food as "modern rustic." By that, he means he's applying traditional Mexican techniques and ingredients to foundations with which they customarily haven't been combined, such as putting a yellow mole sauce to sliced sirloin. His dinner entrees also include pan-fried chicken with a curry of tomatillos and poblano and jalapeno chile peppers, grilled pork chop with a green herb sauce, chorizo and a white-bean puree, and my favorite from last night's menu, local sea bass crusted with sunflower seeds over a sweet and creamy sauce of corn, potato and peppers.

The first night a restaurant is open isn't the time to judge its long-range prospects, but that dish, a tall and bright salad of tomatoes and roasted beets with a gazpacho vinaigrette, and the definitive flan strongly indicate that Restaurant H will be a serious player on the San Jose del Cabo dining scene.

And the elder Herrera isn't finished. He's scouting the town for a site for his next project, an Argentine restaurant where salads and pastas will be as emphasized as the steaks.

The local angle: Herrera senior's wife is the former Gay Thatcher, who grew up in Yreka. They met on a blind date in Los Angeles more than 40 years ago. Herrera junior also is familiar with Northern California. He has good friends in Fair Oaks, and spent a vacation this summer around Sacramento. He's still raving about the city's proximity to San Francisco, Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe, but don't hold that against him.

Restaurant H, 1505 Calle Alvaro Obregon, San Jose del Cabo, is open daily except Sunday, 12-4 for lunch, 6-10 for dinner.

December 20, 2007
Scouting Report

caboIMGP2281_edited.jpgGeoff Petrie, the Kings could use this guy, Mario Martinez. Right now, he's working at Las Guacamayas Taqueria in the Pescador neighborhood of San Jose del Cabo. There, he performs many tasks, but is recognized mostly for his agility and timing while carving with lightning speed and laser precision thin slices of marinated pork at the rotisserie. Atop the column of pork is stuck a fresh pineapple. When he finishes filling a taco with meat he flicks his long knife at the pineapple, cutting off a chunk that sails far from the rotisserie. Uncannily, the piece of pineapple almost invariably lands flawlessly atop the taco, without him looking at either. When not doing that, he's bolting about the restaurant, clearing tables, serving platters of quesadillas, flank steaks and the like. He may not know a basketball from a soccer ball, but he has all the skills the Kings could use - quick hands and feet, passing acumen and a teamwork consciousness. He may have to grow a few more inches, however, before boarding a plane for Sacramento.

Incidentally, we left Las Guacamayas last night again convinced that it offers the best value of any restaurant in the greater Cabo area. For $20 we had some sort of scramble of steak and poblano chile peppers (it's on the menu as "no que no" - didn't you say no?), tacos of martinated pork and steak, a quesadilla of the black corn fungus huitlacoche, and certainly enough beer. No tortilla chips greet diners, but a couple of fiery salsas, pico de gallo, grilled white onions and jalapeno chile peppers, sliced cucumber and wedges of lime arrive as soon as you are seated, if they aren't already on the table. Keep it in mind if you are headed south for the year-end holidays.

December 20, 2007
Address Change

While I haven't moved permanently to Mexico, I do need to announce an address change. It concerns this blog, the previous address of which was The new address is Not a big change, but if one of your new year's resolutions is to update important sites on your computer, you have been advised. Thanks for continuing to check in here.

December 16, 2007
To The Point

IMGP2214_edited.jpgDeep into Cactimundo, a botanical garden on the south edge of San Jose del Cabo, a sign warns visitors not to smoke, eat, drink, bring their dog...or touch the plants. As the garden's name suggests, all the plants are cacti and succulents from throughout the world. While some do look soft and cuddly, many more appear so lethal you don't need a sign to advise you not to touch. We've passed the garden many times, but only today stepped in for the first time. Signage to tell you what you are looking at could be better, but aside from that quibble it's a fascinating place for a leisurely stroll under the bright winter sun. I'd no idea so many unusual looking cacti were native to Africa, though most of the specimens, naturally, are from Mexico. The culinary angle? In the far reaches of the garden, not visible from the road out front, is a small cafeteria. While you aren't to meander the garden's paths with food and drink in hand, you can sit inside and savor a margarita. We'd just had breakfast, so we can't speak of their quality.

December 14, 2007
Hold The Shrimp, Pass The Tuna

IMGP2137_edited.jpgWe interrupt our search for the best shrimp tacos in Baja California Sur for this important public-service announcement: If your celebration of the year-end holidays includes a trip to Los Cabos, be sure to pack your fishing gear. The yellowfin tuna are running in dense schools in the Sea of Cortez just off San Jose del Cabo. Much to our astonishment, our party of four discovered just how thick the run is this morning. Within two hours we landed 40 of them. This is my brother-in-law Ed Schmidtmann, an accomplished Wyoming fly fisherman who caught three of them with flies, much to the amusement of our capitan. The more successful bait was sardines.

I may not eat another shrimp taco during the duration of our visit in San Jose del Cabo. The freezer is jam-packed with cuts of tuna, along with several filets of the dorado we also caught.

As to the search for shrimp tacos worth recommending, the biggest surprise so far was the substantial size, freshness and sweetness of those we sampled at the gringo-oriented Zipper's Bar and Grill on the beach just on the south edge of San Jose del Cabo. It's a real tourist spread, but they aren't taking advantage of their splendid location to give less than fair value for their shrimp tacos.

December 11, 2007
Shrimp Tacos: First Stop

IMGP2091_edited.jpgWe're looking for the best shrimp tacos in San Jose del Cabo at the southern reaches of the Baja peninsula. Our friend Connie pointed us toward the new marina along the Sea of Cortez on the north edge of town. We ended up at Mariscos La Playa, wherein Malena Arista Costellanos, shown here, was frying up a batch of tuna and shrimp tacos. We stuck around to try them, and found them darn good - plump, fresh and coated with a cornmeal, oregano, pepper, mustard and beer batter. The cafe's owner, Cuauh Temoc, said the tuna just had been caught in the sea we could readily see from our table. The tacos, however, practically were upstaged by the spirited pico de gallo, vibrant with onion, tomato and cilantro.

Mariscos La Playa has been open only about a month, one of the first small businesses hoping to capitalize on the residential and golf-course development about to spring up about the new marina, no doubt forever changing the small-town character of San Jose del Cabo. Nobody's said Donald Trump has his eye on the landscape, but one of the yachts already berthed in the new marina looks big enough to accommodate his entourage.

At any rate, as good as the shrimp tacos were, we weren't sure we'd found the right place. Our doubts intensified after lunch, when we wandered next door to another restaurant, La Marina, which until recently was George "Doc" Armstrong's La Playita Resort. The name and menu looked closer to what Connie had described. We'll be back.

December 10, 2007
Shrimp and Cerveza

Our friend, Connie, who sells real estate in and about San Jose del Cabo at the southern reaches of the Baja peninsula, says she's found the best shrimp tacos in the area. She'd actually found them years ago, but then the family responsible for making them dropped from sight. Now they're resurfaced in a new location. We trust Connie's judgment, but we have to check out these tacos for ourselves, so we'll catch the next plane out. Stay tuned.

December 10, 2007
Wanted: Sous-Vide Artists

In yesterday's dining column in The Bee's Ticket+ - here's the link - I mentioned that to the best of my knowledge David English, executive chef at the new downtown restaurant Ella Dining Room and Bar, is the first in the Sacramento area to adapt the sous-vide method to his style of cooking.

The result, a breast of chicken with a remarkably wholesome and resonating flavor, coupled with the attention sous vide has been drawing in other parts of the country, makes me think other chefs in this area will be at least experimenting with the technique, if they aren't already.

I'd like to learn more about sous vide from other chefs, whether local or distant - their experience, their concerns, the pros and cons, and so forth - for a possible future article on the method. Please get in touch by adding a comment to this blog or by emailing me direct at Thanks in advance for your help.

December 10, 2007
Sacramento Soup on National Stage

When the January issue of Bon Appetit magazine hits newsstands soon, a Sacramento treasure will be getting some long overdue national recognition. The magazine's "dish of the year" is Asian noodle soup, and to illustrate the rising popularity of ramen, udon, soba and pho, the magazine's editors called upon Sacramento restaurateur and cookbook author Mai Pham to prepare her "spicy curry noodle soup with chicken and sweet potato."

The soup is so stunningly photographed the scent of lemongrass, ginger, shallots, garlic, coconut and curry practically simmer from the page.

At Pham's Lemon Grass Asian Grill and Noodle Bar inside La Bou along Howe Avenue, the dish is listed as the selections "chicken kao soi" and "tofu kao soi" ($7.25 each). After pad thai, they are among the cafe's more popular dishes.

At her Lemon Grass Restaurant along Munroe, the sauce in the dish in Bon Appetit is basically the same sauce in "monk's curry" ($12.75), the restaurant's most popular vegetarian entree.

Not often does national media picture Sacramento at the forefront of a culinary development, but maybe this is just the first sign of more recognition to come in the new year.

December 10, 2007
Seconds on Second Saturday

Is it just me, or does anyone else sense that the Sacramento area has a disproportionate number of artists obsessed with food themes in their work? I've noticed it before, but paintings and sculptures involving food, restaurants and the like really jumped out at me during the Second Saturday art walk this weekend.

You really didn't have to visit any place other than 20th St. Art Gallery to get your fill. From Carol Marine's "Cabbage" and Kathleen Stock's "Artichoke" to Parker Carson's "Waitress" and Martha Stewart's "Pumpkins and Cranberries," many of the works celebrated food and dining in ways colorful, dynamic and refreshing. Martha Stewart? Well, she's not the media doyenne, but an actual Sacramento artist whose intense watercolors focus to a large extent on kitchen art, say the folks at 20th St. Art Gallery.

At any rate, is all this food art an offshoot of Wayne Thiebaud's impact on the area, or does it reflect either the diverse cornucopia that is the Sacrmamento farm scene or our current infatuation with culinary matters?

At least Jim Ferry and his 20th St. Art Gallery were ready for art patrons whose hunger was fueled by the exhibit. He had on hand Michael Sampino of Sampino's Towne Foods at 16th and F, overseeing a veritable buffet line of first-rate pasta and salad.

Galleries and boutiques, in fact, seem to be upgrading their food and wine offerings during Second Saturday. At his Hawaiian-apparel shop Swanberg's on J, owner Lauren Lundsten was passing around a tray of sushi from Tamaya down the street and pouring glasses of the splendid Gnarly Head zinfandel, while over at Solomon Dubnick Gallery platters of thick and nutty chocolate-chip cookies by Jules Westreich were being snatched up as quickly as they were spread out. She's baked them for Bette Midler, Bon Jovi and others as part of her day job in the entertainment business, but even without word of that background getting around they were immensely popular.

Which raises the question: With all this food and beverage in galleries and boutiques, does Second Saturday help or hinder midtown's restaurant scene? I'd say it helps, priming appetites for a more balanced and heftier meal afterwards, and exposing the restaurants that cater the foods to a wider audience. It's a win-win pairing. If January is as chilly as it usually is, that's what I'll be looking for, chili.

December 7, 2007
Folsom Gets More Duck Confit

The duck-confit competition in Folsom is heating up. For years, Bidwell Street Bistro pretty much had the market cornered with a version that has evolved into the restaurant's signature dish.

But duck confit also is on the introductory menu of Folsom Bistro, which just opened quietly in quarters formerly occupied by the Mexican restaurant Cuevitas along Folsom-Auburn Road.

Matthew Newton, who with his wife Atasha owns the restaurant, most recently was chef-de-cuisine at The Firehouse in Old Sacramento. Prior to that he was executive chef for more than two years at Jeanty at Jacks in San Francisco, during which the restaurant was named one of the top 50 restaurants in the Bay Area by San Francisco Magazine. Before that he was sous chef at Bistro Jeanty in Napa Valley.

Michael Goularte, also recently of The Firehouse, joins Newton to oversee a compact opening menu of seasonally oriented dishes such as braised beef short ribs with parsnip puree, crepes filled with oven-roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, carrots and leek, and grilled hanger steak with Bearnaise, in addition to the duck confit with warm potato salad. The most surprising appetizer is fried smelt, accompanied with a whole-grain mustard aioli.

The restaurant doesn't yet have a beer and wine license, but until it gets its permit guests can bring their own wine without facing a corkage fee, says Newton.

Folsom Bistro, 6608 Folsom-Auburn Road, Folsom, is open for lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, for dinner 4:30-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4:30-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; (916) 990-0630.

December 6, 2007
Get Out Your Gaucho Hat

Brush up on your Portuguese. Come next summer, a churrascaria is to move into a former fitness center at 14th and H in downtown Sacramento. Basically, a churrascaria -- pronounced shoo-ras-ka-ria -- is a Brazilian steakhouse inspired by Portuguese methods of barbecueing. Meats on skewers customarily are cooked over charcoal or gas, then carved tableside directly onto plates. Service is "rodizio" style, or all you can eat for one fixed price.

Taka Watanabe, who is teaming up with Peter Kwong to open Viva Rio, says the restaurant will be true to the traditional churrascaria, right down to the customary grilled chicken hearts, gizzards and liver. One unusual touch, however, will be the sushi that is to be on the menu. Watanabe and Kwong are partners in Taka's Sushi in Fair Oaks, Kru in midtown Sacramento, and Ju Hachi, another Japanese restaurant to open in midtown Sacramento early next year. Though Watanabe is closely identified with Japanese cooking, he grew up in Brazil, not leaving Rio de Janeiro until he was 26. He's long talked of opening a Brazilian steakhouse here, a dream he expects to fulfill with the debut of Viva Rio in June or July, though restaurant projects are notorious for running behind schedule.

December 5, 2007

People have asked, so here's some updates on changes under way on the Sacramento dining scene:

- Tuli Bistro, under construction for nearly a year at 21st and S, is to open for breakfast, lunch and dinner this coming Tuesday, Dec. 11, reports owner/chef Adam Pechal. Breakfasts will be simple, consisting of chalkboard items such as a Cheddar and chive waffle sandwich, but lunch and dinner will be more extensive. Pechal's largely Mediterranean- and Southern-inspired dishes include pasta carbonara ($14.50), bouillabaisse ($16), wood-roasted quail stuffed with jambalaya ($15), pizzas, salads and sandwiches such as the monkfish po'boy with "Southern slaw" and chipotle remoulade ($8.95). It's small, seating just 16 inside, most along the counter, but the patio will accommodate 36, weather permitting. Pechal, a 1997 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, N.Y., has put in stints with Bistro Don Giovanni and Bouchon in Napa Valley and at such local restaurants as River City Brewing Co. and Esquire Grill. He's also been catering. Tuli Bistro is to be open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays.

- Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates, taking shape next to L Wine Lounge and Urban Kitchen along L Street at 18th, now isn't expected to open until early January, though chocolatier Ginger Elizabeth Powers may be able to pull it off between Christmas and New Year's, thereby capturing a bit of the important holiday traffic. "Basically, we're running 30 days late. The building permit took a long time," says Powers. She's not discouraged, however, vowing to have the shop open in time for another important chocolate holiday, Valentine's Day.

- Ju Hachi, Taka and Susan Watanabe's Japanese restaurant at 18th and S in midtown Sacramento, under construction for a year, now is expected to be ready for sushi enthusiasts in January.

- G.V. Hurley's, a restaurant with an "American comfort food" focus, moving into quarters formerly occupied by Radio Shack along J Street between 27th and 28th, now is expected to open sometime between Feb. 1 and March 1, says manager Erick Johnson. In a display of neighborly cooperation, the restaurant's executive chef, David Hill, formerly of Horseshoe Bar Grill in Loomis, has been using the kitchen of Peter Torza's nearby Gianni's Trattoria to test dishes.

- Sofia's on 11th, formerly Sofia, at 11th and H, has reopened after a brief closure, complete with liquor license, something initially in doubt.

December 5, 2007
Cinema Vino

Time for a break from work? Get yourself over here. It's "The Key to Reserva," a nine-minute film directed by and starring Martin Scorsese, produced for the Spanish sparkling-wine firm Freixenet. The pretext is that Scorsese has discovered the manuscript for an Alfred Hitchcock movie that never was made, though Scorsese is to correct that, even though a crucial page of the plot is missing.

The resulting film, a homage to Hitchcock, is dramatic and hilarious. The wine angle is that Scorsese fleetingly portrays the Freixenet sparkling wine Carta Nevada Reserva as a cultural icon involving mystery and romance, but the sale is understated, enhancing rather than distracting from the momentum of the film. See if you can pin down all the Hitchcock films that inspired specific scenes.

December 4, 2007
Chocolate in the Northern Mines

Though I'm not as nuts about chocolate as a lot of people, I did find the Devil's food cake at Paul Martin's American Bistro in Roseville the other night outstanding. Then I rechecked the dessert menu to make sure I'd read it correctly. The chocolate, says the menu, is from Dorado Chocolates of Grass Valley.

This was news to me, but it didn't take long to connect with Ken Kossoudji, who after a career in high-tech sales and marketing in Silicon Valley returned to his family roots as a chocolatier. For nearly four years now he's been making two basic lines of chocolate - Signature-D for dark European-style chocolates, American Classics for more traditional confections.

This time of year, says Kossoudji, two of his more popular items are thin slices of pear that have been dried, soaked in Key-lime juice, and coated with dark Venezuelan chocolate, and his hot-cocoa mix - housemade marshmallows encased in dark chocolate for dropping into a cup of hot milk until the chocolate melts and the marshmallow becomes creamy. I may not be very enthusiastic about chocolate, but those marshmallows tempt me to jump in the car for a trek to Grass Valley this very moment.

Dorado Chocolates, 104 E. Main St., Grass Valley, is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Call (530) 272-6715 or visit the shop's Web site.

December 4, 2007
Last Night's Wine

Tuscany's standing as a fine-wine region has soared in recent years on the strength of its Chianti Classico and Super Tuscan wines, so it's easy to forget that the province still also is home to humbler and less pricey but nonetheless agreeable representatives of everyday Chianti.

We were reminded of this in pulling the cork from a bottle of the newly released Ecco Domani 2006 Chianti ($11), a blend of 92 percent sangiovese, 8 percent merlot. It's light and lean, but with sangiovese's typically floral scent, cherry fruit, teasing spice, refreshing tang and hint of walnuts. It isn't a blockbuster, not with just 12.5 percent alcohol, but it does have the spine to accommodate all sorts of pasta, poultry, seafood and red-meat dishes, especially if they are in a lighter vein, without a lot of creamy richness and hot seasonings.

December 4, 2007
Paragary's Break About To End

This has been one peculiar year on the Sacramento dining scene, if for no other reason than that Randy Paragary hasn't opened, closed or relocated a restaurant. In 2007, Sacramento's most expansion-oriented restaurateur stood on the sidelines, though he wasn't exactly benched, just planning for 2008.

Next year, Paragary again will be shaking up diners, not only in Sacramento but Stockton, where in early spring he is to open his long anticipated Paragary's Bar & Grill in the restored 1910 Hotel Stockton, a fixture of the city's surging downtown revitalization. The restaurant is to be completed in February, with a debut expected in March, says Paragary. He describes the concept as a hybrid cross between his casual Paragary's Bar & Oven and his more upscale Esquire Grill, with a more extensive menu than either.

Back on his home turf, Paragary in September is to open Cosmo's, a deli-inspired restaurant in the Cosmopolitan Building, formerly Woolworth's, at 10th and K in downtown Sacramento. The concept was inspired by the restaurant's proximity to another tenant in the building, Cosmopolitan Cabaret, a 208-seat venue run by California Musical Theatre, which in September is to launch a series of musical comedies in the space. Paragary's concept for Cosmo's is being inspired largely by theater-district delis in New York, but will be more than a sandwich shop, he notes. Paragary's executive chef, Kurt Spataro, is starting to research and assemble the restaurant's menu, including a formula for the establishment's own housemade pastrami. "We hope to be a real presence in the middle of K Street," says Paragary.

Also on his agenda for next year is to determine what to do with retail space he is to control on the ground floor of the massive new parking garage nearing completion at 28th and N, close by his Paragary's Bar & Oven and the neighboring restaurant Ink Eats and Drinks, which occupies quarters he owns. "We've been thinking of moving Ink over there, but so far no concept has flown into my head that I think will work there," says Paragary.

Hmmm, what's hot in food and beverage right now and could work there, especially with the neighborhood's growing influx of doctors, nurses and hospital visitors? Cupcake bakery? Creperie? Wine bar? In the meantime, Paragary is starting to plan an intriguing spring benefit on the roof of the parking structure. It's to be a fundraiser for B Street Theatre, which is looking at possibly relocating to the area.

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