July 31, 2008
That Sub Resurfaces

Since the last Tony Baloney sub shack closed nearly two years ago, readers have peppered me for copies of the recipe for the cafe's immensely popular pepper-steak sandwich. Now they can stop. After a 15-month hiatus, Anthony "Tony Baloney" Recchia has reopened his eponymous hangout at 5059 College Oak Drive, with the pepper-steak sub on the menu at $6.55 for the small, $8.75 for the big.

When Recchia closed the cafe in the fall of 2006 he gave several reasons for his decision, ranging from difficulties in finding satisfactory employees to having cashed in an online horse-racing wager that won him $170,000. What's more, he'd developed a commercial line of Tony Baloney salad dressings, which he's continued to produce in the kitchen of the College Oak Drive restaurant.

"I was going broke again," said Recchia of his decision to reopen the restaurant. "I hit some horses, but I lost some, too."

Recchia opened his first Tony Baloney along Del Paso Boulevard in 1963 and grew the business to six outlets at its peak in the 1980s. Recchia, a Massachusetts native, began to make sandwiches for colleagues at Aerojet General in Rancho Cordova when he couldn't find any East Coast-style submarines to his liking here. Pending layoffs at Aerojet then prompted Recchia, an engineer, to go into the restaurant business.

Tony Baloney is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, though he keeps the place open to 7 p.m. Fridays.

July 30, 2008
Last Chance

Fans of Monticello Bistro in Winters have only August in which to savor the restaurant's seasonal Saturday-night dinners. After August, the place is history, reports Rhonda Gruska, who with her husband Tony has operated the bistro the past two years.

But get your chins off the floor, fans. The Gruskas are moving to a new venue that will allow them to extend their hours and expand their concept. They are teaming up with Aziz Fattahi, owner of Village Bakery in Davis to open Village Pizza and Grill in a converted house at 4th and G in downtown Davis.

In Winters, the Gruskas have been sharing space with the tapas cafe Ficelle, which has been operating weekdays. Now, however, Ficelle is to start serving dinners Saturday, which is when Monticello Bistro takes over the quarters.

At Village Pizza and Grill, the Gruskas and Fattahi at least initially will focus on pizzas to range in style from basic interpretations already available at Village Bakery to more contemporary versions that will emphasize the sorts of regional and seasonal ingredients the couple showcases at Monticello Bistro. The August menu at Monticello Bistro includes such dishes as grilled figs with goat cheese and honey, cold cucumber soup with wasabi, caprese salad with grilled bruschetta, a Yolo heirloom-tomato gazpacho, grilled Niman Ranch sirloin steak, and housemade pasta with cherry tomatoes, summer squash and parmesan.

Rhonda Gruska is uncertain when the new place will open. At best, it could debut in early fall, but six months or so also could be needed to get the place ready. "It's all up to the City of Davis," she says, noting that city officials are reviewing plans to remodel the house.

For more information on Monticello Bistro's schedule, call (530) 792-8066.

July 29, 2008
Strong Napa Valley Voice is Stilled

Though I met Tom Shelton years ago, I knew him principally through articles and columns he wrote for Spring Valley Times, the house organ of Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Napa Valley. In a place and during an era when representatives of wineries chose their words so carefully that they'd come off tired and bland, Shelton was refreshingly and colorfully blunt. Whether as president of Joseph Phelps Vineyards from 1995 until earlier this year, or as a vocal director of the trade group Napa Valley Vintners, Shelton left no doubt where he stood on wine issues, and for that alone his forthright character will be missed. Tom Shelton died of brain cancer over the weekend at 55. James Laube and MaryAnn Worobiec have more about Tom Shelton at the Web site of Wine Spectator.

July 28, 2008
Corti Brothers Losing Longtime Site

The last of Sacramento's landmark Corti Brothers stores is to close this fall, but local gourmets may not long be without the specialty foodstuffs and exclusive wines that have distinguished the family-run grocery since 1947. Darrell Corti, the store's president, is vowing to remain in business at a new but undetermined location

"We haven't sold and we haven't been bought," said Corti a short time ago following early reports that the company had lost the East Sacramaento site it had occupied since 1970. Corti Brothers, founded in 1947 by brothers Frank and Gino Corti along 8th Street between I and J, had once expanded to four locations before cutting back to one large facility at 59th Street and Folsom Boulevard.

Corti said he just had been informed by his landlady that she'd signed a lease for the building with Mike Teel, an heir of the Raley's supermarket chain, who reputedly plans to use the site for a branch of his proposed group of Good Eats Grocery markets. Corti had been renting the building without a lease since 1988.

"We went to negotiate a lease and were informed by her lawyers that a lease (for the building) had been signed by somebody else," said Corti.

The search for a new site for the store will commence Tuesday, said Corti. He hopes to stay in the East Sacramento neighborhood, but will scout other areas for prospective locations. "We have a lot of old customers in that neighborhood," he remarked. Corti Brothers is to be out of its current site by Oct. 15, he noted.

A more comprehensive report on the pending relocation of Corti Brothers is being prepared by colleague Jim Downing for Tuesday's new Sacramento Bee.

July 25, 2008
Keep Your Cin-Cin Up

With my list of prospective restaurants to check out, I began to stroll about downtown Los Gatos last night. At the top, of course, was Manresa, the proud bearer of two Michelin stars, one of only four such recognized restaurants in the Bar Area. I sure would have liked to try that salad of soft-shell crab with "gold dust" peach and basil, or the Monterey Bay abalone with a roast crayfish nage, or the veal breast and sweetbreads with the house boudin noir in an onion stew, but I was underdressed and underfinanced (four courses, $95; tasting menu, $145), so I moved down the list.

Vittoria Ristorante Italiano, however, was "closed for remodel," according to a sign on the door, and Cafe Marcella had closed for good this spring, said the hostess of the restaurant that succeeded it about three months ago, Cin-Cin, which translates as an Italian toast along the lines of "to your health." By this time, I was ready to give up. On top of that, a blackboard special on the back wall caught my eye and prompted me to take a seat. It was a flight of three rieslings, hardly Italian, but not something you run across in a restaurant very often.

While the lineup of rieslings was exceptionally solid, a couple of other pleasant surprises prompts me to move Cin-Cin to the top of my list for my next visit to Los Gatos - the speedy, chipper and smart service and the marvelously conceived and executed food. The menu is New American, with Spanish, Californian, North African and southern American influences as well as Italian. The menu talks seriously about using line-caught seafood, meats free of antibiotics and hormones, and produce from local growers who follow sustainable farming practices.

The food, however, is all fun, much of it listed as "nibbles," "samplers" side dishes and small plates. In short, it's a menu that invites grazing and adventure. Tuna cloaked with a delicate tempura and accompanied by both a Vietnamese mango dipping sauce and feathery and crispy fried baby bok choy ($13), and smoky flatbread topped with Fiscalini cheddar, dried apricots, hazelnuts and arugula ($9) both were vivid in flavor but perfectly compabile with the mostly dry rieslings. Not so much the restaurant's signature sliders, three fat, rich and juicy burgers with grilled sweet onions, a chow-chow of pickled cabbage and cauliflower, and a chipotle chile pepper aioli ($11), but I really didn't expect the wines to stand up to all that power, anyway.

If you're heading to the South Bay this weekend, consider putting Cin-Cin on your own list of prospective restaurants. At 368 Village Lane, Los Gatos, it's open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday; (408) 354-8006. Here's a link for its Web site.

July 24, 2008
The Scoop on Coops

IMGP3373.JPGMarty Mathis was pretty excited about showing off his seven acres of cabernet sauvignon when I visited him yesterday at his and his mother's winery, Kathryn Kennedy, on the lower reaches of the Santa Cruz Mountains at Saratoga. But he kicked up the volume a couple of notches when the subject turned to his "chicken tractor," a large wheeled contraption he built to house his four chickens as he moves them through the vineyard to help keep down the weeds, fertilize vines and control insects. It's a portable coop, without a floor, but a compartment for roosting and buckets for depositing eggs.

Mathis acknowledges that his excitement over building a chicken tractor sort of got out of hand, and he ended up with the veritable Airstream of chicken tractors. The materials he used were so fine and the size so substantial that he figures every egg he's getting from his brood costs him $10. Nonetheless, he doesn't rue the investment. He figures those eggs, combined with produce from his garden, provide him with one home-grown meal a day.

Apparently a movement is afoot to convince city folk to build chicken tractors as part of the locavore philosophy. You can find a whole gallery of chicken tractors here.

July 22, 2008
Bottle Shock, The Sequel

Michel Reybier, owner of the Bordeaux estate Chateau Cos d'Estournel, has confirmed that he is negotiating with the Jim Barrett family to buy Napa Valley's Chateau Montelena. In a press release issued a short time ago, Reybier indicated the sale is near and pends only regulatory approval. No price was disclosed, nor did Reybier say what regulatory issues are involved in the transaction. One possible hitch could be that regulations in the United States prohibit wine producers from having a vested interest in distributing wines, including wholesalers, restaurants and retailers, and Reybier's properties include a resort in Geneva with three restaurants.

Jim Barrett, who acquired Chateau Montelena in 1972, is quoted in the release as saying: "This is a perfect fit - a dream marriage. We could not have asked for a finer team to carry on this legacy."

His son, Bo Barrett, who has made the wines at Chateau Montelena since 1982, "will continue to provide the essential knowledge and experience gained from 35 years of living and working on the estate," but the press release isn't clear on who will be in charge of winemaking once the sale concludes. "Michel Reybier understands that it takes time and continuity to learn the true qualities of each place. He understands the importance of continuity, commitment and experience in making world-class wine," said Bo Barrett in the press release.

July 22, 2008
Bottle Shock

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," the French seem to be saying with word this morning that the renowned Bordeaux chateau Cos d'Estournel is buying one of Napa Valley's more historic estates, Chateau Montelena.

Though Chateau Montelena has been around since 1882, it shot to celebrity in the spring of 1976 when its 1973 chardonnay was judged the best take on the varietal in a blind Paris tasting involving comparable French wines and French wine judges.

Speculation about the potential sale of Chateau Montelena surfaced last month when the magazine Wine Spectator reported that the father-and-son team of Jim and Bo Barrett had put the property on the market for a minimum $100 million, though the Barretts wouldn't confirm the rumors.

Today, the British wine magazine Decanter reported that Cos d'Estournel is purchasing Chateau Montelena, quoting Michel Reybier, the owner of the Bordeaux estate, as its source. No sales price was disclosed, though Decanter speculated that $110 million was being paid for the Napa Valley property.

Jeff Adams, media representative for Chateau Montelena, said a formal announcement concerning the status of Chateau Montelena would be made later today.

If the sale of Chateau Montelena is completed, it will come almost exactly one year after the Warren Winiarski family sold its Napa Valley estate Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, which had won the cabernet-sauvignon portion of the 1976 Paris tasting. Stag's Leap sold to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Washington state and Marchese Piero Antinori of Italy for $185 million.

On Aug. 6, a movie, "Bottle Shock," a romanticized and truncated version of the Paris tasting that focuses almost exclusively on Chateau Montelena, is to debut in American cinemas.

July 17, 2008
Atlanta's Loss, Sacramento's Gain

Michael Tuohy, an Atlanta restaurateur who grew up in San Francisco, has been hired to be the executive chef of Grange in the boutique hotel The Citizen, slated to open in downtown Sacramento in November.

To take the job, Tuohy is closing the Atlanta restaurant he opened in January 2002, Woodfire Grill. There, his Californian culinary style has emphasized "locally grown organic produce, responsibly raised meats, eco-conscious seafood and artisan-produced ingredients," the same kind of cooking that the operators of The Citizen, Joie de Vivre Hospitality of San Francisco, want to cultivate at Grange.

Though Tuohy has been in Atlanta for 22 years, he says his cooking philosophy developed under the auspices of longtime San Francisco restaurateur Joyce Goldstein, for whom he worked early on first at her highly regarded Square One Restaurant and then at its sister operation, Caffe Quadro.

In Atlanta, Tuohy helped start the Georgia Grown Co-op to provide city restaurants and markets with provisions from a dozen local certified-organic farms.

The latest edition of the Zagat guide to Atlanta restaurants says of Woodfire Grill: "Michael Tuohy 'puts his heart and soul' into the 'exquisitely prepared' and 'impeccably sourced' 'farm-to-table cuisine' that's paired with a 'top-notch wine list,' while the staff 'could not be more helpful or informed.'"

July 17, 2008
This Tamarind Pod Remains Closed

A frustrated Sacramentan has called to suggest that The Bee start to run a list of all the restaurants closing in the area. With the price of car fuel what it is, she's tired of driving up to a Blank Angus here or a Tahoe Joe's there only to find it no longer in business. Such a compilation would be helpful, and maybe our database experts can get on it. In the meantime, I'll do what I can to alert readers of closures as I become aware of them, though restaurateurs are notoriously shy about broadcasting their disappointments.

Just this morning I learned of another restaurant closing, but only because I was walking along J Street and noticed that the windows of the Vietnamese pho cafe Tamarind were covered over and a sign on the door said the place is permanently shut. The man who opened Tamarind two years ago this fall, Perry Yuen, who also owns the Chinese cafe Plum Blossom farther west along J Street, couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

July 15, 2008
The City That Knows Chow

IMGP3342_edited.JPGAs we wind up our visit to New Orleans, I'm wondering how editors for the Zagat guidebooks would distill our impressions of the two most memorable restaurants we visited:

- "Emeril Lagasse's noblest achievement" is the "rustic yet refined" former carriage house and root-beer plant he restyled into NOLA. Along "one of the more civilized streets in the French Quarter," NOLA combines "European flair with Southern hospitality" to an extent rarely found even in this earnestly friendly city. "Team service clicks with the rhythm and charm of a horse-drawn carriage at Jackson Square." "Expensive," but "portions must have been brought in on a Mississippi River barge." Take the "Parisian elevator" to the second floor and prepare to "shout like Mardi Gras revelers," given all the brick and wood. Follow "the smoothest Sazerac in New Orleans" with fried chicken with the "crunchiest buttermilk crust in Louisiana." "The kitchen struggles to accommodate vegetarians," but redeems itself with "cute butterballs," "the finest tomatoes in the South" and service that "doesn't make you feel like you're asking a favor." Shrimps and grits are "heady" with a chile-pepper butter sauce, apple-smoked bacon and tomato glaze, while the marbled pound cake salutes the building's heritage with a "refreshing" root-beer drizzle. NOLA has "a clear idea of what it wants to do and how it wants to do it." No wonder they call New Orleans "the city that knows chow."

- Two years after we visited one of the first restaurants to open in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Donald Link's "bright and marvelous" Chocon, we checked out his original place, Herbsaint. "Amazingly, the very selective vegetarian member of our party ate the entire bowl of housemade spaghetti with summer tomatoes and spinach," while the rest of us savored "silken and smoky" duck prosciutto, gumbo with shredded pork and andouille sausage that came off as "thick as the humidity," and a poached and fried egg that broke "like sunrise" over more of that housemade spaghetti, this time with guanciale. "Avoid the back dining room," drab but for "the sexy mural" across the back wall. Prepare for service either "emotionally disengaged" or "severely professional" in contrast to quarters "sunny and humming with vitality." Just as the Sazerac here is "gripping," the rib-eye steak is "marvelously juicy and sweet." "Mother never made angel-food cake like this," nor did she top it with poached peaches. "Reservations strongly recommended."

July 13, 2008
'The Bug Easy'

IMGP3329.JPGEnough with Sacramento's notorious dry heat of the past week. Time for some wet heat. In New Orleans this weekend the highs are in the 90s, and with the humidity at 77 percent, that should qualify as wet heat. At least in New Orleans there's no more smoke than usual, and a welcome breeze coming across the Mississippi River.

And whenever you step inside, the air conditioning is cranked down to sweater optional. Mid-summer isn't the high season for New Orleans, but the place nonetheless is fairly busy, and no attraction we've visited has been more crowded than the new Audubon Insectarium, where this photo was taken, showing one of the facility's butterfly exhibits. The Insectarium is the first museum to open in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and purportedly it's the largest freestanding museum devoted to insects in the United States. The building that houses it, the 1881 U.S. Customs House, is grand enough all on its own to warrant a visit. As far as the Insectarium is concerned, the galleries include one devoted to swamp critters, including American alligators and spotted gars, even though they aren't insects; another just for termites; another showing butterflies emerging from chrysalises; and an enclosed Asian garden with mature butterflies floating about and a pond stocked with the biggest and brightest koi I've seen.

I learned that the California trapdoor spider of my youth is one of the stronger insects on the planet, capable of bracing its door against intruders at up to 38 times its own weight; that the male horsefley can hit speeds of up to nearly 90 miles per hour; and that a Madagascar hissing cockroach feels just like an oily leather cowboy boot.

This being New Orleans, there's the Tiny Termite Cafe and Bug Appetit, the latter a demonstration kitchen where executive chef Kevin Robertson was whipping up salsa thick with mealworms, fried wax worms that tasted just like fried pork skin, and nachos of mealworms that were meaty and sweet. No "chocolate chirp cookies" were available today, but he had plenty of the most popular item on the menu, "crispy Cajun crickets," sauteed in butter and dusted with Cajun seasonings. Robertson tells the hesistant that they taste just like spicy sunflower seeds, but the consensus in our party was that they taste more like fried chicken skin, and that's a good thing.

If you're planning a trip to New Orleans, set aside for a couple of hours at the Insectarium. Check out its Web site.

July 11, 2008
Bigger Role for Sacramentans in Santa Cruz Mountains

A Sacramento couple instrumental in developing Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains have purchased a second winery in the appellation.

Neil and Bernice Hagen, who own Thunderbird Forest Products of Sacramento and the local branch of Poggenpohl Kitchens, have purchased neighboring Cinnabar Vineyards & Winery above Saratoga for an undisclosed price.

Cinnabar, founded in 1983 by the late Stanford research engineer Tom Mudd, has been producing about 20,000 cases annually in recent years. "Basically, I've doubled my production capacity," said Jeffrey Patterson, Mount Eden's longtime winemaker. At Mount Eden, he's been making around 15,000 cases a year.

Both estates primarily produce chardonnay and pinot noir, with some cabernet sauvignon. Cinnabar is to be renamed Domaine Eden. Most of its 30-acre vineyard is being replanted, with more pinot noir being put in and cabernet sauvignon being reduced, said Patterson.

Neil Hagen, whose mills produce molding in South America, New Zealand, Mexico and the southern United States, joined four partners in 1961 to buy Mount Eden Vineyards from legendary winemaker Martin Ray. Today, the Hagens control about 60 percent of the company, with Jeffrey Patterson and his wife Ellie owning around 30 percent. A half-dozen shareholders own the rest.

Mount Eden Vineyards also is about to join seven other wineries in a cooperative tasting room and wine bar called Press Club in San Francisco. Expected to open in two to three weeks, Press Club is at 20 Yerba Buena Lane between Market and Mission streets, near the new Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco. The other wineries include Chateau Montelena, Miner Family, Saintsbury, Pahlmeyer and Landmark.

July 11, 2008
Wine Spots in My Notebook

Random notes from yesterday evening's Grape & Gourmet gala at Cal Expo, the annual bash where California State Fair officials reveal the major winners of the fair's commercial wine competition:

- Despite my aversion to crowds, this event is growing on me. Maybe they didn't sell as many tickets as they have in the past, or maybe they've expanded the space, but the tasting didn't seem as congested as it has been in earlier years. Also, more tasters have caught on to tasting etiquette, particularly the point about getting your taste and then getting out of the way so others can get their pour. Good showing, gang! On the other hand, too many winery representatives still think such tastings are their opportunity to kibitz among themselves, oblivious to why they are there, which is to make that all-important personal connection with a curious public. Next year, do your socializing among yourselves before or after, and during the event focus on the paying public.

- OK, the best-of-show red wine of this year's State Fair judging was the Castle Rock 2006 Mendocino County Pinot Noir ($12). I was more impressed with it during the State Fair judging than I was last night, but at a time when the popularity of pinot noir is prompting many producers to charge more for examples of the varietal than is warranted by their quality, the Castle Rock still is a remarkably good buy. It's true to the varietal, it's balanced, and it's sweetly fruity, with an emphasis on the sweetness. It's perfectly pleasant, and worth every cent.

- The most memorable wine I tasted all evening was the Calcareous Vineyards 2005 York Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($34) from Paso Robles, judged the best cabernet sauvignon in the competition. It's a wonderfully elegant example of the varietal. In contrast to so many cabernet sauvignons these days, it was fresh and lithe, with a clean cherry fruitiness, a touch of spice, a sinewy build, and a lingering minerality. It's made for the dinner table, not the competition circuit, and I'm encouraged that a cabernet of such refinement was recognized and acknowledged by the judges. What were they thinking? Refreshment and character, I suspect.

- A close second was the Jekel Vineyards 2007 Monterey County Riesling ($12), which tied for best riesling in the state at the competition. Despite one percent residual sugar, it tasted unusually dry for a California riesling, and certainly dryer than earlier vintages. It's shot through with apricots, peaches and an intriguing stoniness. The wine it tied with is the Loredona 2007 Monterey County Riesling ($12), which went on to be elected the fair's best-of-show white wine. If Loredona was represented at last night's tasting, I didn't spot its booth. In wine shops and grocery stores, the Jekel also should be easier to find; nearly 36,000 gallons of the Jekel were made compared with 12,000 gallons of the Loredona.

- The biggest surprise was a silver-medal wine, the Jeff Runquist 2006 Lodi Silvaspoons Vineyard Touriga ($22), a red table wine whose light color and lean structure were deceiving. It had wonderfully vibrant fruit, possessed of both juiciness and a tantalizingly subtle complexity. Touriga is a Portugese variety, traditionally used for Port, but here yielding a delightfully angular and zesty table wine that easily could play the role often taken by pinot noir. The release of the wine is pending, and when it is it likely will be available only at Jeff Runquist's winery in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley, given that he made only 118 cases.

- Wines weren't the only product recognized last night. The State Fair also has a commercial handcrafted beer competition, for which the best-of-show brew was the Drake's Brewing Co. Drake's Blonde Kolsch out of San Leandro. Wow, what a terrific beer - balanced, refreshing and mellow without being reserved. I liked its fastidious interweaving of freshness, nuttiness and maltiness, which actually tasted more of malt than sugar. The person doing the pouring wasn't sure where it would be available hereabouts, but suggested I look for it at Nugget Markets and BevMo.

- Other high honors bestowed last night were best-of-show dessert wine, the Navarro Vineyards 2007 Anderson Valley Mendocino County Late Harvest White Riesling ($39); best sparkling wine, the Mumm Napa Napa Valley Blanc de Noirs ($19); best value, the Castle Rock pinot noir that also won best-of-show red wine; and the Golden State Winery of the Year award, which went to South Coast Winery of Temecula for best overall performance in the competition, which it won by winning one double-gold medal, five gold medals, 13 silver medals and 12 best-of-class honors.

- State Fair officials also honored three veteran California winemakers with lifetime achievement awards: Mary Ann Graff, the first woman to graduate in the viticulture and enology program at UC Davis, now owner of the wine lab Vinquiry in Healdsburg; Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Winery, who has been making wine in Napa Valley for 50 years; and Warren Winiarski of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley, which he and his family sold last year after establishing the brand as one of the world's more esteemed producers of cabernet sauvignon.

- A searchable database of the State Fair's award-winning wines is available at this page of The Bee's wine Web site,

July 9, 2008
Local Dish Highlighted Nationally

I complain so often of the national food media ignoring the creativity of restaurateurs and chefs in and about Sacramento that it's only fair to draw attention to an exception. That would be the August issue of Food&Wine, which highlights a dish at the Granite Bay restaurant Hawks.

You have to flip through 120 of the magazine's 120 pages to find it, but there it is, a slice of the restaurant's homemade brioche topped with a cloud of lemon cream and scattered with shiny blackberries. Created by Molly Hawks and her husband Michael Fagnoni, co-owners and co-chefs of Hawks, the dessert is featured in the magazine's Last Bite feature. The recipe also is included. It takes three hours to make. If you time your drive astutely, you can get to Hawks in a little less than that.

July 8, 2008
Morton's on the Move

Sacramento's Westfield Downtown Plaza may be about to get a splashy giant LED screen but it looks to be losing one of its brighter lights. Morton's The Steakhouse, a fixture of the mall for 15 years, is on the verge of relocating to the new U.S. Bank Tower at 621 Capitol Mall.

According to a succinct announcement this morning by Roger Drake, chief communications officer for Morton's The Steakhouse in Chicago, the chain's Sacramento branch is leaving Downtown Plaza to help make way for a proposed redevelopment of the mall.

"We have secured an alternate 621 Capitol Mall," Drake said. "A more formal announcement will be made once plans are finalized with respect to the...mall," he added.

As Bee columnist Bob Shallit reported last month, Downtown Plaza is to undergo an ambitious update next year. Plans call for a large guitar outside the mall's Hard Rock Cafe at 7th and K to be relocated, a new indoor/outdoor dining area above the Hard Rock, a Target store, and a 20-foot-tall LED screen around the building housing the Hard Rock.

The U.S. Bank Tower where Morton's is to move also is big on LED displays. The 25-story office building is topped by one, called "Lumetric River," while the structure's atrium includes a second, called "The Rapids."

Officials of Downtown Plaza and David S. Taylor Interests, which developed U.S. Bank Tower, didn't immediately return phone calls for comment.

July 7, 2008
Taste of Europe in Truckee

IMGP3240_edited.JPGBartholomew Gill, of course. I'd drawn a blank Friday night as I struggled to recall the name of one of my favorite writers of Irish crime novels. It only came back to me after we'd returned home and I scanned my collection of mysteries featuring Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr: "The Death of an Irish Tinker," "The Death of an Irish Sea Wolf" and "The Death of a Joyce Scholar," among others, all by the late Bartholomew Gill.

Now I've got to get word to Patrick Timothy Callaghan, the bartender who seemed so interested in Irish novelists. The subject came up as we sat in what has to be the smallest bar in Truckee, Callaghan's, tucked off to one side of the lobby of The Cedar House, a hotel we luckily stumbled across after learning that our reservation at another inn wasn't available after all.

That The Cedar House would have a vacancy on the Fourth of July has to be something of a miracle, but maybe that's because it only seems to cater largely to a winter-sports clientele. (The skis alongside the fireplace just inside the front door was my first clue.)

The Cedar House is a "sport hotel," drawing people just like us, dusty, sweaty and sore from hiking. But it's so classy we felt as if we should have checked into another hotel first just for a shower before walking into The Cedar House. With soaring timbers and steel bracing, The Cedar House is something of a post-modern Sierra lodge, inspired by inns of the European Alps, right down to sod with perennials blooming on the roof.

As attractively as it blends the rusticity of its generous use of wood, steel and concrete with the sophistication of its European furnishings, what's most appealing about the place is the unusual cordiality of its staff, from the clerk who avoided admonishing us for not having reservations and who graciously showed us a selection of rooms to the story spinning of Callaghan.

Though there's no restaurant on site, the owners, Jeff and Patty Baird, spread out a light but varied casual evening assortment of snacks - cheeses, guacamole, fruit, salami - which is but a preview of the generous continental breakfast they provide guests in the morning. Jeff Baird then steps behind the bar to proudly and happily prepare complimentary cappuccinos and lattes as guests debate between the wholesome oatmeal and the seductive pastries. Muffins, bagels, more fruit, smoked salmon and sliced tomatoes topped with wedges of avocado also help round out the selection.

Sacramentans already familiar with The Cedar House - this was our first visit - will be let down to learn that the resident border collie, Jake, died last week. A successor already is on the premises, however, the puppy Baxter. Guests also are welcome to bring their dogs.

For more information visit the hotel's Web site.

July 7, 2008
Our Own Discouraging Snowpack Report

IMGP3229.JPG Fourth of July, 2008

IMGP1450_edited.JPG Fourth of July, 2007

Thumbnail image for IMGP0217_edited.JPG Fourth of July, 2006

Gastronomically, we have nothing significant to report from our almost-annual trek on the Fourth of July to Fourth of July Lake in the Mokelumne Wilderness Area just south of Carson Pass, other than our growing conviction that beef jerky is the best protein to bring along. It's lightweight, it's concentrated and it just tastes so darn good at the end of the five-mile hike to the gem that is Fourth of July Lake. This year's spicy choice was the "steakhouse" variety put out by Pacific Gold, at once sturdy yet fresh and easily chewable.

This isn't Fourth of July Lake, incidentally, but Lake Winnemucca, about halfway on the trail to and from Fourth of July Lake. Two years ago, we crossed snowfield after snowfield on the way in and out. Not so last year, and this year we encountered even less snow, passing over just one very small patch. Whether this is a sign of climate change or just another indication that we are in the midst of a drought, I have no idea, but I'm hoping that next year we come across more snow than we've found these two years.

July 3, 2008
Northstar Getting a Moody's Spinoff

Skiers at the Village at Northstar on the north side of Lake Tahoe this winter may have a tough time getting to the slopes, and snowdepth has nothing to do with that forecast. Rather, the resort's developers keep adding new and tempting places for visitors to linger over drinks and food.

The latest addition to be announced is Baxter's Bistro & Lounge, being developed by Mark Estee and JJ Morgan, owners of perhaps the most popular and highly regarded restaurant in Truckee, Moody's Bistro & Lounge, an occasional hangout for Paul McCartney.

Also scheduled to open at Northstar in December is a branch of Chocolate Bar, a cafe and lounge with two locations in Reno.

Northstar already has nearly a dozen other restaurants and bars, including a branch of the Sacramento-based Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar.

July 2, 2008
Hot Wine Tips

Our Wednesday-morning reading brings us a couple of helpful tips for wine enthusiasts:

- When visiting wineries to taste and buy wines during summer heat spells, bring along an ice chest with frozen gel packs to keep the bottles at a cool temperature that will help preserve the wine's freshness and character during the jaunt, advises the July newsletter of Domaine de la Terre Rouge and Easton Wines in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley. That advice has been around for years, but the newsletter provides a newer tip: Wrap the gel packs with towels to keep moisture from damaging wine labels.

- Don't have a pen and notebook to record the name, vintage, varietal and so forth of a bottle of wine you just had at a dinner out? Don't fret. Just whip out your camera phone, snap a photo of the label and email it with your tasting notes to, where the data can be stored in your own electronic cellar. "The Web site knowingly recognizes email addresses and automatically submits photos in users' virtual wine diaries," notes an announcement of the new application in today's MarketWatch.

July 1, 2008
Japanese Name, American Steakhouse

These may not be the best economic times to open a restaurant, but Bill Taylor is pushing ahead with plans for his steakhouse Hibachi One Three in quarters long occupied by Fuji's at 13th and Broadway. Though he's run into more work than anticipated in remodeling the kitchen of the 6400-square-foot building, Taylor is hoping for a September or October debut.

He's hired his executive chef, Eric Stimson, and the two are working up a menu representative of a "casual neighborhood American steakhouse," says Taylor. Teriyaki steak is expected to be a signature dish, not so much in keeping with the building's previous incarnation as a Japanese restaurant but in tribute to a restaurant Taylor frequented when he was living in Manhattan Beach. That place also was named Hibachi, but without the "One Three," Taylor's sly way to avoid becoming too closely associated with the number 13.

"I think it will be a surprise to people - fresher and more open," says Taylor of his redesign of the place.

When he does open Hibachi One Three he will in one small way compete with himself. The restaurant will have burgers on the lunch menu, even though Taylor owns two Willie's Burgers, one just three blocks from his new place.

July 1, 2008
Frank Talk for the 4th

First, no beer on the rivers on the Fourth of July. Then, no fireworks. Now, reduced-fat hot dogs? That's what awaits guests at this year's Independence Day block parties if the hosts take the advice of the editors of AOL Food. The editors grilled and blind-tasted 50 brands of hot dog, narrowed the field to their favorite 20, and chose Hebrew National Reduced Fat Beef Franks as their No. 1 pick. The regular version of Hebrew National's beef franks didn't even rank in the top 20.

"Despite being a trimmed-fat version of their regular frank, our tasters didn't note a single shortfall," says Diedre Ayers of AOL Food. Tasters praised the reduced-fat frank with such comments as "best flavor yet," "fabuloso," "well balanced" and "full dog flavor." No condiments were added.

Runnerup was Nathan's Kosher Premium Beef Franks ("the ultimate expression of a Coney Island classic"). Ball Park Angus Beef Franks ("a most delectable weenie"), Nathan's Bigger Than the Bun Skinless Beef Franks ("It's so full-up on flavor it don't need no stinkin' epidermis") and Tony Packo's Hickory Smoked Authentic Hungarian Hot Dogs ("Fans of TV's M*A*S*H might remember Tony Packo's as Corporal Klinger's dream destination, and this snappy Toledo staple proves to be still in its prime") rounded out the top five. For a rundown on the results, including photos of the top 20, click here.

Incidentally, Hebrew National Reduced Fat Beef Franks each pack 120 calories, 10 grams of fat and 360 milligrams of sodium. Regular Hebrew National beef franks each weigh in with 150 calories, 14 grams of fat and 370 milligrams of sodium.

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