May 29, 2009
Festival offers tips for healthy, budget-friendly meals

fruit.jpgLooking for a healthy, inexpensive way to feed your family?

Find some answers Sunday at Fruit and Veggie Fest, sponsored by FoodMaxx and the Health Education Council.

The festival is part of a month-long effort to teach low-income families how to make healthy living a priority, said Lesley Miller, the council's spokeswoman.

"Basically, we'll share with shoppers educational and interactive activities so they can learn how to make healthy choices," she said.

The council is a non-profit organization focused on promoting health education.

The event will include dance performances, free health screenings, physical activity specialists and a "smoothie bike," where a rider will peddle a bicycle that powers an attached blender, resulting in cool, healthy drinks.

Store tours also will be given so families can learn tips on how to eat healthy on a budget.

The festival will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the FoodMaxx at 3860 Florin Rd., Sacramento.

May 27, 2009
Benefit for Craig "El Guero" Alires

Just got word that a benefit is taking place for the family of Craig Alires tonight at Azukar Lounge (1616 J St., Sacramento). Alires was a beloved local bartender known by the nickname "Guero," a tongue-in-cheek term for a light skinned person. Alires poured many a drink behind the bar at Tropicana nighclub and Azur, but his life was cut short on May 21. Alires was killed in a single-car accident on Jackson Rd. Alires was 37.

Donations will be accepted tonight at Azukar, with a fundraiser and gathering starting at 8 p.m. All proceeds from the door and bar will go toward Alires' family. Contributions can also be made to:

Craig Alires Memorial Fund at the Golden One Credit Union
c/o 9552 Dunkerrin Way
Elk Grove, CA 95758

May 27, 2009
Sipping and slices @ Hot Italian


Gotta love some sparkling wine around this time of the year, as the weather heats up and it's best to let those cabernet sauvignons go into hibernation until fall. The Italian sparking wine known as prosecco has always been a personal favorite, for either kicking off a meal or just sipping on a warm day. But not all proseccos are alike in ther food friendliness, with some versions tasting closer to carbonated pear juice than sparkling wine.

That's why I was so stoked to when I popped into Hot Italian (1627 16th St., Sacramento) last week and sampled their Ruggeri Prosecco. First off, the price was nice at just $8 a glass. But it was the taste that really struck me. This prosecco was on the dry side, but with a brightness and pronounced acidity that made it especially food friendly. Paired with a slice of Magnini (pizza topped with smoked salmon, mozzarella and mascarpone cheese), my taste buds were practically yelling, "Mangia!"

Overall, I liked the accessibility of Hot Italian's wine list. Full bottles can be had for $28-$48, or as little as $5 per glass. I tasted a few other wines, including a strawberry-ish barbera rose from Lodi's Uvaggio winery ($5), and a fairly straightforward white by Inama ($7). But one glass that really stood out was a barbera from Michele Chiarlo ($8). I've always been a fan of the light and peachy moscato d'asti by Michele Chiarlo, and their barbera was also a winner. This red wine, medium in weight and full of berry flavors, felt refreshing to the palate instead of bombarding it with ripe fruit and oak. My mouth felt primed for more pizza instead of fatigued.

Can't vouch for the rest of the food, but I did like Hot Italian's pizzas, especially the Fiori (includes tomato sauce, arugula, prosciutto parma and truffle oil). The pizzas are something like a California spin on traditional Neopolitan pizza. The thin, slightly blistered crust, plus the freshness of ingredients, was all Italian. But the portion of toppings was more generous and cheesy than usually found on traditional pizza. I'm definitely not a deep-dish sort of pizza guy, so this style suited me well. For those who like Masullo's pizzas (and yes, that would be me), but crave a little more heft with toppings, Hot Italian may be right for your palate. And seriously, don't forget that glass of the Ruggeri Prosecco.

May 21, 2009
Celebrity chef Waters stirs flury among some in Sacramento, but not all

Talk about an important dinner service.

Grange Restaurant and Bar had a special guest for dinner Wednesday night ï·“ the mother of California cuisine, Chez Panisse co-owner and chef Alice Waters.

Waters was among a party of about 20 people dining at the J Street restaurant and also stayed at the Citizen Hotel Wednesday night, said Sarah Essary, a spokeswoman for Grange.

Waters was in town for the premier of Food Inc., a documentary that explores the corporate-controlled food industry being shown at The Crest Wednesday night.

She also is in town to help plant and dedicate a vegetable garden at Capitol Park this morning alongside California first lady Maria Shriver and celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

Waters and her party dined around 6:45 p.m. and chose items from Wednesday's dinner menu.

Waters had the local farm lettuce salad with sun dried tomatoes, North Valley Farms' chevre and a fig balsamic vinaigrette.

She also dined on grilled Bledsoe Farm lamb rack chops with olive oil crushed potatoes, minted fava beans and pancetta and a tapenade.

Specific compliments to Grange Chef Michael Tuohy were not overheard, but "I know that they enjoyed themselves," Essary said.

One ingredient that was specially procured for Waters' visit, however, wound up not being served.

A Grange staffer was spotted at the farmer's market at Cesar Chavez plaza Wednesday afternoon purchasing several pounds of cherries.

The chef was overheard eagerly remarking to the vendor that "Alice Waters is going to eat these."

The vendor looked at the chef with a blank stare.

"Who's that?"

No word on what became of the cherries.

May 19, 2009
R.H. Phillips Winery to close

One of the Sacramento area's largest winemaking operations will soon cease production. R.H. Phillips Winery, the Esparto-based facility responsible for producing Toasted Head wines, will close Sept. 1.

But its wines aren't entirely going away. Production of Toasted Head and R.H. Phillips wines will continue at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, located near Lodi.

R.H. Phillips Winery is being shut down by its parent company, Constellation Brands, Inc.. The Victor, N.Y.-based company, which also owns the Robert Mondavi Corporation, is the world's largest wine company with annual sales of 95 million cases of wine.

R.H. Phillips Winery's 1,700 acres of vineyards, located in the Dunnigan Hills area of Yolo County, will remain under the ownership of Constellation Brands.

"(The closure) is part of an ongoing strategic initiative for efficiency," said Nora Feeley, a Constellation spokeswoman Nora Feeley. "We could produce the wines and keep the grapes, but produce them with no damage (to quality) to the wine at Woodbridge."

R.H. Phillips Winery was founded in 1983 by the husband-wife team of John and Lane Giguiere, along with John's brother Karl Giguiere. R.H. Phillips Winery went public in 1995 and the company was sold in 2000 to Vincor International Inc., Canada's largest wine company. Constellation Brands acquired Vincor in 2006.

R.H. Phillips is best known for its line of Toasted Head chardonnay, which is priced in the $10 range and sells more than half a million cases annually. R.H. Phillips' other wine brands, including Night Harvest, sell some 250,000 cases each year.

R.H. Phillips Winery currently employs 53 workers. It's not known if any employees will transfer to the winemaking operations at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi.

Meanwhile, Barry Bergman, head winemaker and general manager for Toasted Head, has meanwhile accepted a position with Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley.

Harvest operations at R.H. Phillips Winery are suspended as the transition to closure takes place.

"It's incredibly sad, not only for the employees but the local community," said Lane Giguiere. "It was nice having the largest wine company in the world here. It was a crown in our cap for Yolo County."

May 18, 2009
Evan's pulls the plug on vegetarian wine dinner

People often complain that the Sacramento restaurant scene plays it a little too safe, that too many menus look and sound too much alike.

So what happens when someone goes out on a limb and does something different, even daring? In the case of Evan's Kitchen, it's met with a thud. Last week, I reported here that the very fine restaurant in East Sacramento was making its monthly wine dinner an entirely vegetarian affair. But not enough people bit, according to an email I received from Evan Elsberry, the owner and chef.

Evan writes: It was a risk and we had only a few reservations, so we are canceling the June 1 Vegetarian Wine dinner. More people like Vegan, but I'm not going to offer that.

Judging from the menu and the price, it was going to be quite an evening. Too bad.

May 14, 2009
Local Italian wine, food festival cancelled

Looks like it's luci spente (lights out) for the Italian Cultural Society's Annual Wine and Food Festival in Carmichael this Sunday.

Presale tickets weren't going as well as anticipated so organizers decided to cancel the event, said Bill Cerruti, the society's executive director.

"We're getting a lot of last minute people and probably could have pulled it off, but we weren't sure," he said.

People who purchased advance tickets will have their money refunded.

The event typically attracts about 100 to 200 people and the society plans to hold the wine and food gathering next year, Cerutti said.

"We had good entertainment lined up," he said. "This has just been an uncertain year."

Italian culture lovers have no fear - the society still plans on holding its Summer Italian Festival August 1 and 2 at the Croation Community Center.

"It's all set to go," Cerutti said.

For ticket information about the summer festival, e-mail the society or call (916) 482-5900.

May 13, 2009
A wine dinner without meat?

I'm putting this in here because wine dinners are a popular feature at restaurants these days. But I haven't heard of a vegetarian wine dinner until now. I received the following notice from Evan' s Kitchen in East Sac. I admire his daring, since going meatless for such a big dinner is a risk.

Here's what Evan's sent me:

Evan's Kitchen Presents: I Can't Believe It's Meatless! Vegetarian Wine Dinner

Monday, June 1, 2009, 6 to 9 p.m.

First Course: Yellow Gazpacho and Ratatouille

Second Course: Tomato and Melon Salad with Tomato Sorbet and Basil Tempura

Third Course: Layered Grilled Tofu and Marinated Eggplant with Rice Noodles, Sea Beans, Crispy Ginger and Coconut Red Curry Emulsion

Fourth Course: Provencal Vegetables in Jicama ("Cannelloni") with Red Pepper Jus and Artichoke Sauté

Dessert: Almonds and Marjoram Mirliton with Citrus Fruits

Chef Evan will marry the wines to complement the varied flavors of the courses and dessert.

$59.95 per person. Reservations Required. Call 916-452-3896. Evan's Kitchen is located at 855 - 57th St, Sacramento CA, 95819, between H and J Sts. in the 57th Street Antique Row.


May 13, 2009
Tre to tweak its menu

Local foodies have an unlikely find in Tre restaurant on Howe Ave. This location was a longtime El Torito outlet - oh, the chain restaurant horror! - before being gutted and refurbished by the Haines brothers (Matt and Fred). Since opening six months ago as a nightclub and dining spot, Tre has won its share of accolades for a diverse and well-executioned menu that spans Italian, French and even Cajun cooking.

But come June 1, Tre is changing its menu. The restaurant will morph into a bar and grill with plenty of American comfort food. So why change the menu if it wasn't broken? Seems that Tre was getting two distinct crowds: those who showed up early for fine dining, and the later crowd that wanted to groove to the latest club bangers. And these crowds weren't overlapping the way Tre's managament hoped they would.

"People in the beginning would love our food, but they wouldn't come back for it," says Tre general manager Joseph Hechmi. "Our food was made for the more sophisticated diner, so we decided to go more mainstream but still contemporary. We want people in the club to feel comfortable as well. We're going toward ribs and chicken, but everything will be made from scratch."

May 12, 2009
A champion cocktail: "Paint it Black"

Midtown's Lounge on 20 recently held a cocktail competition featuring local mixologists. And after all the shaking and stirring, one bartender reigned supreme: Chris Tucker from L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen (and no relation to the guy avoiding a beat down by Deebo in "Friday"). Broker's London Dry Gin was the theme ingredient, and Tucker concocted a cocktail called "Paint It Black" that ranked tops with the judging panel. I'd been trying to get this recipe from Tucker since his win, and finally got it locked down. The recipe comes in three parts: one for the charged water, another for the tonic jelly and the final instructions of how to put it all together.

Here's what Tucker says about his champion cocktail, followed by the recipe. Bottom's up!

"My idea for the drink is basically just a playful turn on the ol' reliable - but often boring - gin and tonic. I love housemade tonics and particularly creating flavored tonics that complement the flavor profile for specific spirits. For gins like Brokers, Bombay Saphire and Plymouth, the flavors of blackberry, ginger and star anise work well. In jelly form, it allows the flavor of the tonic to slowly leach into the drink, so that as the ice melts and the drink dillutes down, the flavor of the drink remains true. This is aided by the natural stirring that occurs by people playing with their drinks."

Paint It Black

2 oz Brokers Gin
2 Tablespoons *Blackberry Ginger Star Anise Tonic Jelly
3 oz **Mint Blackberry charged water

Paint the inside of a 12 oz Collins glass with 1 tablespoon of jelly and fill glass with ice. In a mixing glass, combine gin with remaining tablespoon of jelly. Add ice and shake well. Double strain and pour over ice filled Collins glass. Top with mint blackberry charged water and garnish with lime zest.

*Blackberry Ginger Star Anise Tonic Jelly

15 oz Blackberries
1 cup sliced Ginger
5 Star Anise pods
½ cup boiling water
1 Tablespoon Citric Acid powder
1 Tablespoon Quinine powder(cinchona bark powder)

In a 6 qt sauce pot, combine blackberries, ginger and star anise and sweat over medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent scalding on the bottom. In a small pot, combine boiling water, citric acid and quinine. Whisk to break up clumps. Add to blackberry pot and continue stirring over medium heat. Once bubbling, add sugar and continue stirring until dissolved. Continue cooking over medium heat reducing fluid by 1/3 (30 min) stirring occasionally. Strain and pour into sterile preserve jars. Yields 16-20 oz

**Mint Blackberry Charged Water

1 cup Blackberries
1 small bunch of fresh Mint
36 oz fresh cold water

Combine in sauce pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Boil for 90 seconds. Strain and refrigerate. Once cold, add to soda siphon or seltzer charger and charge. Keep cold.

May 8, 2009
More deals for those on bikes

Not only do cyclists save on gas, they're saving when they eat and drink. After I mentioned the upcoming free-pizza deal at Hot Italian, I heard from Erik Johnson, public information coordinator for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, better known as SACOG.

This being national "Bike Month," here are some other deals Erik knows about (for those not familiar with small-batch, boutique beers, PBR is short for Pabst Blue Ribbon! Better than Gatorade):

*Morgan's Bar & Grill, Bike Night, Sundays 6-11 pm, $1 PBR/$5 PBR Pitchers if you ride your bicycle.

*Nolan's Hilltop Tavern, $1 off every draft beer for everyone on a bicycle in May.

* Lucca Restaurant & Bar, Complimentary dessert with purchase of an entrée for anyone who rides his or her bike to the restaurant in May.

*Riverside Clubhouse, Bike Night, Every Wednesday, 5-8pm, if you ride your bike to Riverside Clubhouse, $1.00 tacos & $2.00 beers.

*Chipotle (Midtown), free burrito for everyone on a bike on Sunday, May 17, from noon to 4 p.m. They'll also have "best of" contests, raffle prizes, and more.

May 8, 2009
Governor, celebrity chef prod parents to start cooking

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is urging California parents to get into their kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.

The father of four declared the second Saturday in May "Cook With Your Kids Day" and issued a proclamation urging parents to spend time cooking with their children.

Food Network celebrity chef and local
restaurateur Guy Fieri also was presented with a resolution that recognized him as an advocate for families cooking together and healthy meals during an event at the State Capitol this week, according to a news release.

Today, Fieri is hosting a kids' sushi class for 40 children at his Tex Wasabi's restaurant on Arden Way. Half of the participants will be from the UC Davis Children's Hospital. Fieri has five restaurants in Northern California.

In a recent interview with The Bee, Fieri said parents need to teach children critical lessons, such as how to cook and how to eat in moderation.

"We need to educate our kids about food," he said.

Fieri, who has four children, practices what he preaches.

"One of the things I do with my son is he has to make the lunch," Fieri said, adding that his son gets to buy the school lunch once a week.

Aside from a cooking and food choice lesson, it also cuts down on wasted food, Fieri said.

Want some ideas for easy cooking lessons with children?

Here are quick, healthy ideas that this Bee reporter came up with:

• Stick it to 'em - Children love food on sticks (hang on, so to adults!). Grab some skewers and make fruit kebabs. Strawberries, grapes and pineapple chunks work great.

• Say (macaroni and) cheese - Shove aside the blue box and try the do-it-yourself version. All you need are some noodles, cheese and a little milk and butter. The beauty of forgoing the box version is you can control the quality of the ingredients and take simple steps to cut down on calories.

• Breakfast for dinner - Pancakes seem to be a hit with kids whatever time of day you serve them. Pack an extra nutritional punch by sprinkling in some flax seed or stirring in some fresh or frozen fruit. Want a parent-of-the-year award? Pour the batter in the shape of a certain mouse's head or in the shape of a heart.

Go to the Food Network for more kid-friendly recipe ideas.

May 8, 2009
Food and mail a perfect pairing Saturday

The U.S. Postal Service's letter carriers will be carting more than just the mail during an annual food drive Saturday.
The National Association of Letter Carriers and the Postal Service are holding the Stamp Out Hunger food drive to help hungry families in communities across the nation, according to information on the food drive's Web site.
Residents can place non-perishable food items in bags by their mailbox Saturday before their mail arrives and letter carriers will pick them up and take them to local food banks.
The event is the largest single-day food drive in the country. Last year, carriers delivered more than 73 million pounds of donated food, the Web site states.
Residents are asked not to donate expired items or food in glass containers.

May 7, 2009
California Pizza Kitchen opening soon

There's a lot of talk about pizza in Sacramento these days. Downtown foodies have been keeping an eye on the renovation of the old Firestone building taking shape at the corner of 16th and L streets. Though opinion will be mixed about whether we should be thrilled that a chain will be anchoring one of the most visible and attractive rooms in the city, there is little doubt that this corner is already a happening place.

In recent days, there has been a flurry of activity inside California Pizza Kitchen, much of it from folks donning chefs coats. We just received a notice in the mail that there will be a grand opening preview on Sunday, May 17 from 5-7:30 p.m. The event is invitation only.

I haven't had a pizza from one of these places in several years. If I recall, it was pretty good. How will this place do against some of the big guns in town? Hard to say. But chains seem to do well here. Just look at the nearby Old Spaghetti Factory, where it is common to see people lined up to get in.

Speaking of pizza, I recently spoke with Rick Mahan at Waterboy, and he told me his pizza venture in East Sac called One Speed is slated to open May 22 on Folsom Boulevard. That will be exciting for the neighborhood and, if the pizza is anything like the food he cooks at Waterboy, exciting for pizza lovers all over.

May 7, 2009
Best deal in town? $10 for lunch at Spataro

As everyone knows, the competition for the Sacramento dining dollar is tougher than ever. There are more and more good restaurants, and with the retrenching economy, the dollars are only going so far.

Enter the lunchtime price war. The winner so far? It would be tough to beat Spataro. I recently stopped in for lunch with Ryan Lillis, The Bee's city hall reporter par excellence and occasional morning golf buddy. Ryan also happens to be a discerning food guy.

While I ordered a very nice thin-crust Neapolitan pizza with prosciutto, Ryan went with the special, which changes daily. On this day, it was chicken parmesan. We agreed it was an incredible deal. The chicken breast was very large and perfectly cooked, the sauce full of flavor. Then there were extra-smooth mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.

What's more, Ryan had a good-sized Romaine lettuce salad and vegetable soup included. He couldn't finish the chicken and barely was able to nibble on the salad, so I chipped in and helped.

All this in an upscale, elegant dining room overlooking Capitol Park. We'll be looking for other deals in the days ahead, but as we walked outside and headed back to work, Ryan and I agreed that Spataro's entry into the lunchtime price war is going to be tough to beat.

By the way, my pizza, with that thin, charred crust that is crispy on the outside and slightly chewy inside, was very good. We're also getting ready for an indepth assessment of Sacramento's newfound reputation as a pizza town and search for who is making the best pies. This pizza will be a contender.

May 7, 2009
Ride (Italian) bike, eat free pizza

I can't think of another local business that is more supportive of the whole "May is Bike Month" than Hot Italian.

"Biking, walking or any two-wheel transportation fits into our 'new urbanist' principals at Hot Italian," Andrea Lepore, one of the restaurant's owners, told me.

First, the restaurant opened in haste before construction was complete so it could cater to fans attending the Amgen Tour of California in February.

When the building renovation is finally complete, it is expected to be Sacramento's first LEED certified green restaurant. Part of being green is forgoing the car on occasion for something more environmentally friendly. For pancake-flat Sacramento, the bike is a good bet.

Now the stylish new restaurant wants to see its designer bike racks filled, so it's giving away pizza on "Ride to Work Day" May 14 (Thursday). The one catch -- the bikes have to be Italian, the country with the rich cycling culture and where, any day now, the three-week Giro d'Italia stage race will start, featuring Lance Armstrong, Santa Rosa's Levi Leipheimer and sometime Sacramentan Chris Horner.

As the owner of more than one Italian bike, I'm a fan of this promotion, but I promise not to butt in on the free pizza.

Lepore says there will be 32 free pizzas for lunch (from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and 32 for dinner (5-8 p.m.). That 's how many bikes fit in those racks at the corner of 16th and Q streets.

May 4, 2009
An excuse to scarf down this Cinco de Mayo

The Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 was a noble fight, with the Mexicans defeating the French - and in less than a year would boot them out of Mexico City. And what better way to celebrate this moment of Mexican pride than ... uhm ... seeing if you can eat a five pound burrito in less than 30 minutes. That's right, Cinco de Mayo isn't just for tequila drinking contests while dusting off that Santana CD. Taco Del Mar outlets in the Sacramento area are hosting a burrito challenge on Cinco de Mayo. Eat a five pound burrito in a half hour or less, and you'll score a $20 gift certificate from Taco Del Mar. This gut bomb is the equivalent of four-and-a-half Mondo Burritos, each packed with rice, beans, meat, sauces and jalapenos wrapped snug in four flour tortillas. If you don't finish this five pounder in the allotted time, it'll cost you $17.95 - and after clobbering your digestive tract, hopefully you've saved a little extra cash for Imodium. But hey, if you're up for the challenge, here's a list of local Taco Del Mar outlets. Viva Cinco de Mayo!

- 1120 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento
- Missouri Flat Village: 3967 Missouri Flat Rd., Placerville
- Sterling Point Shopping Center: 885 S. State Highway 65, Lincoln
- Village Square: 3941 Park Dr., El Dorado Hills

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