October 30, 2009
Enotria Cafe and Wine Bar to expand

Seems like most of the local restaurant news these days covers financial woes or a place simply shutting down. But that's not true of Enotria Cafe and Wine Bar, situated near the corner of Del Paso Blvd. and Arden Way.

Groundbreaking is expected to begin in November for a remodeling and expansion project that will double Enotria's capacity to about 300 customers. Enotria currently has a small building that's set apart from its main restaurant, but plans are for that room to be connected to the main restaurant and serve as a new wine bar and retail shop. The restaurant's patio will also be extended to better accommodate weddings and other large events. Plans call for a private changing rooms to be used by would-be brides.

The restaurant is expected to remain open during the first phase of construction, which will focus on creating the new wine bar. The second phase, to include the restaurant remodel and expansion, will begin once the new wine bar is up and running.

When will Enotria 2.0 be ready for customers?

"That's the million dollar question," says Chad Seaburg, Enotria's wine director. "We would love for the wine bar to be open by Valentine's Day. It'll be a little more posh, a little louder. Hopefully we'll create a lot of buzz around town."

October 29, 2009
From tiny Winters to the Big Apple, Buckhorn is going big time

Here's a scoop from the Winters Express, the weekly newspaper in the charming town of Winters. Buckhorn Grill, the revered steakhouse there, is franchising its operation; not only that, its first franchise location will be in New York City. What's more, the restaurant will be at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, a very high-profile address to say the least.

Buckhorn already has non-franchise locations in San Francisco (3), Walnut Creek, Emeryville and Sacramento (L Street and 18th). But if you want the true experience, you really need to head to Winters.

October 28, 2009
Hawks Restaurant to remain despite landlord's troubles

Corrected to include Quarry Ponds Cafe as a current tenant, not Toast

Molly Hawks says she isn't worried about her namesake restaurant flying the coop. A notice of default, the first step in the foreclosure process, was filed recently against Quarry Ponds LLC, owners of the Granite Bay shopping center which houses Hawks Restaurant.

Quarry Ponds also includes such eateries as Pizza Antica, Quarry Ponds Cafe and a Peet's Coffee as tenants.

Molly Hawks, however, plans for business to continue as usual while her landlord's financial matters are settled. And that's good news for local foodies who've come to enjoy Hawks Restaurant for its seasonal American cuisine and thoughtful wine list.

"We're just looking forward and hoping that any changes are for the best," says Hawks, who owns the restaurant with husband Michael Fagnoni. "It's been a rough year for us personally, but things are looking great for the holiday season. We're hoping that if there's a reorganization that it's an opportunity to bring in some new tenants and revitalize the center."

According to, Quarry Ponds LLC is delinquent on $1,562,508 from a 2007 loan for $19.2 million.

Quarry Ponds opened in 2007 as a five-acre retail development modeled after European-style shopping centers. Hawks Restaurant has been a tenant from the start, known for its impeccable food presentation and emphasis on regionally sourced ingredients.

Yet these are tough times for independently owned restaurants, not to mention local shopping centers in general. According to research from Colliers International, the retail vacancy rate for Roseville/Rocklin shopping centers hovers at 13.6 percent - up from 13.2 percent in 2009's first financial quarter.

But for now, Molly Hawks plans to keep the meals coming.

"As far as we're concerned, we have too much invested to go anywhere," she says. "But we still need everyone to support us on a regular basis. Please think about local family businesses."

October 27, 2009
1959, it was a very good year


Michael La Tondre of Fair Oaks assembled the tasting of a lifetime. On Saturday night at San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton hotel, La Tondre gathered a dozen friends - both wine aficionados and casual drinkers alike - and tasted through 14 bottles. But these weren't just any bottles. La Tondre supplied 14 bottles of French wine from 1959, or more commonly known as "the vintage of the century." And what better way to celebrate this golden anniversary than uncorking some of 1959's superstars, and pairing them with a menu by chef Ron Siegel?

We applaud La Tondre for generously sharing these wines with friends, not just treating them like cellar trophies. Also note that La Tondre is chairing the Make A Wish "Winter Wine and Food Festival" on Jan. 30. We'll keep you posted for more details on that event.

But now, sit back, relax and try not to drool. Here are La Tondre's complete tasting notes from Saturday night.

First Flight, no food

1959 Ruinart, Rose Champagne, 88 pts
This 50 year old sparkling had a copper, ice tea color with just a few bubbles lifting from the glass. The nose had crème caramel as well as iced coffee, mocha. The bouquet was complex, but the slow march of oxidation had created a Madiera nose. In the mouth, the acid was still zesty with a toasted walnut, nutty finish. The extremely fine sediment was dark brown as opposed the bread dough, yeast particles from a young Champagne. The finish on this champagne was tremendous lasting for over 40 seconds. The Ruinart Rose is unusual in that it does not achieve its rose color by extended contact with pinot noir berries, instead the Ruinart House adds fermented pinot noir wine to make this special Champagne. Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house, founded in 1729, but today is a jewel within the Louis Vuitton Moet & Hennessy luxury empire.

1959 Chateau du Suronde, Quarts de Chaume, 97 pts
First impression is an awesome, golden color with great apricot and orange in the nose. This wine had tremendous texture in the mouth as the botrytis noble rot lifted the lowly chenin blanc grape to a rich, mouth coating elixir that was totally full in the palate. In the glass it developed spice, nutmeg and candied orange peel in the bouquet. Several people regarded this as the wine of the night (WOTN) and no one had ever had a chenin blanc this delicious. The Loire region, two hours southwest of Paris, is not as famous as other regions of France, but the famous Christies Wine Auctioneer, Michael Broadbent, gave this vintage of Loire 5 Stars out of a possible 5 Stars. The yields are miniscule as 5 grape vines are needed to make one bottle of wine.

1959 Leroy, Meursault, 93 pts
If you were to try a 50 year old Chardonnay from California, it would be cooked, oxidized and way past its prime. The white wines of burgundy established chardonnay as one of the great wines of the world and Maison Leroy enjoys a reputation for making some of the longest lived wines from Burgundy. This wine had a bright yellow gold color redolent of an 8 year old chardonnay, yet the nose was significantly more complex. The acid and alcohol were in perfect balance with the refined breed and minerality of a Premiere Cru Meursault. Coffee and smoke aromas with a flinty mineral taste that persisted for 30 seconds. Meyer lemon and grilled honeydew melon.

1959 Chapoutier, Monier de la Sizeranne, 89+ pts
This Rhone from Hermitage has a long tradition of excellent wines but in the past 20 years with biodynamic farming it has climbed to one of the top three Syrah producers in France. This had Cuban cigar in the nose with bacon and smoke. The color was red with amber edges showing it was a wine of age. It had a medium mouth feel and the finish was only 20 seconds. The wine was in excellent condition but not a super star.

1959 Jaboulet, La Chapelle, 98 pts
Absolutely well preserved with a medium brick to dark red color. Tremendous nose that knocked me out. Grilled meats, great tobacco, leather. With new scents lifting each time you returned to the glass. Tremendous mouth coating wine with a full 40 second finish that has perfect balance among the acid, tannin and alcohol. This wine is not a candidate for AARP. It does not look 50 years old, it does not taste 50 years old. The balance and finesse are feminine while the nose and taste are masculine. Great complexity made this WOTN for some participants.

1959 Gruaud Larose, 93 pts
This second growth from St-Julien was the first Cabernet Sauvignon of the tasting. It was an opaque, dark red. It had coffee and mocha with mushroom. It had reached its plateau but still quite enjoyable. It was the densest, most viscous dry wine of the flight, but lacked the complexity of the La Chapelle.

Second Flight, served in stages with the menu

1959 Dom Perignon, Brut Champagne, 91 pts
The first luxury cuvee of Champagne was the 1921 Dom Perignon. So, if you are offered an older version of DP, you know it will be a fake. The 1959 DP was the real McCoy with Mick Jagger brown sugar in the nose and plenty of toasted brioche. This was not as oxidized as the Ruinart sparkling rose. The acid went well with the geoduck clam amuse bouche as well as the fatty Toro sashimi with golden osetra cavier. The DP had a great copper color and, after 50 years you could not tell any color difference from the white DP and the rose Ruinart. The finish was moderate 20 seconds.

1959 Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes, 100 pts
Brilliant amber color with gold highlights. This was gorgeous, maple syrup. You could pour this Yquem on pancakes. But, it went fantastic with the Lobster and Veal cheeks. Many people prefer dessert wine with dessert. The sweetness of a dessert wine, if it has enough acid, can work wonderfully with savory food as well. Last decade Ron Siegel defeated Iron Chef Sakai in Tokyo and the theme ingredient was Lobster. Once again Chef Siegel executed a fabulous pairing. The veal-lobster reduction sauce matched the amber color of the Yquem yet one was salty and the other was sweet. This was WOTN for me as well as five other tasters. '59 Yquem will please wine aficionados even when it is over 100 years old.

1959 Comte de Vogüé, Musigny, Vieilles Vignes (Old Vines), 96 pts
Many Francophiles are smitten with red burgundies even though only a few home runs are scattered among a sea of bunts and grounders. In the rarefied air of the wine snob's wine snob you have Comte de Vogüé, Musigny, Vieilles Vignes. One of the all time great plots of land in burgundy is the Grand Cru vineyard called Musigny and the Domaine Comte de Vogüé traces family ownership over 550 years through 20 generations. 1959 was one of the truly great Red Burgundy vintages. The wine in the glass was dark red with hints of translucent brick. Initially a little barnyard in the nose but evolved into warm spice and raisins, it smelled like a Thanksgiving kitchen. Sandalwood and candied cherries as well. This was a great pinot with a medium mouth feel but great length of finish. Every time I tried it, it had a different nose, this baby was moving. Thinner viscosity in the body lost a couple of points. This old vines burgundy was paired with grilled small quail. And quail, Ron Siegel style, meant 4 legs for each dish. After the quail, retasting the Musigny VV gave off cola notes as well as coffee and pomegranate. Another fantastic food and wine pairing.

1959 La Mission Haut Brion, 99+ pts
The first Bordeaux with food. Absolute dark purple, that was opaque and inky. Gorgeous nose with cedar, lead pencil, and sweet pipe tobacco. This wine had huge flavors and stained the palate and teeth with fantastic flavors that persisted for 60 seconds. The wine was in extraordinary condition and probably would be delicious another 50 years from now. La Mission is a 2nd Growth but tonight it was my dry wine of the night. Several people also picked it as their WOTN. This wine went excellent with the lamb chop, chanterelles and potato gnocchi.

1959 Haut Brion, 99 pts
It was great to compare the Haut Brion 1st Growth with its geographical neighbor the La Mission Haut Brion 2nd Growth. They seemed to be brothers from the same family with the 1959 Haut Brion a little tougher, rustic, with more leather and a hint of truffles. It had similar cedar and lead pencil but it did not coat the mouth as intense as the LMHB. The Haut Brion had nearly the same length of finish. Historically, this is regarded as one of the all time great Bordeaux and five people voted it their WOTN.

1959 Margaux, 94 pts
This is a wine that had depth and good color, but it was a little more raisiny than the HB or LMHB. It also had a little petrol in the nose. It had a medium palate and medium finish.

1959 Lafite, 95 pts
To have some fun, this wine was served blind. Someone guessed that it was 1961 Haut Brion. Huge, motor oil, 10W40, somewhat oxidized. Some regard 1959 Lafite as the greatest wine of 1959, but this bottle was not as good a condition. Great purple color, explosive aromatics, figgy, dry, port like in texture. Two people chose it as WOTN.

1959 Latour, 98- pts
After dinner, and after dessert, a surprise wine was brought out. This wine had the characteristic power of many classic Latours with great nose and youthful flavors. Lead pencil, graphite, with blueberry compote this had excellent complexity. The finish was 30 seconds so it was not quite in the same league as the Haut Brion or LMHB but still a delicious wine. Three people chose it as WOTN. A great wine to finish the night.

October 27, 2009
Maternity watch

The newest member of the Selland restaurant family is due for arrival. Gina Funk Nelson, who manages the Kitchen, is expecting to deliver a boy just about any time now. She's married to Josh Nelson, the stepson of restaurateur Randall Selland, who manages Ella Dining Room and Bar. That's the downtown restaurant named after Selland's granddaughter.

So with the Nelson's boy on the way, could this be the inspiration to launch a new restaurant?

"Randall says we have to pick a name that's a good restaurant name," says Gina.

Meanwhile, the Kitchen has a new manager with Nelson on maternity leave. She's been replaced by Jennifer Watson, a former server at Ella who went on to manage restaurants in New Mexico include a farm-to-table favorite called The Love Apple.

"We really liked her at Ella and she has the perfect touch and warmth for the Kitchen," says Gina. "We snatched her up because of her professionalism, and the passion for food, wine, and hospitality that we value at the Kitchen. The crew and the guests really like her."

Gina doesn't plan on returning to manage the Kitchen, but will instead focus on public relations and marketing for the Selland family of restaurants while raising her baby. Husband Josh plans to take two weeks off when the baby's born, and then it's back to Ella.


Over at L Wine Lounge and Urban Kitchen, chef Ame Harrington is back to cooking and creating menus following the birth of her daughter in June. On the day before giving birth to daughter Talulla, chef Ame had put in a hectic shift that included an offsite catering job and some work at the L. She left the restaurant around 10 p.m., and ended up delivering baby Tallula at home about three hours later. Producers of "Baby Story," are you listening?

Look for chef Ame's newest menu to reflect the fall harvest, with such items as bavette steak with heirloom squash and a pan seared pork chop with cranberry beans. We imagine Tallula won't be eating too much Gerber.

October 23, 2009
On Nov. 5, food means funds for a premier dog rescue group

Speaking of charitable causes, my favorite charity in town is trying to raise some more money in a food-related event, and I certainly support anything that Homeward Bound Golden Retriever rescue is doing.

On Nov. 5 from 5-10 p.m., Chevy's on the River, 1369 Garden Highway (near I-5) will donate 25 percent of the proceeds from your food bill to Homeward Bound. All you have to do is print out a flyer and present it to your server so this great dog rescue group gets credit. The flyer is available here.

About four years ago, I adopted a disabled golden retriever from Homeward Bound after my incredible 11-year-old golden retriever and best friend, Henry, died of bone cancer. I didn't want to replace Henry - I wanted to honor him by helping another dog. Now we have a goofy, sweet, wobbly coffee-table of a dog named Macy, along with two mixed breed dogs.

Homeward Bound, in my estimation, must be considered one of the greatest dog rescue groups in the nation. It takes in and adopts out goldens, mixes and, through the years, just about any ol' dog that needs help. It's run by Jim and Jody Jones, a team of volunteers, and relies on money raised through donations. The primary fund-raiser is the annual Kibbles & Bids gala, which I attended a few weeks ago and noticed several local restaurants were there serving food, including Lucca, Bandera, Zinfandel Grille, Chevy's, Dos Coyotes, and Andy Nguyen. The event has become a must-attend shin-dig on the social calendar.

October 23, 2009
Ettore's has a cookie devoted to breast cancer cause

I had a friendly chat this morning with Ettore Ravazzolo of Ettore's European Bakery & Restaurant at 2376 Fair Oaks Blvd.

I could talk all day about his superb Black Forest cake, carrot cake or Kahlua cake, but this time we focused on giving back.

It's certainly appropriate for a successful business to find ways to thank the community and inspire others to give as well. Along the way, we can have a little fun, raise a little money and, well, devour a few thousand calories.

Ettore told me about the origin of the bakery's new pink fondant cookie devoted to breast cancer awareness and research. The extra large cookie sells for $4.50, $2.00 of which goes to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

"I have a longtime friend who developed breast cancer a few years ago and she became very involved in the breast cancer cause," Ettore told me. "Every year, she does a fundraiser. Two years ago, I helped her do a spaghetti dinner and last year I supplied the pastries for a car wash.

This year, Ettore announced he wanted to come up with something that would make a difference - something permanent. So he developed a cookie, using a standard butter dough and applying pink fondant on top.

The idea is to sell the cookies in a decorative pink box, but the box has yet to be designed. Still, the cookies are already being made and Ettore figured he should sell them. For now, they're in a bag with a pink ribbon.

Ettore is no stranger to pairing his popular desserts with good causes. He started a fundraiser called Ettore's Coffee Break. Last year, the one-day event raised about $7,000 for Wellspring Women's Center, a non-profit based in Oak Park devoted to assisting and encouraging low-income women and their children.

Next year's fundraiser in February will be for the Youth Development Network.

Best of luck with the cookies and the causes.

October 21, 2009
Hidden Kitchen comes back - kind of

The secret wasn't so well-kept for local foodies: book a dinner at the Hidden Kitchen for a particularly unique and personable gastronomical event. For over three years, Dennis and Mary Kercher ran an underground restaurant of sorts in their Land Park home. That was until a neighbor ratted out the Kercher's - rumor has it the snitch was a local restaurateur - and the health department came calling. The Hidden Kitchen was history in April.

But you can now have Dennis Kercher's acclaimed cooking in a setting where all the proper permits are secured. Come check out his cooking classes and demonstration dinners at Whole Foods Market (4315 Arden Way, Sacramento). Look for Kercher to host a hands-on pasta making class on Nov. 22 and more culinary workshops to come. Daughter Marina Kercher, a pastry chef, runs the cooking center at this Whole Foods location.

"It was great while it lasted," said Dennis Kercher, about the Hidden Kitchen's run. "Cooking was never my full-time job. I just did it out of a love for food and wine. The next thing for us is these cooking classes and demo dinners at Whole Foods. We've got a great room in the corner of the grocery store, and it's like Disneyland for foodies."

For more information and to register for classes: Marina Kercher, culinary center coordinator, 916 488-2800 x261;

October 21, 2009
Zagat Survey finds diners spending less but getting better deals

Zagat Survey, the company that publishes grassroots restaurant guides, just sent us the results of a dining survey that may answer a few questions we all have about how restaurants are doing in this down economy.

The survey is based on 145,000 local restaurant-goers in 45 U.S. markets. If you look at No. 5, you'll see why I often emphasize service in my restaurant reviews. Here's what we received from Zagat:

1) On the downside, due to the weak economy, 43% of people are eating out less; 41% are more price-conscious when reading menus; 36% are going to less expensive places; and 19% are cutting back on alcohol and 22% are skipping appetizers and/or dessert.

2) On the upside, 54% of diners report getting better deals; 40% feel their patronage is more appreciated; 31% enjoy easier access to top restaurants; and 20% say they are eating healthier, perhaps due to all those drinks and desserts they're skipping.

3) Over the past five years, the percent of lunches and dinners "eaten out or taken out" has declined markedly - from 53% to 48%; this is consistent with the fact that 44% of surveyors say that they're cooking at home more.

4) Only 26% report their dining habits being unaffected by the economy.

5) Service continues to be the main complaint of 68% of diners (with crowding, noise, prices, poor food, and traffic/parking cumulatively representing only 30% of complaints), however, surveyors report by a 22% to 6% margin, that service has improved of late.

6) Fortunately for staffers, tipping increased from 19% to 19.1% this year.

7) Prices showed an annual inflation of 3.96% since 2000; this year that dropped to 1.20%; among the most expensive restaurants, annual inflation had been 5.25% that dropped to 0.49% in 2008/9.

8) Use of the internet to reserve has jumped from 8% to 20% in just a few years.

9) As for taste preferences, Italian food with a 27% plurality beats out even American food at 16%; French and Japanese both at 11% and Mexican at 10% follow.

10) Forty percent of surveyors say they're more likely to dine at a top chef's restaurant.

11) When it comes to issues of health and greening, 69% consider it important to have low-carb, low fat, heart healthy menu items available at restaurants; 65% think trans fats should be banned; and 61% are willing to pay more for food that is "green" (i.e. locally grown, sustainably raised, or organic).

October 21, 2009
More recipes to please pint-size palates

As promised in today's Food & Wine (ahem, Juice) section, here are some more recipes that have proven successful at area preschools and day cares. The Health Education Council also sent us a recipe for pumpkin soup that sounds perfect for a spooky supper this Halloween.

Stevie's Speedy Enchilada Sauce
Cook time: 22 minutes
Serves: 8
Notes: This recipe is courtesy Chef Steve Magana of Sacramento Montessori School.

1/3 cup corn oil
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons chili powder
One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Sea salt to taste

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in flour and chili powder and cook until lightly brown, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Stir in tomato sauce, water, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder into the flour until smooth, and continue cooking over medium heat approximately 12 minutes, until thick. Season to taste with salt.

Eating Suggestion:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a good amount of sauce in a casserole pan and roll some mozzarella cheese in a few corn tortillas and place in a casserole pan. Add more sauce over and top with cheese. Cover with foil and bake 15 minutes.
Per serving, sauce only: 102 cal.; 1 g pro.; 5 g carb.; 9 g fat (1 sat., 2 monounsat., 6 polyunsat.); 0 mg chol.; 94 mg sod.; 1 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 79 percent calories from fat.

To get more recipes, follow the link below.

October 20, 2009
Sake House coming to Roseville

Look for a veritable house of sushi and sake coming to Roseville in mid-December. Sake House, located in the Fountains shopping center, marks a new project for local restaurateur Randy Paragary and nightclub maven Bob Simpson. The two are already behind such downtown spots as Empire and K St.'s Cosmo Cafe/Social nightclub.

Chef Billy Ngo, co-owner of Kru and the upcoming Red Lotus, is consulting on the menu. Expect some of Ngo's fondness for Japanese-inspired small plates along with such traditional fare as sushi, teriyaki and tempura. Ngo will also assemble a lengthy sake menu, true to the restaurant's name. Sake House will include DJ dancing on its menu of offerings.

Sake House marks Paragary's second entry into Roseville's restaurant scene. He currently co-owns Mas Mexican restaurant, located on Eureka Rd., with Zocalo proprietors Ernesto Jimenez and Jim Johnson.

October 20, 2009
Does your Thanksgiving feast forego the famed fowl?

turkey2.jpgLet's talk turkey. Well, sort of.

While much of the nation's culinary attention will be tuned to turkey in coming weeks, there are households that (take a deep breath) don't eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

We know you're out there and we want to talk to you for a story.

Do you cook another poultry in its place? Celebrate with prime rib, rack of lamb, manicotti? Have you always wanted to try a Thanksgiving feast sans turkey but too scared of the anticipated backlash?

Whatever your harvest table holds, we'd love to hear about it. The story will be published in our Food & Wine section in mid-November.

To participate or learn more, please e-mail Bee food writer Niesha Lofing.

October 20, 2009
New Michelin Guide published for Bay Area and Wine Country

With much fanfare, including personal calls to chefs awarded a coveted star, the Michelin Guide for the Bay Area and Wine Country announced the launch of its fourth edition Monday. The $17.99 annual guide goes on sale today.

39 restaurants were awarded stars for the 2010 guide, up from 32 last year. There were two high-profile demotions from the select list of two-star eateries - Aqua lost both of its stars and Michael Mina was demoted to one star.

Michelin is by far the most influential guide in the world. Shifts in its ratings are closely watched - and hotly debated - within the restaurant industry and by dining aficionados.

Falling out of favor with Michelin can be costly. The loss of a star, for instance, is said to translate to a loss of up to 25 percent of a restaurant's business.

The French Laundry won't have to worry. Super chef Thomas Keller's $240-per-person (before the wine) prix fixe restaurant in Yountville remains the only Bay Area/Wine Country establishment to receive the highest rating of three stars. Such a rating means it is considered one of the finest restaurants in the world.

Keller's more casual bistro, Bouchon, also in Yountville, earned one star. His New York restaurant, Per Se, also received three stars.

Chez Panisse, Alice Waters' much-admired restaurant in Berkeley, earned one star, the same as it did in 2009. That rating is also controversial, as some critics consider it to be among the best restaurants in the area and, more so, a longtime leader in the farm-to-table movement that now seems commonplace throughout America.

How did Sacramento fair? Who? Where? Huh? The state's capital isn't even on Michelin's radar, at least not yet. The Bay Area guide has expanded its territory, but the "famously anonymous" inspectors who taste and tally throughout the year have yet to make the trip to Sacramento to size up the city's best restaurants.

In Wednesday's Bee, we will take a look at why Michelin doesn't rate the food in Sacramento, the impact it would have on the city if it did, and which restaurants just might hold up to the scrutiny.

That day of reckoning may come. Michelin is looking to expand its reach, and Sacramento's dining scene has evolved considerably in recent years.

Possible local contenders for a Michelin star? The Kitchen Restaurant, Grange, Kru, Firehouse, Ella, Slocum House, Waterboy, Biba, Hawks, Ambience, Carpe Vino in Auburn and Taste in Plymouth. Your list may be different.

It may surprise some readers to learn that the Michelin stars are awarded solely for the food - the quality of ingredients and how the food is prepared. As Jean-Luc Naret, the worldwide director of the Michelin Guide, told me Monday, "the personality of the chef on the plate, not on TV or in the books."

Though service, ambience and other factors are considered in most ratings - and they're noted in the Michelin Guide - they do not have any bearing on the stars.

With a nod to the worldwide recession, Michelin has also expanded its emphasis on value. It has a separate category called "Bib Gourmand," or an "inspector's favorites for good value." To qualify in this category, a restaurant must offer two courses of superb food with wine or dessert for $40 or less. Another category lists fine meals for under $25.

During a long lunch at The Slanted Door, a popular Vietnamese restaurant in the Ferry Building with a view of the Bay Bridge, Naret provided some details into the secretive Michelin rating system that holds so much sway over the restaurant industry in 23 countries. Turns out, the job of Michelin inspector is not as glamorous as it may seem.

In the United States, Michelin has a staff of 10 inspectors. They remain anonymous and their dinners are strictly business, meaning they do not include friends and family when they dine out, as do most restaurant reviewers who publish in newspapers and magazines.

"I know some inspectors who don't even tell their wives what they are doing," Naret told me. "It's much like working for the witness protection program, except the food is better, of course."

To qualify for the job, candidates should have a background in the culinary arts, though that doesn't mean being a chef, Naret said. Once hired, inspectors go through standardized training in the Michelin system to learn how to gather detailed information and make judgments based on vast benchmarks of the very best restaurants.

One star is considered "a very good restaurant in its category;" two stars signifies "excellent cuisine, worth a detour;" and three stars means "exceptional cuisine worth a special journey."

Naret said the cheapest three-star restaurant is Jean Georges in New York, where patrons can enjoy world-class cuisine at lunch for $29.

In the Bay Area/Wine Country, Naret suggested an upgrade may soon be afoot for one of the two-star establishments.

Here is the official list for 2010 starred restaurants:

Three Michelin stars *** One always eats here extremely well, sometimes superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients.
The French Laundry

Two Michelin stars ** Skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality
Coi, Cyrus, Manresa, The Restaurant at Meadowood

One Michelin star* A place offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard
Acquerello, Luce, Ame, Madrona Manor, Auberge du Soleil, Masa's, Aziza, Michael Mina, Bouchon, Murray Circle, Boulevard, One Market, Chez Panisse, Plumed Horse, Chez TJ, Quince, Commis. Range, The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, Redd, El Paseo, Sante, etoile, Solbar, Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Terra, Fifth Floor, Trevese, Fleur de Lys, Ubuntu, Gary Danko, The Village Pub, La Folie, and La Toque.

October 15, 2009
La Bonne Soupe back to normal: Long, long lines

This afternoon, I made a quick call to La Bonne Soupe to ask chef/owner Daniel Pont how the second day back in business went. The restaurant had closed for two weeks on a health code issue, during which Pont fell ill and was hospitalized.

When I ate lunch there Wednesday, I sat outside at the one table on the sidewalk on 8th Street. I watched people walk by and do doubletakes when they realized La Bonne Soupe was open again. One man cursed and then said to his friend, "We could have eaten there today, I didn't know he was open again."

That was the first day, which saw Pont open his lunch-only eatery without fanfare, The line was quite short, the wait no more than 10 minutes, Then came the magic of word-of mouth. The line Thursday was very long and steady. Things are back to normal.

October 15, 2009
Steak, sweet potatoes a winning date-night combo

I'm not usually one to brag, but I earned a compliment this weekend that made me blush.

Since my husband and I have two small children, Saturday nights often are spent at home with a movie. I've been told it's normal, not pathetic, but I was trying to make it seem less so this past weekend, so I grabbed some filet mignon, Point Reyes blue cheese, and a few sweet potatoes while stocking up on groceries.

Once one child was in bed and another was heading that direction, I sequestered myself in the kitchen where I improvised my way to a surprisingly lovely dinner for two. I crusted the steak in ground peppercorns, salt and Grill Mates Spicy Montreal Steak Seasoning, gave it a quick sear in a pan and finished it with a few minutes in the oven. The filets were topped with blue cheese I had mixed with a little butter and served alongside mashed sweet potatoes spiced with a hint of cayenne and topped with glazed pecans.

We ate quietly.

"Why do we go out to dinner if you can cook this good?" my husband said.

The best part? The whole meal cost about $25.

To get the recipe for the mashed sweet potatoes, follow this link to my blog.

What's your favorite date-night dinner at home? What do you cook when you want to impress your loved ones? E-mail me your favorite recipe. I'll post the most mouth-watering one here and on my blog.

October 14, 2009
La Bonne Soupe reopens after brush with health, health inspector

Daniel Pont looked as good as ever Wednesday as he ladled soup, sliced baguettes and braised pork loin.

After he was forced to close recently due to easily remedied violation cited by a health inspector, Pont, 70, collapsed at home and was taken by ambulance to hospital.

Why is this big news? Pont is a beloved figure among epicures and his tiny cafe on 8th Street sports the highest rating for food in the Sacramento Zagat.

Today, on his first day back, there was a line at close to noon, but it was uncharacteristically short. I ordered the smoked duck sandwich and the French onion soup, which many claim as the best they've ever tasted. With a small bottle of champagne, I sat at the lone table on the sidewalk on an otherwise seedy block between I and J streets.

We will have a story later for the newspaper and I hope to get a word with Pont about how he is feeling. Judging from appearances -- and from the food -- he's as a good as ever.

October 12, 2009
Michael Chandler's tasting tips


Let's check in with a guy who's got one of the most perceptive palates in town. That would be Michael Chandler, a certified sommelier and wine director at The Market at Pavilions. (The above pic shows Chandler during his previous stint as sommelier and manager at Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar).

Plenty of wine events are coming up - surf over to and also check this space for the latest info. - so heed these quick tasting tips from Chandler. Take it away, mister sommelier:

What are some key varietals to look for when tasting wine from our region?
Lodi for me is all about the zins and the occasional viognier, (especially from) Ripken Vineyards. Amador is all about the great zinfandels, Rhone varietal reds and whites, as well as a few Italian varietal reds and whites. I love the chenin blanc, when done dry, and petite sirah that is grown in Clarksburg. Some varietals made by producers are just not worth trying, in my opinion, as they are just forcefully grown in the wrong area.

Let's say I'm feeling palate fatigue after tasting through a flight of reds. Have any tips/tricks for perking up your palate?
Get a taste of a high acid white and swish it around your mouth. Gruner veltliner and vermentino usually work to revive my palate. Currently I use the Simone Giusto 2008 Vermentino from Amador. For my nose, I usually sniff fresh coffee grounds.

What wineries do you recommend people try in Amador or El Dorado county?
My favorite is Cedarville Vineyard in Fair Play. Jonathan (Lachs) and Susan (Marks) are great people and the wines are all great. I truly love the viognier, grenache and syrah. The wines are very balanced and made with passion, and that all comes across on the palate.

How about Lodi?
Lodi is a bit more tricky. I really shy away from high alcohol table wines, but I do have a fondness for Vino Con Brio. I like the style of zinfandel and pinotage they produce. Both are at 14.5 (percent alcohol) or less, with good acid to support the alcohol.

Can you pass along some tips on etiquette in tasting rooms?
PLEASE shy away from wearing scented lotions, colognes/perfumes, or hair products. The scent can detract from the nuances you are trying to detect in the wines. Don't be afraid to ask questions, (but) be respectful of the staff. Going back to the same four wines is bad. In tasting rooms you are there to taste (a variety of wines). Oh, and leave your cell phone in the car.

Now that it's fall, what kind of wines do you favor during this time of year?
Pinot Noir. Oops, that is year around. But seriously: pinot noir, nebbiolo and older Bordeaux and domestic Cabernet Sauvignon from the cellar. This is also the time of year that I crack open a few century-plus old Madeiras to have around for a fire and a great book.

October 9, 2009
East Sac cafe featuring $25 dinner-for-two deal

The question of where to find an inexpensive date-night dinner may just have been answered.

Selland's Market-Cafe is running a dinner special for $25 that features a meal for two and bottle of wine, pitcher of beer or sangria.

The specials are dine-in or carry out, and are creating quite a buzz at the east Sacramento spot, especially on Thursday and Friday nights.

The intent is to offer customers "a good deal in these tough times and to hopefully help show that Selland's can be a good deal for great quality anytime," said Gina Funk Nelson, a spokeswoman for The Selland Group.

This week's dinner for two special is Moroccan chicken tagine with couscous and a bottle of wine selected by Randall Selland, the market's executive chef. Selland and his family also own and operate The Kitchen Restaurant and Ella Dining Room and Bar.

Other dinners have features paella, mahi mahi sandwiches with slaw and Coq au Vin.

The second Wednesday of the month, when there also is a wine tasting at the cafe, the dinner for two special features pizza paired with red wine or a pitcher of beer.

Is it dinnertime yet?

October 8, 2009
Hank Shaw the blogger scores a book deal

Congratulations to Hank Shaw, whose "Hunter, Angler, Gardener Cook" blog has led to a book deal. It has been a breakout year for Shaw, who calls the Sacramento area home. He was recently nominated for a James Beard Foundation award for best food blog.

He didn't win, but he got plenty of attention. Now he has a contract to write a book. Here's what he told the readers of his blog:

I signed with Rodale Press, my editor is Pam Krauss and the book is tentatively slated for release in the first part of 2011. The working title is "Honest Food: Finding the Forgotten Feast."

We wish him plenty of success in the new venture. Judging by the work on his blog and the audience he has attracted in a relatively short period, it's going to be a well-received book.

October 8, 2009
What will become of Monsieur Pont and La Bonne Soupe?

As fans of the much-admired La Bonne Soupe know by now, the lunchtime legend in the making was recently shutdown by a health inspector on a minor violation that was supposed to be easy to fix.

But La Bonne Soupe's proprietor, Daniel Pont, didn't take it so easy. He fretted and fumed and, one might say, carried the weight of the world on his shoulders as he hustled to reopen.

La Bonne Soupe on 8th Street downtown is no ordinary eatery. It owns the highest rating in Sacramento's Zagat guide. Folks line up for an hour or more for the soup, salads and sandwiches.

It is a charming place, seemingly plucked from a French village and transported to Sacramento.

Pont, 70, collapsed over the weekend as he raced to clean the restaurant, address the concerns of the health inspector and be ready for a re-inspection on Monday. He didn't make it. He was rushed to hospital and, at last word, was undergoing tests.

His many admirers rose to his defense. Many offered to volunteer to help. Mop the floors, scrubs the walls, whatever it took to re-open.

The problem? Pont is stubbornly independent. He works alone. He handles the money, the ladle, the knife. He scrubs the pots. He turns out the lights at day's end.

His one-man act is part of his charm, but given the recent circumstances, it threatens to be part of his undoing.

This is not something Sacramento wants to lose. La Bonne Soupe is one of the things that distinguishes our city. It is a sandwich shop, but it's also a destination. It serves soup, but it also infuses its patrons with a special kind of warmth. Simply watching this quiet, calm and humble man at work is enough to make one smile.

It seems Pont will not be able to simply pick up where he left off. Sure, the inspector found a few roaches. What else is new? There are roaches in and around nearly every restaurant in the land, including the very best dining establishments.

After I wrote the story about the chef's collapse, readers flooded my email with offers to chip in. Perhaps our fine French chef will relent and allow these well-meaning folks to roll up their sleeves and work.

It could be a win-win. Why not set up a makeshift internship program for culinary students and avid foodies? They could work in the restaurant - collect the money, sweep the floors, peel the potatoes -- and allow Pont to focus his talent and energy on what really matters, making and serving excellent food.

Maybe it will take a village to reopen this fine little restaurant. For the good of the city, and for all the fans of La Bonne Soupe, let's hope that happens soon. For the chef, we wish him a speedy recovery.

October 8, 2009
Chipotle rolling out children's menu, offering freebies

Good news local Chipotle fans - the Sacramento region is one of several test markets for the burrito chain's new children's menu.

Chipotle Mexican Grill will roll out the new kid's menu on Monday at its 21 Sacramento area restaurants and will be offering one free kids meal with the purchase of an adult entree every Sunday from Oct. 18 to Nov. 8.

The kid's menu was first introduced in Denver last spring. Sacramento was chosen as a test market because it's a "family-friendly city," Chris Arnold, the chain's director of public relations, wrote in an e-mail.

To see what's on the kid's menu, go to my blog.

October 8, 2009
Food & wine event round-up

Friday: Bring out your inner Miles from "Sideways" (minus the angst, please) and taste pinot noir at The Market at Pavilions (515 Pavilions Lane, Sacramento; 916-929-4422). Line-up includes 2006 Domaine Arlaud, 2006 Londer, 2007 Lutea Russian River Valley (Organic) and 2007 Dutton Ranch 'Karmen Isabella' Russian River Valley. The tasting costs $10 and runs from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.

Saturday: Get on down to Curtis Park for a wine tasting and silent auction at the Sierra 2 Center (2791 24th St., Sacramento; 916-452-3005). Whet that appetite with food from 15 local restaurants and over 50 wineries pouring their goods. Proceeds benefit the Sierra 2 Center, C.K. McClatchy High School track team and Bret Harte Elementary School. The event runs from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m. and costs $30 - $45.

Sunday: Lodi meets the bay at the Treasure Island Wine Fest. More than 200 wines are for the sampling, including selections from Klinker Brick Winery, Michael-David Winery and Harmony Wynelands. The tasting runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. $55 advance, $65 at door and $25 for designated drivers. For more information:

Oct. 26:
Fall harvest is here, and Evan's Kitchen (57th St, Sacramento; 916-452-3896) is hosting a seasonal dinner with wine pairings. Look for a menu that includes green apple and poached pear soup, winter savory salad with grilled apples and charbroiled duck. $59.95. Call for reservations.

October 7, 2009
Pizza dough perfection for a yeast bread novice

I may be able to make a lemon cake with fresh lemon curd filling and bake irresistible brownies, but yeast breads? Not my forte.

So when I successfully made homemade pizza dough (which probably means they are among the easiest of yeast breads to execute) this past weekend, I was ridiculously ecstatic.

The dough recipe yielded enough for two pizzas, so I topped one with cheese for my children and made another topped with bacon and sauteed spinach, garlic, mushrooms and onion for the adults.

My husband vowed never to call for take-out pizza again, but I think he was still under the influence of pork fat when he said it.

Follow this link to my blog to get the recipe.

October 7, 2009
Pumpkin recipe contest produces pleasing results

*Note: This story has been updated to include the winners' names.

You know you've tasted some delicious desserts when you can try nine pumpkin confections and still want to sneak a few more bites.

This past weekend marked the annual Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin and Harvest Festival and with it the "Best Pumpkin Dessert" recipe contest.

I was fortunate to have been asked to serve as one of the contest's judges this year. Tough gig if you can get it.

We viewed, we tasted, we voted. And in the end, three home cooks walked away with cash prizes and bragging rights.

First place, and $350, went to Lee Ann Duclo for her pumpkin cheesecake. The cheesecake had a delicate pumpkin taste, silky mouthfeel and just the right amount of tang.

Malinda Cirimele earned second place and $100 for her pumpkin spice latte fudge. This is a recipe that I will be trying out soon (like this weekend). It tasted so reminiscent of a pumpkin spice latte that the only thing missing was a burned tongue.

Third place went to Carol Dyer for her unusual, but delectable, pumpkin dip. This is a sweet dip, to be served with cookies. I thought the idea sounded strange at first glance, but the dip had a wonderfully spicy, pumpkin flavor and creamy texture.

Click the link below to get the recipes.

October 6, 2009
See Mai Pham in Berkeley


Are you a fan of Mai Pham's cooking and her Lemon Grass Cafe? Looking for an excuse to hit Berkeley for an afternoon? Well, you're doubly stoked. Mai Pham is visiting UC Berkeley on Oct. 14 for a presentation on low-calorie, yet tasty cooking. She'll prepare dishes based on House Tofu Shirataki Noodles, the sponsor of the event, at the home of the Bears. Dr. Melina Jampolis, CNN's diet and nutrition expert, will also share strategies for healthy eating. The event runs from 12 p.m. - 2 p.m. and is free. Space is limited so RSVP now to:

October 6, 2009
Poor Girl blogs well, earns cyber foodie world recognition

morales.jpgHere's the $1 million question: what will Poor Girl eat to celebrate?

Local food blogger Kimberly Morales' blog, Poor Girl Eats Well, has been nominated by the blogger readers would most like to see have their own show on the Food Network in the 2009 Foodbuzz Blog Awards. (left: Morales in her Sacramento kitchen. Bee photo by Randall Benton.)

Morales' blog chronicles her quest to eat gourmet (or at least close) on the cheap. Click here to read my story on Morales from earlier this year.

Take her most recent recipe, a roasted beet and farro salad with feta and caramelized onions. Cost per serving is about $1.70 and the dish serves three to four people. A healthy dinner for $7? Count us in.

Morales said she didn't know about the nomination until she saw the page views on her blog jump today. Morales had voted for her own blog once for the category and posted messages on Facebook and Twitter about the Foodbuzz awards.

"I wasn't expecting it," she said of the nod. "There were so many bloggers on there worthy of the nomination. I didn't actually expect to get a nomination."

Other bloggers nominated for the category are A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, Eat, Live, Run, Oh She Glows, and Spinach Tiger.

More than 3,500 nominations in 24 categories poured in for the awards. Voting is taking place through Oct. 29 at and winners will be announced on Nov. 7 at the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, according to the Foodbuzz Web site.

Morales said she'd be honored if Food Network came calling, although she probably wouldn't quite know how to respond.

"I'd probably stutter," she said. "But I'd work with them."

Morales said she hasn't figured out how to celebrate the nomination yet, but she plans to dish on her blog.

"There will definitely be a celebratory recipe," she said.

Another local, Elise Bauer, of Carmichael, also was nominated in the awards for "Best Recipe Blog." Her blog, Simply Recipes, is one of several the former Internet software executive maintains.

October 5, 2009
Conde Nast closing Gourmet, other magazines

The foodie world let out a collective gasp this morning.

Gourmet magazine is closing.

The culinary prose powerhouse is the latest casualty of the economy, and just one of several Conde Nast publications to fold.

The Associated Press' Food Editor J.M. Hirsch, penned the following obituary:

After nearly 70 years of fine eating, the lavish meal known as Gourmet magazine is over.

Conde Nast blamed the tough economic climate Monday when it told its staff it was closing the stalwart of the food media world, long considered the dean of culinary publishing.

"It's the center of gravity, a major planet that's just disappearing," said chef and author Anthony Bourdain, who said Gourmet was the first food publication to give him a chance as a writer. "There's been a lot of speculation about this happening, but I'm still stunned."

Conde Nast also said it was shuttering Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie, a parenting magazine. Earlier in the year it ceased publication of Portfolio, a business magazine, and Domino, a homes title. Sister Conde Nast publication Bon Appetit survived the cuts, and will likely absorb many of Gourmet's readers.

Click here to read the story.

There was nothing quite like curling up on the coach on a Saturday morning with a hot cup of coffee and poring through the magazine, dreaming about what dinner could be rather than would be.

I will miss Gourmet's writing and inspiration greatly. Best of luck to those writers, editors, designers and other staff who made eating that much more pleasurable for all of us.

October 5, 2009
Jalapenos restaurant lauded by Sacramento Co. Public Health dept.

Talking about the Sacramento County Public Health department in terms of the local restaurant scene generally means one thing: a restaurant got shut-down because of health code violations. Remember last week's incident with the Zagat winning La Bonne Soupe?

Now here's a twist. Jalapenos (1413 21st St., Sacramento; 916-492-0727) is being recognized by Sacramento County Public Health for the restaurant's 100% smoke-free patio dining area. That's right, if you want to cap that burrito with a Marlboro light, you've got to go somewhere else, pal.

"Second hand smoke is a known human carcinogen, meaning there is no safe level of exposure - even when outdoors," said Dr. Glennah Trochet, Sacramento County public health officer, in a statement. "Smoke free outdoor dining policies help protect the health of patrons and restaurant workers."

Going smoke-free also means a bonus today for the frijoles-loving hordes. An event recognizing Jalapenos' smokeless policy runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. tonight, and the first 15 customers who ask for patio seating will receive dinner coupons. Also look for raffles and prizes during that time, along with a booth geared toward those who want to quit smoking.

October 2, 2009
Protesting foie gras at the Firehouse

By Chris Macias

A group of local animal rights activists are fed up with foie gras being offered on the Firehouse's menu. A protest is planned for 6 p.m. today in front of the Old Sacramento eatery, with a dozen activists planning to wave signs and distribute flyers which detail the cruelty behind this delicacy made from duck and goose liver.

The protest is being organized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Sacramento Animal Rights Group and the Animal Protection and Rescue League.

"We would love to embarrass the restaurant for their lack of compassion," said Linda Middlesworth, a protest co-ordinator. "It's an animal issue of extreme cruelty. (To make foie gras) you take a large pipe and stuff it down their throats to engorge their livers. It's all about greed, and gluttony and money."

Middlesworth and other activists first contacted the Firehouse last month to ask that foie gras be removed from the menu. They also visited the restaurant in person to express their grievances.
Despite the protests, the Firehouse plans to keep foie gras as a food option.

"The foie gras featured on our menu is produced in Sonoma and meets state and federal standards," said a press release from the Firehouse. "More importantly, it meets the Firehouse standard for quality, flavor and freshness. Our chefs selected our supplier, Artisan Sonoma Foie Gras, because of their commitment to quality and their artisan techniques in producing foie gras. The ducks are free range."

Middlesworth and other activists plan to protest more local restaurants which serve foie gras. Cafe Rolle in east Sacramento has already been picketed, and Grange Restaurant is being eyed as an upcoming protest site.

"We're going to keep doing this over and over," said Middlesworth.

Call Bee food and wine writer Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253.

October 1, 2009
Eatery's pest problem detailed in county report

The extent of La Bonne Soupe's cockroach conundrum has been illuminated by a Sacramento County inspection report.

The popular soup and sandwich lunch spot, which claimed the No. 1 spot for "best food" in a Sacramento Zagat Survey earlier this year, was closed Wednesday by county environmental health officials after a county environmental health inspector found a cockroach infestation during a routine check.

Owner Daniel Pont has not returned multiple calls for comment.

The inspection report, which is public record, lists the following violations:

• One live cockroach on the floor below the hand sink.

• One live cockroach with an attached egg casing on the shelf below the register, next to paper bags used for to-go orders.

• One dying cockroach on the shelf below the register.

• One dead cockroach in a glass on the shelf above the hand sink.

• About 15 dead cockroaches on the floor below the hand sink.

• Several cockroaches adhered to sticky pads on the floor below shelves, which were underneath the register.

The county inspector also noted a minor violation related to handwashing after seeing the owner "making sandwiches, answer telephone and then resume making sandwiches without washing hands in between tasks."

For further details, check out my story in today's Our Region section.

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