April 30, 2011
April 29, 2011
The humble Frenchman at the top of Sacramento's food scene spent the day Friday slicing sandwiches and placing them on plates and ladling soup into bowls, then moving in his unhurried way to the cash register to make change for his customers - one after another, and for one final time.
"Today was a very sad day. My tears were very close to my eyes," said Daniel Pont, the owner and chef, not long after locking the front door.
April 29, 2011
Pause Lounge & Kitchen in Roseville is literally taking a pause in its business operations. The restaurant, which started bringing small plate food and artisnal cocktails to Roseville in December, closed on Tuesday and will re-open on May 4. Owners Lucas and Leyland Jacob Elia are using this time to revamp its menu, with consultation from Hawks chef/owner Michael Fagnoni, and tweak its decor. Some key Pause staff have also left, including Chris Dooley, the mixologist who left Ella Dining Room and Bar to create Pause's cocktail program.
Though Pause menu's new menu is still under construction, plan on food offerings with an emphasis on approachability and using local ingredients when possible.
"Pause came off at first a little too fine dining and stuffy," said Lucas Elia. "We just decided to make a hard left and felt we needed to make the changes that we needed to make. We want to warm it up and revamp happy hour to make it more approachable for Roseville. It'll be an entirely different menu with simple, classic American stuff and good ingredients."
Pause is located at 1465 Eureka Rd. #100, Roseville. For more information: (916) 772-1525
April 29, 2011
I just got off the phone with chef and owner Daniel Pont, who confirmed that this is his final day. Yes, La Bonne Soupe is closing its doors.
The restaurant usually closes at 2:30, but there were still 10 people in line. The chef and I will chat after he locks up shortly. Check back for details.
For those not in the know, this small, one-man operation has become a legend in recent years, known for great soups and sandwiches, and notoriously long lines. Monsieur Pont is a beloved figure and a true gentleman. For many, the closing of this place will be devastating news. What's more, the other top soup place in town, Fog Mountain Cafe, just closed its doors a few weeks ago.
April 29, 2011
Just about every major casino maintains a steakhouse, along with an Italian or Asian restaurant, a buffet and a 24-hour cafe.
The Red Hawk Casino is no exception. Its centerpiece is the award-winning, high-end Henry's, specializing in steaks and chops. On the over-the-top sider of the menu is a 48-ounce porterhouse for two, $76, carved at tableside.
For those who want less freight (and weight), Henry's is now serving lunch on weekends, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The emphasis is on soups, salads and sandwiches ($6 to $20), and the menu looks good.
For instance, pork tenderloin on rosemary focaccia with sage aioli, rare prime roast beef french tip on sourdough with horseradish cream, and Maine lobster roll with tarragon mayo on a soft roll.
Red Hawk is off Highway 50 at 1 Red Hawk Parkway outside of Placerville. More information: (888) 573-3495, www.redhawkcasino.com.
April 28, 2011
If there's such a thing as a "celebrity nutritionist," Carl Germano is probably it. He has lots of letters after his name (RD, CNS, CDN) and is the "chief science officer" of Inergeticss, a company that makes and sells dietary supplements.
Realizing that barbecue season has arrived in California - and considering our generally poor eating habits, as well - he is offering "tips for low-calorie replacement foods" for summer weight-loss and overall health. Like these:
Instead of: A cheeseburger
Try: Turkey sliders with sliced tomato
Instead of: Hot dogs off the grill
Try: Chicken teriyaki skewers
Instead of: Nachos with cheese and jalapenos
Try: Baked nachos with guacamole, tomatoes and jalapenos
Instead of: French fries
Try: Baked potato skins with tomato-basil bruschetta
Instead of: Beef chili with shredded cheese
Try: Turkey chili with black beans, corn and salsa
Instead of: Fried Buffalo wings with ranch dip
Try: Baked chicken wings with hot-sauce dip
Instead of: Regular pizza
Try: Whole wheat margherita pizza
Instead of: Chips, cookies and brownies
Try: Air-popped popcorn, oat pretzels and fresh fruit
Instead of: Beer, soda and juice
Try: Flavored sparkling water
As "royalmania" ratchets up, the eyes of the world - most of them, anyway - are fixed in anticipation on the Friday nuptials in London of Prince William and Catherine "Kate" Middleton.
Ah, the romance, the drama, the tension, the biggest travel day of the year... We think that deserves a drink. So does www.idrink.com, "the drink-mixing website."
Among its 32,000 drink recipes are more than 20 new additions, what it calls "royal wedding-themed cocktails." Here's a sampler; go to the website for the rest.
April 26, 2011
I had a chance to drop by the soft opening of Lounge ON20 this past weekend, eager to see what chef Pajo Bruich was brewing up in the kitchen. I'd profiled Bruich back in early March, highlighting his flair for molecular gastronomy and other cutting-edge cooking techniques that aren't found so much around the area. Molecular gastronomy, in which the food textures and flavor profiles are re-interpreted with a bit of science, was also a big talking point at the Bee's "Table Talk" food forum earlier this month.
So what kind of food science would Bruich drop on Lounge ON20, which recently brought him on board as its new chef? Lounge ON20 has re-tooled its focus with a greater emphasis on dining, both from its bar menu and new sit-down dinner options. The room already has a much warmer feel, less Miami-esque than before, with its "floating" fireplace in the lounge and handsome tables.
Blair Anthony Robertson, the Bee's restaurant critic, will have a full run-down of Lounge ON20 and Bruich's food after they get a chance to settle in. (Grand opening festivities are scheduled for this weekend). But after an early taste of the menu, we can say Bruich and his crew are off to a solid start.
April 26, 2011
It wasn't that long ago. We were leaving Peet's Coffee on Fair Oaks Boulevard and, as we walked out, we held the door for a petite woman with short blond, spiky hair and a fake tan - and she proceeded to walk through without saying a word or touching the door. She's something special. Of course she is.
In that one moment, she had the chance to take the door, even symbolically, say something nice and make us feel good about this little exchange of kindnesses. Yet, we regretted holding the door and, later, talked about - fantasized about - letting the door go and making her spill her coffee all over her extra-tight gym attire. If I were the least bit spiritual, I might look inside and tell myself it is the simple act that matters, and that I cannot control what other people do. I'm glad I'm not that well adjusted.
There is something about that obliviousness at the door, seemingly so small, that really rubs people the wrong way, myself included. In honor of that loathsome, self-involved woman, I've compiled a short, non-scientific list of other rude behavior I see at restaurants (in no particular order):
April 25, 2011
My review of Bistro La Petite France focused on the food and the warm hospitality of the husband-and-wife owners, Christophe and Claudine Ehrhart. If you're wondering what it means to have a locally-owned business with a personal touch, this would be a good place to visit and take notes. The formula is very simple, but somehow it remains elusive at too many other restaurants.
During our visits, Christophe never failed to greet us or say farewell, and Claudine was always there to chat with customers.
April 25, 2011
Never before have so many coffees from so many sources been available to so many consumers.
Coffee beans are grown throughout North America and the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Africa and the Middle East. Like fine wines, the brew from each type of bean has its own flavor profile.
The coffeehouses in the Starbucks and Peet's chains have become social centers, and the Italian word for "bartender" - "barista" - has become a common part of the English language. Now it refers to the person behind the counter who concocts all those specialized coffee drinks.
One of the most distinct and recognizable coffees comes from the Kona district of Hawail. Once you've tasted Kona coffee, you'll never confuse it with another. The problem is, Kona beans are often found in blends with other beans, and it's tricky to track down 100 percent Kona-bean coffee. However, we recently sampled some award-winning all-Kona from the Lyman Kona Coffee Farms, "certified organic from seed to cup."
The Vienna roast is far more popular than the farm's dark roast, said co-owner Hans Eckert (with wife Marsha Lyman-Eckert) in an email. Each is $30 to $32 a pound via mail-order.
I brewed pots of the coffee over four mornings. The aroma and taste swept me back to the week I spent on Maui, where Kona coffee is commonly available.
For a more expert opinion, I asked a barista pal to assess it. He said, "It's earthy and bold, with good body. It reminds me of some of the African coffees. I recommend using at least two tablespoons to the cup when you make it."
For more information and to order, go to www.lymankonacoffee.com.
Online voting is now open to determine which local organizations, service groups and community leaders will receive a combined $25,000 in grants.
Raley's Family of Fine Stores and Frito-Lay have partnered to give five $5,000 grants for Raley's Reach, a program that encourages positive changes in communities throughout Northern California and Nevada.
More than 90 ideas were submitted from April 6 to 20 for the program. Online voters can cast their ballots for their favorite idea once per day until May 14, a Raley's news release states.
Ideas range from after school programs for foster children in Sacramento County to providing fence installation for an off-leash dog park in Rocklin. To qualify, the ideas must fit one of three categories - improving the lives of children, creating healthy communities and celebrating the arts, the release states.
As of this morning, Camp Kesem at UC Davis, a summer camp for children affected by cancer, is the top vote getter with 1,033 votes, according to information on the Raley's Reach website.
To view the nominated ideas and vote, go to the www.raleys.com/reach.
April 21, 2011
Food Network "Iron Chef" Catherine "Cat" Cora has added another entry to her resume, this time under the "Restaurateur" heading.
The aptly named Cat Cora San Francisco just opened at Terminal 2 at the San Francisco International Airport, offering a menu of small plates for airline passengers with time to play (feta cheese-stuffed jalepeno poppers, lobster-flecked mac 'n' cheese, chimichurri chicken skewers).
Drinks-wise, the "cocktail chemists" behind the bar are mixing such exotics as the Ouzotini (pomegranate and pineapple juices with vodka and Ouzo) and the Airmail (prosecco, lime juice, honey and rum) - just to take the stress out of travel.
"I'm thrilled to have my first airport restaurant," Cora said. "By using the freshest, locally sourced ingredients, I can offer our clientele a delicious and environmentally sound dining experience while they're between flights" (650-821-9288).
The airport restaurant joins Cora's CCQ (barbecue) in Costa Mesa, and Kouzzina at Walt Disney World's BoardWalk in Orlando.
Cora has written three cookbooks. She grew up in a Greek household in Jackson, Miss. (thus the 'cue); earned a degree in exercise physiology and biology from the University of Southern Mississippi; graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.; apprenticed in France with three-star Michelin chefs; and worked at world-class restaurants in New York and the Napa Valley. Her father, grandfather and godfather were restaurateurs.
Visit her at www.catcora.com.
April 21, 2011
The fifth annual "31 Cent Scoop Night" event features just what it says - any 2.5 ounce scoop of ice cream for 31 cents. The event is scheduled from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday (April 27) at all Baskin-Robbins stores.
As part of the event, the ice cream giant is donating $100,000 to the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation, and customers also can make a $5 donation to the foundation by texting 6333 (NFFF) to 50555, a company news release states.
Stores also will be offering a new flavor this month - Firehouse #31, which features a crunchy candy pieces. The new flavor will be available during the discounted scoop event.
A sweet deal on ice cream, chance to support families of fallen firefighters and a new ice cream treat to try. What's not to like?
Photo credit: Baskin-Robbins
April 19, 2011
To much good natured harassment from my pals, yesterday's assignment was to head to Napa for Taste of Oakville. It's one of the most exclusive tastings in the domestic wine world, offering a rare chance - well, at least for most of us - to taste such premiere Oakville appellation wines as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Dalla Valle and others. (To put in perspective, the half-ounce pour of Screaming Eagle alone would cost roughly $75 at a wine bar. Ouch!). So are these trophy wines deserving of the hype and often exorbitant price tags? That's the mission of checking out Taste of Oakville, along with meeting some of the folks behind these wineries and touching base with some key players in the domestic wine trade.
This year's Taste of Oakville had some Sacramento flavor, with local winemaker Stuart Spoto showing off his Spoto Wines - at the table right next to Screaming Eagle. So how did Spoto Wines fare at this elite of wine tastings? We'll have more on that in an upcoming issue of the Bee's Food & Wine Section.
April 18, 2011
One of the things you realize when you've been in journalism long enough is that a lot of smart people read the newspaper. Another thing you realize: an awful lot of other people don't really understand how journalism works.
I say this because of a well-meaning email I received recently from a reader. She was concerned that some of my more pointed critiques might hurt a restaurant's bottom line.
She writes (to protect the innocent and not so innocent, I will delete the names of the restaurants):
April 18, 2011
There's passive and there's active. As in, watching chefs prepare dishes on Food Network TV shows is passive. Participating in local cooking classes is active.
You can experience the latter from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 14, when Town & Country Village shopping center celebrates the spirit of Second Saturday with "Taste of the Village." It's a trio of hands-on learning opportunities at T&C restaurants. Cooking-class reservations are now being accepted; class sizes are limited, so save your spots at (916) 933-4056. Classes are $40 each, or $100 for all three.
For starters, join executive chef Daniel Alcantaro at Buonarroti Ristorante and learn how to make gnocchi, those chewy, pillowy dumplings - in this case, covered with Alcantaro's marvelous sauces. There will be a tasting, of course, along with a wine pairing (9 to 11 a.m.).
Also, chocolatier Craig Higgins of Capital Confections will show you how to create hand-rolled truffles (and how to appreciate the taste of ganache). Be prepared for some finger-lickin' (1 to 3 p.m.).
At the Terrace, you can follow executive chef Michael Powers' lead as you and he make seared tiger prawns, crispy polenta and Tuscan Eggs Benedict. Expect a wine pairing (4 to 6 p.m.).
As a bonus, artist Frank Wilson will appear at the Helen Jones Gallery for his "It's a Small World" exhibition and champagne reception (4 to 6 p.m.).
Town & Country Village is at Marconi and Fulton avenues, Sacramento. More information: www.shoptownandcountry.com.
April 18, 2011
I had a new dining partner helping out with Sunday's review - Abbey, one of our dogs. When Monkey Cat noted on its website that it was "dog friendly," the journalist in me thought I needed to check it out and find the right companion for the job. Though Oscar, our big Rhodesian ridgeback-mix, is the pack leader, we left him behind because, well, having an alpha dog that close to plates of food is not always the best idea. When he gets really food-focused, Oscar starts to howl.
Being dog friendly is something that is important to a surprising number of folks who go out to eat, myself included. Years before I became The Bee's restaurant critic, I would look for places that allowed pets access on the patio. That eventually led me to Carmel, where dogs are treated like royalty and are allowed to roam off-leash on the spectacular public beach. There are several restaurants in Carmel that are dog friendly, but Monkey Cat is right up there with them.
Beyond canine companions, let's revisit one recurring issue with the food. In recent weeks, I have referred several times to dishes that were timid or bland or that seemed to play it too safe when it comes to flavors. That doesn't mean I only appreciate food that is big and bold, the culinary equivalent of a neon red and white striped shirt. I'm not suggesting that more is necessarily better. Food won't improve by simply dumping more herbs and spices into the pot. My concern is that sometimes kitchens seem to be preparing food and sending it out to the dining room without tasting it. The best dishes I encounter are well balanced, but they also have flavors that pop. There is a clarity of purpose that shines through in terms of flavors.
Though I enjoyed several dishes at Monkey Cat, the ones that were less intriguing made me wonder if the person cooking them actually tasted the recipe that day to see if it was hitting the mark.
This coming Sunday, I will be reviewing a restaurant that reminded me of this issue once again - because the flavors had great clarity and heft.
April 18, 2011
Paesanos restaurant in midtown has turned 15, and in celebration it's offering a menu of specials from now through April 30. Included are price rollbacks, dining and drink specials, prize giveaways and more.
"We want to thank Sacramento for 15 great years, and hope we get 15 more," restaurateur Dave Virga said on the phone.
Go to www.paesanos.biz for details. The restaurant is at 1806 Capitol Ave., (916) 447-8646.
Amid all that pasta at the two Paesanos, what's Virga's go-to dish? "I'm a traditional guy, so it's the tutto mare bianco - penne pasta with shrimp, garlic, tomatoes, lemon, white wine, spinach, oregano and marinara sauce, topped with garlic bread crumbs and Parmesan," he said. "It's on our 'underground menu,' so you have to ask for it."
We've always liked what Virga and his business partner-chef, Mark Scribner, have done at their Italian restaurants. Let's see, there's that Paesanos in midtown, Paesanos in Elk Grove (8519 Bond Road, 916-690-8646), Pronto (1501 16th St., Sacramento, 916-444-5850) and two Uncle Vito's New York pizzerias (1501 16th St., Sacramento, 916-444-3699, adjoining Paesanos; and 524 Second St., Davis, 530-758-3000).
Are we full yet?
April 15, 2011
The news is a blow to its many fans, myself included, who considered owner/chef Eric Harnish's soups to be the best in the city. Grilled asparagus with applewood smoked bacon. French onion soup. Mushroom with fresh thyme and shaved asiago. Split pea. He even nailed Muligatawny years ago when I requested it.
Harnish was an artist and improviser in the kitchen. He had over 100 soup recipes in his head and never wrote any of them down. He tried new things and wasn't afraid to fail.
Local food blogger and cookbook author Hank Shaw will be hosting two upcoming cooking classes for home cooks.
Shaw, whose cookbook "Hunt, Gather, Cook" debuts May 24, is teaching a pasta-making class at 5 p.m. May 7 at Whole Foods on Arden Way and a sausage making class at 11 a.m. May 14 in Sausalito.
The pasta class will teach participants how to make basic dough with various flours and turn out several different shapes, Shaw wrote on his award-nominated blog, "Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook."
The sausage making class features how to make professional-quality sausage at home.
For more information or to sign up, check out Shaw's blog.
April 15, 2011
It's the time of year when folks start feeling green in Stockton. We're talking about the annual Stockton Asparagus Festival, which draws thousands for a weekend of eating and partying surrounding this signature Central Valley crop. Along with plenty of deep-fried foods and novelty asparagus items (think: asparagus burritos), the festival will feature plenty of entertainment including the pop-rock of Smash Mouth and country tunes from Little Texas. Yee haw! So get on down to Weber Point in downtown Stockton, for the festivities run through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. $12 general admission, $7 for college students, teens and seniors 60 and older. Children 12 and under are free. For more information: www.asparagusfest.com.
For the second time in two years, UC Davis has landed on the pages of Playboy magazine. In the magazine's current "Top 10 Party Schools - 2011" issue, UC Davis was awarded "thirstiest major" for its viticulture and enology program. Guess the Playboy bunny can't get enough of Aggie Town. Back in October, Playboy magazine listed Charlie Bamforth, UC Davis' Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences, in its rundown of the country's top 20 professors and dubbed him "brewmaster general."
But the science of studying wine is serious stuff at UC Davis, with its new $15 million research winery that's adjacent to 12-acres of student vineyards. That's to say, if you're looking to get credit for getting sloshed, don't plan on studying wine at UC Davis.
"Ironically, the 'thirstiest major' is a very apt description of our winemaking program because none of the wines made here for teaching or research purposes can be consumed, sold or even given away," said Andrew Waterhouse, chair of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, in a statement. "Underage students aren't allowed to taste the wines, and when tasting, our students are expected to spit afterwards. So our students truly do leave the classroom and tasting lab very thirsty."
April 14, 2011
Plenty of local restaurants have stepped up since Japan's recent mega-earthquake, and here's an ucoming one that offers one of Japan's premium spirits. On April 28, Ella Dining Room & Bar will host a cocktail tasting with proceeds to benefit Second Harvest Japan's disater relief efforts. The featured spirit is Yamazaki, the oldest whisky distiller in Japan and known for its impecabbly smooth and balanced whiskys. I recently tasted Yamazaki 12 and 18 year aged whisky and was struck by their complexity and depth of flavors. Not much else is needed to enjoy Yamazaki except maybe a small amount of ice, but in the proper hands a good mixologist can craft some interesting cocktails from these premium whiskys. For this benefit, Ella bar manager Rene Dominguez will create Yamazaki based cocktails, and a 300 pound block of ice will be broken down for use in the tasting as well. The event runs from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. and costs $45 (includes 6 tickets for sampling the whiskys and cocktails. Reservations are required. For more information: (916) 443.3772; www.elladiningroomandbar.com.
April 14, 2011
The spiky-haired Food Network chef of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" fame will be in Sacramento April 25 and 26 to endorse a resolution promoting cooking with children and to host fundraisers in the evening at his local restaurants.
In 2009, Fieri helped draft a resolution making the second Saturday in May as "Cook With Your Kids Day." From 11 a.m. to noon April 25, Fieri will be back at the Capitol where "Cook With Your Kids" will be introduced as a weekly initiative, a news release states.
The goal is to get families cooking and eating together every Thursday.
April 13, 2011
Today's "Table Talk" food forum is all sold out, but you can follow all the tasty discussion on Twitter by The Bee and @sacramentopress. Just use the hashtag #SacTableTalk. (You're not on Twitter? Follow the discussion here on Appetizers.)
The Bee's Chris Macias and Niesha Lofing will tweet during this discussion of the region's food scene with local writers, chefs and food suppliers. The event runs from 6 to 8 p.m. We hope you'll tune into cyberspace around then.
This collaboration between The Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Press is our first joint foray into the realm of food. We're looking forward to an evening of open and candid discussion about the region's food scene, from the writers who cover it to the emerging culinary trends, not to mention some snacks courtesy of Source Global Tapas.
April 13, 2011
If you don't know the spicy, garlicky "Rooster Sauce," you need to join the club. It's way good and way popular - 15 million bottles of the Thai chili-pepper sauce are produced yearly. Bon Appetit magazine named it the Ingredient of the Year in 2010.
And get this: Now there's "The Sriracha Cookbook: 50 'Rooster Sauce' Recipes That Pack a Punch" (Ten Speed Press, $16.99, 128 pages) by Randy Clemens. He's a graduate of the California School of Culinary Arts, a nationally recognized beer-contest judge and self-described "all-around hedonist" (www.randyclemens.com).
The cookbook is organized this way: sauces and seasonings, starters and snacks, salads and sides, soups and stews, breakfast, main courses, and drinks and desserts. The intriguing dishes include Thai chicken-coconut soup, baked mac 'n' cheese, prawns a la "diabla" and lamb kebabs (www.thesrirachacookbook.com).
Here's a simple recipe to get you started:
Note: Owner Ali Mackani clarified that LoungeON 20's name will stay, but the remodel has been dubbed "Lounge 2.0." This has been corrected.
Midtown's Lounge ON20 is undergoing a remodeling and will emerge later this month with an expanded food program. Look for what's being dubbed "Lounge 2.0" to debut later this month, with a menu that emphasis molecular gastronomy and overseen by new executive Pajo Bruich. The Lincoln-based chef was profiled in the Bee back in March, showing off cutting edge techniques and equipment, including the deep-freezing capabalities of a Pacojet and a penchant for sous vide cooking, in which ingredients are slow cooked in a water bath over extended periods.
Bruich will bring many of these methods to Lounge On20 (1050 20th St., Sacramento; 916-443-6620), which is slated for a "soft opening" on April 21 and then celebrating its grand opening from April 28 - 30. The lounge menu will continue to emphasize small plates, with prices in the $8 range, and include tacos with the pork cooked sous vide, in-house roasted nuts and a tweaking of the lounge's fried mac n' cheese recipe. Entree prices will range from about $18 to $28, and while this menu is still being fine tuned, plan on such items as house cured hamachi belly with compressed melon, and a confit filet of Alaskan halibut with baby artichokes, fennel, carrots and watercress.
"I'm looking forward to exploring and doing some new things and some different things," said Bruich. "A large percentage of our menu is being based around sous vide and ways to utilize the technology ... I think this (new position) will give me the platform to explore new ideas, the manpower to execute them and the support of the customers to make it all possible."
April 12, 2011
Over the years, I have found that journalism - and my career as a writer - is full of ups and downs. You get on a roll, bang out a few good stories in a row, then you look around, run into a few obstacles and false starts and, suddenly, you're stumped. Yes, it's a dry spell.
During my years as a features writer, specializing in profiles, there were times when I thought I would never come up with another compelling person to write about.
I am in one of those dry spells at the moment, though readers of the newspaper might not have any inkling. That's because I have visited several restaurants in recent weeks, tried the food, looked at what they're all about, judged the quality of the overall experience and then, unfortunately, pulled the plug.
The tally includes two Indian restaurants that don't give any indication they want to stay in business or are concerned about the fundamentals of good service and decent cooking; a Mexican restaurant that is like every cookie-cutter Mexican restaurant on earth and pretty much bored me from the moment the stale tortilla chips and watery salsa were plunked down on our table; and a marginally upscale restaurant specializing in American cuisine where the host led us to our table, put down the menus and walked away without saying a word. It would have been helpful if she had at least uttered something along the lines of, "Watch out, the food here is really boring, your server will act flustered even though the place is nearly empty, and, it will soon become apparent that we don't really know what we're doing." Oh, this "host" did acknowledge us when we left - with a smile and a "good night" -- but that's probably because she was standing next to the owner at the time. I'll leave it to readers to try and figure out who I'm talking about.
April 12, 2011
Get ready West Sacramento - the "Squeeze with cheese" - and its ardent fans, are coming.
The Squeeze Inn, the popular local burger joint that gained national fame thanks to its appearance on Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," is set to open at 1350 Harbor Boulevard location in early May, officials announced in a news release today.
(And speaking of Triple-D, Food Network's Guy Fieri is coming to Sacramento on April 25 and 26. More on that soon.)
The West Sacramento location is the fourth to spring up in the region. There's a Squeeze Inn in Sacramento, Roseville and Galt.
The newest Squeeze Inn is owned by restaurant veterans Dave Chambers, Joe Mousley and Eric Ostberg. And it's going to be the biggest location of all. The Bee's Bob Shallit interviewed Ostberg about the new restaurant. Check out his story by clicking here.
From the chain that brought us the freshly cut and grilled six-ounce tri-tip steak for $10.99 (with the "endless salad bar," such a deal) comes this:
The six Sizzler restaurants in Sacramento have added another popular, more seasonal, meat item - a half-rack of St. Louis-style pork ribs, brushed with Cattlemen's barbecue sauce and accompanied by corn bread and sweet potato fries with chipotle ranch dipping sauce.
The freight is $11.99; an additional $2.29 buys entrance to the salad bar, where two other items also have debuted - potato soup with trimmings, and a BLT salad with garlic dressing. All three new items will be around through May 29; look for burgers at Sizzler starting in June.
Now, here's something you may not know: "St. Louis-style" refers to the way a rack of pork spareribs is trimmed, to get rid of the fat flap and gristle. The result is a near-perfect rectangle of meat and bones. It's what the pros use - the rack of choice at the annual Best In the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks each Labor Day weekend.
Also: Spareribs and baby back ribs both come from hogs of the same size, but from different parts of the animal. Baby backs are so called because they're literally smaller than spareribs, and are what's left over when the pork loin is boned. Spareribs are from the fattier breast and belly area of the hog, the source of bacon.
The Sizzler chain does business in 12 states, with 111 units in California (www.sizzler.com).
Monday postscript: Enotria and Magpie
I am returning from a two-week vacation, so today I will be playing a little bit of catch-up, beginning with a look back at my last two reviews.
Let's start with Enotria, the wine bar and restaurant that just spent over $1 million renovating its building on Del Paso Boulevard. Is that amount of money something a restaurant critic should consider when writing a review? That's a very tough question.
Here's the honest answer: yes and no.
No, it shouldn't count from a pure journalistic perspective. The only thing that really matters to customers is the experience - are they getting a superior experience and does the cost of that experience make sense? A restaurant critic's duty is to put himself in the shoes of the customer, gather information, and make judgments from that perspective. If the amount of the investment was supposed to be factored into this equation, there would be a small sign on every table that stated something to the effect of, "Hey, cut us some slack. We spent big bucks on this place."
That said, I could not help but think about the money when I looked closely at Enotria. This kind of investment is a tremendous boost for that part of town, it's great for the local restaurant industry, it suggests this place is serious about being a great restaurant and it's certainly a sign of confidence during very difficult economic times.
But the money also raises questions? Why hasn't Enotria sprung for an espresso machine? Espresso is on the menu. And why, when I called to make a reservation a week after Valentine's Day, did Enotria's voicemail greeting mention the upcoming Valentine's Day dinner? It doesn't cost anything to be organized and stay on top of things.
I wound up writing a mixed review of Enotria, though some readers found my pronouncements harsh in places. (I often have people mention what they see in the online comments, but I don't read online comments (except for this blog) because I don't find them sincere or, for the most part, constructive. It's pretty much the professional wrestling of intellectual discourse. But I do take calls, voicemails and emails seriously, since most of those folks are willing to put their names behind what they believe).
For a high-end restaurant, Enotria was struggling in a couple of areas. Some of the shortcomings that I noted are opinions and some are simply facts. Either way, when I make such pronouncements, it is my obligation to show my reasoning and to support my argument. For instance, when I noted that several of the entrees we tried were bland, that is an opinion that requires some supporting evidence. It also requires me to draw on a very broad benchmark established by visiting all other restaurants operating in the same category. But when I say the steak was riddled with gristle, that is not something that can be disputed - explained, perhaps, but not disputed.
When I noted that the presentation of the wines should be tweaked, that was something that combined fact with opinion. I was simply reporting the events as they happened when I noted that the wine flights, which come in three separate glasses all at once, are presented in a blur and that it is next to impossible to keep track of which winery produced which wine. If you like your wines paired with confusion and random pronunciations of obscure French or Italian wineries, then you will disagree with my suggestion that Enotria must make this experience more customer friendly by providing, say, a laminated note card with the wines, the order of tasting and a couple of observations by the sommelier. What's more, I would make these cards something customers can take home for future reference, since a big part of wine tasting is to get folks to know and understand new wines with the idea they may want to order them or buy them retail and take them home.
I occasionally watch the TV show "Undercover Boss." In addition to revealing that many CEOs are incredible klutzes, the show often illustrates that a strategy or system the boss thought was a good idea doesn't actually work in the real world. I would encourage all restaurant managers and owners to put themselves in the position of servers, cooks or hosts from time to time and see how things are working or not working. Even more importantly, they should sit in the customer's chair on occasion to see if their ideas make sense and can be executed properly.
Enotria is a fine restaurant and wine bar that should not have difficulty resolving its issues and moving toward the top tier in the Sacramento region. The money spent on the building, coupled with a talented staff capable of delivering an excellent overall experience, suggest to me that Enotria will rise up and thrive soon enough.
What more can I say about this place? Magpie is running on all cylinders. I love the food and the way the business is run.
If I were to get picky, one question I might have is what happens on the sidewalk patio at Magpie - sometimes diners get wind of the smoke coming from adjacent Shady Lady Saloon.
Is this a problem? Not when you have two businesses of this caliber working side by side. Shady Lady is one the great places in town to enjoy a cocktail and its presence on R Street has been a real boon. So I'm not surprised how it is handling the matter.
I just got off the phone with Jason Boggs, one of the owners at Shady Lady. He told me he admires Magpie's food and realizes smoking can be an issue. He and the managers recently had a meeting to discuss this very issue. They hope to resolve it by making that side of Shady Lady's patio a non-smoking area.
It's a simple fix and a classy move.
April 11, 2011
We sure miss Rick Kushman's unfailingly cheery dispatches from the local food and wine scene around here. You can now catch the former Bee columnist running a series of wine classes and tastings titled, "Why Wine is More Fun Than People Make it Sound." That's to say, Kushman will leave the purple prose at home and bring wine down to earth and answer common questions about storage, tasting tips and background in how wine is made. The first of these monthly classes will be held Saturday at Lava Cap Winery (2221 Fruitridge Rd., Placerville; 530-621-0175). The class runs from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and costs $25. Now grab a glass and let's get to getting on some fun and informational wine education.
We're big fans of Roxy restaurant's Burgers & Bottles program (3 to 10 p.m. Thursdays), in which we get to custom-build our own burgers and pair them with giant bottles of beer.
Now, in the interest of small-plate dining, Roxy has introduced its Sweet Bites menu, a four-item lunchtime dessert offering as an alternative to the bigger bites on its regular dessert menu.
"We started it for our lunch service, to give people something sweet but still have an option of a (dessert) that's a little smaller," said pastry chef Kristina Dula, who's been at Roxy since it opened in 2006.
"A lot of diners are here on business lunches and their time is budgeted, so we weren't moving a lot of desserts at lunchtime," said Roxy general manager Mike Holyfield. "But the small desserts have been received very well, much better than we'd anticipated. The minis seem to be where it's at right now."
New items will rotate to the lunchtime mini-menu, along with changing fillings and toppings. Today the lineup ($3 each) is:
- Beignet with mixed-berries dipping sauce.
- Crepe with fresh strawberries, chocolate sauce, Chantilly cream and toasted almonds.
- Napoleon with Meyer lemon cream and blueberry compote.
- Warm dark-chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and candied walnuts.
Roxy is at 2381 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 489-2000, www.roxyrestaurantandbar.com.
April 7, 2011
An opportunity to help low-income families get on track to healthier eating is coming to the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services starting Friday. Meals for Health, sponsored by EarthSave International, is a free 30-day program to promote a low-fat, plant-strong diet for families in need. Candidates are being selected by the Sacramento Food Bank, who are identifying families with health problems and would benefit from nutritional education, shopping and exercise tips, and help with food preparation. For more information: www.earthsave.org.
April 7, 2011
A former Slocum House chef has stepped forward to honor gift certificates to the now shuttered Fair Oaks restaurant.
Chef Vincent Paul Alexander, of Alexander's Horseshoe Bar Grill in Loomis, told The Bee that he'll trade any Slocum House gift certificate for a promotional one to his restaurant. The offer likely will come as good news to disgruntled diners. Dozens of readers have been calling The Bee since news of Slocum House's closure broke last week, wondering how to redeem or get a refund on gift certificates.
"When a place like that goes out of business there are a lot of people left holding gift certificates," he said.
The gesture is "a nod to the customers of Slocum House and their impact on my career," Alexander wrote in an e-mail.
Alexander started his career at Slocum House in 1990 and was there for seven years before leaving to open Alexander's Meritage in Folsom.
April 6, 2011
Stuart Spoto shows off a bottle of his wine at his Arden Oaks home. Credit: Chris Macias
When it comes to wine tastings, few match the buzz and hype behind Taste of Oakville. The tasting, an especially hot ticket that's limited to wine industry and media, features some of the Napa Valley's most coveted (and astronomically pricey) wines from the Oakville appellation, including Opus One, Harlan Estate, Bond and Screaming Eagle. And for the first time, a Sacramento winery will pour at this event.
Spoto Wines, based in a local Arden Oaks neighborhood, will be pouring two wines at this April 18 tasting: 2008 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) and 2008 Cuvee Arianna ($45), a cabernet sauvignon-based Bordeaux blend. Though owner and winemaker Stuart Spoto creates these wines in the 916 area code, he sources the fruit from Oakville, including a 30-acre vineyard owned by UC Davis.
Wineries have traditionally been grouped in alphabetical order at Taste of Oakville, meaning Spoto Wines will likely be right next to Screaming Eagle at this event. The 2007 vintage of Screaming Eagle currently fetches about $2,000 a bottle on the secondary market, and Taste of Oakville offers a rare chance to taste this much hyped wine. That's not to mention all of the other blue chip wines that will be poured at the tasting, where any bottle less than $100 is considered a bargain.
"You should be walking when you eat that," somebody said.
"Hey, you're right," I said, and walked away.
The guy was referring to the Walkin' Taco, which I was delightedly devouring. It's one of several new menu items that the vendor Ovations will offer fans this minor-league baseball season at Raley Field.
The Sacramento River Cats' home opener will be 7:05 p.m. Thursday, when they go against the Tacoma Rainiers. But I was on site Tuesday night for an exhibition game (there's another one at 6:35 tonight) and a sampling of those new dishes, which included the Walkin' Taco. On March 30, my colleague Chris Macias blogged on "Appetizers" about his own experience at a previous Ovations tasting; scroll down to read it.
The secret to the Walkin' Taco's background flavor, revealed Ovations general manager Mark Stone, is the taco seasoning mixed in the batter before the waffle cone is cooked and stuffed with slaw, special sauce and a choice of tri-tip, chicken or chayote squash and other veggies.
"We're really excited about the Walkin' Taco," Stone said. "Nobody else in the country is doing it. The waffle cone has a little bend to it, so it's not too brittle."
The Walkin' Taco was the hit of the evening, followed by the salmon taco with lime-cilantro aioli, and slices of fresh mango dusted with chile powder and shot with squeezes of lime juice, then skewered on wooden sticks.
One reason the Walkin' Taco was so tasty was because of the juicy grilled tri-tip inside, and let's talk about that California cut for a minute.
The tri-tip sandwich has long been a favorite at Raley Field. Until the 2009 season - when the leaner ball tip was substituted - it was a top-seller for nine years. Last season, said Ovations executive chef Ryan Curry, the ball tip was dropped and the tri-tip was reinstated. "That made a lot of people happy," said Curry, who has cooked at some of the top country clubs and resorts between here and Alaska.
Though the hot dog is the No. 1 seller at Raley Field - as it is at most ballparks - tri-tip is No. 2.
"Conservatively speaking, last year our tri-tip sales surpassed the ball tip by 25 percent," Stone said. "We sold more than 22,000 pounds of it. We'll have tri-tip sandwiches this season, certainly, but we're putting tri-tip in a couple of our new offerings - the Walkin' Taco and the barbecued beef nachos. We're predicting tri-tip sales this year at around 26,000 pounds."
The a la carte tri-tip sandwich will be $7.75, as will the Walkin' Taco. Both are home runs.
April 5, 2011
Another Freshii is set to open in Sacramento, this time with a frozen yogurt bar.
Eric Heffel, owner of Yogurtagogo, is opening the region's second Freshii on Monday, company officials announced in a news release. The location, at 3rd and Q streets near Chocolate Fish Coffee, will be the first to offer a self-serve frozen yogurt bar and craft bottled beer and wine by the glass.
Freshii, a quick-service restaurant franchise, features nutritious salads, burritos, wraps, rice bowls, yogurts and soups in a customizable format. The company also prides itself on eco-friendly packaging made from vegetable starches.
The region's first Freshii opened mid-February in Folsom and has been met with good reviews by Yelpers and bloggers. Sacramento Connect bloggers Catherine Enfield and Kimberly Morales, of Munchie Musings and Poor Girl Eats Well respectively, were impressed by the environmentally-friendly approach and healthy ingredients.
April 5, 2011
More than 143 samples of olive oil were sipped at this weekend's California Olive Oil Competition, held at the Yolo County Fair. The results are now in, following careful sipping, swirling and tasting by the judges, with six "best of show" winners and the Patty Bogle-Roncoroni Award which deemed the "best of the best" olive oil.This grand sweepstakes award was created this year in honor of the late Patty Bogle, the matriarch of Bogle Vineyards who was also a board member of the Yolo County Fair and helped create this competition.
The winners will be displayed at the Yolo County Fair from Aug. 17 - 21. Here's a list of the top winners, and a full rundown of winners will be up soon at www.yolocountyfair.net.
Best in show
Delicate Intensity - Lucero Olive LLC, Corning - Sevillano
Medium Intensity - I1 Fiorello Olive Oil Company, Fairfield - Frantoio
Robust Intensity - Vine Ray Farms, Woodland - Tuscan Blend
Yolo County Resident - Vine Ray Farms, Woodland - Tuscan Blend
Flavored Oil - Sutter Buttes Olive Ranch, Sutter - Blood Orange
Organic Olive Oil - Katz Rock Hill Ranch, Napa - Other Blends
Patty Bogle-Roncoroni Award - Katz Rock Hill Ranch, Napa
The 9-year-old Carpe Vino wine bar/wine shop/restaurant of Auburn is taking the fifth. Fifth anniversary of the restaurant part, that is.
In celebration, a prix-fixe menu for $39.99 (plus tax and tip) will be served from 5 to 10 tonight, and every night through Saturday. Or you can order items a la carte.
The four-course meal starts with a choice of steamed mussels, foie gras and chicken liver mousse, or roasted beet and goat cheese napoleon.
The second course is a choice between French onion soup and a salad of organic mixed lettuces.
For the entree, choose between roasted Angus filet mignon (add $10 to your bill), English pea risotto or fish of the day.
End the evening with a hard decision: Will it be the buttermilk panna cotta or the chocolate cake with coconut ice cream?
Working the kitchen will be executive chef Eric Alexander, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
Carpe Vino stocks 500 wines, so it's interesting and educational to stroll the racks and ask questions of father-son co-owners Gary and Drew Moffat. Be sure to get a look inside the Wine Mine Room out back.
Carpe Vino is at 1568 Lincoln Way in Old Auburn. Reservations: (530) 823-0320, www.carpevinoauburn.com.
April 4, 2011
The owners of de Vere's Irish Pub have announced that a Davis location for their popular watering hole will open in September.
A lease was signed in March for a 4,800 square foot space at 217 E St. in downtown Davis, a space formerly occupied by Soga's restaurant. Like its downtown Sacramento location, the Davis branch of de Vere's will focus on Irish-themed drinks and decor, and a menu that includes house-made bacon, blood sausages and other pub fare. The Davis location will be about 1,000 square feet larger than its Sacramento pub, and includes a wraparound patio.
Co-owner Henry de Vere White, who once ran a college pub in Seattle, feels confident that Davis is a good fit for his Irish pub.
"We love the food movement out there and just relate well to the area," said de Vere White. "We're going to cater to the Davis community as a whole, from the professors and college students to those with families and kid-friendly brunches. We want locals to come in and have a pint and have a nice change of pace."
April 4, 2011
At the 2,400-square-foot center, visitors will find "interactive digital information tools," including the "Visit Napa Valley Mobile App."
The free app is downloadable on all smartphones and uses GPS technology to "pinpoint wineries, restaurants, hotels and spas," said Clay Gregory, president of the Napa Valley Destination Council. The app also includes an events calendar, suggested activities and attractions, maps, directions, weather forecasts, special offers and local news.
Also featured at the center are photos of the Napa Valley, a 3-D topographical map (coming in May), an illustrative appellations map, a concierge desk with personal guidance and assistance with restaurant and hotel reservations, looped videos showing images of the valley, a shop that sells locally produced products, and much more.
The center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
For more information: (707) 260-0106, www.legendarynapavalley.com.
April 1, 2011
By Niesha Lofing
More bad news regarding the closure of Slocum House - gift certificates to the Fair Oaks restaurant are likely worthless.
More than a dozen Bee readers have called and e-mailed since news of the closure hit our Business section Thursday. Click here to read the story.
Calls to the owner's financial consultant (and former owner himself) Jack Kandola have not yet been returned, nor has a message to the property owner.
Given that, we asked Gary Almond, president of the Better Business Bureau of Northeast California, what to do.
April 1, 2011
Many might think of beer being a guy's kind of world when it comes to brewing, but an April 16 event at Rubicon Brewing Co. (2004 Capitol Ave., Sacramento) hopes to change this perception. Grab a pint and enjoy the fifth annual "Women in Brewing" event which will include brews from Moylan's Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada, Stone Brewing Company and more. The brewfest will also feature a history of women brewers, with proceeds going to Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE). For more information, visit Rubicon's web site.
The owners of the high-end Zachary Jacques French country restaurant in Placerville signed a lease this week to occupy the space formerly held by the Redbud Cafe in Cameron Park, said executive chef John Evans. The plan: to open a bistro by mid-May, to be called Zac Jack.
"It will be a gastro bistro, with the tagline, 'Everyday Gourmet Cuisine,'" said Evans, co-owner with wife Lynnette Evans of Zachary Jacques.
"The theme will be California cuisine," said Evans, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. "All of my techniques are French, but the food (at Zac Jack) won't be French. It will be in an accessible, everyday style. We're going to be a very affordable restaurant, not high-end at all, but we will serve gourmet food."
How does Evans reconcile the terms "gourmet food" with "affordable"?
"It is kind of an oxymoron," he allowed. "'Gastro' stands for 'gastronomy,' which means gourmet food. Bistros are casual, designed to feed the local communities they occupy. That's the concept for Zac Jack. The only fine-dining restaurants that are going to make it (in this down economy) are the ones that start going to this format. You have to be affordable for fine dining at this point."
Evans is looking at the expansion as "a huge opportunity for us. Sure, the economy is horrible, but this is a time (for businesses) to reposition (themselves) for better locations and (more favorable) leases. As much as I'm excited (about the Zac Jack opening), I'm also terrified. If I wasn't scared, there would be something wrong with me."
Zac Jack will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the menu will be the likes of short ribs reduced in cabernet or Guinness beer, wood-roasted chicken, flatbreads, small plates and "structured salads."
For years, Zachary Jacques' signature dessert has been the rich, pastry cream-filled St. HonorÃ© cake. "It's as big as a beehive," Evans said. A smaller version of that classic dessert will show up at Zac Jack in an individual-serving size.
"We'll have multiple flavors (such as) key lime, Bananas Foster, chocolate and vanilla, and pumpkin and eggnog during the holidays," Evans said. "When berries come in from Apple Hill, we'll have fresh raspberries, boysenberries (and the like)."
Zac Jack Bistro will be at 3275 Coach Lane, Cameron Park. Zachary Jacques restaurant is at 1821 Pleasant Valley Road, Placerville; (530) 626-8045, www.zacharyjacques.com.
Starving. Drooling. Craving sugar.
Take one look at the decadent confections that are part of a local online bake sale benefiting Japan relief efforts and those descriptions are likely to make sense.
The auction is open until 11:59 p.m. Saturday, so it's time to place your bid.
Many local chefs, food bloggers, bakers and do-gooders have jumped in to participate, including Selland's, Icing on the Cupcake, Masullo Pizza, Mulvaney's B&L and Poor Girl Eats Well's Kimberly Morales.
The Bee's own Blair Anthony Robertson is even auctioning a loaf of his superb sourdough.
To see the full list of item's available or to bid, go to the post on Munchie Musings' website.
To learn more about the bake sale, click here.