Appetizers
May 31, 2011
Hamburgers, how do we love thee? Let's count the ways

Gentlemen (and ladies), start your grills!

Summer is officially here, even though the weather says otherwise. But when has a little rain and wind ever stopped dedicated backyard grillers?

We stopped by Corti Bros. Market last Saturday, nosing around, and counted eight kinds of ground beef in the meat case, including one called Mike's Ultimate Blend. Immediately, we thought of hamburgers in their many styles and variations - especially burgers on a charcoal-fuled grill.

So we chatted with master meat cutter Mike Carroll, manager of Corti's meat department. "We sell tons (not literally) of ground beef in the summertime," he said. "People looking for a flavorful hamburger have to remember, though, that fat is what gives burgers their flavor."

Carroll broke down his ground-beef offerings for us, ranking them according to quality and flavor, plus fat content.

At the top of the heap is Mike's Ultimate Blend, a mixture of prime chuck roast, prime top round and choice brisket ($5.99 a pound, destined to increase to $6.99 a pound; 18 percent fat). We took home a pound and made meatballs one night, a thick burger the next. Lots of texture and flavor. Next:

Kobe ground beef: "This is the trim from our Kobe beef program," Carroll said ($7.99, 20 percent).

Prime ground beef: "Trim from the table cuttings of six kinds of prime beef" ($5.99, 25 percent).

Piedmontese ground beef: Piedmontese beef is from an heirloom breed of "double-muscled" cattle originally from northern Italy. It's low in saturated fats, but you wouldn't know that to taste it ($5.99, 15 percent).

Extra-lean: exclusively from the sirloin tip ($4.99, 5 percent).

Ground sirloin: $3.49, 15 percent.

Ground round: $3.29, 17 percent.

If you don't want to make your own burgers, consider meat clerk Greg Stoffel's "gourmet burgers," patties handmade from Kobe and prime ground beefs, with bacon, Gorgonzola cheese and a touch of Mangalitsa pork lard ($7.99, 20 percent).

Corti's is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 736-3805.

May 31, 2011
New farmers market debuts at Sutter Davis Hospital this week

farmersmarket2.jpgStarting Thursday, patients and staff at Sutter Davis Hospital will be able to optimize health by simply walking outside.

That's because just a few steps from the hospital's main entrance will be locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, bread and nuts. The hospital, at 2000 Sutter Place, is the newest location of the Davis Farmers Market. The market will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 2 through Sept. 29.

The market is the first in Yolo County to be affiliated with a hospital, Janet Wagner, chief executive officer for Sutter Davis, stated in a news release.

Easy access to farm fresh produce and products is "particularly important as we see an increase in diabetes, heart disease and childhood obesity in our country ..." Wagner stated.

May 26, 2011
KISS, local chefs coming together for charity

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CREDIT: Gene Simmons of KISS salivating at the mouth. Lezlie Sterling, Sacramento Bee

If you've been watching morning TV this week, you probably saw the "Good Day Sacramento" crew sporting KISS make-up. It's all in preparation of Sunday's Walk N' Rock for Kids, a charity event that includes a 5k walk and then capped with a Raley Field concert featuring the "hottest band in the world" ... KISS \m/

Sacramento chefs are also coming together to support the cause. A VIP dinner includes courses from the likes of Matt Woolston (Supper Club), Scott MacNamera (fresh from Bistro Michel's recent glowing review in the Bee), Simone McKinley of Revolution Wines, Lounge ON20 executive chef Pajo Bruich and others. No word if the chef's will be wearing KISS makeup for the cause.

May 26, 2011
Land Ocean restaurant opens in Folsom; we take a first look

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Though it's been only 18 months since Mark and Karoline Platt opened their impressive Sienna restaurant (formerly Masque) in El Dorado Hills, just last Monday they welcomed the first customers into Land Ocean, their "new American steakhouse" in Folsom.

"The style (of cuisine) at Sienna is California fusion, something I would classify as culinary, with complex dishes and sauces," Mark Platt said Wednesday as he paused here and there to make sure all was well with lunchtime diners. "Land Ocean is meant to be 'casual upscale' - high-quality but simple fare."

The space, formerly occupied by a Ruby Tuesday, has been transformed into an intimate dining room with a swank feel. A huge sheet of creamy, backlit onyx greets guests at the hostess station. Whole chickens slowly turned on a rotisserie over chunks of flaming mesquite. The ceiling is of beechwood slats, the broad windows are louvered, and dangling over the centerpiece bar is a striking sculpture/light fixture. Seating is in elevated booths, tiered so that "everybody gets a good seat," Platt said.

We cruised the lunch menu and found most of the choices reflective of the restaurant's logo - a bull standing on a beach (land and ocean, you see). Included are steak sandwiches, St. Louis-style Kurobuta pork ribs, Kobe burger, raw oysters, ahi tuna salad, blackened mahi and fresh fish of the day. A couple of surprises - crisp Southwestern-style egg rolls, Thai noodle steak salad and a hefty portobello mushroom burger.

Lunch ranges from $5 to $17; dinner runs up to $30 per entrée (steaks are from the Double R Ranch in Washington). If there are signature dishes, they're the bone-in 22-ounce cut of prime rib and the wild Alaskan king salmon.

May 25, 2011
Love to barbecue ribs? Here are two more tips

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CREDIT: David Wilson aka "Barbecue Bobby" turns over a rack of pork ribs at the late-great Cafe au Creme on Stockton Blvd. Bryan Patrick, Sacramento Bee.

Don't know about you, but I am a sucker for some properly smoked barbecue. I've spent many an afternoon in the backyard tending to my barrel smoker and trying to create some killer ribs: slow cooked at 225 degrees until the meat's just about to fall off the bone but still has some chew, plus finding that perfect blend of rub and sauce to take the flavor into the stratosphere.

I hadn't been so hungry in a while from writing a story, especially after getting off the phone with Jamie Purviance, the James Beard nominated author and barbecue master who lives in El Dorado Hills. Here's today's piece with plenty of tips for elevating your ribs.

But you know how it goes with newspapers. A lot of times we have too many tips and not enough space in the paper, so here are a couple more suggestions when you're ready to slow-cook that next slab of ribs:

May 23, 2011
New restaurant openings: THIR13EN, Back Bistro

Chef Adam Pechal of Tuli Bistro will launch his second restaurant, THIR13EN, on Friday with a five-course menu based on 13 local ingredients. With business partner Ulli Petersen, THIR13EN will be housed at the Sterling Hotel (13th and H streets, Sacramento) and focus on prix fixe menus with touches of molecular gastronomy techniques. Friday and Saturday's menu will feature edibles from River Dog Farms, Soil Born Farms, Passmore Ranch and other local sources. The cost is $75 a head and dinner is served at 7 p.m. Reservations only: (916) 594-7669.

Meanwhile, out in Folsom the expansion of Back Wine Bar (25075 Blue Ravine Rd., Ste. 150, Folsom) has been completed. The newly dubbed Back Wine Bar and Bistro includes an expanded food program with entrees and dinner specials, along with extra seating and a private dining room. The bistro will be open from 5 p.m. - 9 p.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays; the wine bar will run Tuesdays through Saturdays from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. For more information: (916) 986-9100 or www.backwinebar.com.

May 23, 2011
Monday postscript: Biba, the restaurant, the woman, the books

As I write this, I have at my side a copy of "Italy al Dente," by Biba Caggiano, an excellent cookbook published in 1998. As I look back at yesterday's review and the visits to Biba the restaurant in the weeks prior, I am reminded of Caggiano's passion for Italy, Italian food and, as much as anything, good, old-fashioned hospitality.

May 20, 2011
2,000-capacity concert venue coming to Old Sugar Mill

A 2,000-capacity venue will debut in June at the Old Sugar Mill, a Clarksburg facility that hosts seven tasting rooms for regional wineries. The concert venue will host a four-show series, that kicks off June 19 with a show featuring country music star Randy Travis. Other shows include a bluesy bill with Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, a concert with '70s rockers Cheap Trick on Sept. 16, and one more show to be announced for August.

The owners of the Old Sugar Mill are partnering with Richter Entertainment Group, which operates the Ironstone Amphitheatre at Ironstone Vineyards in Calaveras county, to bring this concert venue to the Sacramento Delta. The Old Sugar Mill will hold its concerts on a lawn area and include a food court and beverage pavilion. All concerts at the Old Sugar Mill will end by 11 p.m. and a traffic plan has been worked out with Yolo County, said Mary Tye, marketing manager for the Old Sugar Mill.

"We came up with a plan that will bring maximum enjoyment and as little impact as possible," said Tye. "We're the closest wine destination to Sacramento, literally 20 minutes from downtown. We have seven wineries now and over 100 wines, and music and wine go hand in hand. We want people to come to Clarksburg and have a good time."

May 19, 2011
New executive chef at Enotria

The staff turnover continues at Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar, which re-opened in February following a $1.5 million remodel. Executive chef Anthony Brenes recently departed from Enotria, and sous chef John Komotos has been promoted to executive chef. This personnel change follows former wine director Chad Seaburg leaving for a gig in the medical industry, and being replaced by 26-year-old sommelier Jeremiah Morehouse. Komotos says Brenes left to help raise a new family and take work outside the restaurant industry.

Komotos, 30, is a native of St. Louis and moved to Sacramento in November. He was previously working at a raw foods restaurant in Los Angeles and playing music on the side. He's also had stints in Vail, Colo., and got his start at Cardwell's in Clayton in St. Louis.

As Enotria's executive chef, Komotos is collaborating more closely with Morehouse the sommelier for more thoughtful food and wine pairings. While Brenes created a flavorful menu with Latin American accents, many dishes were simply too busy and spiced up to work well with Enotria's wide-ranging wine program. (Here's a link to Blair Anthony Robertson's review of Enotria).

May 19, 2011
A trio of Diamond J Ranch sauces offers a medley of flavors

We happened to be sitting on the patio at Corti Bros. Market the other day, munching on Italian mortadella sandwiches and watching Dan Johnson, Jr., grill chicken breasts. He had brushed them with his dad's barbecue sauce and was handing out cut-up pieces to passers-by. Pretty soon, there was a line.

We tasted samples of the sauce trio he was marketing, and then tasted them some more. They're from Diamond J Ranch in Yuba City -- Gourmet Barbecue Sauce and Marinade (with cranberries; $6.99 at Corti's), Smokey Chipotle Dipping Sauce ($6.99) and Jalepeno Hot Sauce ($3.29). In a word: Wow!

I called Dan Sr. -- Dan "Boots" Johnson - at his home, where he put the phone down for a minute to take a venison roast out of the oven.

"This all started with a crazy idea I had, so I put it out to the public and they went for it," he said.

Boots explained he'd been "playing" at creating a barbecue sauce since 1959 because "I couldn't find any sauces in stores that didn't have liquid smoke in them, and I'm allergic to it." After he retired from CalTrans in 2000, he discovered that everyone who tasted the sauce (at home barbecues and the like) went wild for it.

One thing led to another, and he started packaging and selling the bottled sauce. In the beginning, he sold 48 cases ("Jar by jar, and each case has 12 bottles") at a home show in Yuba City. "I was thrilled, and it just took off from there," he said.

The barbecue sauce is now sold at more than 100 places - supermarkets, specialty stores, delis, mom-and-pops - and is used in a few restaurants.

The success of the barbecue sauce led to the creations of the chipotle dipping sauce and the jalapeno sauce. They're designed to be compatible, so feel free to experiment and mix them together.

Here's a tip from Boots: If you want the barbecue sauce a bit hotter, add to it one tablespoon of jalepeno sauce. Hotter still: Add two tablespoons.

For recipes and more information: www.diamondjbbq.com, (530) 300-3738.

Cort Bros. Market is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento, (916) 736-3800.

May 17, 2011
Gonul's to become Vanilla Bean Bistro on June 6

The Bee reported last month that two east Sacramento eateries, Gonul's J St. Cafe and Formoli's Bistro, would be swapping locations. That time is now about to come, with Gonul's changing its name to Vanilla Bean Bistro and opening June 6 at 3260 J St. Note that Gonul's will close its current location at 3839 J St. on May 29 to make way for the move.

Blum says that she's changing the name of her restaurant since so many people have a hard time pronouncing her first name. Her new space will be about 1,200 square-feet smaller than the former location, and plans to run some cooking classes once Vanilla Bean Bistro is up and running.

"We're going to do almost the same menu," said Blum. "We'll use mostly organic ingredients and grow things in the summertime in our garden. So, we'll harvest in the morning and bring it in the same day."

For more information: 916-457-1155; www.vanillabeanbistro.com.

May 17, 2011
Spurred by new marshmallows, a first taste of s'mores

AA MARSHMALLOWS2.JPGI confessed something last week and it shocked everyone who heard it. It was this: I'd never made or tasted a s'more (as in "some more") until Kraft Foods sent over bags of a new product called Jet-Puffed StackerMallows.

They're rectangular-shaped marshmallows specifically designed to fit on a graham cracker, two of the three ingredients in a s'more (the other is chocolate, but sliced banana is an optional addition).

S'mores have been described as "traditional nighttime campfire treats," and the Kraft people have timed the release of StackerMallows with the summertime camping season. I consulted many parents on s'mores' popularity, and they all agreed that the right way to make them is, indeed, around a campfire.

However, time was short and the woods were wet, so we took the in-the-kitchen trail instead. Assisted by a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old, I made my first s'mores in a microwave oven and a second batch under the broiler in a conventional oven. They looked OK to me, and the two borrowed daughters of friends loved 'em. My conclusion: way too sweet.

But what do I know about s'mores? Nothing. So I turned to parents more experienced with the purity of the s'mores experience.

Bee food writer Niesha Lofing made s'mores with StackerMallows and reported: "My young children were enthralled with the idea of flat marshmallows...but the mooshy factor was missing.

"One problem we encountered while using the new mallows for s'mores was that they were more difficult to skewer for roasting. While clumsy children's hands usually can navigate sticking a bulbous marshmallow with a stick, these thin marshmallows definitely require an adult's careful touch.

"The new mallow plumped a bit upon hitting the flames and charred in the same lovely fashion a normal marshmallow does. The flatter shape was easier for squishing within the s'more sandwich, but absent was the abundance of gooey goodness a normal s'more marshmallow imparts. When I'm stocking up on s'more supplies for camping trips, I'm sticking with the classic."

Bee staff writer Carlos Alcala makes his open-face s'more in a toaster oven: "I use some good quality semisweet chocolate chips...but a thin bittersweet-chocolate bar would work, too.

"I put a layer of chips on a graham cracker and put it in a toaster oven at 275-300 degrees. When they get soft, I put on the marshmallows. Usually I like the tiny kind and put them on one by one. These (StackerMallows) are better. Obviously, they're made the right size to fit across the cracker.

"I fit (three) on a cracker. After I put them on the chocolate, I put (the s'more) back in the toaster oven on broil and cooked it until the marshmallows swelled, browned and then smoked. You could add another cracker on top, but I like the ratio with just one graham cracker.

"(The StackerMallows) would not (work) well on campfire s'mores, though, if you want to toast them on a hanger. You need the fat ones for that, I'd think."

If bags of StackerMallows ($1.69 for 8 ounces) aren't in your favorite supermarkets, club stores and/or mass merchandisers right now, they will be very soon. For recipes (appearing within a week): www.kraftrecipes.com.

May 16, 2011
Shop and feed the hungry at downtown Sacramento market

The weekly Wednesday farmer's market at Cesar Chavez Park now features a booth where shoppers can donate fresh produce to the River City Food Bank.
Senior Gleaners - which helps food banks get healthy food into the hands of hungry people - worked with the River City Food Bank to launch the program earlier this month. The idea: shoppers buy a little extra at the weekly downtown market and donate it at the "Giving Fresh" table.
Cesar Chavez Park is across from City Hall at the corner of 10th and J streets.
The market runs on from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays through the end of October.

May 12, 2011
Mobile food truck petition presented to City Council

A petition signed by more than 3,700 fans of food trucks was presented at Thursday night's City Council meeting. The petition was circulated at April 30's Sacramento Mobile Food Festival, which drew nearly 10,000 to midtown's Fremont Park.

The petition asks for City Council to reconsider current ordinances which prevent food trucks from parking for more than 30 minutes in most parts of Sacramento, among other restrictions. The petition was presented by festival organizer Paul Somerhausen.

Local mobile food vendors met privately this week to discuss city ordinances, while a group of prominent Sacramento restaurateurs will hold a meeting next week regarding mobile food vending. A roundtable discussion is planned for June between city officials, mobile food vendors and restaurateurs.

Councilmember Rob Fong instructed city staff to study current food truck ordinances at the City Council meeting May 3. Somerhausen expects City Council to vote on food truck ordinances within the next two to four months.

May 12, 2011
Cooking For Solutions will be three days of food, wine and more

Monterey.jpgThe biggest event on the Monterey Peninsula is coming to the Monterey Bay Aquarium May 20-22. That would be the 10th annual Cooking For Solutions program, and now's the time to make your plans to attend.

There will be plenty going on, including cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs, food- and wine-tastings, book-signings, wine seminars, wine-and-food pairings, "grazing" on local produce and artisan foods, programs on the sustainable and organic food movements, a Southern-style breakfast with champagne and mimosas, and more.

Don't lose sight of the overall fund-raising goals of Cooking For Solutions - "To discover ways to save the oceans."

Most events are priced a la carte. Some are free with the purchase of admission to the aquarium. Others move into the hundreds of dollars. Discounts are offered to aquarium members; call (866) 963-9645) to sign up ($50 to $250, tax-deductible).

By far the most popular event of the three-day program is the opening gala, 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. May 20 ($150 general, $120 aquarium members; a percentage of each is tax-deductible). There, you'll sample "gourmet dishes" from celebrity chefs and 70 restaurants, and taste delicacies in the Sushi Lounge. Chef-authors will sign their books - Rich Moonen ("Fish Without a Doubt"), aquarium culinary partner (and event co-host) and Sacramento Bee Book Club alumna Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustard's Grill in the Napa Valley ("Appetizers"), and garden-designer P. Allen Smith ("Seasonal Recipes from the Garden").

Up for silent auction will be "culinary adventures, great wines and many one-of-a-kind items."

Go to www.montereybayaquarium.org for details. The aquarium is at 886 Cannery Row.

For area lodging, special offers, dining, attractions, events, tours and more, visit www.seemonterey.com.

May 12, 2011
Corner restaurant closes; new Clark's Corner to replace it

By Allen Pierleoni
apierleoni@sacbee.com

The popular Corner restaurant on J Street in East Sacramento closed its doors today, but will reopen May 27 with a new name, new owner and revamped menu.

The Corner will become Clark's Corner, named after owner Clark Branscum, who grew up in East Sacramento. He will serve as the restaurant's general manager and operator, he said in a phone interview today.

The building was originally Shakey's, an iconic pizza place that opened in 1954. Decades later, the space was occupied by Sweetwater, which relocated to Midtown, then became the Corner in October 2009.

May 12, 2011
Chocolate, yeast bread entries sought for State Fair baking contests

cookie bar1.JPGDo you have a fabulous chocolate or yeast bread recipe? It could be worth hundreds of dollars.

The California State Fair is looking for contest entries for its Ghiradelli Chocolate Championship and Fleishmann's Yeast "Bake for the Cure" Contest. Registration deadlines for both contests is June 3.

The chocolate competition is looking for the bakers with the best treats, cakes and desserts featuring at least one Ghiradelli baking product (think chocolate chips, bars or cocoa) among its ingredients, according to a news release.

Prizes are, in order of first to fourth place, $500, $250, $125 and $50. Winners and one randomly selected participant also will take home Ghiradelli gift baskets.

May 11, 2011
Soup's on, from the Original Soupman. So, what's not to like?

Rain or shine, cold or hot, stormy or calm. No matter what the weather or the season, the time is always right for a bowl of soup. (Or a glass of champagne, but that's another issue.)

Now that two of downtown Sacramento's top soup destinations have regrettably closed - Fog Mountain Cafe and La Bonne Soupe - that leaves Muntan's Soups and Salads (1225 J St., 916-498-9340) for excellent steaming bowls.

However, if you want good soup without leaving home or office, try the microwavable Original Soupman line. If you do want to get out of town for soup, the Original Soupman restaurant is scheduled to open May 19 on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco (the chain's first West Coast site). The menu will offer soups, sandwiches and - a first for the company - cioppino. Baseball legend Reggie "Mr. October" Jackson, an "advisor" to the company, will be present for the grand opening.

Anyway, there's a lot to like about the frozen soups, starting with the packaging. Each of the five flavors is in a plastic tub encased in a cardboard box. On the front you'll find a picture of Al Yeganeh, with some clever text, such as, "The soup that New Yorkers (who don't wait for anything) line up around the block for."

Some context: Yeganeh opened the doors to his New York City soup cafe in 1984, and became so iconic that he was parodied on TV's "Seinfeld" (the "Soup Nazi" episode, Nov. 2, 1995). Now, with 15 Soupman restaurants around the country and a quality product in some supermarket chains, obviously Yeganeh has had the last laugh.

We recently sampled three of the five flavors - seafood bisque, chicken vegetable and tomato basil (the other two are broccoli and cheese, and Italian wedding). The tasting panel agreed: four stars for the tastes, textures and quality ingredients.

The seafood bisque was chunky with whole bay shrimp and bits of lobster meat, scallop, crayfish and mussel. Among the other ingredients: sherry, cream, butter and curry powder.

The broth in the chicken vegetable soup held pieces of chicken, carrot, brussels sprouts, squash, onion, celery, tomato and more.

"Silken" is how one taster described the tomato basil soup, which contains an array of veggies in vegetable broth spiked with sherry, butter, vinegar and more.

The soup is not yet available in area supermarkets, but the company is negotiating with a major California chain to stock it within a month. Stay tuned for that announcement.

Meanwhile, 10-ounce servings of Original Soupman soups can be ordered at www.originalsoupman.com. Seafood bisque is $4.49; other flavors are $3.49.

May 11, 2011
Shady Lady's alcohol license suspended

By Chris Macias
cmacias@sacbee.com

You'll have to wait until May 20 if you were planning to grab a cocktail at Shady Lady (1409 R St. #101, Sacramento). The popular watering hole had its alcohol license suspended on May 10, due to Shady Lady's owners failing to notify California Alcoholic Beverage Control about a change in its business structure.

Shady Lady was granted its liquor license under the name of its individual owners: Jason Boggs, Garrett Van Vleck and Alex Origoni. The business has since changed its ownership name to Shady Lady Inc., but were penalized when ABC was not notified of this change. The business partners behind Shady Lady agreed to a 10-day suspension of its liquor license, said ABC spokesman John Carr.

"Any time you have a change in a person's name or the (business) structure, you have to let the department know," said Carr. "The department needs to know who the owners are and who's responsible for the business."

May 10, 2011
250 job openings at new restaurant called Yard House

That's a shame that Odonata Beer Co. had to shut down, as Chris Macias just reported. Perhaps that piece of bad news for a local beer label can be tempered by some good news: as in, 250 jobs up for grabs.

That's right, when's the last time you saw a story about 250 jobs? But that's how many people Yard House, the Southern California restaurant chain with 30 locations and 4,450 employees nationwide, is planning on hiring at its newest site opening soon at The Fountains, that upscale shopping center across from the Galleria in Roseville.

May 10, 2011
Odonata Beer Co. shuts down

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Sad news for Sacramentans who love some hometown suds. Odonata Beer Co., co-founded by former Sacramento Brewing Company brewmaster Peter Hoey, recently suspended operations. The brewery was founded in 2009 and quicky gained a reuptation of producing some of the Sacramento area's finest beers, including a popular and tangy Saison made in the style of Belgian "farmhouse" ales and a quadruple Belgian-styled beer called Rorie's Ale. Hoey used equipment at Sudwerk Brewery to produce the bulk of his beers.

"We were trying to bring a premium product to market at an affordable price but the margins weren't there to support that business model," said Hoey. "It got to the point where we needed to brew another batch to supply the market and I had to make call (to cease operations)."

Hoey says there's still a two-month supply of Odonata in stores. In the meantime, Hoey's working as a consultant for a number of northern California breweries, including Sutter Buttes Brewing in Yuba City. He's also working with some start-up Sacramento breweries and predicts five of them will open within a year.

"I love helping other breweries but ultimately I want to have my own brand again," said Hoey. "We'll get there."

May 10, 2011
Is your original cocktail impressive enough for Lake Tahoe?

The revitalized West Shore Cafe & Inn on Lake Tahoe opened its doors in January, bringing another dimension to the lake's culinary and lodging scenes. Gearing up for summer, it's holding the inaugural Spirit of the West Shore Cocktail Competition. Here's how it works:

If you're got a recipe for an original cocktail - one that's "perfect for sipping on warm summer days" - you're invited to play. Submit your recipe to www.westshorecafe.com by Friday. If yours is among the top 10 drink recipes chosen by the judges, you'll be invited to the property on May 28 to concoct your adult beverage in person.

There, judges will taste and choose the one cocktail they think best reflects the free-wheeling summertime lifestyle on Lake Tahoe. It will be named the West Shore Cafe & Inn's signature drink.

To the winner go bragging rights and a 2011-2012 season ski pass to Alpine Meadows and Homewood Mountain resorts. The inn is at 5160 W. Lake Blvd., Homewood; (530) 525-5200.

May 10, 2011
Vegetarians and meat-eaters unite! At an impressive meatless wine dinner

I know I have lots of vegetarian readers. I hear from them all the time. A long time ago, several asked that I include a notation in the ratings boxes indicating whether a restaurant is vegetarian friendly. I was happy to do so. Well, here's vegetarian friendly for you -- an entire wine dinner at Evan's Kitchen in East Sacramento, featuring the work the talented Evan Elsberry.

If you want meatless dishes to be taken seriously in this town, you have to support the places that are taking them seriously already. This dinner looks impressive, and costs $67.50, including wine pairings. For what it's worth, I recommend taking a cab or arranging a ride to any wine dinner. If you drink the wine that's served, you will likely be over the legal limit by night's end. If you get a DUI, your life will be ruined for years (I have friends who have told me as much). And worrying about that will take the fun out of a wine dinner.

This dinner is called "Where's the Beef? You Won't Believe it's Vegetarian Wine Dinner."

I support folks who take risks. So I'm including the menu below:

Monday, May 16, 6 to 9pm
First Course:
Stuffed Sweet Onion with Potato Gratin
Served with 2009 River Ranch Chardonnay

Second Course:
Celery Root and Apple Salad with Almonds and Apple Butter
Served with 2009 Tamás Estates Pinot Grigio

Third Course:
Grilled Eggplant, Stuffed Baby Peppers and Tandori Tomato Sauce
Served with Murietta's Well - The Spur

Fourth Course:
Charbroiled Portabella Steak with Smokey Pearl Onion Ragout
Served with 2008 Wente Vineyards Sandstone Merlot

Dessert
Red Apple Cobbler
Served with 2008 Riverbank Riesling

$67.50 per person. Reservations Required. Call 916-452-3896.
Evan's Kitchen is located at 855 57th Street, Sacramento, CA. 95819
Suite C, In the 57th Street Antique Row

May 10, 2011
A story about extra effort at a restaurant -- do you have one?

Thumbnail image for IMG_0721.JPGSince the James Beard Awards were announced last night, I thought I would share a story about the winner for "Outstanding Restaurant," Eleven Madison Park in New York City. It doesn't have anything to do with world-class talent, an extra-sophisticated dining community or huge operating budget. This story is about extra effort. And from what I have seen, the very best restaurants seem to try the hardest.

(Before I go on, we want to ask readers to tell us, in the comments box below, about their experiences with a restaurant that shows extra effort. Let us know what happened, and where.)

The food, of course, was outstanding during our visit in September. The design of the menu was compelling (you select a single ingredient for each course and you have no idea how it will be prepared) and the finished product on the plate was a work of art. That's not surprising for a world-class restaurant with a chef the caliber of Daniel Humm (who used to work in San Francisco).

But the story I am going to tell you has almost nothing to do with cooking. It's about doing the little things that connect with customers and have an impact that resonates.

May 9, 2011
Monday postscript: Maranello, flavor and Ferraris


mclaren_f1_large.jpgThere was so much good food at Maranello Restaurant in Fair Oaks that I didn't have room to address all of it in my review that ran Sunday. The scallops, for instance, were wrapped in sturgeon, and that nutty sweetness I tasted was actually rhubarb chutney. Quite a creative way to do scallops, I thought. I'm told this was the brainchild of the sous chef, Thomas Daily. Watch for that name because I hear he is quite a talent.

May 9, 2011
Cookbook swap, food chats abound at FoodTalk@Cafe Bernardo

Here's a great idea for those who have too many cookbooks gathering dust on kitchen shelves - swap them.

FoodTalk is holding a cookbook sale and swap from 10 to 3 p.m. June 25 at Cafe Bernardo at 28th and Capitol in Sacramento.

Participants can meet several Northern California cookbook writers, peruse hundreds of new, used and rare cookbooks and swap up to five of their own cookbooks, according to an event e-mail.

FoodTalk, a forum for foodies interested in all things food writing, is sponsored by MatrixArts, a nonprofit that works in the realm of visual, literary, performing and culinary arts and provides art and design education programs, the organization's website states.

May 9, 2011
Selland's Market Cafe to open in El Dorado Hills

A lease is expected to be signed mid-week which would bring a Selland's Market Cafe to Town Center in El Dorado Hills. Run by the family which operates The Kitchen, Ella Dining Room and Bar and a Selland's Market Cafe in east Sacramento, the new El Dorado Hills location will be 4,200 square feet and include a large patio. Look for it to open near Thanksgiving.

Selland's Market Cafe specializes in housemade comfort foods, ranging from meatloaf and chicken, to marinated prawns and pizza, plus an in-house bakery. The cafe also runs a wine retail shop along with offering wines by the glass. The menu at the upcoming El Dorado Hills location is expected to stay the same, but may offer an expanded wines by the glass program.

"We think El Dorado Hills is a good fit for us," said Josh Nelson of The Selland Group. "El Dorado Hills is an underserved market and Town Center brings everyone into one spot. We won't be rolling out a new menu. What we do seems to work really well."

The Selland family will start hiring new employees for the cafe in October. For more information: www.sellands.com.

May 9, 2011
Chef Michael Tuohy leaving Grange to pursue new challenge

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Tuohy.jpgMichael Tuohy, executive chef at Grange, the widely respected restaurant at the Citizen Hotel downtown, is leaving the position to pursue new opportunities.

Tuohy, 49, has been a significant influence on the local food scene, both for his thoughtful approach to cooking and for the public outreach he performed in various ways, including leading tours of the farmers market to buy produce he would later prepare and serve at the restaurant for tour participants.

Tuohy enjoyed an excellent reputation for his cooking at Grange, but some diners, myself included, were occasionally frustrated that the service did not live up to the professionalism of the kitchen.

May 6, 2011
Last minute meal ideas to celebrate mom

scones.jpgFor those who don't want to leave the comfort of their home on Mother's Day, here are some ideas and recipes that'll help create the perfect celebration for mom Sunday.

(And for those who do want to venture out, click here to read our Things to Do blog post on Mother's Day events in the region.)

Brunch and Mother's Day seem to be synonymous, but don't torture mom with burned toast that the kids made. Layer yogurt, granola and fresh berries in a see-through cup or bowl to make an instant, beautiful parfait. Serve with pastries, such as this recipe for fruit and chocolate scones. A fresh cup of coffee - served in the lovely china that mom rarely uses - is all you need to complete the meal.

May 5, 2011
Mikuni debuts new restaurant, dining style in Roseville

A new Mikuni restaurant has opened at Fountains at Roseville, the first of two new eateries to debut there.

Mikuni Kaizen, which means "continuous improvement" in Japanese, will feature sushi and izakaya, or tapas-style Japanese food, a Fountains news release states. The location will be the second Mikuni in Roseville, and the eighth in the Sacramento region.

Yard House, an upscale casual restaurant that prides itself on having the world's largest selection of draft beer, will open in July. Click here to more about that.

More businesses also are scheduled to open this year. Pet Food Express, which offers holistic pet food, will open in July. And Orvis is relocating within the Fountains property.

May 5, 2011
Chris Macias' Cinco de Mayo food picks

RP LALO'S MARISOL.JPG
CREDIT: Marisol Ortuno cuts up avacado for a taco plate during lunch at Lalo's mexican food restaurant on 24th Street between Sutterville Road and Fruitridge Avenue. Randy Pench, Sacramento Bee

The Battle of Puebla was a noble fight, with the Mexican army defeating the French in 1862. And what better way to celebrate this Cinco de Mayo victory than entering into a spicy food coma? Either way, Sacramento's traditionally had a bustling Mexican food scene with plenty of options, from the long-running family style restaurants to tiny taquerias serving tasty food at low prices.

Before I run down some of my recommended Cinco de Mayo eats, please leave a comment about your favorite Mexican restaurants at eateries around the area.

For this fan of Mexican food, south Sac is where it's at.

May 4, 2011
Is your cocktail shaker ready for Saturday's Kentucky Derby?

For the food- and drink-centric, there's TheDailyMeal.com, a website devoted to "creating a complete food experience for cooks, food lovers, wine connoisseurs, discerning diners and everyone in-between."

Its latest missive addresses Saturday's running of the 137th Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the annual Triple Crown. Of course, what's a weekend of horse racing at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., without the signature cocktail, the Mint Julep?

If you're hosting a Kentucky Derby party at your place, TheDailyMeal.com suggests some drink options. The complete list of recipes is at www.thedailymeal.com/7-kentucky-bourbon-cocktails. Meanwhile, try these:

May 3, 2011
Food trucks to be addressed briefly at city council tonight

Following Saturday's massive turnout for the Sacramento Mobile Food Festival, the issue of food trucks will be addressed briefly at tonight's city council meeting. Councilman Rob Fong is expected to direct city staff to re-examine current ordinances related to mobile food vendors.

Currently, Sacramento food trucks cannot stay parked for more than 30 minutes in most parts of the city and must shut down at dusk, among other regulations. Along with showing off a variety of edibles from northern California food trucks, the aim of SactoMoFo was to raise awareness about current ordinances, and persuade city leaders to amend them and make Sacramento more food-truck friendly, like you might find in Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

SactoMoFo organizers will make a public comment at the city council meeting on May 10, and produce a petition signed by 3,500 people asking for the city to amend its regulations related to food trucks.

SactoMoFo organizers are meanwhile planning a roundtable discussion between local restaurateurs, food truck vendors, city officials and other interested parties. Randall Selland, the restaurateur behind The Kitchen and Ella Dining Room & Bar, has offered to host the discussion.

May 3, 2011
Shoki Ramen House opens second location

Good news for fans who love slurping on some soup at Shoki Ramen House. Shoki's second location opened over the weekend at 1201 R St. and kicked off with a benefit for Japanese tsunami and earthquake victims. The original Shoki Ramen House at 24th St. near Broadway earned a reputation as arguably the Sacramento area's best noodle house, with its savory broths made from scratch and near reverence for its cooking methods (just check the walls for Shoki's credos about its broths, and don't even *think* about asking for an order to go. A sign on the front door states clearly, "No hot ramen to go.")

The new location seats nearly 50 customers and is open seven days a week. The hours are as follows:

Monday through Friday: 11: a.m. - 2 p.m. lunch; 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m. dinner
Saturday: 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. lunch; 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. dinner
Sunday: 12 p.m. - 8 p.m.

For more information: (916) 441-0011

May 3, 2011
'Taste of the Village' offers classes at a trio of restaurants

It's the season for hands-on cooking classes, in this case "Taste of the Village," in the spirit of Second Saturday. A trio of learning opportunities will be offered from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 14 at Town & Country Village restaurants. Reservations are now being accepted at (916) 933-4056. Classes are $40 each, or $100 for the three.

Join executive chef Daniel Alcantaro at Buonarroti Ristorante and learn how to make gnocchi, those chewy, pillowy dumplings. 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 how to create hand-rolled truffles (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.

May 2, 2011
Monday postscript: Pocket Bistro, couples running restaurants

What's it like to live together, raise kids together and, when you go off to work, there you are: together again?

In recent weeks, I have reviewed a spate of restaurants run by husbands and wives or some kind of domestic partnership equivalent. Magpie. Bistro La Petite France, Café Marika, Chando's Tacos. I can think of plenty more, including superb ones such as Taste in Plymouth and Boulevard Bistro in Elk Grove. I've also heard of more than a few restaurant divorces (including at least a few where they get divorced but continue working at the same eatery).

May 2, 2011
Was SactoMoFo a success?

Just read an e-mail from a reader who said they waited in line for nearly four hours to place a Mini Burger order at Saturday's Sacramento Mobile Food Festival. The e-mail ended with a prayer about the virtues of patience, something all attendees needed at SactoMoFo on Saturday.

All 21 food vendors at Fremont Park were slammed with epic lines, and not an hour into the event, many people were simply turning away and opting to eat somewhere else nearby. Between all my reporting out there and checking out the scene at neighboring businesses, all I had time to sample at SactoMoFo were some eats from the Chairman Bao truck -- and thanks once again to Suzanne Phan of News 10 for helping me place my order.

BTW, the baos were fantastic and filling, stuffed with pork belly and pickled daikon that cost about $3.50 each.

May 2, 2011
Squeeze Inn debuts in West Sac next week

Burger lovers, mark your calendars - the Squeeze Inn's newest location is set to open May 10.

The burger joint at 1350 Harbor Boulevard will be the largest location to date. The grand opening will be at 10 a.m. May 10.

The local restaurant chain gained fame and a burgeoning following after Food Network's Guy Fieri raved about the Squeeze Inn cheeseburger's cheese "skirt" on his show "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." There are now four Squeeze Inns, and while they're bigger than the original 450-foot location on Fruitridge Road, diners still often stand on line to nab a notorious "Squeeze with cheese."

The Squeeze Inn currently has locations at 5301 Power Inn Rd., Sacramento, 545 Industrial Dr., Galt and 106 N. Sunrise Ave., Roseville.

Click here to watch an online video of Guy Fieri's visit to the Squeeze Inn.

May 2, 2011
How did Hungry Jack Hashbrown Potatoes fare in a taste test?

When it comes to making meals, it's the wise home cook who chooses fresh over processed. For most of us, though, time constraints don't allow that luxury on any consistent basis. Bottom line: We all take shortcuts for the sake of convenience.

That's where a new product - Hungry Jack Premium Hashbrown Potatoes - enters the kitchen. The dehydrated spuds are packaged in a container the size and shape of a pint of milk, and you open it the same way. Once you do, the directions say to add hot water, close the carton and let it stand for 12 minutes and then drain well.

What you have now is rehydrated shredded potatoes, ready (after patting them dry) for pan-frying in oil or butter. Amazingly, the yield is a full pound of hashbrowns.



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