Appetizers
August 31, 2011
Add Sample the Sierra food and wine fest to your Labor Day list

Looking for more to do this Labor Day weekend? You might add the second annual Sample the Sierra "farm to fork festival" to your agenda.

Nearly 30 restaurants and wineries will offer their wares from booths set up along Ski Run Boulevard in South Lake Tahoe, from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Afterward, catch the free fireworks show at 8:30 p.m. from nearby beaches. But back up a minute: Other special events are going on now through Sunday. For a complete schedule, go to www.samplethesierra.com.

Tickets are $25 at the door for Sunday's food- and wine-tastings and a commemorative wine glass, plus loads of live entertainment. For more information: (775) 588-1728.

August 31, 2011
Comparing food truck scenes between Sacramento and Hawaii

Catherine Enfield, author of the Munchie Musings blog and a valued partner at The Bee's Sacramento Connect network, recently returned from a Hawaiian vacation. Enfield was also an organizer of the SactoMoFo food truck festival and also runs www.sacfoodtrucks.net, so surveying Hawaii's food truck scene was a priority along with chillaxing on the beach. Here are a few nuggets from the trip:

- Think Sacramento's 30 minute parking rule for food trucks is prohibitive? Hawaiian food trucks are bound to a 15 minute rule on public streets, so most park for hours on private property - with some paying upwards of $1,300 a month for that privilege.

- In Hawaii, they're not called food trucks, but "lunch wagons." They've been part of Hawaiian food culture for decades, but most trucks stay parked instead of moving from location to location.

- A lack of health inspectors means that food trucks in Oahu get inspected maybe once a year.

Enfield has plenty more dish about Hawaii's food trucks - er, lunch wagons - so surf over to Munchie Musings for the full scoop.

August 31, 2011
Chuckwagon Feast teams with an 'Oklahoma!' singalong

Singalong show tunes don't get much better than the ones from the musical "Oklahoma!" by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. They're especially tasty when accompanied by a spread of homemade food.

The two will be paired at Camerata California's special celebration of "Oklahoma!" at 4 p.m. Sept. 18, 5412 Gibbons Drive, Carmichael. Guests can sing from a stage or from their seats, or simply sit quietly and enjoy the tunes. If you come dressed in Western attire, you might win the best-costume prize.

Now for the Chuckwagon Feast part: On the menu will be appetizers, barbecued tri-tip and chicken, au gratin potatoes, cowboy beans, apple-ginger coleslaw, cornbread and peach cobbler. Plus sarsaparilla, beer and wine.

The special fund-raiser marks the new season for Sacramento's chamber choir (www.cameratacalifornia.net). Proceeds will help fund California Camerata's "Emerging Young Artist Scholarship Program."

Tickets are $50; for more information and to make reservations: (916) 483-1386.

August 30, 2011
Buy one, get one free today at Peet's Coffee & Tea

We've got to thank our Sacramento Connect partner Cowtown Eats for this great tip. Today's the last day you can claim a buy one, get one free deal at participating Peet's Coffee & Tea locations. That's right, you can beat that 3 p.m. energy crash and also treat a friend to a caffeinated fix at a bargain rate. Note: this offer doesn't apply to bottled beverages, juice and kids' drinks.

Are you ready for that pick-me-up? Download the coupon here.

August 30, 2011
Ribstock to smoke out Cameron Park

Crank up Jimi Hendrix's verison of "The Star Spangled Banner" and get smoking - smoking hickory and mesquite wood, that is. "Ribstock" is coming to Cameron Park Lake (2989 Cambridge Rd., Cameron Park) on Sept. 17 for a barbecue cook-off and festival. This event is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, and will utilize only certified bbq judges for the competition.

And in between gnawing on some ribs and other munchables from vendors, you can call out, "Play some 'Free Bird!'" The Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band dubbed Nuthin Fancy will perform some of southern rock's most classic tunes.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. $5 admission, kids 6 and under are free. For more information: rib-stock.com

August 26, 2011
Interact with five top chefs at A Taste of History

Here's a chance to interact with a lineup of top Sacramento chefs as they prep and cook fabulous foods, all in the "period facilities" of Sutter's Fort State Historic Park.

The second annual A Taste of History will feature Kurt Spataro (Spataro), Randall Selland (Ella, The Kitchen), Patrick Mulvaney (Mulvaney's B&L), Janie Desmond Ison (Cafe Vinoteca) and Jay Veregge (Ten22). They will prepare a four-course dinner "reminiscent of those enjoyed when John Sutter founded Sutter's Fort in 1839."

The fund-raiser is sponsored by the Friends of Sutter's Fort in association with Slow Food Sacramento. Appetizers, beer- and wine-tastings, live music and a silent auction will be included.

Tickets are limited. They cost $75 a person if purchased by Sept. 2, $85 after that. The event is 6:30 p.m. Sept. 24. For tickets and more information: (916) 323-7626, www.suttersfort.org.

August 26, 2011
Sam's Club features chef Molly Hawks live and on video

Yes, you need a membership to buy groceries at Sam's Club, the national chain of retail-warehouse mini-shopping centers. But a trip to www.samsclub.com/meals is free.

There, after clicking on "Tips and Videos," you will find our very own chef Molly Hawks, starring in two how-videos on making rotisseried chicken tacos and cherry cobbler. Hawks and her husband, Michael Fagnoni, co-own Hawks restaurant in Quarry Ponds Town Center in Granite Bay (916-791-6200, www.hawksrestaurant.com).

Hawks' videos are part of Sam's Club's "Simply Delicious Meals" program, which will feature eight chefs from around the nation demonstrating how to cook certain dishes. The other seven chefs' videos will be posted at the site in the months ahead.
"The program is intended to show (home cooks) how to make restaurant-quality meals at home," says Hawks in her video.

If you need guidance that's more up-close and personal, Hawks is hosting a cooking demonstration (those chicken tacos) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Sam's Club, 7147 Greenback Lane, Citrus Heights; (916) 721-6499.

August 25, 2011
Ella celebrates 4th anniversary with $30 pre fixe menu

We know money's tight out there, so the chance to sample some of Sacramento's finest dining at a reduced price is always welcome. To commemorate its 4th anniversary, Ella Dining Room & Bar (12th and K streets, Sacramento) is offering a three-course menu for $30 throughout the month of September. Considering that most of Ella's entrees cost at least $25, this makes for a relatively good bargain. Here's what you'll get for $30:

Appetizer

Salad of Local Peaches and Nectarines
Mangalitsa Pork Lardo, Banyuls Vinaigrette, and Rustic Arugula
~or~
Ricotta Gnocchi
Parmesan Cream, Tomato Coulis, and Warmed Cherry Tomatoes

Entree

Pan Seared Passmore Ranch Trout
Bloomsdale Spinach, Prosciutto, Crispy Capers, and Mustard Sauce
~or~
Wood Oven Fired Lamb Sirloin
Caponata of Summer Vegetables, Tapenade Vinaigrette, and Basil Aioli

Dessert

Gratin of Orchard Fruits
Lemon Mousse and Vanilla Ice Cream
~or~
Mocha Almond Gateau
Crème Chantilly and Almond Cookie

For more information: www.elladiningroomandbar.com

August 25, 2011
Savory and sweet pies reach another level at Becky Jo

DSCF0132.JPG
Master baker Teresa Urkofsky dropped by the office today, bearing a box full of sweet and savory mini-pies and looking for some feedback.

After sampling the goods, a dozen randomly chosen tasters wanted to stand up and applaud her. The baker herself was gratified that all her pastries had disappeared so quickly.

Urkofsky teaches baking and pastry-making at American River College, and was co-owner of the since-closed Baby Cakes bakery on J Street. Her new company, www.beckyjopies.com (916-217-5421), opened just two weeks ago, and she's working hard to keep up with the demand for her "hand pies" (crescent-shaped turnover size) and 9-inch "puffy pies."

Today's sampling of hand pies: goat cheese, roasted potato and tomato with arugula pesto and corn; honey-ginger peach; nectarine-raspberry; blackberry-pluot; and chocolate caramel custard. The puffy pie was heavenly, buttery pastry heavy with luscious sliced nectarines and raspberries. Filling combinations can be used in both types of pie.

The pies are sold Fridays through Sundays at Corti Bros. market (which just doubled its order), but the smart approach is this: Go to the website and order the pies in advance, then pick them up later. Hand pies are $4.99; puffy pies are $22.99.

"The fillings will change every month, according to the season and what's available. Apples and pears will be coming up," Urkofsky said. "In September, I'll make chicken pot pie and salmon pot pie."

Corti Bros. Market is at 5810 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 736-3800.

August 24, 2011
Governor proclaims Sept. as California Wine Month

Hear ye, hear ye: Governor Jerry Brown has proclaimed September as California Wine Month to help commemorate the state's multi-billion dollar wine industry. Look for a series of related wine events to be held throughout California, including Sonoma Wine Country Weekend during Labor Day and California Wine Rush on Sept. 17 at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Besides all of this sipping and schmoozing over wine, California Wine Month also honors a business which attracts more than 20 million wine tourists annually.

"Our state's wineries create jobs for 330,000 Californians and revenue from retail sales of $18.4 billion, including $1.14 billion in exports sales to 122 countries." said Gov. Brown, in a statement.

2011 marks the seventh year that September's been proclaimed California Wine Month, during that seasonal time when the industry's in high gear with the grape harvest. According to the California Wine Institute, the Golden State is home to more than 3,400 bonded wineries and 4,600 grape growers, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the United States' wine production.

August 22, 2011
Two Sacramento food trucks in Top 10 of Food Network contest

When they're not driving around town and looking for parking to feed hungry customers, the owners of local food trucks are busy lobbying for online votes. They're vying for $10,000 and a chance to appear on the Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race" in an online competition for "America's favorite" food truck.

Right now, Sacramento's own Mini Burger is holding down the No. 4 spot, while Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen has garnered enough votes to land the No. 9 spot. Voting will continue through Sept. 12, and you can cast your votes here.

Speaking of food trucks, look for a special mobile food gathering on Sept. 15 at the State Capitol with 10 trucks from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. This food truck fiesta is being held in honor of Mexican Independence Day, and while the line-up of vendors has yet to be announced, you can bet your last burrito that plenty of tacos will be in the mix. Stay tuned for more information.

August 22, 2011
The Cowboy Steak: It's what's for dinner

Steak1 (17).JPGI recently received an email from a reader who wanted to know a couple of my favorite places to get a good steak. I cut right to the chase: Walk to the back of Corti Brothers, peer through the glass at the various cuts of beef, and pick out something called the "Cowboy Steak." You won't have to look hard -- it's humongous. If you cook that thing properly, all two pounds of it, it will blow your mind. Covered wagon, Gatling gun and open flame are optional.

August 19, 2011
Behind the scenes: Tasting sausage before it's on the market

JP (14).JPGJohn Paul Khoury, the corporate chef for Preferred Meats, stopped by the house today to cook up some sausages and give me a chance to sample three products the company hopes to make available soon.

Known to chefs at some of the area's finer restaurants, Preferred is a boutique company that supplies top-shelf meat with an emphasis on sustainable agriculture. I have done several tastings with JP, most focusing on steak or pork, and find these sessions to be helpful. I try to keep up with the latest and best products out there, and I find that comparing different meat from various sources helps me appreciate the often subtle differences..

Now, Preferred is making its own sausage, with a proprietary blend of Berkshire and Duroc pork in a thin lamb casing. JP cooked up three kinds of sausage in my trusty cast iron pan: a breakfast sausage and two kinds of Italian -- mild and hot. In addition to this tasting, JP was making the rounds Friday to several restaurants.The sausage is not yet being sold, so he was simply looking for feedback from chefs. This is part of the business the public often doesn't get to see. Good chefs are constantly on the lookout for products new and great. The taste has to be there, and the price has to make sense. Then there's the all-important logistical component: can you get it to us whenever we need it? If the answer is no or maybe, a chef may pass on it.

After he does enough sausage tastings with chefs, taking notes along the way, JP may tweak the recipes slightly to arrive at a finished product that enough chefs will want to put on their menus.

The next stop for JP on Friday was to see Chef Pajo Bruich at Lounge ON20. I called Pajo later and asked for his impressions.

He said: "I appreciate what JP is doing getting input from myself and other chefs around town and it's nice to think we will have a hand in the finished product
I thought the sausage was very well made. From my perspective it seemed to be 100 percent about the quality of the meat they are putting into the sausage. The meat was fantastic."

Pajo and I agreed that, if anything, the overall flavor profile was straightforward and perhaps one-dimensional. But when you are using high-quality meat, the chef pointed out, you don't want it to be overshadowed by a plethora of seasonings.


sausage (13).JPGI thought the quality of the sausage was very good, and especially I enjoyed the spicy heat of the breakfast sausage, which was seasoned with sage, garlic and chili flake. JP said some of the feedback from chefs was that there might be too much heat for a breakfast sausage. I could go either way on that, but I grew up putting Tobasco on my eggs, so I enjoy the heat.

In a matter of weeks, these sausages -- tweaked recipes or not, high heat or a version toned down a tad -- will likely land on several menus in the area,

The next tasting on JP's schedule Friday was with Chef Pajo Bruich at Lounge ON20. I called Pajo later to get his impressions.

"I appreciate what JP is doing getting input from myself and other chefs around town and it's great to think we will have a hand in the finished product.
I thought the sausage was very well made. From my perspective it seemed to be 100 percent about the quality of the meat they are putting into the sausage. The meat was fantastic."

AA_loungeontwenty005.standalone.prod_affiliate.4.jpgHe said:Pajo and I differed a little on the seasonings -- he thought the Italian sausage needed more coriander and fennel, while I could have been happier with a bit less. But we agreed that, if anything, the overall flavor profile was straightforward, even one-dimensional. But when you are using high quality meat, the chef noted, you don't want it to be overshadowed by a plethora of seasonings.

August 19, 2011
Hot tip: Sampino's begins Friday family-style dinners tonight


If you're a fan of Sampino's Towne Foods, as I am, here's something new you might want to jump on. The Italian deli and eatery best known for its great sandwiches at lunch, is about to start a series of weekly family-style dinners. From the looks of things, it's a six-course affair for $25, which is quite a bargain. The meal sounds quite ambitious, especially the two kinds of risotto. The first dinner is tonight (Friday).

Last I checked, there were still some openings. Sampino's, which is in a small shopping center at 16th and F streets, is taking names from its email list to fill slots of the dinner, but if you want to get a last-minute spot for tonight, give them a call ASAP: 916-441-2372. And if you want to know about future dinners, ask to be included on their email list. Sampino's is at 1607 F St. Unfortunately, Sampino's did not include the time of the dinner. (We will update once we find out.)

Here's a rundown of the menu I received via email:


Fresh Baked Bread
Foccacia, Italian Loaf, Fennel Balsamic Vinaigrette

Antipasti
Assorted Olives, Giardinara, Pepperoncini

Zuppa
Tomato Mozzarella Cream Bisque
Primi
Timbale
Puff Pastry, Penne Pasta, Meatballs, Hardboiled Quail Eggs, Salami, Mushroom,
Marinara, Parmesan Granna Padano

Risotti
Sicilian Fennel Sausage w/Porcini & Salmon Mousse, Clam & Shrimp.

Secondi
Chicken Cacciatore
Braised Chicken Thigh w/ House Cacciatore Sauce
with/Tapenade Rubbed Artichokes, Creole Sauce
or
Wild Salmon Roulade
Spinach, Sundried Tomatoes, Pesto, & Asiago Cheese
with/Tapenade Rubbed Artichokes, Creole Sauce

Insalta
Mixed Green Salad
Diced Tomato, Parmesan Reggiano, Organic Farm Fresh Tomatoes
Italian Herb Vinaigrette

Dolce
Lemon Sorbeto w/Strawberry Mint Tartar

August 18, 2011
Nonni's Biscotti Bites are the right size for a quick crunch

biscotti_bites.jpgWe've sampled Nonni's-brand products in the past, and have always given them a thumbs-up.

New to its baked-goods lineup is Biscotti Bites, 24 mini-biscotti to the bag, each morsel carrying 40 calories. The Bites come in three flavors - almond (with a touch of anise), almond dipped in dark chocolate, and caramel milk chocolate. Bites are $3.49 to $3.99 in most supermarkets. For more information: www.nonnis.com.

We passed around the bag of traditional almond-anise Bites and asked our tasters to offer their critiques. I'll go first:

"Nonni's, with roots in Lucca, Italy, has always baked some fine dunking cookies. They're crunchy, fresh-tasting, not overly sweet and really made from old recipes using quality ingredients. However: For some, they may be a bit dry. The new Bites are convenient and casual (and cute?), and - like all biscotti - are best when dunked in red wine."

"Flavor: Excellent; love the interplay of anise and almond. Texture: Good; a bit less dense and crispy than my favorite biscotti, but close. Size: If your coffee cup is half-empty, forget it; these little nibbles are too short for dunking."

"

August 17, 2011
You say you make a great burger? Prove it at the Smack Down

If you've been honing your hamburger skills this summer, you may be ready for the big time - with a dollop of fun on top.

Relish Burger Bar will host its second annul Burger Smack Down on Sept. 11, and you're invited to compete.

The rules are simple: "Complete the (online) application and submit your burger recipe. We'll pick the top 10 recipes and (notify the semifinalists) one week prior to the event. Those 10 contestants will cook their burgers at Relish, to be judged by a panel of local celebrities."

"The winner will get his or her burger on our menu for a couple of months," said Relish owner Richard Righton. And bragging rights, of course.

To register and for more information: www.relishburgerbar.com and (916) 239-9041.


Relish is in the Montano Center, 1000 White Rock Road, El Dorado Hills.

August 16, 2011
In honor of National Rum Day, tip your glass to Sailor Jerry

Today is National Rum Day, so there's this story to think about: The late Norman Keith Collins - a.k.a. Sailor Jerry - was a tattoo artist, Navy veteran and skipper of a three-masted schooner that sailed the Hawaiian islands.

These days, Sailor Jerry Ltd. makes spiced Navy rum and sells it nationwide. The folks at the company named after Sailor Jerry offer these cocktail recipes - not only for today, but for any time. For more, go to www.sailorjerry.com.

Rockabilly Juice
Ingredients:
2 parts spiced rum
1/2 part lemon juice
1/3 part Orange Curacao
2 parts iced black tea
How to:
Build over ice in a tall glass, squeeze and drop in a lemon wedge.

Backyard Tea
Ingredients:
2 parts spiced rum
1 part iced tea
2 parts lemonade
How to:
Add ingredients to a tall, ice-filled glass and garnish with a lemon wedge.

Perfect StormIngredients:
2 parts spiced rum
Ginger beer
2 to 3 lime wedges
How to:
Build in a tall glass over cubed ice, and garnish with squeezed lime wedges.

Banana Hammock
Ingredients:
1-1/2 ounces spiced rum
3/4 ounce banana syrup
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
Dash of Angostura bitters
How to:
Mix ingredients over ice and shake. Strain into a coupe glass.

August 16, 2011
Plenty of nibbles and pours at Off To the Races fundraiser


When it comes to dining out these days, $40 doesn't go far, especially if you have a glass of wine with your meal. We all need a deal, so here's one to end the summer.

Take your appetite to Off to the Races, a fund-raising food- and wine-tasting from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, in the courtyard at Pavilions shopping center on Fair Oaks Boulevard (east of Howe Avenue), Sacramento.

Line up for hors d'oeuvres from an array of restaurants: Bella Bru, Fabian's Italian Bistro, Icing on the Cupcake, Land Ocean New American Steakhouse, Lemon Grass, Piatti, Roxy, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Sienna, Star Ginger Asian Grill & Noodle Bar, and Sutter Street Steak House.

Then enjoy pours of red, white and rose from wineries including Amizetta, Andis, Barefoot, Borjon, Karley, Mount Aukum, Perry Creek, Clarksburg Wine Company, Vino Noceto and Morse Wines/Il Gioiello.

Off to the Races will be emceed by KCRA news anchor Adrienne Bankert. Live entertainment will accompany.

Tickets are $40 each at the door or in advance at (916) 933-4056. Off to the Races is the kickoff event for the 13th annual Race for the Arts, 8:30 a.m. Aug. 27 at William Land Park.

For more information on both events, go to www.raceforthearts.com.

August 15, 2011
Stick a fork in it: Ill-conceived Good Eats is done

dodo.jpgMy phone has been ringing off the hook (remember when we put phones on hooks?) since word got out that Good Eats closed for good on Saturday.

My reaction? What took so long? This was a wounded, flailing dodo bird that just wouldn't die.

It was a big-budget eatery and gourmet grocery on Folsom Boulevard run by Mike and Julie Teel, of the family that owns Raley's grocery stores. It was eagerly anticipated, clumsily announced (remember the Corti Brother brouhaha?), awkwardly unveiled and, finally, it operated with a mix of chaos and confusion. Holding it all together? That's right, mediocre food.

August 15, 2011
Midtown Cocktail Week kicks off

It's that time of year when downtown and midtown fills with the sounds of ice shaking in cocktail shakers like boozy maracas. Midtown Cocktail Week kicks off today and runs through Sunday, with a variety of tastings and classes for the cocktail inclined. Today's shenanigans kick off at 2 p.m. with a "punch bowl bunco party" class at Restaurant Thir13en (13th & H streets, Sacramento) and continue from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Shady Lady (14th and R streets, Sacramento) in a salute to women bartenders.

Other highlights include a cocktail competition Tuesday at Red Lotus (28th and J streets, Sacramento), "A Night in Cuba" on Wednesday at Zocalo (18th and Capitol, Sacramento) and a luau-themed closing bash on Sunday at Golden Bear (24th and K streets, Sacramento). Also check out Wednesday's "Wine Buzz" column for a fun circus-themed party coming on Friday to the Citizen Hotel (10th and J streets, Sacramento).

The organizers of Midtown Cocktail Week also encourage everyone to party responsibly, so keep a designated driver or cab number handy. Midtown Cocktail Week has partnered with RADD - The Entertainment Industry's Voice For Road Safety to promote these efforts.

For a full line-up of events: www.midtowncocktailweek.org

August 12, 2011
Collaborative dinner of top Sacto. chefs coming in Sept.

In the spirit of culinary camaraderie and fund raising, some of Sacramento's best known chefs have come together for an occasional series of collaborative dinners. The first event was held in November at The Kitchen, featuring a veritable who's-who of local cooking talent: Billy Ngo (Kru/Red Lotus), Kelly McCown (Ella), Pajo Bruich (Lounge ON20), Patrick Mulvaney (Mulvaney's B&L) and many more.

Rick Mahan, chef and proprietor of The Waterboy and OneSpeed, is organizing the next collaborative dinner, which is set for 4 p.m. on Sept. 11 at Casa Garden (2760 Sutterville Rd., Sacramento). Dinner costs $125 per person (plus tax and gratuity), with proceeds going to the Sacramento Children's Home - which operates the Casa Garden Restaurant. Wine is included in the price.

Along with Mahan, the roster for this dinner includes Adam Schulze (Waterboy), Kurt Spataro (Paragary Restaurant Group), Noah Zonca (The Kitchen), Doug Silva (Silva's Sheldon Inn), and others. Look for the menu to be confirmed next week.

For reservations, call The Waterboy: (916) 498-9891. Space is limited to 80, and pre-payment for the event is required upon reservation.

August 12, 2011
Chef at Bidwell Street Bistro offers a revised lunch menu

We dropped by the 11-year-old Bidwell Street Bistro the other night for a light but tasty spread. We were reminded how good chef Wendi Mentink's dishes can be: plump Prince Edward Island mussels in caramelized pineapple-rum broth; gazpacho, made chunky with watermelon, avocado and cherry tomatoes; and a bright apple-butter lettuce salad with just the right amount of dressing (we added grilled prawns).

Afterward, word arrived via email from owner Richard Righton about Mentink's newly revised lunch menu, which changes seasonally. Amid a straightforward lineup of sandwiches, salads, quiche, soups and sides (and a few specials each week), this trio is flying out of the kitchen, he said:

Club sandwich of smoked turkey breast, roast beef, bacon, white cheddar, lettuce, tomato and Dijon aioli on sourdough ($8.95).

Ultimate BLT of roasted pork belly, baby greens, tomato and pesto aioli on sourdough ($9.95).

Grilled certified Angus skirt steak with pommes frites ($12.95).

The bistro is at 1004 E. Bidwell St., Folsom; (916) 984-7500, www.bidwellstreetbistro.com. Lunch is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Righton also owns Relish Grill & Bar (think upscale burgers on a great patio) in the Montano Center, 1000 White Rock Road, El Dorado Hills; (916) 933-3111, www.relishburgerbar.com.

August 12, 2011
Rare garlic: It's what's growing in Woodland

garlic2_250x188[1].jpgGarlic is everywhere, so much so that we tend to overlook the details of where it comes from, how fresh it is and how it should taste.

Here is a new report I just heard on Capital Public Radio by Elaine Corn, who recently returned to the airwaves after a break. Corn interviewed 84-year-old Woodland farmer Perry Skinner. It's nice to hear her enlightening segments again.

Click here to read and listen.

August 11, 2011
Brook's at Edgewood golf course has the view and the vittles

Next time you stir your appetites with a hike or a jet-ski excursion at Lake Tahoe, consider some luscious bites at Brook's Bar & Deck at the Edgewood Tahoe golf course. Yep, it's casual.

The well-landscaped outdoor patio - surrounded by the snow-pocketed Sierra - overlooks a slice of the lake and some gorgeous acreage of fairways and putting greens. We sat at a table under a giant umbrella and cruised a straightforward menu of appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts.

A big hit was the half-pound sirloin burger on ciabatta with lettuce, tomato, sliced red onion and, in our case, Dijon mustard ($14). For an additional $1 each, choose from among three cheeses, applewood-smoked bacon, sauteed mushrooms, guacamole, Ortega chile and grilled onions.

Also tops: Firecracker Salad, skewers of juicy chicken satay atop greens and a confetti of diced yellow and green bell peppers, with marvelous peanut-based dressing; tender tri-tip French dip with intense jus; and a twist on fish 'n' chips - beer-battered salmon instead of the usual pollock or cod.

Edgewood is at 100 Lake Parkway, Stateline, Nev. (in back of Harveys). Open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily until mid-October. Info: (775) 588-618, www.edgewoodtahoe.com.

August 11, 2011
New web site, Roseville location for tonight's food truck festival

The weekly festival of local food trucks will once again be heading to the suburbs, with a location set for tonight at Future Ford in the Roseville Auto Mall (650 Automall Dr., Roseville). Eats will be available from these four food vendors: Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen, Mini Burger, Wicked 'Wich and Mama Kim. The event runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

In related news, there's a new web site to keep tabs on the whereabouts of local food trucks. Surf over to www.sacfoodtrucks.net, which tracks the latest locations for food trucks and their regular stops during the week. The site's the brainchild of Catherine Enfield, a former organizer for the food truck advocacy group SactoMoFo and author of the Munchie Musings blog.

You can also follow SacFoodTrucks on Twitter at @sacfoodtrucks.

August 11, 2011
Central Valley blueberry bounty yields bevy of fruity delights

FOOD_BLUEBERRIES_3_FR.jpgLove blueberries? You're in luck.

The California Farm Bureau Federation reports that is could be a bumper crop year for blueberries.

San Joaquin Valley blueberry farmers are harvesting their crops right now, which could be the best quality and size in recent history.

The blueberry harvest happens three or four times throughout the summer, since blueberries on the same plant can ripen at different times, the farm bureau reported in its weekly e-newsletter.

Consumers should expect increased supplies - and lower prices - at markets now. Prices were highest when the harvest season began back in mid-May.

So what can you do with a bounty of blueberries, beyond the obvious smoothies or muffins? Try a mesclun salad with blueberries, goat cheese and a lemon vinaigrette. Put a spin on bruschetta and top toast points with blueberries, basil and lemon zest. Top sugar cookies with a thin layer of mascarpone and blueberries.

Or just kick back with this blueberry bourbon recipe from Serious Eats.

Photo credit: Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee

August 10, 2011
California leads country in farmers markets

Recent statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture show a boom in farmers markets, with California leading the country. California is now home to 729 farmers markets, an increase from 580 in 2010. Nationally, the 2011 Farmers Market Directory counts 7,175 farmers markets around the country, which is up 17 percent from the previous year.

The Sacramento area has been home to such long-running farmers markets as the Sunday market at 8th and X streets and Davis' farmers markets at Central Park (4th and C streets). Some new local farmers markets have also cropped up recently, including one that runs Saturdays through Oct. 15 at McClatchy Park in Oak Park.

"The remarkable growth in farmers markets is an excellent indicator of the staying power of local and regional foods," said Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary for the Department of Agriculture, in a statement.

August 9, 2011
Irish pub coming to El Dorado Hills

In all this latest news of restaurants shutting down, here's a place that's bucking the trend and set to open soon. Kinnee O'Reilly's Irish Pub & Restaurant is scheduled to open in late-September at the Montano Shopping Center in El Dorado Hills (1000 White Rock Rd., El Dorado Hills). The food program will feature traditional Irish fare (i.e. mulligan stew, bangers and mash), plus American and European dishes that include sandwiches, fish and chips, lamb shanks and more. The bar will be stocked with beers from around the world and plenty of whiskeys.

"We're striving to create an authentic experience for those who walk through the doors at Kinnee O'Reilly's," said owner Dave Wohler, in a statement. "Our goal is to make everyone feel like they've stepped into a casual corner pub in Ireland."

For more information: www.kinneeoreillys.com

August 8, 2011
Bad behavior in restaurants: Here's a Zagat take

blowupdoll[1].pngThese vignettes from Zagat about bad people behaving badly at restaurants were amusing -- and recognizable, though I have not encountered a blow-up doll.

Blair's last three posts:

A Matter of Price: Is the Lounge ON20 menu revision cause for concern?

From the test kitchen: Biba's Bologna-style ragu

Dine and dash: Our governor's french fry problem

August 8, 2011
A Matter of Price: Is the Lounge ON20 menu revision cause for concern?

Lounge.bmpLately, this blog's subtitle could be: "Bad News about Food and Wine." Yes, we've hit a rough patch with restaurant closings, but there are still plenty of restaurants doing well. As restaurant critic for The Bee, I tend to look in restaurant windows when I pass by - not because I enjoy seeing people talk with their mouths full but because I like to know how the restaurants are doing. I can't sift through the books, but I can look at the seats.

But somewhere between the closures and the thriving restaurants like Magpie, Mulvaney's, Waterboy, Ella, Formoli's, Lucca, New Canton, OneSpeed and others, is the restaurant that is compelled to change its menu and cut its prices in an effort to fill more seats and sell more food. In this case, I'm referring to Chris Macias' report last week about the new version of Lounge ON20, the one serving up creative, modernist, and high-end food the likes of which we don't get to see here often enough. This is actually the new-new version, as Lounge ON20 went through a major revamping a few months back by showcasing cooking that touched on the avant garde.

August 8, 2011
Roseville's Pause Lounge & Kitchen shuts down

The tough times continue on the local restaurant scene. Pause Lounge & Kitchen in Roseville became the latest local eatery to shut down, closing for good over the weekend following just eight months in business. Pause, which specialized in artisanal cocktails and a menu that focused on small-plate items, closed temporarily in April to revamp its menu and change its decor. According to Lucas Elia, who co-owned Pause with brother Leyland Jacob, Pause never quite found its footing after closing the first time.

"We lost a lot of our crowd in that first round, and it would've taken too much time and money to bring them back," said Elia.

Pause Lounge & Kitchen joins a roll-call of recent restaurant closures that includes Brew It Up, Spin Burger, L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen and the midtown location of California Pizza Kitchen at 16th & L streets.

Elia said there's been initial talks from other restaurateurs in taking over Pause's space. In the meantime, Elia and his brother are interested in opening a cafe in the midtown/downtown area. The two were the former owners of Bloom Coffee & Tea in Roseville but sold their interest in the business, said Elia.

August 5, 2011
From the test kitchen: Biba's Bologna-style ragu

sauce3.JPGBiba Caggiano has a nice new book, "Spaghetti Sauces," 129 pages of spaghetti sauce recipes of all kinds, from basic butter sauces ready in 10 minutes to seafood sauces and and meat sauces like the one I have simmering right now -- simmering for 2-plus hours.

The latter recipe is for Bologna-style ragu. Bologna is the city in Northern Italy where Caggiano was born and raised. She then moved to the U.S. and eventually opened one of Sacramento's most respected restaurants. Click on the pictures to make them bigger; apologies, but there is no aroma feature with this software.

This sauce builds flavor slowly, beginning with melting butter and then cooking minced carrots, celery and onion.

sauce2.JPGThen you add ground beef, pork and veal, along with small cubes of pancetta. This cooks at high heat for about 10 minutes.

Next, I poured in a cup of red wine and cooked that down until most of the wine had evaporated. More flavor (and the kitchen smells great).

Then comes time for the classic ingredient -- a 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes. The book says to puree them in a blender. But I went with doing it by hand the way they do in Italy -- squeezing the tomatoes until they were pretty much liquefied. Then the tomatoes are added to the pot and simmered -- and simmered -- for two-and-a-half hours.

sauce1.JPGIt thickens and the flavor deepens over that time. I will be writing a short story on the book, along with a few recipes in the upcoming Food and Wine section on Wednesday

August 5, 2011
Dine and dash: Our governor's french fry problem

039.JPGI have good sources on the streets of Sacramento. One of the most reliable told me about Gov. Jerry Brown's visit to a certain midtown restaurant. The gossipy details suggest that in some ways he's just like the rest of us - he steals other people's french fries. And in other ways he's not at all like us -- the guy who drove him to the restaurant was behind the wheel of a black SUV with dark windows and with a rifle perched between the two front seats.

That's how the governor rolls these days. He's older now and married, and he's busy trying to save this broken-down state from going completely broke. The governor no longer rents a modest apartment at the corner of 14th and N Streets like in the old days. Instead, he lives in a swanky, pricey loft at the corner of 16th and J, just two blocks from the old governor's mansion his dad, Pat, occupied in the 60s. And you won't find the more mature governor tooling around the grid in that Plymouth Satellite he had when he was the 34th governor of California from 1975 to 1983.

These days, it's a tricked-out SUV. When he's ready to leave a restaurant like Cafeteria 15L, as he did the other night, his driver turns on the flashing emergency lights, blocks traffic in the right lane on 15th Street until the governor is safely inside, and then makes the lengthy drive home - um, that would be three blocks, not counting the one-way streets that make the drive a cumbersome six blocks. Still, his security detail is seemingly lighter than his predecessor's. Once, when the GF and I were shopping at Mike's Bikes at 14th and I, we noticed six guys in suits walk in. All had earpieces. The Schwarzenegger walks in wearing a tan summer suit and ask, "Where are the bike shorts?" We didn't stick around to watch him try them on!

I digress. It's what my source told me about Brown's arrival a couple of nights ago that was the best tidbit. It seems that when the governor walked up to the restaurant, he spotted someone he knew dining a table on the patio, which is separated from the sidewalk by a wooden wall about four feet high. Brown reached over the wall and snatched some fries. Then he snatched a few more, apparently proclaiming them worthy. He then went inside and had dinner. I have no intel on what kind of tipper he is.

Disclaimer: The fries in this picture are not from Cafeteria 15L. They are used merely to show what french fries look like and are in no way intended to represent themselves as the fries Gov. Brown snatched from an unsuspecting diner at the restaurant in question, which did not make these fries.

August 5, 2011
Sugar Plum Vegan makes PETA's list of best sandwiches in the U.S.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals a.k.a. PETA is joining the fun and p.r. hijinks of National Sandwich Month, which stretches through August, by creating its "top 5 vegan sandwiches" list. Sacramento's own Sugar Plum Vegan, located at 2315 K St., made this honor roll with its "garnet yam & avocado panini" sandwich, which comes with tomatoes, roasted onions and poppy seed aioli on ciabatta bread. The price tag: $9.79.

"It's one of our most popular items," said Erika Galt, a manager at Sugar Plum Vegan. "Everyone seems to order it."

The No. 1 sandwich prize went to "The Revenge" from Strange Matter in Richmond, Va. This 'wich comes with vegan ham, tempeh, and jackfruit between two dairy-free grilled cheese sandwiches. Think of it as the vegan version of KFC's "Double Down."

"We give Sugar Plum Vegan five green stars for helping to feed America's growing demand for delicious health-, animal-, and eco-friendly food," said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman in a statement.

For more information: www.peta.org

August 5, 2011
Nabisco goes for a Triple Double with new edition of Oreo

Triple Double High Res.JPGWe always thought the term "triple double" referred to a performance by a basketball player who's had a great game. Now the folks at Nabisco have redefined it as the Triple Double Oreo, literally the biggest version yet of the iconic cookie (introduced in 1912).

This handful is constructed of three chocolate Oreo wafers, stuffed with a layer of vanilla creme and one of chocolate creme.

Could it be an improvement over the traditional Oreo cookie (there are nearly 40 variations), which have sold in the billions? We asked our panel of tasters to twist, lick, munch or dunk the Triple Doubles and offer their expert opinions, beginning with my own. For more information: www.nabiscoworld.com/oreo/.

P.S. A Nabisco spokesperson emailed this: "The Triple Double will be available in August. We cannot give out individual retailer names, but (the cookies) are being distributed nationally. The suggested retail price is $4.19 (for a 13.1-ounce package)."

August 5, 2011
Scott Fenner: A chef in the making, not making enough to get by

180465_182274191809945_100000820977891_356173_1051708_n.jpgWhen you dream of becoming a chef and change your life to chase down that dream, it's supposed to go something like this:

You kiss your lousy job and your miserable boss goodbye, you immerse yourself in culinary school, and you show all your instructors that you have a knack for cooking that just might revolutionize the restaurant world. You do an internship at a top-flight restaurant, where the staff compares your palate to Mozart's ear. You graduate, and you sift through all the offers, settling for the one that brings in the most money at a joint with the most Michelin stars. The TV gig, the three-book deal and the Lamborghini are just around the corner.

The reality, of course, is something else, and Scott Fenner -- talented and determined as he is -- recently got a heaping dose when he gave notice at Ella Dining Room & Bar. He went back to his former world of working construction.

It wasn't because he couldn't cook.

He just couldn't make ends meet.



August 4, 2011
Lounge ON20 changes menu, lowers prices

Just three months after undergoing a decor change and debuting its new chef, midtown's Lounge ON20 (20th and K streets, Sacramento) introduced a new menu on Tuesday with reduced prices. Gone are any dishes that cost more than $18. Lounge ON20's new menu has been retooled to emphasize small plates and its bar food offerings. The change comes with chef Pajo Bruich, who's known for embracing molecular gastronomy and modern culinary techniques, hoping to drive more dining traffic to Lounge ON20 and offer more items that won't be a blow to the wallet.

"I've been evaluating the trends of diners and seeing what's working and not working," said Bruich. "We've been tagged as this molecular gastronomy kind of place but I think what we're doing is classic, simple stuff, but some people were still scared. I really don't want people to be intimidated and show that we're affordable and trying to do amazing food."

Among the new offerings: a $3 Niman Ranch mini burger, carnitas tacos with Tapatio foam for $7, 12-hour slow cooked pork belly with peaches and cornbread French toast for $11 and handcut pastas for $14. Prices have also been cut on such items as lime cured hamachi (now $11) and fried mac 'n cheese ($6).

"We want people to come in and share and pair dishes," said Bruich, "With these price points, it's more conducive to making that happen."

Update: Dishes can also be upgraded to entree size portions for an additional fee. Chef Pajo is also open to creating tasting menus for customers, using dishes that are both on and off the menu. For a chef's tasting menu, plan on paying between $75 and $100.

For more information: www.loungeon20.com

August 4, 2011
Learn about California farmers, get free groceries

It's a hefty prize for a simple task: $10,000 in groceries simply for "liking" a social media effort meant to connect consumers with the state's farmers and ranchers.

The California Agricultural Communications Commission has launched its second annual "Know a California Farmer" initiative, which offers stories, videos, blogs and photographs about the lives and work of farmers and ranchers.

The commission has trained more than 400 farmers on using social media and harnessing the power of the Internet to help consumers understand where and who their food comes from, the release states.

The campaign also includes a sweepstakes giveaway, which boasts a grand prize of $10,000 of free groceries and a supply of fresh California flowers each month for a year for liking its Facebook page. Weekly winners also will be chosen to receive $100 grocery gift cards, a commission news release states.

The sweepstakes is available until 5 p.m. Sept. 15. Participants, who must be 18 years or older and a California resident, can enter one time per week.

Entering is simple - just "like" the campaign's Facebook page and you'll be directed to a quick entry form that requires your name, birthday and e-mail address.

Click here to check out the "Know a California Farmer" website. Click here to access the campaign's Facebook page.

August 3, 2011
Golden Bear owners take over Hangar 17 space

Look for a new eatery and watering hole to open by February at the former Hangar 17 at 17th and S streets. The new business, which has yet to be named, will be run by the owners of the Golden Bear who recently signed a lease for the space. According to Golden Bear co-owner Kimio Bazett, the concept of the new space is still being worked out, but a major renovation is planned. Hangar 17 shut down in March after six years of business.

"It will be unrecognizable as Hangar 17," said Bazett. "It will also be more different than the Golden Bear. It'll be a little more grown-up but still have a comfortable, neighborhood feel."

In related news, mixologist Chris Tucker has joined the Golden Bear's staff and will make cocktails at this 24th and K spot on Fridays and Saturdays. Tucker, known as one of Sacramento's most respected mixologists, became a free agent after his former employer, L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen, shut down indefinitely in July. Bazett expects that Tucker will take on a greater role with the Golden Bear, including possibly run its bar program and work closely with the new venture on 17th and S.

August 2, 2011
Vegfest coming Aug. 13

Want to make sure you're getting a proper helping of veggies this month? Then stop by Vegfest on Aug. 13, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Artisan Building on 1901 Del Paso Blvd. You'll find a smorgasbord of culinary creations from the vegan, raw and vegetarian side of things. Don't think of this as a bunch or rabbit food. You'll find non-dairy popsicles from DavePops, edibles from Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe and even vegetarian dog food for Fido from V-dog. This meat-free extravaganza also features speakers, a children's area and much more. The cost is $2 and $1 with the donation of a non-perishable food item. 11 and under are free. For more information: www.sacvegfest.com.

August 2, 2011
Taylor's Market offering sustainable, popular Lava Lake Lamb

A new line of grass-fed lamb has quickly become a hot seller at Taylor's Market in Land Park.

Taylor's owner Danny Johnson toured the Lava Lake Lamb ranch in Idaho in June and began carrying it in early July. The grass-fed summer lamb is raised sustainably, humanely and without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.

"It's the most sustainably farmed lamb that we could find for mass production," Johnson said. "This stuff is just phenomenal."

The lambs are born in California and raised in the Northern Rockies. And the quality is unparalleled, especially for lamb available during summer months.

"We've never sold as much lamb as we did in July," he said.

The lamb is available at the butcher counter and at the market's adjacent restaurant, Taylor's Kitchen. Johnson said the quality is better, but he's keeping the retail cost of Lava Lake Lamb on par with other lines.

Want to take advantage of some great grilling cuts? Try shoulder chops - just marinate and grill - which run about $7.99 per pound. Or lamb ribs for $4.99 per pound. Click here to get lamb grilling tips and recipes from our recent Food & Wine section.

August 2, 2011
Giovanni's Pizzerias roll back the price on the large cheese pie

There's so much New York-style pizza in town that we should be talking with accents. Let's remember that the guy who helped pioneer the thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizza movement here is John Ruffaine, who opened Giovanni's Old World New York Pizzeria 10 years ago.

"I'm just happy to still be here 10 years later," he said on the phone Monday.
So happy that Ruffaine has rolled back the price of his large (16-inch) cheese pizza from $17.95 to the 2001 price of $9.95. "If you build your own with your favorite toppings, it's a good way to get a very good deal," he said, and we agree.

The roll-back program runs through August at the two Giovanni's pizzerias in Sacramento: 5924 S. Land Park Drive (916-393-7001) and 6200 Folsom Blvd. (916-455-8831).

"I'm providing a style of pizza I grew up with in Brooklyn," Ruffaine said. "I'm making it with no shortcuts, from scratch and with ingredients imported from New York and Italy." That includes the extra-virgin olive oil.

If you're not in the mood for pizza, the Sicilian roasted chicken from a family recipe is a winner ($9.95 whole, $5.95 for a half).

Visit at www.giosnypizza.com.

August 1, 2011
Monday postscript: Making it personal at Palermo Ristorante

photo (11).JPGEvery once in awhile, I go into a restaurant or store and am so impressed by something - the food, the service, the selection of groceries or some intangible - that I will find myself thinking: I wish a place like this could be located within walking distance of where I live.

It has happened with Café Luna in Placerville, with Taste Restaurant in Plymouth and Ambience in Carmichael. I wish Corti Brothers were across the street, so I could scuttle over there for a bottle of wine and some pasta. I wish Taylor's Market was around the corner. I can ride my bike to both, but walking is a stretch. We were in Newcastle riding our bikes this Saturday and we dropped by Newcastle Produce. I wish there were a Newcastle Produce II somewhere downtown. Great little store.

August 1, 2011
SF Chefs Restaurant Week offers foods, wines and more

If you and your foodie friends find yourselves in San Francisco today through Sunday, you'd be wise to participate in SF Chefs Restaurant Week, billed as "the third annual premier food, wine and spirits" experience. The action will be on Union Square and inside the Westin St. Francis Hotel.

Included in the culinary party will be offerings from chefs, restaurants, farmers, wineries, breweries and the makers of artisanal foods of all sorts. Also: cooking demonstrations, spirits classes, seminars, panel discussions, silent auction and the chance to meet some of the stars of Northern California's food and wine industries.

Most of the fork-to-mouth tastings will happen Friday through Sunday inside the Grand Tasting Tent on Union Square.

For the details (including pricing), go to www.sfchefs2011.com.



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