Appetizers
September 30, 2011
Sierra 2 wine tasting set for Saturday

It's the time of year when Curtis Park turns into wine country. The 21st annual Curtis Park Wine Tasting & Silent Auction will be held Saturday at the Sierra 2 Center (2791 24th St., Sacramento). The event runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and focuses on food and drink from local sources, along with raffles and a silent auction. The window for buying discounted advance tickets has passed, but can be purchased at the door for $45.

For more information: (916) 452-3005 or www.sierra2.org.

September 30, 2011
A study suggests Sacramento is among 'most gluttonous' cities

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

Now the DM has ranked "the most gluttonous cities in the nation," and Sacramento is No. 11 out of 20. Seven other California cities made the list, too.

How did the DM researchers come up with the list? First, they defined "gluttony" as "the quantity of food available to a certain population, and the kind of food available to it." For instance, the number of fast-food chain outlets was a negative.

Then they assembled data from "the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control on the number of grocery stores and supermarkets per capita, the number of fast-food establishments, the number of full-service restaurants, and rates of obesity. ... This data was then weighed against similar research compiled by private research firms."

For better or worse, DM concludes the most gluttonous city is New York City, followed by Detroit, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Las Vegas, Columbus (Ohio), Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia, Sacramento ("Has nearly the same number of fast-food and full-service restaurants; adult obesity rate is 26.7 percent"), San Antonio, Orlando, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Oakland, Riverside and San Bernardino.

September 30, 2011
New sausages? Not yet. They need to go through D.C. first

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Recently, I wrote a post here about the line of sausages Preferred Meats was working on. When I tried them, Preferred's corporate chef, John Paul Khoury, was making the rounds and getting chefs to taste the product. I got to taste the sausages, too, and was impressed.

All in all, the response was very enthusiastic and Preferred Meats, one of the premier suppliers of meat to top restaurants in Northern California, decided to go into production. It would produce its own line of sausages, bringing out a breakfast sausage and two versions of Italian sausage (mild and hot).

Then I noticed a post of the Facebook page of The Eatery, the hot new bistro in West Sacramento that is seems to be making all the right moves:

A brief explanation on why no sausage for brunch yet; Preferred Meats, our exclusive meat provider, is rolling out a truly artisanal line of sausage. It takes about 4 weeks for the USDA to approve the packaging. They obviously need to take a tip from the city of West Sac on efficiency. Until then, please enjoy our Eden farms bacon and black forest ham. And thank you for your patience. It will pay off. This is great sausage.

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Curious about the bureaucratic process, I called Khoury and asked him about it. Turns out, making sausage is the easy part. Going through all the channels at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is another thing altogether. The lag time now is about the label that will go on the sausage packages. It has to include the ingredients and other information -- and it has to be approved by folks in Washington.

Khoury told me the main ingredients are listed (pork, water, salt), but that the exact mix of spices is not on the label, only the percentage of spices in the overall recipe. Interestingly, paprika is a spice that has to be listed separately, Khoury explained, because it will change the color of the meat. Paprika is in the hot Italian sausage, but not the mild or the breakfast sausages.

Unlike a lot of the sausage you get at grocery stores, this sausage is raw. As soon as the sausage is made, it is frozen.

"It's like flash-freezing shrimp on a boat once it's caught. It's often fresher," Khoury said.

Approval of the label will take 2-4 weeks. Foodies might be interested to know that the label is known to industry insiders as the "USDA bug." The bug is what goes on the packaging.

Once the bug is approved, Preferred will embark on an aggressive marketing campaign. And yes, The Eatery in West Sacramento will finally start serving some excellent sausage.

Note: Although Preferred Meats primarily sells to restaurants, home cooks will be able to order the sausages and other products by visiting the retail link here.


September 29, 2011
Talking with Sacramento "Top Chef" hopeful Tyler Stone

Just got off the phone with Sacramento chef Tyler Stone, who's going to be featured on the upcoming season of "Top Chef: Texas." He's one of 29 chefs from around the country who made the cut for this season - which is twice as many contestants as previous seasons - but will be soon whittled down to 16 once the season kicks in Nov. 2 on Bravo.

Stone is something like the Doogie Howser of Sacramento's culinary scene: He enrolled in culinary school at age 11, cooked at The Kitchen with owner Randall Selland for local TV at age 13, and even has a cookbook under his belt ("The Kid's Cooking"). Now 23, Stone launched his own line of knives, and also works as a private chef around the Sacramento area and beyond. You can read about this and plenty more dish in my Q&A interview with Stone that's running in next Wednesday's Food & Wine section.

In the meantime, check out Stone's casting video from Top Chef's web site. The kid is a hoot ...

September 29, 2011
Delicious distraction II: Lounge ON20's cheese and charcuterie plate

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It was startling -- but in a good way -- when the newly re-imagined restaurant at Lounge ON20 was cited by Gayot as one of the Top-10 restaurants in the U.S. featuring molecular gastronomy cooking techniques. Startling because the hot new restaurant's kitchen, headed by executive chef Pajo Bruich, is in some pretty amazing company. Alinea and WD-50 are ranked on another list -- S. Pellegrino's -- as two of the best 50 restaurants in the world. I ate at WD-50 (in New York City) last September, and the meal was a tour de force of creative cooking, including a deconstructed eggs Benedict I'll remember for years to come.

What's all the fuss about locally? Just check out the cheese and charcuterie plate at Lounge ON20 (pictured above). It's a thing of beauty, complete with plenty of avant garde and classical technique. I contacted Bruich after running across this photo (again, it was Facebook that got me!).

I contacted Bruich and asked him to tell me what we're looking at. He says the plate is available by special request for $20 and includes the following: pate de campagne cooked sous vide, guanciale lasso, lard, andouille sausage, porchetta stackers, winchester super aged Gouda, house made ricotta, fiscalini aged cheddar, crater lake blue cheese, chevre-fig cheesecake and a whole lot of house made extras! Everything done in house, all of it, the bread, jams sauces.... served with fleur de sel crackers by (pastry chef) Elaine (Baker)

Congratulations to the Lounge ON20 crew, including chef de cuisine Mike Ward, for the fine work on this plate and for the national recognition.

September 29, 2011
Delicious distraction: The halibut at Magpie

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Note to self: I really shouldn't check out Magpie Cafe's Facebook page while I'm trying to work. My eyes locked onto the photo above and now I can't concentrate. I had a different version of Magpie's halibut several months ago and can highly recommend it. Maybe I'll have to rearrange my dinner plans for tonight so I can have some closure with this photo!

September 28, 2011
Sweet Potato Puffs get the 'family dinner' taste test

Puffs AM.jpgNutritionally speaking, sweet potatoes are good for us. They're rich in vitamins B6 and C, and are loaded with beta carotene. But they're not on everyone's "best of" list, even though crispy sweet-potato "tots" are a hit item on food trucks.

How to get those truck "tots" to the family dinner table, where maybe the young ones will find them fun to eat? One way is with a new product, Sweet Potato Puffs from Alexia Foods. A 20-ounce bag goes for $3.49 at most area supermarkets.

Bonus: Celebrity chef Tyler Florence (who lives in Mill Valley in Marin County) offers recipes using the puffs, at www.alexiafoods.com.

We asked four moms to serve the puffs as part of their family meals. Their reports:

September 27, 2011
Hawks restaurant gives a serious look at opening downtown

hawks.JPGIt's early in this particular game, but... Chef Molly Hawks and her chef-husband, Michael Fagnoni, co-owners of Hawks restaurant in the Quarry Ponds Town Center, are planning an expansion.

"It's definitely something that's been on our minds and we're looking at a spot near the intersection of Alhambra and Stockton boulevards (in the forthcoming Stockton Boulevard Medical Building)" Hawks said on the phone today. "It's under construction, so we couldn't open until a year from now. We haven't signed a lease, so if that location doesn't pan out, we'll keep looking for another one."

Hawks pointed out that the "biggest challenge" in opening the new restaurant will be finding investors. "There's the potential for a big lunch business (at that venue)," she said, "and we're looking for investors."

As for the new place, "It will definitely reflect our style of food, but in a more casual way," she said. "We want to do something that's dressed down. We would give it a different name (than Hawks), though we might tie it in."

Earlier this month, the couple took gold and silver medals at the 26th annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival, held at the Northstar ski resort. Competing against 22 other restaurants, their housemade charcuterie won first place in the Best Food category, and second place in the Best Food & Wine Pairings category.

Hawks is at 5530 Douglas Blvd., Granite Bay; (916) 791-6200, www.hawksrestaurant.com.

PHOTO CREDIT: Patrons enjoy lunch at Hawks Restaurant. Autumn Cruz/Sacramento Bee

September 27, 2011
Sacramentan to be featured on "Top Chef: Texas"

This just in: the cast has been revealed for Bravo's "Top Chef Texas" and Sacramento's own Tyler Stone made the cut. He's a 22-year-old personal chef who's cooked for the Sacramento Kings, the Doobie Brothers and a variety of dignitaries. We'll follow up soon on this when we touch base with Stone. In the meantime, "Top Chef: Texas" will air on Nov. 2. Stay tuned!

September 27, 2011
Ettore's lands former chef of Selland's Market-Cafe

In this latest news on the local chef's scene, a change recently went down at Ettore's, the Fair Oaks Blvd. bakery and restaurant that also makes one of Sacramento's best burgers. Pedro Depina, the former executive chef of Selland's Market-Cafe, started Monday as the new executive chef at Ettore's (2376 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; 916-482-0708). Depina also served as the executive sous chef for Ella Dining Room & Bar, before heading about a year ago to Selland's to lead its kitchen. Depina's resume also includes an eight-year run at Biba.

"It was a great opportunity that presented itself," said Depina. "To be the best, you have to work with the best and (owner Ettore Ravazzolo) is the best pastry chef in town. I'm excited to come and work with him."

At Ettore's, Depina plans to focus more closely on local and seasonal ingredients and also strive to make the restaurant as much of a destination as its bakery. The burger, which comes on a signature bun embedded with cheese and scallions, will remain untouched.

"If it's not broken, I'm not going to fix it," said Depina. "But I think I'm going to lighten up a few dishes and add my own twist, and for the most part keep it seasonal. In the fall I'm going to do a lot of braised and home-style dishes, and keep it rustic with a seasonal product-driven approach."

For more information: www.ettores.com

September 26, 2011
Perk your interest: Coffee prices, a coffee talk, and a tasting

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If I were to make a list of things that I absolutely would not do without - and would accept no substitutes - coffee would be right up near the top. After oxygen and water. Just check out these coffees we had Sunday when the GF and I rode our bikes to Chocolate Fish to enjoy some coffee, some reading and plenty of relaxing on the front patio. It was sublime.

Yes, we coffee lovers want the best, we're willing to pay for it and, well, we've noticed that the prices have gone through the roof over the past year or so, thanks to volatility in the commodities markets, among other things. When I recently visited Chocolate Fish at Q and 3rd, I noticed a binder containing articles explaining the rising coffee prices. Chocolate Fish just raised its prices last week by about 13 percent, the first jump since 2009, according to co-owner Andy Baker. A 12-ounce brewed coffee, for instance, went from $1.85 to $2.15. At Temple Coffee, another top coffeehouse in town, owner Sean Komescher says he has had to raise prices twice in the past year - each time by 25 cents, for a total of 50 cents.

September 26, 2011
Chef Mark Helms to open new venture in East Sac

Mark Helms, the highly regarded chef who made Ravenous Café a destination for discriminating food lovers in the Pocket area, sold the restaurant a couple of months ago. But he wasn't sitting still or staying out of the kitchen.

What's Helms up to? We're about to find out as early as next Wednesday, when Helms promises to have his new enterprise up and running - in East Sacramento, just three blocks from his home. I spoke with Helms this morning and he told me he is putting the final touches on Juno's Kitchen & Delicatessen at 36th and J. The space is small and seating will be limited, so Helms says he will focus on takeout meals. If his track record is any indication, this won't be a run-of-the-mill deli.

Just as he did at Ravenous, Helms will combine top-notch ingredients with creative approaches to the cooking and presentation, with an overall emphasis on the kind of farm-to-table cuisine that showcases what's local, sustainable, and humane.

September 26, 2011
Free ice cream Tuesday at Coldstone

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ... free ice cream! That's right, Coldstone Creamery is offering a free 3 ounce ice cream from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. It's all part of a campaign to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Coldstone is asking customers to buy a $1 Make-A-Wish star before grubbing down on their ice cream, which comes topped with brownie and rainbow sprinkles and fudge. OK, so maybe this isn't exactly "free" but it's still a pretty sweet deal for a good cause, and thanks to our Sacramento Connect partner, Cowtown Eats, for pointing this one out.

September 26, 2011
Kinnee O'Reilly's Irish pub to open its doors Wednesday


Among the world's cuisines, few can offer fare as hearty as Irish on a good day. So, with cooler weather in the months ahead, we're anticipating Wednesday's opening of Kinnee O'Reilly's Irish Pub & Restaurant.

The menu will include shepherd's pie, mulligan stew, corned beef and cabbage, boxty (a crepe-like dish made from potato-based batter), and house-made potato chips smothered in Irish cheeses and "sprinkled with chopped corned beef and scallions." Other European (and American) rib-stickers will be included: lamb shanks, bangers 'n' mash, fish 'n' chips, burgers, sandwiches and the like.

Being a pub as well as a restaurant, the thirsty can choose from more than 40 whiskeys and nearly as many international beers at the hand-crafted wood bar.

"Our goal is to make everyone feel like they've stepped into a casual corner pub in Ireland," said Dave Wohler, co-owner with his wife, Betsy Wohler.

Kinnee O'Reilly's is in the Montano Shopping Center, 1000 White Rock Road, El Dorado Hills. Information: (916) 933-2720, www.kinneeoreillys.com.

September 23, 2011
Champagne at Ella 1/2 off through Saturday

Ella Dining Room & Bar (12th and K Streets, Sacramento) is commemorating its fourth anniversary with a deal that deserves its own toast. All bottles of champagne and bubbly are half-off through Saturday, ranging from domestic sparkling wines to some of France's most esteemed champagne houses. The celebration also includes a special $30 three-course prix fixe menu that includes such selections as an appetizer of ricotta gnocchi and lamb sirloin or pan seared Passmore Ranch trout as an entree. Click here for the full anniversary menu.

So which bubbly to buy at half-price? Here are a few suggestions, and take 50% off these noted list prices:

Budget: NV Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut ($44). This sparkler is one of the domestic wine world's most reliable producers, and with a sale price of just above $20, that's about the same price you'd find it at BevMo. A solid sparkler for an exceptional deal.

Just got paid: NV Ruinart Blanc de Blancs ($125). This chardonnay-based champagne is always a charmer with its rich body and tantalizing citrus flavors. A glass of this paired with the anniversary menu's appetizer of the local salad with peaches and nectarines will make your taste buds sing.

Baller status: MV Krug Grand Cuvee ($275). Ella's bubbly list offers plenty of fine champagne selections, including the 1985 Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose ($288), but when in doubt - and have the cash flow - you've got to go with Krug. Just the name alone gives a Pavlovian kind of reaction with champagne aficionados, and one taste of this creamy, complex and flavor filled champagne will make you understand why.

For reservations: (916) 443-3772 or www.elladiningroomandbar.com

September 22, 2011
Terrace restaurant at Town & Country to serve last meal Sunday


The highly regarded Terrace restaurant at Town & Country Village will close Sunday "after we serve one last brunch," said co-owner Margo Powers. She and her chef-husband, Michael Powers, opened the Terrace late in 2007 after selling the Village Bistro in Fair Oaks, which they ran for five years. The Terrace serves breakfast and lunch.

"Our monthly overhead is double what we make," Margo Powers said in explaining their decision to move on. "We always have our fingers crossed that (business) is going to get better, but our well has run dry."

Donahue Schriber is the Terrace's landlord. The Costa Mesa-based retail-property company owns Town & Country Village, Pavilions and Natomas Marketplace, all in Sacramento, as well as 75 other shopping destinations in four Western states.

"Donahue Schriber was saddened to learn earlier this week of the Terrace's intent to close on Sunday," said Audrey Yokota, the company's director of marketing. "It was solely the Powers' decision. We wish them the very best in their future business endeavors."

September 22, 2011
Lounge ON20 ranks No. 6 in country for molecular gastronomy

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CREDIT: Chef Pajo Bruich prepares creme fraiche with the anti-griddle at Lounge ON20. Andy Alfaro, Sacramento Bee

The Sacramento dining scene could use a little pick-me-up after a goofy Living Social ranked Sacramento second to last in a national dining survey. So here's some good news that speaks to the talent and fine food that can be found in this town: Midtown's Lounge ON20 just ranked No. 6 in a rating of the country's best restaurants for molecular gastronomy. Lounge ON20 (20th and K streets, Sacramento) ranked just behind the venerable French Laundry in this Top 10 list from Gayot, a restaurant guide that was launched in 1981. Alinea of Chicago, considered the nucleus of molecular gastronomy in the United States, earned the No. 1 spot.

To rewind, molecular gastronomy uses a bit of science and cutting edge cooking techniques to reimagine the texture and flavors of food. At Lounge ON20, you'll find that ethos applied to its tacos, which include a foam made of Tapatio hot sauce and a fantastic lime cured hamachi with compressed watermelon and "pears" of sweet Fresno chile.

September 22, 2011
7-Eleven chain will mark National Coffee Day with a free cuppa

Here's a heads-up for caffeine-lovers: Sept. 29 is National Coffee Day, and the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores has a deal.

Walk in to any "participating" (meaning most of them) 7-Eleven franchise between 7 and 11 a.m. next Thursday and receive a free medium-size cup of coffee, cappuccino or latte, while supplies last.

It's the company's way of thanking its customers, said a spokesperson, much as it thanks them on July 11 each year with free Slurpees.

September 21, 2011
Burgers and Brew expanding

Look for downtown's Burgers and Brew (1409 R St., Sacramento) to double its amount of beer taps in an expansion that's expected to be completed within a month. The eatery and brew pub is taking over the neighboring space from the now vacated Top This Yogurt. When completed, Burgers and Brew will have enough refrigeration space to accommodate 30 beer taps, up from 14 taps currently. More than 100 bottles are already carried.

"We started the expansion with the intention to get more beers," said co-owner Philippe Masoud. "We've been doing 'beers of the week' and specials, and there's so much demand in keeping every tap open."

Masoud said he doesn't expect Burgers and Brew to close for any extended period due to the extension. Meanwhile, the owners are looking to open sister pubs in Folsom and on the renovated K St. mall. Burgers and Brew will also open a location at Sacramento International Airport's new Terminal B, which is set for opening Oct. 6.

September 20, 2011
Caymus wine dinner coming Sept. 28 to Lounge ON20

When it comes to California cabernet sauvignon, a bottle from Caymus Vineyards tends to be a real crowd pleaser, and a favorite of critics too. Its "Special Selection" cabernet sauvignon has twice won Wine Spectator's "Wine of the Year" - for its 1990 and 1984 vintages - and renown for its ripe yet balanced flavor profile. Lounge ON20 (20th and K streets, Sacramento) will be partnering with Caymus on Sept. 28 for a feast of modern cooking and finely crafted wines. Chef Pajo Bruich's four course menu will include a salad of heirloom beets paired with 2011 Caymus Unoaked Mer Soleil Chardonnay, and a New York strip loin steak with "deconstructed steak sauce" to match the vaunted 2009 Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.

This fine dining experience is priced at $120 per person, and a few seats remain. The event starts at 6 p.m. with a canape recption, and dinner seating at 6:30 p.m. For reservations: (916) 443-6620 or info@loungeON20.com.

September 20, 2011
Reservations and appetites for Lake Tahoe Restaurant Week

On the heels of the Sept. 9-11 Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival - where Hawks of Granite Bay took gold and silver medals in the Culinary Competition, versus 22 other restaurants - comes the second annual Lake Tahoe Restaurant Week, Oct. 2-9.

Experience has taught us it's never too early to make lunch or dinner reservations, especially when it comes to a culinary safari with an army of other foodies intent on mountain dining.

With that in mind, go to www.tahoerestaurantweek.com for details, including lodging packages, menus, maps and contact information (or call 530-525-1164). Meanwhile, this will get you started:

About 60 restaurants around the lake and in Truckee will offer three-course prix fixe meals for $20, $30 or $40 per person (tips and taxes not included). "No passes, tickets or coupons are required," said program organizer Pettit Gilwee. "It's an opportunity to try new restaurants and visit old favorites."

Dining venues range from historic resorts to gleaming new bistros, from the casual to the high-end. Among the high-rollers are the four-star Plumpjack Cafe in Olympic Valley, 19 Kitchen and the Sage Room at Harveys at South Lake Tahoe, Friday's Station at Harrah's at South Lake Tahoe, Lone Eagle Grille at the Hyatt Regency in Incline Village, Manzanita at the Ritz-Carlton above the Northstar ski resort, and Wolfdale's in Tahoe City.

Did we mention reservations?

September 19, 2011
Sip and nibble at Downtown Truckee Wine, Walk & Shop

Landslides of special events throughout Northern California are gearing up for the fall season. Let's mention one that involves eating, drinking and shopping, plus a scenic drive - always good things.

Truckee's eighth annual Downtown Wine, Walk & Shop soiree is on the calendar from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 1. It will feature samplings from a dozen restaurants (including the four-star Manzanita at the nearby Ritz Carlton hotel, and delightful Truckee newcomer Troykay Cafe), and tastes from 40 wineries. Of course, visitors are encouraged to drop by the many art galleries and storefronts that make Truckee a unique shopping destination.

Advance tickets are $30 at www.truckeewinewalk.com and in the town of Truckee at the chamber of commerce visitors center and the Pour House wine shop. Day-of tickets are $40, exclusively at the registration kiosk near Sports Tahoe and the Mountain Home Center on Donner Pass Road. Details on lodging specials are on the website.

For more information: (530) 550-2252.

September 16, 2011
Miyagi Bar & Sushi celebrates expansion

We're especially happy these days to report any news that doesn't involve a local restaurant shutting down. In this case, Miyagi Bar & Sushi (2580 Fair Oaks Blvd. #26) will be celebrating its expanded space on Saturday with live music from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. by the ParTime Band. This Japanese restaurant in the Lyon Village shopping center now has twice its previous capacity, allowing for 60 diners in booths and bar seats along with its 56-seat patio and restaurant space.

"In a time when many restaurants are closing their doors, we're thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to grow," said co-owner Jimmy Khov, in a statement. "We look forward to providing our neighborhood with the highest-quality seafood in our expanded space."

For more information: (916) 485-2299 or miyagisushi.com.

September 15, 2011
Food truck fiesta coming today to Capitol

Let's set aside for a second all this Debbie Downer talk of Sacramento ranking second to last in a national dining survey, not to mention all the recent restaurant shut-downs, for something much more fun: Food trucks! A gang of food trucks and mobile vendors will be parked at the California State Capitol (10th St. between L and N streets) from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. today. They're gathering for El Grito, an early commemoration of Mexican Independence Day. Because no matter if a food truck is peddling burgers or waffles, the roots of mobile food can be found in the humble taco truck. Here's the lineup of vendors:

1. MiniBurger
2. Wicked 'Wich
3. La Piedad
4. La Mex
5. Chando's
6. Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen
7. Corn Cake/BBQ
8. Mama Kims
9. VolksWaffle
10. Emma's Tamales
11. Pizza Company
12. Fat Face

In other food truck news, we're hearing that food truck ordinances may be coming up soon in front of the Sacramento City Council. Stay tuned for more information on that. Meanwhile, see you in line tonight for Chando's and more.

September 15, 2011
Survey: Sacramento has nation's second worst dining scene

As restaurant closures around the Sacramento area continue to mount, there's a double-whammy of bad news about local dining. According to results of a national survey released today, Sacramentans ranked their city as the second worst dining scene in the country.

The survey was commissioned by LivingSocial, a Washington D.C.-based company that offers daily online deals for restaurants and other businesses. 4,000 diners in 20 media markets across the country participated in the online survey, with about 200 of them hailing from the Sacramento area. Participants were asked about their dining habits, favorite food choices and how they rank their city's overall food scene. Let's just say that Sacramento failed miserably, with only Detroit residents showing more dissatisfaction for their local dining.

On the flipside, this survey showed New York City as the country's favorite city for food, followed by Chicago and San Francisco.

September 13, 2011
Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co. coming to former Hangar 17

We recently reported that the owners of the Golden Bear had taken over the space formerly occupied by Hangar 17 on 17th and S streets. Now, there's a name: Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co., which is slated to open in February. The name harkens to a historic volunteer fire department in Sacramento, with a decor that mixes an industrial vibe with a comfy neighborhood bar and restaurant.

"It's about the sense of rising from the ashes, and a feeling of community," said co-owner Kimio Bazett. "Like the Golden Bear, it's also kind of a tribute to northern California."

Renovations are continuing on the space, and we're hearing that a couple of key names in the local restaurant scene will be heading the food and bar program. We'll keep you posted on that when confirmed.

September 12, 2011
Red Lotus shuts down

Red Lotus, the midtown restaurant which specialized in stylish dim sum-styled Chinese food, shut down as of Sunday night. This news was first broadcast on the Facebook page for Billy Ngo, Red Lotus' executive chef and co-owner, and confirmed by a member of Red Lotus' staff. Red Lotus lasted just under a year-and-a-half of business at 28th and J streets, taking over the a space formerly occupied by G.V. Hurley's before abruptly shutting down after Sunday's service.

Ngo continues to run Kru, a sushi and Asian small-plates themed restaurant just a few blocks from the former Red Lotus at 25th and J streets.

Red Lotus' shut down is the latest in a rash of midtown restaurant closures. Celestin's, the long-running Caribbean restaurant, will close at the end of September and be replaced with a new eatery run by the owners of Capitol Garage. Other recent restaurant closures in the midtown/downtown area include Brew It Up, Spin Burger Bar and L Wine & Urban Kitchen. California Pizza Kitchen's location at 15th and L street has also closed, though its other locations around the Sacramento area remain open.

September 12, 2011
Crazy about the clubhouse sandwich? Nominate your favorite

Fortunately, the clubhouse sandwich has never gone out of style. The question is: Which restaurant makes the best one?

To explore that, Wally Clark has announced his fourth Ultimate Clubhouse Sandwich Contest. It's a fundraiser for the Scottish Rite Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders. It's also a chance for the public to taste an array of classic and non-traditional clubhouses. Clark, a third-generation Sacramentan whose fond memories of clubhouse sandwiches go back to his boyhood years, is the owner of Associated Sound in Sacramento.

The clubhouse showdown will be Oct. 29 at the Scottish Rite Center. In the meantime, Clark wants to hear from you. Nominate what you think is the best clubhouse sandwich on a restaurant menu. It might end up in the competition.

Send your email nomination to carmelers@aol.com by Oct. 15. Include your name, and the name of the restaurant and its location. Then stay tuned.

For the record, a traditional clubhouse is a BLT with sliced roasted turkey or chicken breast and a third slice of toast, cut into wedges. It's smeared with mayo and is often accompanied by potato salad or potato chips and a pickle slice.

September 12, 2011
Hawks restaurant takes gold and silver at autumn food festival

2011 Autumn F ood & Wine - overview.jpgAs thunder boomed and lightning lit up the Tahoe Basin and outlying areas on Sunday, the rain held off long enough for the smiling winners to be announced at the 26th annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival.

The three-day event, Sept. 9-11 at the Village at Northstar ski resort a few miles from Truckee, culminated in Sunday's Culinary Competition & Grand Tasting (pictured). In it, each of 23 restaurants teamed with a winery to present the 23 best food-and-wine pairings. There were other categories, as well.

The big news for Sacramento-area foodies: Chef Molly Hawks and her chef-husband, Michael Fagnoni, co-owners of Hawks restaurant in the Quarry Ponds Town Center in Granite Bay, took medals in two categories. They won gold in the Best Food category, and silver in the Best Food & Wine Pairings category.

"We wanted to show off our housemade charcuterie," said Hawks on Sunday, as people crowded around her sampling tent on the Northstar midway. Fagnoni was away at the moment, on a nearby stage being photographed with other competition winners.

September 7, 2011
The vintage Gold 'n' Silver Inn in Reno serves it all, 24/7

DSCF0136.JPGLast Saturday, we took a well-advised exit off of Interstate 80 and on to Keystone Avenue in Reno. We were on journey to the 23rd annual Best in the West Rib Cook-off at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks and wanted a stretch and a bite.

Our destination was the landmark Gold 'n' Silver Inn restaurant. There, we met Sacramento Bee correspondent Mel Shields, who has covered the Reno-Lake Tahoe entertainment scene for this newspaper since 1976. His column appears each Sunday in the Living Here section.

The G&S opened in 1956 and continues to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner 24/7. And 365. It has been closed only one day in its life, for Christmas many years ago.

September 6, 2011
Lots of sips, bites and how-to at Tahoe Food and Wine Fest

Attention, food- and wine-lovers: Another culinary safari is approaching, so let's make plans:

The 26th annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival runs Friday through Sunday (Sept. 9-11) in the picturesque Village at Northstar, between Lake Tahoe and Truckee.

Special events will include a grape stomp, gourmet marketplace, food- and wine-pairing seminar, outdoor cooking demonstrations, hands-on cooking classes, arts and crafts, live entertainment, art and sculpture shows, and much more.

The two top attractions each year are the Mountain Chef Blazing Pans Cook-Off (think "Iron Chef" and the surprise of "secret ingredients") and the big finale - the Grand Tasting and Culinary Competition, at which dozens of restaurant chefs pair delectables with wines from dozens of wineries.

Most events are free (including cooking classes), but the ticketed ones cost $15 to $90 (the festival is a fund-raiser). For the schedule, ticket availability and lodging suggestions, visit www.tahoefoodandwine.com

There's more: Following the festival will be the second annual Lake Tahoe Restaurant Week, Oct. 2-9.

The deal: About 60 restaurants around the lake and in Truckee will offer three-course prix fixe meals for $20, $30 or $40 per person. "No passes, tickets or coupons are required," said event organizer Pettit Gilwee. Be sure you make reservations, though.

At www.tahoerestaurantweek.com, you'll find a list of participating restaurants (from family-run to high-end), menus, maps, lodging deals and contact info.

September 6, 2011
Best of the West Nugget Rib Cook-off has a winner

The 23rd annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off was a Godzilla-size throwdown at which 24 professional cookers competed for cash, trophies and bragging rights. Along the way, they sold 240,000 pounds of bones to a Rib Nation a half-million strong.

The six-day event - considered the most prestious of its kind - culminated Monday afternoon on Victorian Square at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks. That's when Nugget officials announced the winners to a cheering crowd. They were:

First place: Back Forty Texas Barbecue of Pleasant Hill, Ca., $7,500
Second place: Chicago BBQ Co., Burr Ridge, IL., $3,000
Third place: Bone Daddy's, Midland, Mich., $2,000
Fourth place: Kinder's Custom Meats, Concord, Ca., $1,000
Fifth place: Porky 'n, Beans BBQ, Port St. Lucie, Fla., $500

The People's Choice Award (and $500) went to Bone Daddy's BBQ. The Best Sauce Award (also worth $500) went to newcomer Uncle Bub's of Westport, Ill.

The 24th Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off is planned for Aug. 29 through Sept. 3, 2012. For reservations, event history and information: (800) 648-1177, (775) 356-3300, or www.nuggetribcookoff.com.


September 2, 2011
Olive oil tasting and wine-pairing coming to Greek Village Inn


There's big news (and a party) on the olive-oil front: The 113-year-old Star Fine Foods in Fresno - formerly of San Francisco - is celebrating its first extra-virgin olive oil made from California-grown olives. Until now, its products have been imported from Mediterranean countries.

The main event of Star's "Taste of the Good Life Tour" will be an olive oil-tasting and food- and wine-pairing at 6 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Greek Village Inn, 65 University Ave., Sacramento; (916) 922-6334, www.greekvillage.com.

The point is to demonstrate the differences between imported extra-virgin olive oil and Star California-produced extra-virgin olive oil.

"The tasting will (feature) six Greek specialty dishes, including roasted lamb shank," said restaurant owner Cathy Tsakopoulos. Note that seating is limited. The cost is $62.50 per person.

The new Star oil is a blend of first cold-pressed Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki olives grown in the Central Valley. Find it in supermarkets and specialty-foods stores for $9.45 (16 ounces) and $12.98 (24 ounces). Information: www.starfinefoods.com.

September 2, 2011
A coffee at Old Soul and a respite at Edible Pedal

Following up on yesterday's entry, which touched on getting out and seeing the city (with a little grub in there somewhere), this morning I walked the dogs over to Old Soul, the coffee shop, roaster, and bakery in the alley between L and Capitol (between 17th and 18th). Alleys in Sacramento are often an afterthought, if not an eyesore, but this alley is something to behold, including Old Soul, a new development idea of three adjoined homes facing the alley called the Stitch project, and next to Old Soul, a business called Edible Pedal. Making alleys more inviting for residences and businesses alike is a new and exciting opportunity.

My little outing for coffee allowed me to absorb more of what is cool and right about our city. As I often say, a big part of city living is traveling on foot or by bike, where you encounter people and things at a slower pace and in a different way. When you walk, you run into others who walk, and you eventually notice that people tend to be friendlier on foot than those you may encounter in cars on four-lane suburban roads. When's the last time a pedestrian called a fellow pedestrian an "idiot" or gave someone the middle finger for some minor slight or misstep (this does not include Tea Party rallies or 49ers/Raiders parking lot encounters)? So, I love getting out and walking, finding ways to fold some errands into my day without making it seem like a chore.

Walking around Sacramento helps you see its potential and what is already great. Yes, there are flaws, including the fact that motorists almost never stop at crosswalks when I'm standing in one.

First stop Friday morning was for a cappuccino, which I ordered as the dogs hung out in the alley. As I waited, I noticed several framed photos of bicycles on the wall. Old Soul tends to rotate the art monthly, giving photographers and artists a chance to display and sell their work. Right now, the photos on display are from the bicycle website Eco Velo, which is produced locally but has a large national (and international) following.

Edible Pedal.JPG

I then took the cappuccino next door to Edible Pedal and sat on the sofa as the dogs settled down on the cool concrete floor. The shop is loaded with bikes, accessories and bike-related gear such as bags, clothing, even jewelry made of bike stuff -- I bought a yellow bracelet (for $15) that is made of bike chain links. It's very cool.

bracelet.JPG

Edible Pedal is also very cool and it's always worth stopping in to see what bikes are for sale and what new bike-related events are upcoming. For instance, Edible Pedal has been leading rides to area farms and has begun co-sponsoring an overnight ride up the bike trail to Folsom (the last ride featured a camp cooking lesson by Chef Rick Mahan, a cycling advocate who owns Waterboy and OneSpeed). Edible Pedal started as a business owned by John Boyer, a longtime waiter who wanted to show folks that the bicycle could be used as a work vehicle. His company uses bikes to make food deliveries at select restaurants. It has evolved to become a bike shop and, down the road it is poised to offer bike touring opportunities. To find out more, click here.

For me, this was a low-key Friday morning and yet another opportunity to share what's right about our city when you explore it on foot.

So, the next time folks who live outside the grid come to midtown or downtown to visit a restaurant, don't fret about the parking. Instead, look at as an opportunity to explore. Find the restaurant you want, then decide to park six blocks away. That will take away the pressure of hunting for a space, and it will give you a chance to see the city in a different way. You'll probably encounter others out there walking, and I bet most of them will be pretty pleasant.

P.S. A reader (thanks Stephanie) just sent me an amusing comic about pedestrian versus motorist behavior. The language is a little racy, so check it out here if you're over the age of 7: The Oatmeal.

September 2, 2011
Master meat-cutter Mike Carroll honored by sheep association

The California Wool Growers Association has been "the voice of the sheep industry since 1860." Recently, it honored master meat-cutter Mike Carroll, the meat department manager at the Sacramento specialty market Corti Bros.

Carroll was displaying his framed certificate the other day, which reads, "CWGA 2011 Retailer Marketer Award (acknowledging) Corti Bros. for the continuing dedication toward promoting and marketing the California sheep industry."

"I've been very excited about it," Carroll said. "We went to the Pine Resort on Bass Lake near Yosemite for the banquet dinner and awards presentation."

Carroll has a remarkable assortment of lamb displayed in the cold case at his meat department. "We carry lamb from three different companies," he said. "We sell so much lamb that we exhausted the supply of one of our purveyors. She won't have any more until February, when her lambs mature."

What's that piece of meat over there? "That's a cradled lamb loin, something I invented myself," Carroll said. Joining it were rack of lamb, lamb chops, rib chops, small loin chops, shoulder chops, round bone chops, riblets, boneless lamb stew, chateau roast, lamb shanks and leg of lamb.

Makes you want to fire up the grill. Corti Bros. is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento. For the meat department: (916) 736-3805.

September 1, 2011
Summer in the city: a stroll, a stop for Korean BBQ, a seat in the park, and something about Dave Bender

It was a perfect day to venture outside for lunch and join in with downtown residents and workers alike as they soaked up the sights and sounds and, yes, the flavors of our city.

On Thursday, we managed to multitask at midday - a walk with the dogs, a terrific little lunch, some people-watching, and a little browsing and buying at the curbside farmers market along the east end of Capitol Park.
spicy pork.JPG
From home, the GF and I - and two out of the three dogs (it was too hot and too far for the old golden) walked to GoGi's Korean BBQ at the corner of 15th and L, where you order at a walk-up window. This little joint combines Korean BBQ with tacos and burritos, along with a street-food immediacy that has become a bustling addition to the lunch options downtown.

September 1, 2011
Make your plans for the Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival

Chocoholics, get ready for a trip to San Francisco to indulge in your favorite sweet at the 16th annual Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival. The square is a landmark that's listed on the National Historic Register.

Festival highlights will include 40-some chocolate-makers and their wares; cooking demonstrations; ice cream sundae-eating contest; live music and other entertainment; and dollars-off specials at local stores. Plus, Cadillac's "Ride & Drive" event will let you test-drive some of the carmaker's new wheels

Also, the Ghirardelli company has teamed with the Fairmont Heritage Place "private residence club" on the square for the Ghirardelli Chocolate and Wine Package deal, through Dec. 31. Details are at www.fairmont.com/ghirardelli. .

The chocolate festival will be from noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 10-11 in the courtyards of Ghirardelli Square and along Beach Street, adjacent to Aquatic Park on the outskirts of Fisherman's Wharf.

Tasting tickets are $20 for 15 samples; all other activities and demonstrations are free. For details, call (415) 775-5500 or visit www.ghirardellisq.com. Buy tasting tickets (including the VIP version) at the door or online at www.ghirardellisquarechocolatefestival2011.eventbrite.com.



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