Appetizers
January 31, 2012
Former L Wine Lounge owner named general manager of Napa's Goose & Gander

"Appetizers" recently shared the news that Kelly McCown was leaving his executive chef position at Ella Dining Room & Bar to head Goose & Gander, a new restaurant in the Napa Valley located in the former Martini House. Now, there's another connection. Marcus Marquez, former owner of L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen, has joined Goose & Gander's team as its general manager and partner.

Marcus, who ran the L with wife Kolea before shutting down in July due to money and legal issues, will move his family to St. Helena in the summer. Goose & Gander's aiming for an early April opening, meaning Marcus Marquez will be doing some commuting between Napa and Sacramento for a few months. The expectations are meanwhile high for Goose & Gander, which was recently named by Zagat.com as one of the Bay Area's "17 hottest openings of 2012."

The opportunity took shape for Marquez after attending McCown's farewell dinner at Ella. Since the L's closure, Marquez took a job with the distributor Epic Wines and spent many working days in Napa.

January 31, 2012
Smashburger opening Elk Grove location on Wednesday

And the burger related posts keep rolling today on "Appetizers" ... along with word about Ella Dining Room & Bar offering its new "bipartisan burger" special, local fans of "fast-casual" dining can sink into news that Smashburger is opening its Elk Grove location at 10 a.m. Wednesday. This south area franchise at 7701 Laguna Blvd. in Elk Grove marks the Sacramento area's fifth Smashburger location. And evidently, Sacramentans love their burgers. The San Diego area is the only other part of California which boasts Smashburger eateries.

Smashburger has gained a following with burger aficionados for making their food to order and using a meatball-sized mound of Angus beef which is then "smashed" into a patty shape over a buttered grill. In a 2010 review of Smashburger's Citrus Heights location (5500 Sunrise Blvd., Citrus Heights), the Bee's Al Pierleoni awarded Smashburger a notable 3 out of 4 stars and a hearty thumbs up on its "juicy burgers."

Hours will be be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For more information: www.smashburger.com

January 31, 2012
Ella's new Bipartisan Burger takes the politics out of lunch

As the national political circus continues to pitch its tents in towns and cities across America, many citizens are already growing weary of the rhetoric.

To lighten up the landscape, Ella Dining Room and Bar is offering the Bipartisan Burger during the month of February. It comes with fries and a root beer float for $15.

I asked Josh Nelson for details. He's a partner in the Selland Group, which owns Ella and other area restaurants.

The hamburger patty is ground from premium Wagyu beef (American Kobe) from Snake River Farms, he said. It's topped with imported Gruyere cheese and thick-cut peppered bacon, and plopped on a bun from the Acme Bread Co. Sharing the plate are hand-cut fries from potatoes grown around Winnemucca, Nev. The float is assembled from Burg's root beer and house-made Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream.

If the burger is bipartisan, what is Nelson's political leaning? "I don't have a political affiliation when I'm in Ella. It's too close to the Capitol," he said. "Let's just say I'm independent."

The burger lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Ella is at 1131 K St., Sacramento; (916) 443-3772, www.elladiningroomandbar.com.

January 30, 2012
Rail Bridge Cellars wines now poured at Power Balance Pavilion

Despite the Sacramento Kings' dismal season on the court this far, here's something that local wine fans with a fandom for sports can toast. Selections from Rail Bridge Cellars, the urban Sacramento winery located just north of downtown, are now being poured at Power Balance Pavilion.

So, if you're looking to wash that King Dog down with something besides the same ol' beer or soda, you can instead savor some sips of Rail Bridge Cellars 2007 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc or their Boredeaux blend known as Lattice. Other Rail Bridge Cellars options at Power Balance Pavilion include the 2009 Chardonnay Sienna and a 2007 merlot made from Napa Valley grapes.

Look for the wines at Power Balance Pavilion's wine kiosk and its Skyline Bar. The folks behind Rail Bridge Cellars, a small winery which is on track to produce about 1,400 cases of wine this year, consider this Power Balance Pavilion product placement a slam dunk.

January 30, 2012
Faith's Crepes in Quarry Ponds Center closes its doors

My "Counter Culture" restaurant-review column in last Friday's Ticket section was a sampling of tasty dishes served at various restaurants around town. Included was a go-to favorite, Faith's Crepes at the Quarry Ponds Center in Granite Bay.

What a shock to learn that hard-working owner Faith Loo had to shutter her creperie, effective yesterday. Efforts to reach her by phone and e-mail today were unsuccessful.

In part, her farewell at www.fatithscrepes.com says:

January 30, 2012
If you love bananas, you'll like Dole's Go Bananas Every Day

banana__group_.jpg

The banana is one of nature's perfect foods. Simply peel 'n' eat for a blast of nutrients such as potassium, along with vitamins B6 and C. And don't forget the fiber. No wonder the banana is the No. 1-selling item in supermarkets in the United States.

Knowing all this, the Dole Food Company - the world's largest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables - is reaching out in a social-networking way with its Go Bananas Every Day campaign. Sign up and receive free banana recipes, tips and trivia, and the latest in health-related research.

Banana-lovers can play on Twitter (@DOLEBananas#Go366) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/dolebananas), and will receive daily banana-friendly suggestions. More information: www.dole.com/bananas.

Meanwhile, you should know that Aug. 25 is National Banana Split Day, when the iconic dessert will celebrate its 108th birthday. Plus, next time you're in Pasadena, try the banana cream pie at Pie 'n' Burger, called America's best version by the New York Times.

January 27, 2012
Put your best cupcakes forward, then compete against the pros

Pinkdelicious.jpg You say you make the best cupcakes in town? Here's a chance to prove it.

Kristy DeVaney, the creative force behind the popular Cakegrrl food blog, is doing a shout-out to amateur cooks around town.

The challenge: Make a three- to five-minute video that shows why your cupcakes are tops. Upload it to Youtube and submit it to www.cakegrrl.com by April 1. The next day, 10 entries will be posted online, for voting by viewers. Then, on June 23, three finalists will go cupcake-to-cupcake against a trio of professional bakers at the 10th annual Sacramento Chef Challenge

"We're looking for amateurs who bake for fun," DeVaney said on the phone this morning. The contest will ultimately help raise funds for Inalliance, "a nonprofit organization that supports people with developmental disabilities" (www.inallianceinc.com).

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For contest rules, more details and to see sample videos, go to www.cakegrrl.com or www.chefevent.com. Or email DeVaney at cakegrrl2007@gmail.com.

DeVaney is a member of Sacramento Connect, a network of high-quality news providers and bloggers hosted by the Sacramento Bee. Visit them at www.sacramentoconnect.com.

January 27, 2012
Attendance record set at Unified Wine & Grape Symposium

The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium wrapped up Thursday, taking over the Sacramento Convention Center and Hyatt Regency for three days of workshops and a wine industry trade show, and this year's convention attracted record attendance of 12,400. That number is up 200 guests from the previous record of 12,200 set in 2011. And that's a gain of 700 attendees from 2010, which saw a slight drop from the previous year at Unified.

The Convention Center was meanwhile packed with nearly 650 vendors showing off the latest in winemaking and grape growing technologies, and much more in what's billed as the western hemisphere's largest wine industry trade show. That number's up about 20 vendors from 2011, and the challenge for Unified organizers is finding more space for those who want to show off their wares. In recent years, Unified has taken over the third floor and a chunk of the first floor lobby at the Convention Center to accommodate all those who want to show off their wares. The running joke at Unified is they might have to start adding trade show booths in the restrooms. Meanwhile, there's already a waiting list to vend at Unified 2013.

Here's a link to a wrap-up of Unified's "state of the industry" presentation, and another story about Unified's major impact on local restaurant business.

Chris Macias is the Bee's food and wine writer. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias

January 24, 2012
Redd Wood 'wine country pizzeria' to open Jan. 26 in Yountville

Wood Fired Pizza 2.jpgThe compact town of Yountville is one of the Napa Valley's most prestigious fine-dining and wine-drinking destinations, a place where Michelin stars abound. Its heady menu of A-list restaurants includes Ad Hoc, Bottega, Bouchon and the French Laundry, all of which maintain lists of exclusive local wines.

Another upscale player (and star-holder), Redd, was opened in 2005 by chef Richard Reddington. On his resume are Masa's and Jardiniere in San Francisco, and Auberge du Soleil in the Napa Valley.

Now Reddington and former Redd chef Jacob Kossman will open another Yountville restaurant, Redd Wood, on Jan. 26.

January 23, 2012
Need more vegetables in your life? VegFest is around the corner

Remember that new year's resolution you made, the one about eating more healthfully? If you're about to fall off that particular wagon, you might find a boost of inspiration at the third annual Sacramento VegFest.

The event will celebrate "raw, vegan and vegetarian cuisines," featuring specialty dishes from area restaurants, shops and caterers. Food samplings, cooking demonstrations, free recipes and competitions will be part of the scene.

Get your veggies on from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Artisan Building, 1901 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento. Admission: $3. For more information: (916) 923.6200, www.sacvegfest.com. Sponsored by the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership.

January 23, 2012
Star Ginger celebrates one-year anniversary with $1 menu items

"Asian street food" occupies the menu at Star Ginger in east Sacramento. We've been there many times and like it a lot. So we were happy when it was announced that Lemon Grass chef-restaurateur Mai Pham's noodle bar-grill will celebrate its one-year anniversary by offering four menu items for only $1 each. Usually, they sell for $6 to $8 each.

First, some ground rules: The one-buck dishes are available only between 5 and 9 p.m., for dine-in only, one per person over the three-day celebration. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., though, look for free giveaways every 15 minutes. You must be there to win.

Now for the items: Green curry and jungle curry on Tuesday; BBQ chicken banh mi (sandwich on a great roll from Village Bakery in Davis) on Wednesday; and ginger sesame chicken salad on Thursday.

Star Ginger is at 3101 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 231-8888. www.lemongrass.com.

January 23, 2012
Sacramento restaurants in hog heaven following success of Bacon Fest

Today marks the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac, but around Sacramento it might as well be the Year of the Pig. The inagural Bacon Fest ran from Friday through Sunday, with some two dozen Sacramento area restaurants participating, and marked by packed events and food shortages from the bacon-hungry hordes. Pangaea Two Brews Cafe reported its busiest day ever due to its Saturday Bacon Fest event which featured bacon and beers specials. Because of this whopping success, Pangaea was closed on Sunday for an employee appreciation day.

Founded by local musician and bacon aficionado Brian Guido and Nick Miller, managing editor of the Sacramento News & Review, just five official events were planned when Bacon Fest was announced two weeks ago. Once word got out, that number jumped to 24 participating venues, including Samuel Horne's Tavern in Folsom, the Shady Lady and Lucca restaurant.

Highlights included "Kevin Bacon Tribute Night" on Friday at Luigi's Slice Fungarden, with local bands cranking out tunes from Kevin Bacon movies (think: "Footloose" and favorites from "Animal House" - "thank you sir, may I please have another!"), and a Bacon Fest breakfast at Magpie Cafe. Big crowds and bacon shortages turned out to the norm.

Needless to say, plans are already being formed for Bacon Fest 2013. Also look for a few one-off Bacon Fest events as the year moves along, including a "BLT Day" once the tomato season arrives.

January 23, 2012
Good idea at The Porch: Detailed notes on sourcing

In recent years, it has become commonplace to include every farm and farmer on restaurant menus. This was initially greeted as a good idea -- it taught us to appreciate where our food was coming from and, in doing so, it brought new attention to farmers who were doing things the right way.

At some point, avid restaurant-goers began to see it as overkill. They were reading about farms and farmers and small towns in far-off lands they had never heard of, and they didn't know what to make of all the names. Some restaurants began dialing it back, mentioning the source only when it really seemed to matter.

The Porch, the new restaurant that opened on K Street in midtown recently (in the building occupied for years by Celestin's) has an excellent way of showcasing its ingredients without shoehorning them onto the menu. A link on the restaurant's website called "Providers" goes into great detail about the origins of the food. For those into this kind of thing, it's quite informative.

The sandwich bread, for instance, is as local as you can imagine -- they get it at Old Soul Bakery, which is a block or two away. The cornmeal comes from Grass Valley Grains, "a small one man farming operation on a fifth generation farm in Wheatland."

The Porch is one of the few restaurants around serving grits. The website tells us: "Our grits are from Ridgecut Gristmill in Chico and from War Eagle Mill in Rogers, Ark. Due to the demand of white hominy corn (used for masa), we can't always get our grits from Chico."

Check out the link and learn a little about The Porch and its products. It's good reading. Further, it shows that this new restaurant, still finding its footing, is already conscientious about sourcing and meticulous about dealing with responsible and ethical farms.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @Blarob.

January 20, 2012
Food truck festival with live music and alcohol sales coming April 21

This just in: Got a call from one of the organizers of Sacto MoFo, which has thrown mobile food truck festivals around the Sacramento area for the past year, and a new event is coming April 21. Full details will be announced soon, but alcohol sales will be included for the first time and live music will also be added to this event.

The SactoMofo folks intended to throw a similar mobile food festival with a beer garden at Power Balance Pavilion in December, but after some logistical problems about cooking indoors with propane, the event was moved to Eighth and W streets. 23 food trucks participated and attracted more than 4,000 customers.

So where will this latest food truck festival be held, and which vendors are participating? We'll let you know as soon as we do.

Chris Macias is the Bee's food and wine writer. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias

January 20, 2012
Sacramento's Star Ginger restaurant offers $1 dishes to celebrate one year in business

By Mark Glover

mglover@sacbee.com

Star Ginger Asian Grill and Noodle Bar in Sacramento will celebrate its one-year anniversary next week by offering $1 menu items.

Sacramento restaurateur-chef Mai Pham's restaurant at 3100 Folsom Blvd. opened its doors on Jan. 25 last year.

To mark the opening milestone, select dishes will be offered for $1 from 5-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday - for dine-in only and one per person.

January 20, 2012
Mikuni is celebrating 25 years of serving Japanese cuisine

RB In Season 4.JPGIn May, the eight-restaurant Mikuni Restaurant Group will celebrate 25 years of serving first-rate Japanese cuisine around the Sacramento area and at the Village at Northstar ski resort.

You can join the good times, with chances to win prizes and participate in special deals. Each month through May, new promotions and events will be posted at www.mikuni.com.

This month on the website, you can enter to win a trip for two to Las Vegas (including dinner with master sushi-maker Taro Arai, pictured), and a Honda Fit automobile. Plus, the chain has introduced a new sushi roll - the Mikuni 25 - filled with panko shrimp, crab salad and tuna, then torched, sauced and garnished with crunchy tempura bits. It's a $16 value for $10, said a Mikuni spokeswoman.

Attractions over the coming months include the release of a limited-edition (600 bottles) Mikuni-labeled cabernet sauvignon; chances to win special dinners; tickets to the Sushi Chef & Server Showdown; and price rollbacks on many menu items.

The celebration concludes in May with Mikuni's second annual Japanese Street Festival at the Fountains shopping center in Roseville.

January 19, 2012
Board of Equalization cafeteria temporarily shuts down, food trucks to fill gaps

Workers at the California Board of Equalization building at 4th and N streets who showed up Tuesday and hoping to get lunch or coffee at its cafeteria were out of luck. The cafeteria abruptly shut down over the weekend due to "personal reasons" from vendor Darren Simonds. The cafeteria is expected to be closed for the next two weeks while a new vendor is secured.

A coffee kiosk has since been installed to service the building's 1,900 employees, and the vending machines were re-stocked, according to Board of Equilization spokesperson Jaime Garza. There's also been outreach to Sacramento's food trucks to help fill those hunger pains in the interim, and the Board of Equilization is working with the City of Sacramento to extend the parking limits for food trucks while the cafeteria remains closed. Under current city ordinance, food trucks must move every 30 minutes. The sandwich truck Wicked 'Wich has already made a stop at the building this week, and Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen also plans to feed the civil servant masses there, said Drewski's owner Andrew Blaskovich.

The Board of Equalization's cafeteria utilizes the Department of Rehabilitation's Business Enterprise Program, which trains the legally blind to operate food service entities. Simonds shut down his cafeteria operations without giving any prior notice, said Garza.

Chris Macias is the Bee's food and wine writer. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias

January 19, 2012
Chocolate-flavored vodka cocktail meets Valentine's Day

image003 (1).jpgVodka comes in many flavors, including chocolate. Which - in a stretch - links to Valentine's Day (Feb. 14), when chocolates and flowers rule. Suddenly, we have the notion of a chocolate vodka-based cocktail.

This recipe is from the folks at the Van Gogh Vodka company in Holland, whose version of chocolate vodka contains Dutch cocoa and Colombian coffee, plus spices.

Dessert Fizz

Ingredients:
1-1/2 ounces chocolate-flavored vodka
1 large strawberry, chopped
Handful of mint leaves
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3 ounces Champagne or other sparkling wine
Directions:
Muddle the strawberry and mint with agave and lemon. Add vodka and strain into chilled Champagne flute. Top with Champagne or other wine. Garnish with a strawberry slice on the rim.

January 18, 2012
Rogers Family Co. of Lincoln releases "Rare Find" coffee

About a year ago, The Bee dropped by Rogers Family Company in Lincoln to check out its coffee operation and learn about its philanthropic efforts in Panama. The coffee company roasts beans under a variety of brand names, including San Francisco Bay Coffee and the Organic Coffee Co.

Now, the company's released "Rare Find," a fair trade coffee with proceeds to benefit the wild cat conservation organization Panthera. The coffee costs $11.99 for a 12-ounce bag and $22.99 for 2 pounds of whole beans, and 20 percent of online sales will to towards Panthera's efforts to protect jaguars. 10 percent of wholesaler and distributor sales will also go toward this cause.

"We are honored to work with Panthera to preserve the jaguar - which is one of nature's treasures and one of the great symbols of the wild- for future generations," said Jon B. Rogers, the president of Rogers Family Company, in a statement. "We hope that Rare Find coffee can make a meaningful contribution to the effort to save jaguars in coffee growing regions where we've seen firsthand how our industry can play an important role in preserving nature."

For more information: Rogers Family Company

January 18, 2012
Sacramento Chef Challenge is looking for vendors for June


Sure, it's only January, it's cold outside and we're still waiting for the rain. Warming us up, though, are thoughts of the 10th annual Sacramento Chef Challenge on June 23.

Right now, event organizers are looking for participants - restaurants, wineries and breweries - who want to show off their fare to the public at one of Northern California's top culinary events. For the vendors, it means exposure. For attendees, it means lots of noshing for $25 per person (tickets are on sale now).

The program is to include two culinary competitions, wine- and beer-tastings, food samplings, a raffle and silent auction, and entertainment. Vendors can win prizes courtesy of www.sacdine.com, sponsor of the People's Choice Awards.

"Most booths are free for local businesses, but vendor space is limited," said a spokesperson for Chef Challenge.

For tickets and more information: www.chefevent.com or call Jessica Bean at (916) 381-1300, Ext. 170.

The Chef Challenge benefits INALLIANCE, "a nonprofit organization that supports people with developmental disabilities." The event is planned to take place at the group's campus headquarters, 6950 21st Ave., Sacramento; (916) 381-1300, www.inallianceinc.com.

January 17, 2012
Antigua Cantina & Grill takes over former Three Monkeys on K St.

Have you ever checked out Yoshi's, the live music spot and Japanese dinner house with locations in San Francisco and Oakland? A new Sacramento spot, Antigua Cantina & Grill, aspires to be the local equivalent and with a Latin twist. So far, Antigua has booked Salvador Santana - son of famed guitarist Carlos Santana, and a fine musician in his own right - to play at Antigua on March 9.

Meanwhile, Antigua is undergoing a few months of soft launching. Located in the former Three Monkeys spot at 723 K St. - which catered to those who wanted sushi, pork sliders and bratwurst in a single setting a.k.a. hardly anyone - Antigua's formal grand opening won't be until May 5 aka Cinco de Mayo. For now, Antigua is open for happy hour and as a nightclub from Thursdays through Saturdays.

Antigua will also host a tequila tasting on Wednesday at 6 p.m., which costs $20 and includes samples of Avion (aka Turtle's tequila from "Entourage") and Tequila Clase Azul. Attendees also get three appetizers, including pan roasted gulf prawns with walnut cilatro pesto.

January 17, 2012
Napa Truffle Festival a feast of food, wine and science

>Truffle Guinea.JPGOne of the most precious and unique - and therefore expensive - delicacies in the global marketplace is the truffle. Black truffles retail for about $1,700 a pound; white truffles cost around $4,500 a pound.

Truffles may not look like much, but for centuries they've been a treasured ingredient in haute cuisine. Master chefs call them "the diamonds of the kitchen."

A truffle is a type of mushroom that grows underground, usually close to oak and hazelnut trees. Dogs commonly are used by Italian and French truffle-hunters to help locate them in the wild and dig them up.

That info and so much more was part of the second annual Napa Truffle Festival, which ran from last Friday through Monday. Various a la carte packages were available for truffle-centric meals, wine-tastings, winery tours and cooking demonstrations.

January 14, 2012
Update on The Eatery: Newbold lives to tell the tale

I finally got hold of Timothy Newbold -- and no, it wasn't at the ICU.

Newbold, as you may recall, is the guy who wolfed down the double burger with bacon and cheese, along with the amazing "disco fries Ryan" at The Eatery. Just a fun little challenge for this West Sac restaurant.

Newbold not only rose to the challenge, he did it to make his brother proud and get the family name on the wall. The feat for all comers will now be known as the "Newbold Challenge."

Turns out, Newbold, 34, is a super nice guy, a stay-at-home dad who worked as an insurance broker for 10 years. He and his wife have four daughters.

He did the feat as sort of a last hurrah before going on a diet -- he wants to lose 140 pounds. Let's wish him well.

Tim was nice enough to answer a few questions I emailed him, but before we get to that, let me quickly address the topic of "gluttony," since I have been getting emails and voicemails about eating and overeating. This little challenge is just for fun. No one is putting a gun to anyone's head. Not only is the food of the highest quality, it is also priced reasonably. No one at The Eatery thinks a double burger and disco fries should be a part of anyone's daily diet.

Here's what Tim emailed me:

1. I took the challenge in response to the urging of my brother. He is amused by things bearing our names. Newbold is not a very common last name so its kind of novel I guess.

2. Honestly I have never done a challenge like this one and I was full after the burger was gone and I still had not touched the salad or Disco Fries Ryan. I just pushed forward. Seriously could have fed a small family with that much food.

3. I didn't eat for 30 hours after "the Challenge" I was not comfortable for the first few hours and by 10pm my blood sugar was 309...never that high before that I know of.

4. The food was awesome! I am kind of a burger junky, but only good burgers. This one destroys the field. I would say top three of those that I have tried, maybe number one (I will let you know next time when I have a chance to savor). Salad was made to order and SUPER fresh. What can I say about the fries...legendary.

5. As for the name thing...Awesome! That's why I did it. I really don't eat like that I have NEVER eaten that much food in my life. It was super fun. Thanks and Kudos to Jess and all of the staff at the Eatery!

January 13, 2012
What's it take to land a job at one of the city's top kitchens?

magpie.jpgMagpie Café puts out some of the best food in the city, night after night. If you go there, you can see the kitchen in action.

I recently heard Magpie was hiring. No, you won't be starting at the top if you land one of the jobs. Magpie is looking for cooks, not chefs.

Since the restaurant has been so well regarded for its quality food, I called co-owner and chef Ed Roehr to find out what kind of people he was hiring.

A couple of weeks earlier, I had read a piece about Rene Redzepi, the celebrated chef at Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant regarded by many as the greatest in the world. Redzepi was responding to a question about how an aspiring chef could be lucky enough to snag a non-paying job at Noma when he said: "We receive a truly humbling number of job applications [...] We don't necessarily look for the most impressive resume as, most of time, it's better to have someone who has cooked three-four years at a more modest restaurant rather than a chef who has hopped from one great kitchen to the other, only spending a year or less in each."

Not to compare Magpie to Noma, but I am interested in how quality places seek out and hire quality people. At the end of the day, it's the people who make or break a restaurant. Magpie put an ad on Craigslist looking for two or three line cooks.

January 13, 2012
The Eatery and big eaters: Here's how to make wall of fame

Newbold.jpgFresh off its review in The Bee, The Eatery is having some good-natured fun with some of its best -- and most notorious -- dishes.

If you're a big eater and a bon vivant, this is something you'll want to sink your teeth into.

During happy hour, The Eatery is offering its amazing "Disco Fries Ryan" (named after a culinary school classmate) for $5 (regularly $10). If you know what's on that massive plate -- two eggs, bacon, melted cheese, gravy and lots of fries -- you will realize what a bargain that is. And this is the good stuff -- top-notch ingredients presented in fun, delicious, decadent balance.

But that's not all. If you also order the double burger (with bacon and cheese) like the one I mentioned in the review, and you manage to finish the burger and the fries within an hour, the food is on the house and you get your photo on the wall of fame.

It's a great idea, and a scary one. Who would try such a thing?

Turns out, his name is Timothy Newbold, and he can really pack it away. Newbold wolfed down the food in 40 minutes. Not only will his picture hang on the wall, The Eatery is naming the challenge after him. Let's hope this doesn't come back to haunt him if he ever runs for president or is nominated to the Supreme Court.

The fame has apparently blindsided the area's newest celebrity. A message to his Facebook page requesting an interview has not been answered. Where is Timothy Newbold? Is he OK? Did his health insurer see The Eatery's Facebook page and promptly cancel his policy?

All we know is that Mr. Newbold is a gifted and determined eater. On The Eatery's Facebook page, Newbold left a couple of comments beneath the picture of his empty plates: "I am feeling it right now" and "no person should ever do this, but it was fun."

When he wakes from his food coma, we hope to land an exclusive with the man behind "the Newbold Challenge." Until then, let's see if any other eaters out there can make it onto the wall of fame. Even reasonable people will enjoy the food at The Eatery. Indeed, you don't have to overeat to eat well at this new and very fine restaurant.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @Blarob.

January 12, 2012
Cafe Capricho receives national nod for its healthful food

Cafe Capricho in east Sacramento is one of our favorite places, and now it has been recognized in a national way. First, some background:

The collaboration between two food-centric websites that cover the nation's dining scene has produced some insightful and entertaining stories. Gourmet Live (www.gourmet.com) is the "reimagined online version of Gourmet magazine," said one of its editors (the newsstand edition folded in 2009). BlogHer (www.blogher.com) is a consortium of food-related blogs by home cooks.

Each month, BlogHer puts together a "Road Trip" feature for Gourmet Live. The current one features restaurants that the writers consider to be among the most conscientious about serving healthful foods, including Cafe Capricho.

January 12, 2012
Chef Billy Zoellin returns to the Golden Bear

Chef Billy Zoellin left the Golden Bear (24th and K streets, Sacramento) just before the midtown eatery and watering hole hit the national airwaves. In January of 2011, the Golden Bear was featured on the Food Networks' "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," with host Guy Fieri chowing down on Zoellin's food including banh mi sandwiches and tacos. But by the time the episode aired, Zoellin split to raise his son and work at the Crocker Cafe.

But like a gastropub prodigal son, Zoellin returned to cook at the Golden Bear about three weeks ago. Sous chef Dave Avender had taken over Zoellin's kitchen duties, and Avender will continue to lead the kitchen team even with Zoellin's return.

"I'm not in charge and that's kind of the reason I came back," said Zoellin. "I'm here to help, and I'm going back to school as well."

January 11, 2012
Who's throwing crab feeds around Sacramento?

It's the beginning of a new year, meaning it's time to work out those resolutions to lose weight - which just happens to coincide with crab feed season. And as The Bee reported today, a second wave of Dungeness crab is about reach consumers soon. So grab your crab feed bib and fork, and prepare to chow down.

But here's what we'd like to know: Which are the best crab feeds around Sacramento? Not only would we like to share this information with readers, but The Bee would like to feature one of these crab feeds for our well-viewed page of local events photos a.k.a. Snapshots.

Let us know in the comments section ... thanks and happy crab feeding!

January 11, 2012
New-to-Sacramento restaurant-tour company whets appetites

This sounds like a good time and a good deal: A year-old national company called Dishcrawl is organizing a toured tasting of three to four small-plate specialty dishes at each of four Midtown restaurants.

The tour starts at 7 p.m. Jan. 25, but the meeting place and identities of the restaurants will be kept secret until Jan. 23. At that time, Dishcrawl "ambassador" Wes Beatty of Elk Grove will email the foodie participants with details.

"Dishcrawl offers a delicious journey (on which) you can be your own food critic and meet chefs, restaurateurs and new people with the same interest as yours," Beatty said.

For clues about the restaurants' identities, follow Beatty on Twitter at dishcrawlsac, beginning Tuesday.

The tour tab is $29 per person. For tickets and reservations: www.dishcrawl.com/midtown.

January 11, 2012
Selland's Market Cafe to open El Dorado Hills location Jan. 30

After a couple of delays, the El Dorado Hills location of Selland's Market Cafe (4370 Town Center Blvd. #120, El Dorado Hills) is finally set for a grand opening on Jan. 30. Like its flagship eatery at 5340 H St. in east Sacramento, this second Selland's will specialize in hand-crafted forms of comfort food (think: mac 'n cheese, pizza, sandwiches and salads with a gourmet touch) plus wine tasting and a bottle shop. The El Dorado Hills version, however, will be about 1,000 square feet larger than the H St. location and accommodate seating for 100 inside, plus another 40 on the patio. Also look for a larger wine shop, with a selection ranging from budget-friendly bottles to special occasion wines.

For more information, surf over to the newly redesigned sellands.com.

Chris Macias is the Bee's food and wine writer. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias

January 11, 2012
Togo's challenge: Can you eat a pound of pastrami?

EK PAGLUICA_2680.JPGMeat-lovers, this one's for you: National Pastrami Day is Saturday, and in celebration the 40-year-old Togo's sandwich chain (242 units nationwide) is holding its "Pastrami Pounder Challenge" from today through Feb. 21.

Finish a two-foot-long sandwich stuffed with a pound of pastrami within 30 minutes and you'll win a commemorative T-shirt and a certificate immortalizing your feat. And maybe even indigestion. Plus, your photo will be posted on Togo's Facebook page, if you wish. The monster sandwich is $19.99.

Also on its Facebook page is the "Pastrami Palooza" promotion, with a chance to win free sandwiches for a year. One more thing: Show your "Pastrami Love" by posting your own pastrami-centric photographs to the fan page gallery.

We wonder if competitive eater Joey "Jaws" Chestnut is allowed to play...

Information: www.togos.com.

January 11, 2012
Restaurateur Mai Pham takes Star Ginger to Boston

LH MAI PHAM.JPG Restaurateur-chef Mai Pham has worked her cooking magic in Sacramento since 1988, when she debuted Lemon Grass restaurant on Fulton Avenue. It continues to serve some of the best Southeast Asian cuisine anywhere.

Pham also has two Lemon Grass Grills, which are more casual, and Star Ginger, specializing in Asian "street food" (the banh mi sandwiches are tops). Her three cookbooks are must-haves in home kitchens, as are her signature sauces and marinades (www.starginger.com).

In December, in the interest of "growing our brand," Pham and food-service giant Sodexo opened a "Star Ginger concept" company cafeteria inside the State Street Financial Center building in Boston. "The 2,000 employees told Sodexo (which operates the cafeteria) they wanted Asian food, and Sodexo said (to me), 'Why don't we do this.'"

Two years ago Pham partnered with Sodexo, which promoted her as a celebrity chef on college campuses during a 19-city tour. Sodexo has contracts with many colleges (and corporate and military facilities) to run their cafeterias.

"Campus dining can be quite sophisticated, but I saw during the tour that I could help their food operations with Asian (offerings)," she said on the phone.

The Pham-Sodexo relationship moved forward to the point where now "Sodexo is our licensee for campus (and corporate) dining. It's similar to a franchiser-franchisee (model). In instances where both parties feel there is a need to open a Star Ginger concept, they're the operator who supplies the space (and labor) and we supply the expertise and training. We provide an authentic, high-quality Asian restaurant concept that comes pre-branded."

In other words, Sodexo is promoting a ready-to-go package to its clients, who apparently are hungry for Asian fare.

"We are working with (universities) to improve their Asian offerings (in their cafeterias)," Pham said. "I'm just back from Yale, where I worked on their Asian salads and banh mi programs."

So, between corporate accounts and college campuses, could this first Star Ginger concept be just the start of many more across the country?

Yes, Pham said. "In business, you have to act on your vision for expansion, and cooking is my passion."

Stay tuned.

January 10, 2012
Two Sacramento region wineries nab Wall Street Journal honors

Two local wineries are greeting 2012 with especially coveted news: They've made the cut for the third annual WSJwine Annual Dozen. Also known as the Wall Street Journal's wine club, which touts more than 100,000 active customers, its Annual Dozen selects best-of-the-year wines in two categories and offers them for sale.

But to make the cut, the wines must make their way through a series of blind tasting panels, with the judging led by best-selling wine author Hugh Johnson. So, let's give it up for Scott Harvey Wines of Sutter Creek and Lodi's Borra Vineyards, which were each selected in "America's 12 Smartest Wine Buys" for the Annual Dozen.

Scott Harvey Wines scored for its 2008 Mountain Selection Barbera, which sells for $29.99 and described as "lively, very fresh and quite delicious" by judge and Master of Wine Justin Howard-Sneyd.

Over at Borra Vineyards, there's a double celebration going on this week. Along with its selection in WSJwine's "America's 12 Smartest Wine Buys" for its 2008 Red Fusion, the 2009 vintage of this wine scored a double-gold medal over the weekend at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

January 9, 2012
Dine Downtown Restaurant Week kicks off

In a move to fill seats during the normally down month of January, this year's edition of Dine Downtown Restaurant Week launches today and runs through Jan. 18. More than two dozen downtown and midtown restaurants are participating, and will feature 3-course prix fixe dinners for $30 a head. It's a pretty good deal for those looking to sample from eateries that might normally be outside the household budget, though it's still not necessarily a cheap night out if you do the math. By the time the bill comes for a table of two, including parking/valet and some kind of beverages, plus tip, the tab can easily come to $75 on the lower end. That's still a relative deal when considering the usual tariff when dining in some of Sacramento's top tier restaurants, but are too many people still being priced out during Dine Downtown Restaurant Week? How about some other options that could show off fine local food closer to the $20 range, or Dine Downtown programs that don't lock people into a prix fixe menu?

Either way, local chefs have some tasty looking menus planned for the next 10 days, including those from Restaurant Thi13en, Ella and The Porch, which recently opened and am hearing a strong buzz that the food's pretty solid over there.

For a full list of Dine Downtown participants and link to menus, click here.

Chris Macias is the Bee's food and wine writer. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias

January 6, 2012
Plenty of ideas when you're ready to hit the town

Kudos to Sacramento Magazine and Mari Tzikas for the cover story in the current issue, "15 Great Nights Out."

Lots of good ideas and they show just how much there is to do in our thriving city. The piece even mentions a new place, The Eatery, in West Sacramento. Just so happens, my review of The Eatery is coming this Sunday in The Bee.

Read Tzikas' entire piece here.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @Blarob.

January 6, 2012
Baconfest offers impressive line-up of bacon-centric events

bacon_fest_poster_preview[1].jpgIn recent years, bacon has enjoyed something of a second act, thanks to restaurants and premium food markets that showcase the way it's really supposed to look and taste.

Now comes Baconfest, a three-day event that celebrates the greatness of bacon and has a little fun along the way.

The event is the brainchild of Brian Guido, who works at the California State Archives filming historical documents for preservation and security. Guido was aware of Baconfest events in Chicago and Des Moines, and he wanted to do something like that in Sacramento.

"It all started with a wild idea, a love for bacon and the desire to fill the void that a town like this has for events," Guido said.

January 4, 2012
Crab & Wine Days will offer Mendocino County's best bounties

Tray of Crab Cakes_Photo Credit John Birchard.JPGCalifornia is world-renowned for its bounty, from produce and cheese to seafood and wine.

An integral part of that is the upcoming 14th annual Mendocino Crab & Wine Days festival, Jan. 20 through Jan. 29. Locally harvested Dungeness crabs will join locally produced reds, whites and roses in a celebration of eating and drinking that attracts foodies from around the U.S. and beyond.

Festival events are held in various venues around Mendocino County and are priced a la carte. The centerpiece is the Crab Cake Cook-Off and Wine Tasting Competition, at which 12 Mendocino County restaurant chefs will make their best crab cakes and pair them with sips from 22 wineries. The photo above shows a tray of crab cakes topped with green salsa and yellow aioli (photo by John Birchard), served at last year's event. For "dessert" will be crab cioppino and crab salad.

Other festival highlights will include crab-themed dinners, winemaker dinners, family-style cioppino feasts, cooking demonstrations, food-tastings, wine-tastings and competitions, winery tours and - something different - crab-catching excursions with local fishermen aboard their vessels.

For a calendar of events and lodging packages and other specials: www.visitmendocino.com (type in "crab" in the search window), (866) 782-9636.

January 4, 2012
Meet Sacramento's newest food truck: Coast To Coast Sandwiches

The local food truck industry continues growing, with a mobile food vendor that specializes in sandwiches that launched recently. Meet Coast To Coast Sandwiches, which includes po' boys, philly cheesesteaks and New York-styled pastrami among its mobile food offerings. The truck and its $7 sandwiches launched in November, just in time for the Sacto MoFo 3 festival, and is the brainchild of Robert Ramos and Sean Figueroa.

These two local culinary school graduates first had plans to open a brick-and-mortar sandwich shop, but switched gears so to speak after figuring a mobile food concept would be a better business plan. They still plan to open a stand-alone sandwich shop, and hope to build its brand recognition first through its food truck.

For now, Coast To Coast Sandwiches works off a fixed schedule (Update: this schedule starts next week): Mondays will be at Goodyear tires on 11th and I street, Tuesdays are a trip to Prospect Park in Rancho Cordova, it's downtown near 12th and O streets on Wednesdays, Thursdays will cater to DMV workers on 24th St. near Broadway and Fridays mean a stop at the CalPERS building near 4th and Q streets.

January 3, 2012
The truffle will be king at the upcoming Napa Truffle Festival

truffles1.jpg
One of the most precious and unique - and therefore expensive - delicacies in the global marketplace is the truffle. Truffles may be mere fungi, but for centuries they have been a treasured ingredient in haute cuisine.

Simply put, a truffle is a type of mushroom that grows underground, usually close to trees. Pigs and dogs commonly are used by Italian and French truffle-hunters to help locate them in the wild and root them out. As rustic as that scenario sounds, remember that for centuries the truffle has been been called "the diamond of the kitchen" by master chefs the world over.

Now you can join the truffle cognoscenti at the second annual Napa Truffle Festival, Jan. 13-16, and do some foraging of your own.

Food- and drink-wise, look for numerous meals featuring truffles, food- and wine-tastings, cooking demonstrations, winery tours, a marketplace that will showcase specialty wines and foods (in the Oxbow Public Market in Napa), and a special truffle dinner and wine-pairing at La Toque restaurant in the Westin Verasa hotel in Napa. It will be masterminded by chefs whose restaurants hold Michelin stars.

Science-wise, on the schedule is a truffle orchard excursion featuring a truffle-hunting dog demonstration, capped by program on the cultivation of truffles.


For tickets and details, including special packages and lodging deals: (888) 753-9378, www.napatrufflefestival.com.

January 3, 2012
Ella Dining Room & Bar names new executive chef

Look for a new executive chef to be heading Ella Dining Room & Bar starting Feb. 1. His name is Michael Thiemann, and is currently executive chef with the San Francisco Bay area's Wayfare Tavern and Hawks Tavern. If Thiemann's name sounds familiar, it might be because he's a former Sacramento local who started his culinary career at the now-defunct Greta's Cafe. He has since landed chef gigs in New Zealand, Hawaii and most recently with the Tyler Florence restaurants Wayfare Tavern and Hawks Tavern.

The owners of Ella conducted a national search after chef Kelly McCown put in notice that he was returning to Napa wine country. McCown will be chef at Goose & Gander, located in the former Martini House - a restaurant where McCown once worked before coming to Sacramento about two years ago.

For Thiemann's try-out at Ella, he prepared a range of dishes including salmon crudo, a sous vide 1/2 chicken, lamb shanks and other items. His managerial experience with Tyler Florence's restaurant group helped seal this deal.

January 3, 2012
Squeeze Inn opens in midtown

Fresh for 2012, the midtown location for the venerable Squeeze Inn opens today at 1630 K St., in the former space used by Infusion Cafe. Whenever the topic of "best burger in Sacto." comes up, Squeeze Inn can pretty much be counted on to be name checked, especially the "squeeze with cheese" which comes with its skirt of fried cheese. Along with big ol' burgers that taste so good but will make your cardiologist wince, its menu also includes a variety of sandwiches.

This midtown location marks the fifth eatery in Squeeze Inn's growing empire. Its original location opened in south Sacramento with a mere 12 stools, but moved to more spacious digs at 5301 Power Inn Rd. after being targeted in a lawsuit claiming violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The suit has since been dropped.

Squeeze Inn has also opened locations in Roseville (106 N. Sunrise Ave.), West Sacramento (1350 Harbor Blvd.) and Galt (545 Industrial Dr.). Squeeze Inn was also featured in a segment on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" back in 2010.

In terms of local burger wars, yours truly has always felt Squeeze Inn is a bit overrated. My personal pick is the ground French steakburger from Nationwide Freezer Meats (1930 H St., Sacramento). But more importantly: Who gets your vote for best local burger? Leave your choices in the comments section.

Chris Macias is the Bee's food and wine writer. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias

January 3, 2012
Focus on photography: Q&A with Rik Keller

soup ingredients.jpg

In the past year, I started noticing some really nice photographs by Rik Keller on various websites. Since one of his many subjects is food, I lined up a Q&A to get to know him and his approach to photography a little better.

I also asked if we could run a few of his photos. They accompany the text. What follows is our exchange, in which Keller talks about his passion for photography, his advice for those looking to become better photographers, and, finally, we pin him down on a few fun things related to food:

1. Please provide some basic information about yourself: where you're from, your interests, career path, how you got your start in photography.

My interest in photography started almost 25 years ago in college with a fascination in studying art photography. Harry Callahan, Minor White, Bill Brandt, Aaron Siskind, Man Ray are some of the Modern masters that spring to mind. I started taking, developing, and printing my own black and white photos then. I am mostly self-taught from years and years of experience, darkroom work, and self-critique. A photographer has to be comfortable with a very high failure rate. And a willingness to learn from mistakes.

I started off in graduate school in architecture and ended up getting a Masters degree in city planning. Photography as a hobby has continued to feed the frustrated designer inside of me throughout my city planning career the last 15 or so years in the Sacramento area.



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