Appetizers
April 30, 2012
Pre-Cinco De Mayo event tonight at Mas

Well shoot, it's not even May 1 yet but the local Cinco De Mayo festivities are already kicking in. There's a tequila festival tonight at Mas Cocina Mexicana (1563 Eureka Rd., Roseville), that includes five different tequilas with appetizers for just $5 per person. Dios mio! That's a great deal, especially considering the caliber of tequilas being poured tonight: Fortaleza, Herencia, Siete Leguas, Tres Agaves and Avion (aka Turtle's tequila from "Entourage").

To reserve a spot at this tasting: (916) 773-3778, masroseville.com.

April 30, 2012
Fabian's Italian Bistro opens Sunday brunch with a new menu

DSCF0396.jpgIt's the season for Sunday brunch on outdoor patios, so we stopped by Fabian's Italian Bistro yesterday to cruise the new menu items.

Last year, the restaurant debuted its brunch with a menu devised by husband-wife owners Christian and Mercedes Forte, and chef Tom Patterson. The three consulted again this year and made some interesting tweaks.

New to the lineup are a farmers market omelet (fresh veggies and goat cheese), applewood-smoked salmon (cooked in a smoker in back of the restaurant), frittata Bolognese (scrambled eggs with meat sauce), and seared flatiron steak 'n' eggs (with tomato arugula butter).

Hmmm. Wait a minute, what's this? A "breakfast burger," described this way: "Hand-formed Angus patty, soft fried egg, applewood-smoked bacon, spicy aioli, tomato jam (on a) bun (with) sliced fries" ($8.95).

Ours soon arrived, looking great on the plate (pictured here). The sandwich was well-balanced, the beef juicy, the bacon smoky, the tomato jam and aioli adding nice dashes of sweet 'n' heat flavors. The hand-cut russet potatoes were creamy and addictive, thanks to the sweet 'n' salty seasoning.

For more brunch destinations, look for Blair Anthony Robertson's round-up of Mother's Day brunch destinations, coming Sunday in the Bee's A&E section.

Meanwhile, Fabian's Sunday brunch is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 11755 Fair Oaks Blvd. in the Almond Orchard center, Fair Oaks; (916) 536-9891, www.fabiansitalianbistro.com.

April 27, 2012
OneSpeed, bikes and a charitable event this Sunday

OneSpeed's motto is "pizza, bikes, love," and here's an event that shows they mean what they say. It's this Sunday and it's for a great cause. OneSpeed is at 4818 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento.

Here's an email I received from Michael Ng, manager at OneSpeed, explaining what it's all about:

Sorry for the late notice, but if you feel the itch, we'd love for your readership to know about a fundraiser we're doing this Sunday the 29th from 9am - 2pm for NorCal AIDS Cycle and MET Highschool Bike Collective. We'll be donating 10% of our breakfast and lunch sales that morning towards the cause. New Belgium Brewing Company will also be on hand as a partner in the fundraiser with their new lager "Shift" aimed at bike enthusiasts as well as the shift worker looking for a beer at the end of their shift.

Students from MET High School's Bike Collective will be on hand to offer basic bike tune ups (lube chains, tighten bolts, adjust brakes, diagnose issues) on a donation basis and NCAC's Pavement Posse team members will be on hand to offer information on the 4 day bike ride.

Ride your bike down, get a few bolts tightened, have some breakfast and support a couple of great organizations!


NorCal AIDS Cycle: www.norcalaidscycle.org
MET HS Bike Collective Video: http://youtu.be/a9yvqIShGyw
New Belgium Brewing Company - Shift Lager: http://www.newbelgium.com/beer/detail.aspx?id=fc35795d-8d9d-4f04-9e35-c1c55c2a0018

April 27, 2012
Spring in the city: a list of spots for eating and drinking outdoors

I'm sitting outside Old Soul in the alley. The sun is out. There's a breeze. It's not too hot or too cold - at least not yet. Spring is in the air and there's nothing more pleasant than the weather during this stretch before it really starts to heat up.

Which leads me to a recent email inquiry from a reader asking if I could suggest a good place for outdoor dining. I couldn't possibly narrow it down to one.

So what follows is my impromptu list of favorite outdoor spots for eating and/or enjoying a coffee, complete with my bias in favor of dog-friendly locales. If you don't like dogs, then I cannot help you. If you have a favorite that's not on my list, let us know about it.

There are two ways to look at outdoor seating. It can either be in a location that connects you with the energy on the street, or it can be a tucked away patio that gives you a respite from the hustle and bustle of the world. Shade is important, too, and it becomes more important the closer we get to July and those temperatures near 100F.

April 26, 2012
Act fast and land a seat at the Firehouse's latest wine dinner

Act fast and you might just be able to squeeze into a reservation at The Firehouse Restaurant's latest wine dinner, a seven-course extravaganza featuring wine pairings from Kobalt Winery. The event is May 4 at 7 p.m.

Wine dinners are often a chance for the best chefs to showcase new and often more challenging dishes. Here's a look at the menu from executive chef Deneb Williams and and newly hired pastry chef Nichol Santisteven:

April 26, 2012
Good food, good cause at Thir13en this Saturday

If you're looking for a very nice food and wine experience while contributing to a worthy cause this weekend, here's a notice we just received from Restaurant Thir13en at the corner of H and 13th streets downtown. I recently reviewed Thir13en and found plenty to like about the food, the people and the ambience.

Here'e the press release we received:

Restaurant Thir13en cordially invites you to join us for an outstanding nonprofit event as we host the John Kerr Foundation's 5th Annual Food & Wine Tasting on Saturday, April 28 from 5:30-9:30 p.m. This year's event will be held in our beautiful Hotel Ballroom located at 1300 H St. in downtown Sacramento. Come out and enjoy unlimited tastings from some of Sacramento's finest dining establishments and some delicious beer and wines from throughout the Northern California region, and all for a great cause!

April 26, 2012
Chef David Hill set to open a second restaurant

Here's some exciting news out of Roseville (and Rocklin). David Hill's restaurant in Rocklin, The Chef's Table, opened three years ago and immediately had to confront two formidable obstacles - the plethora of chain restaurants in the area and the horrible economy that was prompting consumers to scale back on eating out.

So what's the good news? The Chef's Table has done so well and has become such a fixture in the community that Hill is opening a second restaurant, to be called Hill's Kitchen, at the site of the short-lived Pause restaurant in Roseville. The concept for the new place, which is slated to open in early June, is sure to attract attention in a town not known for its seafood.

"It's going to be a sustainable seafood and chop house," Hill said Thursday. We're going to bring in fresh seafood from various sources and have it as the marquee item."

The restaurant will be at 1465 Eureka Rd., Roseville, in a part of town with plenty of popular restaurants, including Paul Martin's American Bistro in the same shopping center. To keep up with progress as Hill and his team put some fresh touches on the near-turnkey building, check them out on the Facebook here.

April 26, 2012
'Bourbon Experience' takes fans into the heart of Kentucky

kentucky_bourbon.JPGSome whisky isn't just whisky. Over the past 20 years or so, fine bourbons have become the American versions of French cognacs. Imbibers of high-end bourbons have been advised to sip them slowly, savoring their complex characteristics.

Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon, declared by Congress in 1964 as "America's only native spirit." As much as bourbon connoisseurs love the fiery, amber-colored liquid, it's not likely that many of them will make the pilgrimage to Kentucky's bourbon country to tour the distilleries.

Perhaps the next best thing is "The Kentucky Bourbon Experience: A Visual Tour of Kentucky's Bourbon Distilleries," with informative text and dramatic photographs by Leon Howlett (Acclaim, $39.95, 192 pages).

Inside, we tour eight bourbon distilleries and get to know their heritages and bourbon-making techniques. Professional photographer Howlett adds drama with striking photos of the countryside surrounding the distilleries. This is a fine visual cocktail.

The bourbon-makers covered in the book are Barton, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve. Cheers.

More information: www.bourbonexperience.com.

April 24, 2012
Davis' Rominger West Winery to close

Here's what could be a final toast to Rominger West, a winery on Second Street in Davis. Unless a buyer is found soon, this winery that showcases Yolo County grapes will close. Tastings and live music events are scheduled through April 28, but soon after that, Rominger West will close.

"We don't have a specific date, but it's coming quickly," said Mark West, head winemaker.

Rominger West started making wine in 2004 and opened its Second Street facility in 2006. West, a Davis native who studied molecular biology at UC Davis, worked primarily with grapes grown near Winters and the Capay Valley. He'd teamed with three brothers from the Rominger family, who were fifth- generation farmers from Yolo County. By the end, Rominger West crafted 10 different bottlings and 1,500 cases annually, said West.

April 24, 2012
Peanut butter-and-jelly in a Dutch-made vodka? Well, yeah...

Back in 1879, the Royal Dirkzwager Distillery in Schiedam, Holland, decided to name its vodka after Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890).

As time passed, the family-owned distiller began specializing in flavored vodkas - from acai-blueberry to wild apple, 21 in all. It's especially known for its Dutch chocolate-infused vodka.

Recently, the company was inspired by a classic American sandwich - peanut butter and jelly - for its newest flavor, PB&J ($27).

That flavor profile struck us as ... well, odd. So we held an informal tasting. Hmmm. Smells like peanuts. Tastes like raspberry jelly with peanut butter. If you're a fan of the PB&J sandwich, this one could be for you. More information: www.vangoghvodka.com.

Meanwhile, Van Gogh send over a recipe:

April 23, 2012
Chef Thomas Keller tells (almost) all in an online interview

Michelin star-holding chef Thomas Keller is one busy restaurateur, overseeing the French Laundry, Bouchon and Ad Hoc in Yountville, and Per Se in New York City.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see him take time to be interviewed by the online Daily Meal as part of its "At the Chef's Table" series. The Daily Meal reports on all things food and drink, and its newly launched video-interview program is a welcome addition to the site.

For part one of the four-part interview with chef Keller, go to www.thedailymeal.com/video/related/454. The other three parts will be posted in coming weeks.

Try this soundbite from Chef Keller: "I really got involved in cooking through my previous job, which was washing dishes. I think there's so much value in that job - organization, efficiency, feedback, teamwork, repetition and rituals. It's exactly what a cook does. And so that act of washing dishes really set the stage for me to become a really good cook."

April 20, 2012
Can two restaurant stars fix what ails La Provence?

La Provence, the Roseville restaurant I reviewed rather unfavorably a few months back, has made a couple of significant changes in recent weeks - including the hiring of a restaurant superstar to oversee service and the temporary (or not-so-temporary) installment of a highly regarded local chef to showcase a prix fixe menu with wine pairings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Ruben Szlachciuk, a veteran waiter best known for his 14 years at Biba, has been hired as service manager; Vincent Paul Alexander, who made his reputation at Alexander's Meritage in Folsom, Slocum House in Fair Oaks and the Firehouse in Old Sacramento before moving on to the recently closed Horseshoe Bar Grill in Loomis, has for the past month been wowing guests at La Provence with his fine French cooking (he trained under the great Hubert Keller at Fleur de Lys in San Francisco). Alexander's special menu, set apart from the restaurant's regular menu, is three courses with wine pairings for $49, including an intermezzo.

I caught up with both men Friday. Szlachciuk, who was known for his charm and consummate professionalism at Biba, is likely to have an immediate impact on the service at La Provence.

April 20, 2012
MiniBurger food truck changes name to Krush Burger

For those looking to grab some sliders from the MiniBurger truck at Saturday's SactoMoFo 4, take note: From Saturday on out, MiniBurger will now be known as Krush Burger. The name change occurred with owner Davin Vculek having troubles trademarking the name "MiniBurger," which turned out to be too general.

Vculek will also debut a second truck, possibly by mid-May, but will feature a different name and food concept than MiniBurger/KrushBurger. Vculek won't say just yet what the theme of this truck will be. Looking down the road a little further, with a tentative opening of late-September or early-October, Vculek will open a brick-and-mortar version of one of his food truck businesses.

In the meantime, look for a new Krush Burger app for the iPhone and Android. The free app will include the truck's latest locations, menu, coupons and more.

April 18, 2012
Beer and wine garden confirmed for food truck festival

That's right, you can now get a beer after stopping by the Chairman Bao truck, or woofing down a grilled sandwich from Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen. For the first time, a beer and wine garden will be part of SactoMoFo, the series of mobile food festivals that draws thousands to each event. Though the event will be held on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 6th and X streets, alcohol sales were just approved for the event.

The beer/wine garden will require a 21+ wristband, and will include nine beers on draft, including selections from Sierra Nevada, Rubicon, Firestone Walker, good ol' Budweiser and more. Wines will be poured from Michael-David Winery, Ironstone, Cameron Hughes and others.

Organizers also say that SactoMoFo 4 will include tables and chairs that can seat 500. Three live bands will also perform, including reggae tunes from Mystic Roots.

April 18, 2012
Local chefs featured on Discovery Channel pilot episode

A cable TV show called "Top Eats" is being developed for the Discovery Channel, and one of the pilot episodes was filmed right here in Sacramento. A camera crew recently descended on midtown's Lounge ON20, where executive chef Pajo Bruich showed off some of the techniques he uses to create some of the city's most cutting-edge food. Also featured was Edward Martinez, the pastry chef of Hawks who left behind his street gang roots to be become one of northern California's most creative pastry chefs. You can read more about Edward in today's Bee.

For the filming, Bruich showed off some spherification and sous vide techniques, along with creating a noodle-like dish out of lychee. Then, everyone sat down for dinner and talked more about the food.

"We did a good array of things," said Bruich. "We showed the products on the farm and with the seafood supplier, then went into the kitchen and then the dinner table to show how it all came together."

April 18, 2012
Two mustards from Dijon go to work in the home kitchen

Bee staff photograph by Randy Pench

RP MOUTARDE.JPGTwo chauffeur-driven Rolls Royces stop next to each other at an intersection. The passengers in the backseats of both cars are eating lunch. The men are dressed in suits and ties.

The dashing gent in the white Rolls leans out the car window and asks the distinguished-looking man in the tan Rolls, "Pardon me. Would you have any Grey Poupon?"
"But of course," the man replies in a French accent, handing over a jar.
Voiceover: "The finer things in life... Happily, some are affordable."

That iconic 1980s TV commercial helped raise America's consciousness about mustard from the city of Dijon in the Burgundy region of France, the mustard capital of the world. Misguidedly, many Americans are still stuck on good 'ol ballpark mustard.

It's time to move on with two luscious Dijon mustards from Reine de Dijon, condiment-makers since 1840 - a traditional yellow, and that same mustard spiked with red pepper and tomato. Find them at Corti Bros. Market, 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento, (916) 736-3800. They're $3.99 each in seven-ounce jars.


April 17, 2012
Spend Earth Day at Bogle Vineyards

Earth Day arrives on Sunday, and the family behind Bogle Vineyards invites you to come out and maybe get your feet a little muddy, too.

Part of Sunday's event will take place right in Bogle's chardonnay vineyards, adjacent to the winery's tasting room, where company president and vineyard manager Warren Bogle will discuss Bogle's sustainable grape growing practices. It's recommended that participants wear shoes that you're not afraid of getting a little soiled.

Winemaker Chris Smith will also discuss Bogle's sustainable winemaking practices, followed by a reception right in the vineyard. The discussion part of the event is expected to last about an hour.

"It's going to be a fun, casual event," said Jody Bogle, who runs customer affairs and international sales for the winery. "Warren will talk about the (sustainable) practices we use in the vineyards, and these aren't new. He learned these things from our dad and grandfather."

April 17, 2012
Tax Day specials at local eateries

You can now count on three certainties in life: Death, taxes - and Tax Day food specials! That's right, since many of us will be sending a fat check to Uncle Sam, some area restaurants will be featuring food and drink specials today to help ease that pain. Or, if you're due a tax refund, you can celebrate with these following specials:

Arby's (various locations around the Sacramento area): Mail off your 540 tax form or what not and grab some free curly fries from the fast food chain that specializes in roast beef. You can also enter a chance to win $5,000 - of which, you can probably count about half to go toward taxes next year. To print the coupon for them fries and enter the drawing for $5k, click here.

Chevys Fresh Mex (various locations around Sacramento): Here's a nifty deal. Drop by Chevys Fresh Mex today and they'll pick up the tax on meals. Also look for a special featuring two Herradura margaritas for $10.40 - that's 1040, get it?

Panda Express (various locations around Sacramento): The Chinese food franchise rolls out its new Shanghai angus steak dish today. The trick is you have to "like" Panda Express' Facebook page to get the coupon.


April 16, 2012
Movie to see: 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi'

jirodreamssushiposter.jpg"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" is a documentary with a simple story - one man's lifelong quest to master his craft.

It just so happens that the craft is sushi and the man is Jiro Ono, perhaps the most revered sushi chef in Japan and, thanks to the recent foray of the Michelin Guide into that nation, an increasingly famous culinary treasure throughout the Western world.

The movie is in Japanese. The subtitles are in English. The message is universal. To watch "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" is to be inspired and humbled. Jiro is in his mid-80s and has never stopped learning or seeking new ways to be better at what he does. He goes to work every day, tirelessly seeking the two prongs of greatness - mastery of what he has done countless times while dreaming up ways that have yet to be attempted.

The movie is playing at the Crest through Thursday and I highly recommend it. Though it is not uniquely a foodie movie, anyone interested in restaurants, cooking or fine food would find something to love. Beyond that, the movie is for anyone who can appreciate the story of a humble man who sets out to do better and better, day after day. Sushi consumes him - the product, the technique, the traditions, and the innovations.

April 13, 2012
Sac Burger Battle: the competition should be intense

Thumbnail image for burgerbattle.jpgI don't know how they're going to do this, but it should be fun trying. The folks behind "Sacramento Burger Battle" are planning an event for September in which they will invite the many restaurants with excellent burgers to put forth their best entries.

Then a panel of judges will somehow pick the best one. It should be brutal. As we have pointed out many times, Sacramento has some great burgers -- and the list keeps growing. My recent contender for best burger is Restaurant Thir13en. Then I start thinking about all the others -- Hawks, Mulvaney's, Formoli's, Juno's, The Eatery, Willie's, Scott's Burger Shack -- and start to wonder: can anyone eat all of these at a competition and stay alive long enough to declare a winner?

One way or another, I suppose we'll have our answer in September. Sounds like a great idea, a fun event, a good cause (charity) and good publicity for the Sacramento food scene. To keep up with details as they become available, including a specific date and venue, go here.

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

April 13, 2012
Is it unhealthy to be a foodie?



foie gras.JPGBy now, we've all seen the reports -- and the various interpretations of the reports -- about red meat. While the Harvard study's data indicated that consumption of red meat was linked to an increased risk of mortality, others have said, "Not so fast." I'm in the skeptical camp, always wary of how statistics can be used and misused.

Men's Health, for instance, wisely notes that the massive Harvard study control group lacked controls and that eating red meat often goes hand in hand with other habits that may hasten mortality -- smoking, drinking, sitting in front of the TV watching "Hardcore Pawn" and "Storage Wars" until you pass out, just you, your booze and your cat, staring at you from the DVR box.

Then came news of "pink slime" in hamburger meat. That's simply disgusting and scary. If you want to avoid such nonsense, go to a butcher you trust -- Corti Brothers, Taylor's Market, Roseville Meat Co. come to mind. Pay a little more, buy a little less and worry not about pink slime. I'm also a fan of the ground beef at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. It's from Prather Ranch, a farm I have visited and have seen their responsible practices firsthand.

But now comes a more personal report, from former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, who revealed on his blog he has been diagnosed with gout. It's a kind of inflammation around joints -- most commonly the big toe, for some reason -- and the pain can be unreasonably harsh. A flare up can prevent you from walking. In Bruni's case, it was so painful he couldn't even put on a sock.

April 12, 2012
Grilled cheese, smoke point and how to make clarified butter



h7TPh.St.jpgPicking up on Chris Macias' excellent, lip-smacking story on grilled cheese in Wednesday's Bee, I noticed that Drewski's likes to use clarified butter to grill the bread. The story mentions that clarified butter can be pricy. But it's also something you can make at home. I often use clarified butter for making omelets, since regular butter browns at a lower temperature.

In the excellent book, "Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient," author Jennifer McLagan devotes an entire chapter to butter. The chapter is called, not surprisingly, "Butter: worth it." In it, McLagan talks about clarified butter and shows how to make it. Butter is actually an emulsion of ingredients, including water, butterfat and milk solids. The procedure involves separating the ingredients and leaving behind the butterfat.

April 11, 2012
Arby's offer: Free curly fries and a chance to win $5,000


The 3,600-unit Arby's restaurant chain specializes in roast beef sandwiches. "Roast beef" as in "R.B." as in "Arby," get it?

It's also known for curly fries. In a special "tax relief" deal, it's offering a free "value size" order of those fries on April 17 (while they last), along with the chance to win $5,000.

To print a special coupon, go to www.Facebook.com/Arbys.

April 11, 2012
Chevys Fresh Mex chain is searching for its past success

Kickin Bueno Margarita.JPGThe 62-unit Chevys Fresh Mex restaurant chain has made some changes to its operation, trying to return to its roots in search of the elusive ingredients that made it such a hit in bygone years.

Its pilot program of reinvention was announced in February - new menus, extended happy hours, updated music playlists, exhibition prep kitchens, even new uniforms for the staff.

We'll be having lunch at a Chevys soon, for a review in the "Counter Culture" column in an upcoming Friday Ticket section.

Meanwhile, with tax deadline looming, a few specials will be happening during "Taste of Tax Relief" weekend:

April 10, 2012
Rail Bridge Cellars opens public tasting room

In terms of the local wine scene, the view from Rail Bridge Cellars tasting room is tough to beat. It's situated 13 floors above J street in the Elks Tower's penthouse, which overlooks the entire city and beyond.

The space was used for private events and wine tasting during the better part of 2011, but has now been licensed to operate as the official tasting room for Rail Bridge Cellars, the urban Sacramento winery which opened in 2007.

The space, now called "Rail Bridge Cellars Penthouse Lounge at Elks Tower," has plenty of history behind it. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, it was known as Top of the Town, a private nightclub that was favored by local politicians and media folks. These 13th and 14th floors of the Elks Tower, located on 11th and J streets, were also once home to KZAP radio and the original offices of Sactown magazine.

April 9, 2012
Yelp revenge? A chef vents on Facebook


Yelp has an interesting business model. Goes like this:

Open your membership to everyone, even those with just enough brainpower to lightly brown a piece of toast.

Let the smart, not-so-smart and the downright ignorant remain anonymous, lest they have to explain themselves.

Allow these people to rate businesses, especially restaurants. Encourage people to take Yelp seriously. Hilarity ensues.

I'm not necessarily anti-Yelp. I have have friends on Yelp -- respectable people, nice people, foodies. I just dislike many things about it. Apparently, so do certain chefs -- like Aimal Formoli.


April 9, 2012
Taste-testing Nature Valley's new Protein Chewy Bars

RP PROTEIN BARS.JPGBee photograph by Randy Pench

Let's see, we have peanuts, we have almonds, we have dark chocolate. We have crunch, we have protein, we have sweet, we have savory. What we don't have is calorie-guilt.

The granola-centric folks at Nature Valley have a new product - the straightforwardly named Protein Chewy Bars. They come in two flavors - peanut/almond/dark chocolate, and peanut butter/dark chocolate.

For endorsement, Nature Valley is the "official natural energy source" sponsor of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. For the rest of us, a box of five bars is $3.89 at supermarkets and big-box stores. More information: www.naturevalley.com.

We conducted a taste test of the new bars, rounding up the usual suspects, starting with me:

April 6, 2012
Surely, there's Kool-Aid somewhere on the "secret menu"


File this under, "I shouldn't be telling you this, but..."

Here's yet another piece worshiping at the altar that is In-N-Out Burger, perhaps the most beloved fast food chain going.

I'm in the minority on this one, meaning I just don't get it. But give credit where credit is due: In-N-Out does several things right. It pays its employees well. It uses fresh iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, both of which are practically tasteless. Best of all, it has this "secret menu" that no one knows about but you. At least that's the way it feels.

You stop in and let loose a blast about "animal style," 3x3, extra toasted, and the fries well-done (which will not make them less dreadful), you feel good about yourself, you wolf down the greatest burger in the world and you're on your way. That scenario is repeated tens of thousands of times daily at all 268 In-N-Out outlets. The 3x3, for those who aren't privy to such secrets, refers to the numbers of patties and cheese, i.e. three patties and three slices of cheese. Lo and behold, you can actually order a 4x4.

Huffington Post's correspondent in this case informs us there are even more secrets. Who leaks this kind of information to the masses? Hmm. Mustard grilled? Amazing. Why isn't this in the pages of "Larousse Gastronomique"? There's no mention of Kool-Aid on the secret menu, but plenty of people are drinking it.

Study up and impress your friends. Here's a secret tip: Try not to look at the photos, which make the food look less than appealing. Me? I shouldn't be telling you this, but... I'm going to keep eating great burgers from local restaurants that do things the right way: Juno's, Formoli's, The Eatery and, my most recent great-burger discovery, Thir13en.

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

April 5, 2012
What's on the Raley Field menu for the River Cats' season?

AA RIVERCATS3.JPGLast Triple A baseball season, the 700,000 hungry fans who flocked to Raley Field to watch the Sacramento River Cats were abuzz over a novelty item that wouldn't be out of place at the state fair. It was a bacon cheeseburger wedged between two glazed doughnuts (pictured; photograph by Andy Alfaro). Yikes!

That item is back this year, along with other returning favorites and a few new dishes, said executive chef Ryan Curry of Ovations Food Services, the concessions vendor.

Returning will be the chicken strip basket with fries, Ceasar salad, tostadas salad, tri-tip sandwich, pork ribs, garlic fries and the iconic Dinger Dog, to name a few.

Ovations switched from Alpine-brand dogs and sausages (bratwurst, hot link, Polish) to the Wienerschnitzel brand. Gone is Straw Hat pizza, replaced by Round Table.

April 4, 2012
Alaskan blue king crabs meet their match in Monterey

"My brother Sam and I went out fishing in Alaska with Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand," restaurateur Dominic Mercurio was saying on the phone earlier today. "Those guys are nuts! Waves were breaking over their (113-foot crabbing boat) Time Bandit. During the trip I taught them how to make pizza - I barbecued it."

Mercurio is the owner of Cafe Fina and Domenico's restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey. The Hillstrand brothers are among the stars of the reality-TV show "Deadliest Catch" on the Discovery Channel. It documents the fishermen who go out in 60-foot seas to harvest Alaskan king crabs in the Bering Sea.

The three are planning an over-the-top "Deadliest Catch" king crab feast at Cafe Fina later this month (details coming soon).

Meanwhile, Mercurio bought the last of the season's Alaskan blue king crab from the Hillstrands and is serving it at both restaurants. "It's very hard to get the real Alaskan blue," he said. "Don't be fooled by the Russian (product) - it sits in brine too long and gets salty and stringy."

Crab dinners are $49 with trimmin's, cooked in the shell four waysl: steamed with drawn butter; broiled with garlic butter; sauteed in olive oil scampi-style, with garlic and white wine, served over angel hair pasta; and served warm on a salad of butter lettuce, radicchio and pancetta, with lemon vinaigrette.

Cafe Fina: (831) 372-5200, www.cafefina.com.

April 4, 2012
Can you use a free Mavericks burger from Islands today?

Mavericks Burger.jpg
No one caught any waves this year at the Mavericks Invitational Surf Contest near Half Moon Bay - there weren't any big enough - but today burger-lovers can catch a deal.

The Islands restaurant chain will give away one of its namesake Mavericks Burger (with fries) per customer - that's right, it's free - with an asterisk: Guests must bring in a picture of their "favorite Mavericks wave" or any big wave. For inspiration, look at the sample on Islands' Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/islandsfineburgersanddrinks.

The two Islands in our area are at 2455 Iron Point Road, Folsom; (916) 983-4092. And 1902 Taylor Road, Roseville; (916) 772-5044.

For more information: www.islandsrestaurants.com.

April 4, 2012
Alice Waters presents Darrell Corti with 70th birthday cake

corti.jpg
The Tuesday night event was billed as a $500 a head fundraiser and dinner for the Center For Land-Based Learning, with an appearance by the "slow food" figurehead, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. But behind the scenes, a surprise party was in store.

Tuesday was also the 70th birthday of Darrell Corti, the renowned gourmand and grocer - and check the latest issue of Sactown magazine for a rare profile of Corti by former Bee columnist Rick Kushman. The ever spotlight-shy birthday guy didn't want any fuss about himself as arriving guests wished Corti a happy birthday.

"Shhh!" said Corti, with a finger to his lips. "This night is not about me."

April 3, 2012
A speedy soda unloading trick, for those with no time to spare


OK, so who has an extra 10 or 12 seconds to waste loading cans of soda into the fridge? Exactly. That time can be better spent playing Scrabble on your iPhone or checking your Facebook page every 8 seconds to see if anyone commented on your latest update about washing your car.

With that in mind, here's a cool little trick to help you load your fridge and be on your way, preferably back to reading everything possible on Sacbee.com. Watch it here. This guy may not think outside the box, but he's clearly thinking about the other side of the box.

April 3, 2012
Sweetwater Restaurant & Bar shuts down

After eight years in business and two locations, Sweetwater Restaurant and Bar shut down for good as of Sunday. Co-owner Brad Ross cited high rent costs as the primary reason for shutting down.

Sweetwater opened in 2004 at its previous location on 56th and J streets, and then moved to its most recent locale on 19th and S streets about two and a half years ago. Its dinner menu focused on a variety of soups and sandwiches, along with such meat 'n' potatoes entrees as cowboy steak with chimichurri sauce and prosciutto stuffed chicken. Its bar was also a well trafficked spot for happy hours and watching sporting events.

Ross said diners simply aren't spending money like they used to.

April 3, 2012
The Eatery to unveil its new burger creation today


The Eatery, that cool and casual restaurant in West Sacramento, is at it again -- it already has an excellent burger, but it's going over the top with this new creation. Sounds incredible, from the meat (a blend of cuts ground in house) to the aioli (with peanut butter). A portion of sales today goes to charity.

Here's how they're describing it on Facebook. (I don't know this "Burger Junkies" guy who is referenced, though I have interacted with him on Twitter. He clearly A) loves burgers and B) has no plans to live past 40.):

April 3, 2012
Blackbird update: a sneak peek (and free grub) for Facebook fans



I just heard from Carina Lamkin, the chef at Blackbird Kitchen & Bar, the hotly anticipated restaurant on 9th near J. Here's your tip: if you "like" the restaurant on Facebook, you don't have to wait until Wednesday for the opening. Insiders will be there tonight (Tuesday).

Here's what Lampkin wrote:

We are throwing a grand opening party (Tuesday). I bought 1200 oysters to give away to all of our FB fans. Track 7, Ruhstaller, and Two Rivers will be here pouring beer. We are asking for a $10-20 donation at the door which will be donated to the MET school to help them build-out their future music studio. We will also have DJ's spinning music all night long-

We won't be announcing it on FB until 12PM tomorrow- trying to be sneaky but feel free to put it the paper if you want to.

Since the restaurant remains a bit of a mystery, I asked Lampkin if she could furnish us with a menu. Stay tuned.

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


April 2, 2012
Blackbird Kitchen & Bar to open Wednesday



Here's some exciting news for the downtown restaurant scene: it keeps getting better. Now, there is a new entry coming into the mix, a promising place called Blackbird Kitchen & Bar.

For months, foodies have been keeping their eye on this nicely transformed building with the blackbird mural on 9th near J (right across from Temple Coffee), but restaurants almost never open on time (check out the coming in Feb. 2012 banner in the window of the still-working-on-it Firestone Public House at 16th and L). Check out Blackbird on Facebook.

I called Blackbird on Monday and got a recording, which stated the restaurant will be officially open Wednesday from 4-10 p.m., dinners only to start. The menu will be limited at first. I'm told Blackbird had a family-and-friends soft opening over the weekend to work out the kinks.

These folks look serious about being a significant player in the casual/fine dining category. We'll be stopping in soon for a look. Expect to see Blackbird in an upcoming "First Impressions" piece in The Bee.

I wish them well.

April 2, 2012
One woman's large (and growing) collection of chef photos


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How many Sacramento chefs can you identify? Well, there's an impressive collection of photos on Facebook that will help put a face with the name -- and, perhaps, their food. Check them out here

Since I don't want to spoil it, here's a hint on the photo above: it's the new executive chef at one of the city's most elegant restaurants..

The photos are the work of Debbie Cunningham, a state employee who has become increasingly passionate about photography and manages to squeeze in assignments during her off hours.. She has routinely photographed special food-related events and has been invited to shoot candid behind-the-scenes action in some of the city's top kitchens.



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