Appetizers
October 31, 2012
Ask the chef your cooking questions at Bee Book Club event

If you're looking for great recipes and expert advice for the holiday cooking season, Brian Streeter is the man to see.

He's the executive chef and culinary director of the Napa Valley's Cakebread Cellars winery, and author of "The Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Cookbook."
On Thursday night (Nov. 1), Streeter will talk about all things food and cooking, including recipe development, ingredients, techniques and wine-and-food pairings. His presentation and question-and-answer session for the Sacramento Bee Book Club will be especially timely as Thanksgiving and other holiday "cooking days" quickly approach.

Join the culinarily curious crowd and ask Streeter your cooking questions. He will give a presentation and autograph the cookbook at 6 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento; (916) 452-5881.

Barnes & Noble will be there to sell the cookbook for 30 percent off the retail price (Ten Speed Press, $35, 203 pages.

Through Thursday night, these bookstores will offer a 30 percent discount on the title: Barnes & Noble, Avid Reader at the Tower in Sacramento, Avid Reader in Davis, Time Tested Books, Face in a Book in Eldorado Hills, Underground Books, the Hornet Bookstore at California State University, Sacramento, the UC Davis Bookstore and the Bookseller in Grass Valley.

For information on the Bee Book Club: (916) 321-1128

October 30, 2012
Ella's executive chef to create "T.V. Dinner" at Verge gallery

Sacramento's been on a roll with creative culinary events, including the "Truck and Mortar Throwdown" coming Dec. 1. And now, a dinner coming to the Verge Center for the Arts (625 S St., Sacramento) on Nov. 8 will feature a multi-course dinner from Mike Thiemann, executive chef for Ella Dining Room & Bar, mixed with a multi-media experience. The event is dubbed "T.V. Dinner," but judging by the flyer it's a little ambiguous of what kind of food will be served. Will Chef Mike offer his interpretations of salisbury steak, corn and apple cobbler? Or, judging by this video from Ryan Donahue, a local photographer who's helping with the event, will Thiemann really have the audacity to take a bunch of actual TV dinner items and give them the sous vide treatment?

Not to worry. It turns out that Thiemann will use "TV dinner" more as a theme for the courses and make allusions to 1950s pop culture an imagery. Diners are encouraged to dress in "mid century attire," and will dine on courses including "Green Acres vs. Rawhide" and "Hawaii Five-O," with Ella bartender Chris Dooley making rounds of warm Tom & Jerry cocktails.

October 30, 2012
What were Hemingway's and Ephron's favorite dishes?

Under the heading "cool food-related websiltes," add this one:

Journalist-foodie Nicole Villeneuve maintains www.paperandsalt.org, where she reveals the favorite dishes of famous authors (recipes included).

For instance, Agatha Christie liked fig and orange scones with Devonshire cream - very tea time in the drawing room. Contrast that with Ernest Hemingway's manly go-to of bacon-wrapped trout with corn cakes, maybe his lunch after a morning of fly-fishing.

Other pairings: Nora Ephron and frozen key lime pie; Jack London and baked bacon-tomato risotto; John Steinbeck and pork-filled posole; Salman Rushdie and lamb korma; Willa Cather and spiced plum kolache. The list goes on, and includes some authors' favorite cocktails. Now head for the kitchen.

October 30, 2012
Rubicon brewery celebrating 25th anniversary this week

By Mark Glover
mglover@sacbee.com

Sacramento's Rubicon Brewing Co. will turn 25 on Friday, and the brewery is celebrating with special festivities all this week.

On Friday, Rubicon will release a special-edition, single-malt, single-hop India Pale Ale. Rubicon is at at 2004 Capitol Ave.

"We have planned this week of parties and fun to thank our loyal customers that have supported us during the last 25 years," said Rubicon owner Glynn Phillips.

See more details at www.rubiconbrewing.com.

Call The Bee's Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

October 30, 2012
Gluten free bakery coming to midtown

Look for a shop selling all-natural, allergen sensitive baked treats coming to 29th & S streets around Valentine's Day. Pushkin's Bakery will sell cookies, cakes, donuts, macarons and more - all made gluten and dairy free. The bakery will be run by the husband-wife team of Danny and Olga Turner. They currently sell a line of all-natural baked goods which are sold commercially throughout northern California, and rent a commissary kitchen to produce their goods. That will change in February, when the two are slated to take over the space now occupied by The Frosted Cake Shop, which is adjacent to Revolution Wines and Temple Coffee at the edge of midtown.

The recipes come from Olga, a Russian native who created them as a way to make sweet treats for Danny, who suffers from various food allergies. As their business has grown, the two have left their day jobs to concentrate on Pushkin's Bakery.

"It started with being asked to cater parties, then stores wanted to carry our products and it's turned into what it is now," said Danny Turner. "We're excited to have a place that will be 100 percent ours."

October 29, 2012
'Culinary California' offers archival cookbooks, menus and more

So many Californians are obsessed with food, from its history and sourcing to its preparation and consumption. We're big fans of celebrity chefs, too, from regional kitchen artists to the superstars of the Food Network. And cookbooks - we can't get enough of them.

The California State Library knows this, and has joined the table with its "Culinary California," the new program in its "A Night at the State Library" series.

The free archival exhibit is open to everyone from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through November. It offers a range of memorabilia "from California's eating and drinking appetites, from the Gold Rush to present day." Included are cookbooks, menus, bartenders' guides, wine labels and more.

The California State Library is at 900 N St., Sacramento. Information: (916) 654-0261, www.library.ca.gov.

October 29, 2012
Sacramento to be proclaimed "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital"

Local chefs and elected officials will gather Wednesday morning as Mayor Kevin Johnson proclaims Sacramento as "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital." The event, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at Cesar Chavez Plaza's weekly farmers market, will recognize that 70 percent of the area's land is agricultural and highlight the synergy between regional farmers and chefs.

The branding of "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital" will be used by a variety of local restaurants, and also help promote a new series of week-long culinary events starting in September of 2013. The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, along with area chefs and farmers, will organize this restaurant week. The first event is planned for Sept. 21 at Soil Born Farms, a non-profit farming operation and educational center.

Some local restaurateurs hope the branding of Sacramento as "America's Farm-To-Fork Capital" will enhance the city's national identity.

"There's more Grade A soil in the central valley than anywhere in the world," said Josh Nelson of The Selland Group, which operates four gourmet restaurants in the area. "The bounty and diversity of our crops is what makes this region so unique."

October 26, 2012
Cook meets book in family-style dinner at Mulvaney's B&L


Crab feeds and special restaurant meals are a hugely popular part of our seasonal dining scene. Leave it to innovative chef Patrick Mulvaney and cookbook authors Georgeanne Brennan and Ann Evans to come up with an unusual variation on the theme.

Using the "Davis Farmers Market Cookbook" as his guide, Mulvaney will prepare a multi-course prix-fixe dinner made with locally sourced ingredients, with recipes from the cookbook. Mulvaney and his wife, Bobbin, are well-known for their farm-to-table philosophy, serving what they call "hand-crafted New American cuisine."

After appetizers, the family-style dinner will be served platter by platter in the banquet hall (called Next Door) of Mulvaney's Building & Loan restaurant, 1215 19th St., Sacramento.

Co-authors Brennan and Evans will be there to sign copies of their "Davis Farmers Market Cookbook" (Mirabelle, $24.95, 235 pages) and offer 15 percent off the retail price

The dinner will be 6 to 10 p.m. Nov. 12; cost is $45 per person, including tax and tip. For reservations: (916) 441-6022.

For more information: www.davisfarmersmarketcookbook.com and www.mulvaneysbl.com.

As for the menu - a collaboration between cook and book - take a look:

October 26, 2012
Foodies and jazz fans converge at Sampino's on Fridays

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If you're looking for a charming place for lunch on Fridays, take a look at what's going on at Sampino's Towne Foods at 16th and F Streets. It's a bit of a hideaway, tucked away in a strip mall that could use an upgrade, but it has emerged as something of a Mecca for foodies and admirers of Old World Italian casual cuisine.

On the small patio out front, lunch-goers are treated to the sounds of two longtime local jazz musicians, Darius Babazadeh on tenor saxophone and David O'Keefe on bass.

Sampino's has been featuring the music on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for the past few months. The duo clearly has a following in the city. I ate there with a friend last Friday and didn't want to leave.

"We started that and people started flooding through the doors on Friday," said proprietor Michael Sampino. "We're meeting new people. They come to listen and they try the food. Then we see them again."


October 25, 2012
See's has special chocolates for Halloween and Thanksgiving

Bee photograph by Autumn Payne

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It's not as healthful as fresh fruits and vegetables, but it's nearly impossible to deny the temptation of chocolate. See's Candies knows that, and throughout the year makes special limited-edition batches of seasonal goodies.

Right now through Oct. 31, the Halloween offerings include pumpkin-spice lollypops, orange-chocolate wafers and boxes of assorted treats - the Petite Boo Box, Trick or Treat Box and Halloween Treat Box. Prices range from $5.55 to $34.30, depending on the item.

See's hasn't forgotten Thanksgiving. Now through Nov. 22, the offerings include cranberry-orange truffles, pecan pie truffles and foil-wrapped milk chocolate turkeys ($10.20 to $12.30).

See's sources its cocoa and chocolate from the Guittard Chocolate Company in Burlingame (www.guittard.com) and manufactures its candies at factories in South San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Charles and Florence See opened their confectionery business in L.A. 1921, using Charles' mother Mary's original recipes and portrait to "symbolize the old-fashioned virtues of homemade quality and friendly service." Mary See died in 1939 at age 85.

Today, there are more than 200 candy shops in 13 states. For more information, visit www.sees.com.

October 24, 2012
Summer may be over, but 'cue season is still cookin'

If you just couldn't get your fill this summer of smokey, juicy, St. Louis-style pork ribs - the cut used by professional cookers at the huge annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off - come on down to east Sacramento.

The fourth annual Albie Ribbin' BBQ Cook-off to benefit the Albie Aware Breast Cancer Foundation is planned from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Hilltop Tavern, 4757 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 456-2843.

Twenty "Q teams" from area restaurants and sports bars will compete for trophies and braggin' rights. 'Cue judging will be handled by professionals from the Western States BBQ Association.

A $20 buy-in ($12 for children) gets lunch (noon to 3 p.m.), entry in a raffle, a silent auction and music from the Sacramento party band the Q-Balls (2 to 5 p.m.).

For more information: (916) 927-1592, www.albieaware.org.

October 24, 2012
Food trucks and restaurant chefs to collaborate and compete

Who says restaurant chefs and food truck owners have to be bitter enemies? Sure, the politics surrounding the local mobile food truck scene can be a little thick, given the difficulties thus far in making current city ordinances more food truck friendly - and even some infighting within food truck owners themselves. An upcoming food competition and battle just may be the "We Are the World" moment that's much needed.

Truck and Mortar Throwdown on Dec. 1 will feature five teams in which food truck owners and restaurant chefs will collaborate. Ever wondered what kind of dishes Mike Thiemann, executive chef of Ella Dining Room and Bar, could make with Chando of Chando's Tacos? How about Billy Ngo of Kru teamed with Davin Vculek of KrushBurger? That's what we're talking about here. Other teams include: Andrew Blaskovich of Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen with Ettore's Pedro Depina; Oliver Ridgeway of Grange with Coast to Coast Sandwiches' Robert Ramos; and Adam Pechal of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en with Donell Hendrix of Simply Southern Foods.

Each team has to create two dishes - one sweet, one savory - and will use one full pig and one gallon of honey as mandatory ingredients. A panel of judges will select the winning team, while attendees will be able to sample two dishes from each time. The $45 ticket also includes a beer from Ruhstaller, coffee from Broadacre and more appetizers from Whole Foods. Proceeds will benefit the California Fire Foundation and Toys for Tots.

October 23, 2012
Chris Macias, Hank Shaw in "Best Food Writing 2012"

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We're extremely proud to see The Bee's Chris Macias' name in the just-released collection, "Best Food Writing 2012," edited by Holly Hughes. Regular readers will remember well the story Macias wrote about Edward Martinez, now an accomplished pastry chef who, in his formative years, seemed destined for a short, violent life as a member of a notorious street gang. Published on April 18, 2012, the story recounts how delving into the world of making pastries "may have saved Martinez's life, or at least spared him a stretch in the state penitentiary."

Martinez went on to culinary school. He worked hard and he had talent to spare. He went on to work as pastry chef at the excellent Hawks in Granite Bay and recently joined Enotria as pastry chef.

"I never expected to get this far," Martinez said in Macias' piece. "I expected...(to be) in jail, or dead."

Macias is in prestigious company in "Best Food Writing 2012." There are stories from the New York Times, Saveur, Gastronomica, and Food & Wine, among others.

Also representing the Sacramento area is Hank Shaw, whose excellent, introspective piece, "On Killing," leads off the collection. Shaw, whose first book, "Hunt, Gather, Cook" has been a big success, discusses the idea of killing animals to eat. To some, this is the ultimate expression of real food, taking the killing into your own hands and coming to grips with how it feels and what it means. It's a story that certainly hit home for me, for I can't imagine anything more beautiful in nature than watching a duck land on water.

"I'm not ashamed to tell you that I have shed a tear more than once when I've had to deliver the coup de grace to a duck," Shaw writes. "I'm not sure what it is about ducks, but they affect me more than any other animals. I always apologize to it, knowing full well that this is a weak gesture designed mostly to help me feel better."

"Best Food Writing 2012" goes on sale today. It is available at various bookstores, as well as at Amazon. List price is $16 (on Amazon $10.76; Kindle version $9.76).

Congratulations to Chris and Hank for this fine achievement.

October 23, 2012
Negril Island BBQ opens in midtown

The restaurant space at 2502 J St. in midtown has seen its share of turnover during the last couple years, being the former home of My BBQ Spot and Luck's BBQ. But, the smoke rises there once again with the recent opening of Negril Island BBQ. This eatery specializes in "spice oriented Caribbean food," said owner Cleve Geddes, with such offerings as jerk chicken, jerk ribs, smoked fish, spicy sausages plus sides of beans and rice, and more.

Geddes, who is Panamanian-Jamaican by background, is a veteran of Sacramento's restaurant scene. He opened his Cleve's Place BBQ in Natomas during the mid-1980s, and went on to manage the former Chanterelle at the Sterling Hotel for nearly a decade, along with stints at Blue Cue, Virgin Sturgeon and others.

Geddes is still fine tuning the menu at Negril Island BBQ, named after a Jamaican beach resort town. While meats will remain a focus at this new barbecue spot, which will be smoked with mesquite wood, he's planning vegetarian items as well. Smoked fish will also be at the heart of the menu.

October 22, 2012
Taste Restaurant invited to cook at James Beard House in NY

The highly praised Taste Restaurant in Plymouth recently received some news that floored nearly everyone on the staff: It has been invited to cook a dinner at the James Beard House in New York City.

This is a tremendous honor for the restaurant and it will surely bring more much-deserved attention to the restaurant. It's also great for the Sacramento region's culinary scene to have one of its best restaurants showcasing its food and wine in the Big Apple.

I recently chatted with Tracey Berkner, who co-owns Taste with husband Mark, about how she got the news.

"We got a phone call. A woman identifying herself from the James Beard Foundation said she was looking for Mark. I said, 'I'm his wife. Maybe you can talk to me.' She wanted to make sure I understood what the James Beard House was and, of course, anybody in this industry is familiar with it. She said one of the James Beard Foundation members had dined here frequently and recommended us.

"My heart was going to beat out of my chest. The James Beard Foundation is like the Oscars of the food world. It's one of the most coveted recognitions in this industry."

October 22, 2012
Ultimate Clubhouse Sandwich throwdown had some winners

Hundreds of people sipped wine and beer and tasted a variety of club sandwiches at Saturday's fifth annual Ultimate Clubhouse Sandwich Contest & Fall Food Faire, held at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Sacramento.

After munching their way through traditional and nontraditional versions of the classic sandwich, and discussing contents and techniques with the chefs representing their restaurants, five judges made their decisions. It went this way:

October 22, 2012
More details about Enotria's exceptional food, wine and staff

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Arctic char with eggplant and green curry broth


Faced with the realities of limited space in the newspaper, I had no choice but to hold back some of the many details about Enotria in my review, which ran Sunday. Owner David Hardie enlisted the help of restaurant consultant Kathi Riley, along with general manager Michael Coyne II and dining room manager Emily Turner have done a remarkable job over the past year in taking Enotria to new heights. In fact, Riley has quickly become something of an under-the-radar restaurant wizard. She was the consultant at Maranello in Fair Oaks, helping bring aboard the Gabriel Glazier, an excellent chef looking to get back into a Sacramento area kitchen after doing some corporate cheffing on the East Coast. Riley also played a key role in the recent hiring of Pajo Bruich to head the kitchen at Enotria. With these two homeruns alone she has become a significant player in the local restaurant scene. And yet, she's not a big self-promoter. She doesn't have a website (though I'm told one is being developed) and you have to know somebody who knows somebody just to get in touch with her. Can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

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A tomato sphere with burrata cheese that turns into a gazpacho

October 18, 2012
Musings of a winemaker: A visit to Smith-Madrone

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Photos with permission from Smith-Madrone

I had enough readers ask about my recent visit to Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery in the Napa Valley (and the engaging tour and tasting run by Charles F. Smith), that I thought I would include some of the notes I took from that very pleasant Saturday afternoon. If you're interested in visiting, it's always best to make a reservation via the website, http://www.smithmadrone.com/.

If you're going there, the trip includes a 15-minute drive on a narrow, winding road up Spring Mountain. At the top, the views are terrific.

The first wine was Chardonnay. It's worth noting that Smith uses little to no wine jargon in his chats and he made no attempt to tell us what tasting notes to watch for as we sipped. Here's what Smith had to say as he led us out the door to look at the grapes growing closet to the building.

From so-so Pinot to very good Chardonnay:

imgres.jpg"I want to show you where the wine you're tasting comes from. It comes from this block right here. This is Chardonnay that was planted by us as Pinot noir back in 1972. There wasn't any good Pinot noir being made in the United States, and over the 10 years we made the stuff we didn't do too much to change that. In other words, it was an experiment that didn't turn out too well. We only made one good Pinot noir in about 10 years. So it ended up being grafted over to Chardonnay in the late '80s.

October 18, 2012
Catching up with chef Charlie Harrison about gig in Chicago

I recently caught up by telephone with Charlie Harrison, an excellent and innovative chef who worked at several restaurants in the Sacramento area and was perhaps best known for his modern, eclectic cuisine at the short-lived Tre on Howe Avenue.

Harrison is now in Chicago, reunited with his roommate Homaro Cantu from their days at Portland's Western Culinary Institute. Cantu is the mastermind behind Michelin one star Moto restaurant, known for "interactive post-modern cuisine," and next door, the new iNG restaurant. Harrison is working at iNG. Cantu once won an Iron Chef going head to head with Morimoto. The restaurants are nestled in a trendy/industrial area of Chicago amid the loading docks and 19th century warehouses of Fulton Market. Grant Achatz's martini bar, Aviary, and his new restaurant Next, are nearby.

"I'm helping Homaro out. I can't tell you too much information yet, but I can say it's going to revolutionize brewing. If you know anything about Homaro, he's very outside the box. When it comes to creativity, he's off the chain. Things that come out of his kitchen are insane. Working for him is an education. You're learning something new every day." Harrison says the brewing concept should be unveiled in the next few months.

Cantu is also a big proponent of social media as a way of spreading the word about what is going on at his restaurants. "He bought all 60 employees iPhone 5s so we couuld blast our restaurants all day," Harrison told me.

October 17, 2012
Planters puts a twist on peanut butter with Energy Mix blends

HJA_9351.JPGYes, peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth and gives you "peanut breath," but it conjures childhood memories and is a staple in kitchen cupboards for most of us. It's so popular that more than half the peanuts harvested in the U.S. end up in jars as creamy or crunchy.

Trivia: It's generally agreed that the first commercial-brand peanut butter was Skippy, packaged in 1922 by a company in Alameda, Ca.

Now, adding a twist to the many peanut butters on supermarket shelves is the iconic snack-food conglomerate Planters, owned by Kraft Foods.

In an intriguing peanut-butter mini-makeover, its three NUT-rition ("nutrition," get it?) Energy Mix peanut butters are chocked with (mostly) good things ($3.49 to $3.99 per 12-ounce jar).

Our panel of expert food-tasters (read: always hungry) sampled the trio - Cinnamon Raisin Granola Nut, Berry Nut and Banana Granola Nut. Note that the "berries" in the Berry Nut flavor are cranberries, and the "nuts" in all three are crushed peanuts. Though the peanut butters are marketed to adults, we see no reason why children wouldn't like them.

Here's what our peanut butter-lovers had to say, starting with yours truly:

October 17, 2012
Gourmet meals and premium wines at Napa Truffle Festival

FOOD TRUFFLES 11-2.JPGAmong the most precious delicacies in the global marketplace is the truffle. How good are truffles? French novelist Alexandre Dumas famously said, "The truffles themselves have been interrogated and have answered simply: Eat us and praise the lord."

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," and with good reason: Black truffles retail for about $1,700 a pound; white truffles cost around $4,500 a pound.

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

Now there's a window of opportunity to do some foraging of your own - and eat some truffled treasures - by joining the truffle cognoscenti at the third annual Napa Truffle Festival, known as North America's premier truffle event, Jan. 18-21.

October 16, 2012
Bistro Jeanty speaks French in California Cuisine Central

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We were coming back from visiting Brian Streeter in Napa Valley last week and decided to stop in restaurant-rich Yountville for a bite.

Streeter is the culinary director of Cakebread Cellars, and will present "The Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Cookbook" for the Bee Book Club at 6 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento; (916) 452-5881.

In Yountville, the first bit of luck was something unheard of - an actual brief wait in a short line to get inside the legendary Bouchon Bakery for a bagful of the world's best croissants (6528 Washington St.; 707-944-2253, www.bouchonbakery.com).

The second piece of good fortune was the discovery of the charming and relaxed Bistro Jeanty (pictured). Sat at the bar and cruised the chalkboard specials, which included rabbit terrine, fried boneless pig's foot and Mediterranean seabass with ratatouille ($12.50 to $30).

October 16, 2012
Can you take on the 5-1/2-pound sandwich at Harrah's?

.2012 Tahoe F&W chef and sandwich.jpg The recent Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival at Harrah's and Harveys in Stateline at South Lake Tahoe was over the top in a good way. The three-day party featured food-and-wine pairings, multi-course dinners, cooking demonstrations and costumed showgirls moving to a Latin beat.

One feature was an eating competition, judged by the Food Network's "Chopped" champion, New Orleans firefighter Michael Gowland.

The two-man eating team from the Tahoe Douglas Fire Department in Nevada beat out the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department team, donating the $500 prize to the 52 Foundation to benefit the families of fallen firefighters. Meanwhile, Harrah's-Harveys donated $2,000 to the Carson Valley Food Closet.

But what were those Godzilla-size sandwiches the four burly firemen on stage were so valiantly trying to finish in the 30-minute time frame?

Turns out the contest fare was the Dominator, on the menu of Harrah's American River Cafe from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

We asked executive chef Brad Budd about its contents.

October 15, 2012
Autumn in Wine Country: riding, sipping, supping

handlebars.jpgInstead of getting in the car and jumping from winery to winery, Lynn and I decided to tackle the Napa Valley in three installments this past weekend, beginning with a morning bike ride, finishing with some grub, and visiting a winemaker or two in between.

After driving to St. Helena, we parked next to Velo Vino, the tasting room run by the Clif Family Winery -- that's Clif, as in Clif Bar. The tasting room is very cozy, decorated with a bicycle theme. We knew the winery had a brochure listing a variety of bike rides through the area, so it was the perfect place to start. We settled on a ride of about 30 miles, with a moderate amount of climbing. Last visit, we did a longer, hillier route (including some extra miles and a very steep climb after getting lost), but this turned out to the perfect choice for this outing, as we had a reservation at Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery at 1:30.

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Why ride? For one, you get to see the area in a different way and at a different speed. And when your legs actually have to power you up the hills, you tend to appreciate the terrain a little more. Beyond that, food at the end of a ride always tastes that much better when you've got a pretty decent caloric deficit going. This ride took us along lightly traveled roads this time of year, well away from the tourist gridlock, and we appreciated the smooth asphalt on much of the route. If you're interested in tackling a similar route, stop in at Velo Vino (709 Main St., St. Helena). They also rent bikes and offer custom bike excursions via Calistoga Bikeshop.

October 11, 2012
Atomic wing eating challenge coming Saturday to Stockton

Do you love hot wings? No, I mean do you really love hot wings and also have a stomach lining of steel? Wingstop of Stockton (5052 West Lane) is hosting its "atomic wing eating challenge" on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Participants will battle it out to see who can woof down the most hot wings during two timed rounds. The winner gets a whopping 52 weeks of free wings, while second place nabs tickets to a Stockton Thunder hockey game, and third place scores a $25 gift card for Wingstop. As a bonus, every contestant is just about guaranteed heartburn.

To enter, drop by the Wingstop at 5052 West Lane, Stockton, or call (209) 477-8207.

October 11, 2012
Port wines take center stage at Ruth's Chris five-course meal

Fall is in the air, and one good thing that means is the return of muscular red wines to the table.

Appropriately, Taylor Fladgate ports - from tawny to vintage - will take center stage at a five-course dinner hosted by the two Ruth's Chris steakhouses in town.

A different port will be matched with each course. Among the dishes will be port-steeped figs, port-poached pear, butternut squash bisque, filet mignon and "sizzling shellfish," and a dessert of cheese, berries, nuts and port-infused chocolate.

Dinner will be at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at both restaurants. The toll is $125 a person at Ruth's Chris in the Pavilions center, along Fair Oaks Boulevard east of Howe Avenue. Reservations: (916) 286-2702.

The Ruth's Chris in Roseville will host the same dinner at the same time for $115. (Each store in the chain sets its own price.) It's at 1185 Galleria Blvd.; (916) 780-6910.

More information: www.ruthschris.com.

October 9, 2012
Alice Waters to help break ground on 'Edible Sac High'

Sacramento Charter High School will get a little taste of Chez Panisse at 11 a.m. today as Alice Waters pays a visit to break ground on "Edible Sac High." The program is modeled after the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Waters' home town of Berkeley. Like its sister program by the bay, Edible Sac High will include a school garden that will produce bounty utilized by a student run cafeteria and kitchen classroom.

Students have been working on the garden since late August, digging trenches and spreading plastic sheeting over the ground to help heat the soil and get it primed for planting. Part of Edible Sac High's mission statement says "a blueprint for this program will be shared with high schools across both the state of California and the nation."

Along with Waters, a figurehead of the "slow food" movement, today's groundbreaking will be attended by Mayor Kevin Johnson, Karen Ross, secretary of California's Department of Food and Agriculture and Craig McNamara, president of the California Food and Agriculture Commission.

For more information: www.ediblesachigh.org

October 9, 2012
Thai Paradise expands, along with Christina Mendonsa's Corner

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One of our dining go-to's is Thai Paradise in Folsom, especially for its succulent, garlicky lemongrass chicken, which appears on the daily-specials whiteboard.

Other diners like the restaurant, too, as evidenced by the out-the-door lines on Friday and Saturday nights. Its loyal clientele includes News10 news anchor Christina Mendonsa. There's even a corner table dedicated to her, complete with a publicity photo. It's known as Christina's Corner, partially pictured here.

"I walked in (when it was first set up) and was unbelievably flattered," Mendonsa said Monday. "That was so sweet of them!"

More about that in minute, but first the news:

October 4, 2012
The Spice Queen of Singapore will cook a feast at Lemon Grass

download.jpgRestaurateur-chef Mai Pham has worked her cooking magic in Sacramento since 1988, when she debuted Lemon Grass restaurant at 601 Munroe St. It continues to serve some of the best Southeast Asian cuisine anywhere.

Pham is a world traveler who brings imagination and flair to whatever project she happens to be involved in at the time.

Want proof? Pham is bringing Singapore celebrity chef, cooking instructor, cookbook author and food columnist Devagi Sanmugam (pictured) to the Lemon Grass kitchen to prepare a multi-course meal. "We'll be treating our guests to the flavors of Singapore," Pham said.

The feast will be Oct. 25, with seatings at 6 p.m. in the main dining room and 7 p.m. in the bar-area dining room. Cost is $48 per person (not including tax and tip). For reservations: (916) 486-4891; seating is limited.

The menu will go like this:


October 3, 2012
Fall menu and wine list get a tryout at Fabian's Italian Bistro

Area restaurants are busy compiling and testing their fall menus and wine lists, a good move for us diners. One of our go-to's, Fabian's Italian Bistro, is doing that, too.

As part of it, co-owner Christian Forte (with wife Mercedes) and his crew will pour five tastes from their new vinos, 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6.

The freight is $10 and includes appetizers by chef Tom Patterson - torched Brie with fresh fig mustard; house-cured wild salmon with phyllo, lemon crema and mache lettuce; and marinated baby beets with black sea salt.

October 3, 2012
Debate viewing party and specials at MIX Downtown

No matter what side of the political fence you lean on, everybody loves a deal. And tonight's presidential debate viewing party at MIX Downtown is designed as a non-partisan soiree featuring a variety of food and drink specials. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will square off about the economy and other pressing issues as you sip on $5 glasses of wine, or martinis for just $6.50. Well drinks will cost $5, and small plate food items will be half priced - now that's an all-American deal!

These happy hour debate specials run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. tonight. For more information: www.mixdowntown.net.

October 2, 2012
Preview of food truck "pod" coming downtown on Saturday

As talks continue at city hall about amending Sacramento's mobile food ordinances, the idea of food truck "pods" is being explored as a possibility. These would be locations on private property where multiple mobile food vendors could operate simultaneously. Discussions about such pods will be held separately at city hall from other meetings related to mobile food vending, with the city's Law and Legislation Committee set to hear a new draft of proposed food truck ordinances on Oct. 16.

In the meantime, you can get a preview of what one of these pods might look like on Saturday at 1425 C St.. Dubbed "Truck Farm," this event is a benefit for Francis House, which provides services and resources for the homeless and also located near 14th and C streets. 11 trucks are participating in Saturday's event. Future "pods" at this location might also include a market and staging for entertainment.

"We're trying to focus on the benefit and venue," said Matt Chong, co-owner of Wicked Wich and a board member of the California Mobile Food Association. "It's a one time event for now, and it's a chance to work alongside our neighbors and also give a sneak preview of what might be coming over there. This will hopefully be Sacramento's first food pod."

The event runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and includes music and a beer garden. For more information: gofoodmob.com.

October 2, 2012
All things Italian will be at Hot Italian's Moderno Festival

In a mission to "reach out to the community," Hot Italian restaurant will host its third annual Moderno Italian Festival, combining "contemporary Italian food, design and film."

Hot Italian is at 1627 16th St., in Midtown Sacramento; (916) 444-3000, www.hotitalian.net, www.facebook.com/hotitalian.

Here's the lineup for the free fest, to be held at the restaurant and in Fremont Park (converted into a "bike-in theater" for the two movies) across the street from Hot Italian.



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