Appetizers
December 28, 2012
Enotria has a few spots left for New Year's Eve extravaganza

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The talented team that's doing extraordinary things at Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar is really able to strut its stuff on special occasions. If you're wondering what all the recent fuss has been about -- and you're willing to pay big bucks to find out -- you might want to nab the last few spots for the 12-course $240-per-person New Year's Eve Dinner.

The event is sold out, but we've learned that the restaurant is opening up 10 more seats at the wine bar for last-minute reservations. Enotria is at 1431 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento. (916) 922-6792.

The team of Chef Pajo Bruich, pastry chef Edward Martinez and sommelier Matthew Lewis has put together a menu with wine pairings based on Bruich's research into how various cultures celebrate the New Year. The chef has given each of the 12 courses a themed title.

December 28, 2012
Cowtown Eats lists hottest happy hour spots of 2012

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Courtesy of Cowtown Eats, the local website that focuses on happy hour and dining-related news, we are able to glean some valuable information about the hottest places for grabbing a drink after work. The website compiled its list of the most popular happy hour destinations based on page views at www.cowtowneats.com

Who knows if copious page views translates into an enjoyable experience at a bar, but some of the joints on the list are certainly worthwhile. Of course, this is not intended to be a comprehensive list. For that, you can go to the website and zero in on the places that suit your style. Do you like watching cage fighters smash each other in the face while eating mouthwatering food by Drewski's? The Republic is your address. Do you want to pretend you can shoot pool while nursing a Michelob Light? Check out the Blue Cue. Quality food at bargain prices in a bustling midtown mainstay? Paesanos.

Says Darrel Ng, founder of Cowtown Eats: "New restaurants like Republic Bar & Grill and Firestone Public House have made a splash by offering a great happy hour, and people are noticing. "Cowtown Eats provides a service to these people who are looking for detailed happy hour information at restaurants and bars near where they live and work."

I keep up with Cowtown Eats and, if you're into the restaurant and bar scene, so should you. He'll also steer you (no pun intended) toward the latest and best happy hour deals. You'll find that no other site locally is as thorough and reliable on this topic. Check him out on Twitter, @Cowtowneats.


1.BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse (Last Year's Rank: 11)
2.Republic Bar & Grill (Last Year: Unranked)
3.Firestone Public House (Last Year: Unranked)
4.Lucca (Last Year's Rank: 7)
5.Burgers & Brew (Last Year's Rank: 1)
6.Chicago Fire (Last Year's Rank: 3)
7.Pizza Rock (Last Year's Rank: 13)
8.Blue Cue (Last Year: Unranked)
9.Blackbird Kitchen & Bar (Last Year: Unranked)
10. Paesanos (Last Year's Rank: 6)
11. McCormick and Schmick's (Last Year's Rank: 2)
12. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse - Roseville (Last Year: Unranked)
13. Dive Bar (Last Year's Rank: 14)
14. Chicago Fire - Folsom (Palladio)
15. Capitol Garage (Last Year's Rank: 4)

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

December 27, 2012
Red Rabbit offers impressive New Year's Eve dinner

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New Year's Eve is fast approaching, but there's still time to find a place that suits your style when it comes to ringing in 2013. The Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar, a newcomer on the dining and bar scene, is certainly a worthy choice. We've dined there recently and have been very impressed. Good attitude, good ideas, lively setting and the vibe seems to reflect Midtown Sacramento -- smart, urban, unpretentious.

Red Rabbit's entry in the New Year's Eve sweepstakes includes a five-course prix fixe dinner from chef/co-owner John Bays, with wine and cocktail pairings. It costs $69, which is an excellent deal, judging from what I've seen of the menu. The major food courses have options, and the kitchen will do a vegetarian option upon request.

"New Year's Eve is such an anticipated event in Sacramento and people want it to be meaningful, non--‐pretentious and fun," said Matt Nurge, co-owner and barman. "John and I decided to put together a menu of food and drink courses that represent the perfect close of 2012 and hopefully provide lots of inspiration for the new year ahead. I worked closely with my team on the cocktail and wine selections to work with John's courses in a fun and interactive way."

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Here's a look at the menu for Monday night:


First Course • a Mouth Amuser, Then choose One Of Each Course


Second Course • Paired with a Cilantro Cooler Cocktail

Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops
Miso Butter, Lotus Root Chips, Micro Cilantro

Grilled Skewered Jumbo Prawns Lemongrass Butter, Crispy Leeks, Micro Cilantro

Third Course • Paired with Ferrari Carrano Fume Blanc

Roasted Baby Beets
Tri-Color Baby Carrots, French Breakfast Radish, Pearl Onions, Del Rio Arugula, Goat Cheese Vinaigrette

Del Rio Greens
Blood Orange Supremes, Pomegranate, Dried Cranberries, Toasted Pine Nuts, Point Reyes Farmstead Blue Cheese, Champagne Vinaigrette

Fourth Course • Paired with Atteca Old Vines Grenache or Red Tail Ridge Dry Riesling

Roasted Petaluma Duck a l'Orange
Citrus Poultry Jus Lié, Celeriac Purée, Grilled Romanesco, Cashew Butter

Veal Osso Bucco
Gremolata, Creamy Grass Valley White Polenta, Braised Capay Red Swiss Chard

Bone-In Ribeye
Cracked Blackpepper Bourbon demi-glace, German Butterball Potatoes, Baby Carrots, Parsnips, Caramel Jus

New Zealand Bluenose Sea Bass
Grapefruit Buerre Blanc, Acorn Squash and Potato Cake, Riverdog Bloomsdale Spinach

Fifth Course • Paired with a holiday inspired Champagne Cocktail

Blood Orange Crème Caramel
Baked Caramel Custard, Blood Orange Tuile

Dark Chocolate Truffle Tart
Chocolate Tart, Dark Chocolate Truffle Filling, Peanut Butter Brittle

*******************************************************

There are two seatings -- 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. To make reservations, call (916) 706-2275. Red Rabbit is at 2718 J St., Sacramento. While reservations are recommended for any New Year's Eve event, Red Rabbit says it will do its best to accommodate walk-ins.

Be safe out there that night. Take a cab or, if you want to do the Midtown thing, walk or ride your bike to Red Rabbit.

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


December 27, 2012
Lessons in Service from Sacramento County Jail

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Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Sacramento County Jail. I was checking on a friendly acquaintance, a homeless man I know who is accused of a relatively minor offense. It's a clean, well-lit place, at least for visitors.

But what I want to address relates to service. And since I spend so much time visiting restaurants and trying to assess how skillfully they serve their customers, I thought it might be revealing to see what we could learn from how our county employees serve the taxpaying public. Hmm, let me think of a single word to describe it. Dismal? Sort of. Rude? Yes, but incomplete. Pathetic? Perfect. Let's go with that.

How does this relate to restaurants? For one, the uniformed officers assigned to greet and assist members of the public visiting the jail, represent our county. That's us. We pay for all this with our tax dollars. And the performance of these officers is a reflection on the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and the Sacramento area in general. (I would be remiss if I didn't also note that I have seen numerous examples through the years of peace officers and other public employees treating the public admirably).


December 26, 2012
We must be getting close to New Year's Day...

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Arrived in the Bee's Feature Department mail in the past few days: no fewer than 10 diet or exercise books. (OK, some of those volumes were duplicates, but still, the trend was obvious.)

Every year, losing weight and getting more exercise rank at the top of New Year's resolutions -- right up there with stopping smoking and saving more money.

Of course, experts warn that resolutions should be specific and doable if they are to have a prayer of a chance of success. They suggest goals like "to lose 5 pounds by Valentine's Day," or "to walk 30 minutes a day for the next two weeks." You can always build on success.

Three of the titles that weighed down the mail bin this past week suggest the authors had specifics of their own in mind: spinach.JPG

* "The New You (and improved!) Diet: 8 Rules to Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever" by Keri Glassman, from Rodale.

* "The 8-hour Diet" by David Zinczenko also from Rodale.

* "The Dash Diet Weight Loss Solution: 2 Weeks to Drop Pounds, Boost Metabolism and Get Healthy" by Marla Heller from Grand Central Publishing.

They each offer a book's worth of specifics in case you've resolved to lose weight.

-- Janet Vitt

December 24, 2012
A little holiday cheer about Casa Garden and the giving spirit

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Three weeks ago, I wrote a piece extolling the many virtues of Casa Garden, the restaurant that serves as a fund-raiser for the Sacramento Children's Home. The servers and most of the kitchen help are volunteers, and the tips all go to the Children's Home. It's a feel-good lunch spot throughout the year, but especially during the holiday season.

After my review, I received a nice letter from Marlene Oehler, who serves as vice president-public relations for the Los Ninos Service League. Marlene was kind enough to share an anecdote.

She writes: "A Davis couple read the article; had never heard of the Sacramento Children's Home ; or Casa Garden Restaurant; booked lunch on Dec. 5, and shared nothing but compliments on the quality of food and service. They left a $50 tip on the table, plus 'We'll be back' as they departed. What more could we ask for?"

December 21, 2012
Maranello to ring in 2013 -- and 3 years in business -- with special New Year's Eve menu

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Maranello, like most other restaurants of its caliber, is busy with hosting holiday-related events. But what makes Maranello a little different is that the casual/fine dining restaurant in Fair Oaks is also celebrating its third anniversary.

That's right - Maranello actually opened on New Year's Eve, an incredible, unpredictable and potentially wacky test for any new business. Maranello pulled through, blossomed slowly but surely in the months after and has settled in as a rising star in the restaurant game, thanks in large part to the excellent cooking and menu design of executive chef Gabriel Glasier. The intensely enterprising and highly skilled Glasier is a chef's chef, and even though he is somewhat hidden away in a corner of the suburbs, his work should be appreciated as playing a leading role on the local/regional culinary scene. Congratulations to owners Joe and Gayle Hensler, along with the entire restaurant staff, on the 3-year milestone. Maranello is at 8928 Sunset Ave., Fair Oaks. (916) 241-9365.

Glasier.jpgIf you want to get in on some of the holiday fun at Maranello, the restaurant is hosting a Christmas Eve dinner from 4:30-8 p.m. (three courses with various options for $34.95). On New Year's Eve, it will present a special dinner and celebration with live music, from 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. That event is $65, and if you want to know what you get for that, check out the special menu below. How 'bout the "eggs and pancakes" for a celebratory treat? Or the sourdough-crusted duck confit?

However you decide to ring in the New Year, I hope your 2013 is full of inspiring dining experiences.

Course 1
"Chef's Salad" Crispy poached egg, Serrano ham, smoked turkey rillettes, red endive, white cheddar dressing, tomato gel
or
Dungeness Crab & Avocado Terrine Grilled Louisiana white shrimp, yuzu gelee, saffron aioli, Spanish chorizo vinaigrette, frisee, salsa verde air
or
"Eggs & Pancakes" Sterling caviar, buckwheat blini, crème fraiche, chive $20 supplement
Course 2
Ahi Tuna Raw & Slightly Raw Mango sorbet, unagi, thai basil paint, crispy taro, mizuna.
or
Sourdough Crusted Duck Confit Applewood bacon powder, sunny up quail egg, red eye veal glace, everything bagel cracker, truffle home fries
Course 3
Braised, Roasted, And Grilled Beef 24 hour braised shortrib, roasted N.Y. strip, grilled hanging tender, parsnip puree, hedgehog mushroom, gruyere "creamed spinach"
or
Slow Butter Poached Sturgeon Bartlett pear & chestnut agnolloti, cabbage marmalade, whole grain mustard gastrique, crispy pork belly, sauce perigourdine
Course 4
Earl Grey Chocolate Custard Hazelnut and cornflake crunch, huckleberry fluid gel, cocoa nib nougatine, huckleberry air
or
Meyer Lemon Meringue Cake Coconut cream, salt butter shortbread crumble, ginger pear sorbet

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

December 20, 2012
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri bounces back from NY flap

FIERI.jpg Guy Fieri, perhaps 2012's most talked about celebrity chef, is home in Santa Rosa for the holidays, getting ready for another non-stop busy year.

Last month's much-Tweeted blow-up over his new Guy's American Kitchen & Bar in New York City's Times Square has "blown over," he said.

Fieri already answered New York Times critic Pete Wells' scathing "open letter" of 34 questions with some sharp words of his own on the "Today Show," calling the review "ridiculous" and "overboard."

December 20, 2012
Track 7 Brewing Co. to double in size, release anniversary beers

Track 7, the local microbrewery at the edge of Curtis Park, is going through some big changes - and we mean that in the literal sense. Renovations are underway at Track 7 to double the size of the brewery, which will include a second tasting bar, more bathrooms and increased beer production capacity. Not bad for a homegrown brewery that'll celebrate just its first anniversary on Dec. 31.

Ryan Graham, co-owner of Track 7, said many of the renovations will be complete by their anniversary but may stretch into the early part of 2013. When its all said and done, Track 7 will grow from 2,150 square feet to about 4,400 square feet. With more fermenting tanks coming online at the brewery, that's projected to double Track 7's brewing capacity. About 500 barrels (or 15,500 gallons) of beer were brewed by Track 7 in 2012. Graham and company are also looking to hire tap room staff around the beginning of 2013.

Track 7 also plans to release three anniversary beers: a Belgian dubble that's been aged in port casks from Revolution Wines, a stout blended with coffee from Chocolate Fish roasters and a double IPA.

December 19, 2012
Sacramento Food Film Festival coming March 15 - 16

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Foodies with a love for film, mark your calendars now. The Sacramento Food Film Festival has been expanded this year to a two-day affair, and set for March 15 - 16 at the Guild Theater (35th & Broadway, Sacramento). The first day will feature a mix of sushi and the sweet, kicking off with a screening of "Quest for Honey," made by a team of Nevada City filmmakers. Also showing March 15 is "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," the critically acclaimed documentary about the great sushi chef Jiro Ono. Here's a trailer for this excellent film (a screenshot is also pictured above):

December 19, 2012
Find Sterling caviar at Raley's, make buckwheat blini

caviar.jpg More proof that local caviar is going mainstream: Raley's supermarkets - along with sister Bel Air and Nob Hill stores - are now offering Sacramento-grown Sterling Caviar.

During the holidays, the chain's meat departments will take orders for Sterling, ready for in-store pick up with three days notice. Get your Christmas and New Year's Eve orders in now.

It's only fitting; Sacramento is now America's Caviar Capital. (Read more at: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/12/19/5062625/sacramento-area-is-nations-caviar.html)

Traditionally, yeast-raised buckwheat blini - little Russian pancakes - are the perfect platform for caviar. (Blini is plural; one little pancake is a blin.)

Accompanied with a dab of creme fraiche or sour cream, blini and caviar pair deliciously with dry champagne or sparkling wine - ready to toast the holidays and New Year.

Buckwheat blini

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 cup warm milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 egg, separated

In a large bowl, mix all-purpose and buckwheat flours, salt and instant yeast. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in warm milk, mixing until smooth. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Melt butter and let cool. Stir the melted butter and egg yolk into batter. In a separate bowl, whisk egg white until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter. Cover and let stand 20 minutes.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. (Melt a little more butter in the skillet, if desired.) With a tablespoon, drop quarter-size dollops of batter into the pan without crowding. Cook for about 1 or 2 minutes or until bubbles form and break across the top of the batter. Turn and cook for another minute.

Remove blini from heat, cover and keep warm until ready to serve. Repeat with remaining batter.

Serve with caviar and your choice of creme fraiche, sour cream, cream cheese, finely chopped egg, finely chopped red onion or chives.

Note: Blinis also can be made with just all-purpose flour or a blend of all-purpose and whole wheat flours; substitute equal amount for buckwheat.

Makes 24 blinis.

December 18, 2012
Hot Italian hosts Create in California Shopping Night

Find an interesting gift and support California business, too.

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This evening from 6 to 9 p.m., Hot Italian in midtown Sacramento hosts its third annual Create In California Shopping Night. This event features arts, crafts and other handmade finds from California designers.

Among the featured vendors will be Tapigami (which put together a holiday installation for its jewelry), Interval Press (live screen printing), Ana Apple (handmade T-shirts), Matthew Lechowick (furniture), Gigglosophy (bracelets), The Good Stuff (jam), Miss Velvet Cream (clothing), Maya Kini and Sofia Lacin (more jewelry) and The Dreaded Potter (dishware and accessories).

Nationally famous Bariani Olive Oil will offer its latest vintage. Navid Dehghan, author of "Just Me & My Pizza," will autograph copies of his book.

Plus eat great pizza! After all, Hot Italian is hosting. The restaurant is located at 1627 16th St., Sacramento. For more details, click on www.hotitalian.net or call (916) 444-3000.

December 18, 2012
Everyone was a winner at the Holiday Cooking Throwdown

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In the holiday-season rush, the significance of simple but satisfying family traditions too often is overlooked.

Such as: For the fifth year running, I was asked to judge the annual Holiday Cooking Throwdown in the Folsom home of a very active family.

The tradition began in 2008 with cookies, and over the years moved to appetizers, bruschetta and cupcakes. This year, the "contestants" brought their cooking skills to the dish at hand - pies.

The family members ranged in age from 6 to 66 and formed two-person teams. They took the contest seriously, but mixed good humor and lots of laughter with their competitive spirits. (Two neighbors were absent this year, having committed to a performance of "The Nutcracker").

When the flour had settled, the table was laden with a raspberry mini-tart, tamale pie with jalapeno, cheese pie with raspberry-blackberry sauce, cream-filled chocolate-mint mini-pies, and a fruit pie topped with a big chunk of chocolate (pictured).

Though I used a point-based system to rank the entries (one to five each for presentation, taste, texture and creativity), as the judge I reminded the competitors that every entry was a winner.

The contest was fun and the family bonded over the creation and cooking of their eclectic pies. The whole experience was just plain...well, nice for everyone.

The point: Take a moment to reflect on your own holiday-season family cooking traditions, and share them in "Comments" below.

December 17, 2012
Oh Kupros, stop putting things in writing

Putting odd, awkward and uninformed information in print is not a new endeavor when it comes to the ownership at Kupros Bistro, though the midtown restaurant and pub has reached a new low in its latest effort. If building up a clientele has as much to do with goodwill as it does good cooking, this is an incredible blunder - foolish, unfair, offensive.

Chris Macias' earlier posting here about an oh-so-awkward missive on Facebook regarding a personnel issue, reminds me of an email I received from Kupros after my review in 2011. I had complained that the food was bland and that little on the menu showed any personality or daring. I also lamented that the opening chef, John Gurnee, who made a splash with his edgy menu choices and his excellent cooking skills, had been sent packing. I received an email from Kupros taking me to task for calling and speaking with the manager when he was busy, prior to the review. How unfair of me. Well, I called Temple Coffee today to chat with owner Sean Kohmescher, who, it turns out was busy. Know what he said? "Hey, can I call you back in 45 minutes?" How did he come up with that one?

December 17, 2012
Taste Sacramento's best hot toddy tonight and Tuesday at Ten22

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Last week, we brought you the winners of a Hot Toddy contest held at Golden Bear, featuring some of Sacramento's leading and up-and-coming bartenders. Well, now you can taste that winning hot toddy for yourself both tonight and Tuesday at Ten22 in Old Sacramento.

The hot toddy comes from Karina Martinez, who was the hands-down winner with her "Mad King Charles" toddy. Its key ingredients include: Buffalo Trace bourbon, Torani Amer liqueur, chamomile citrus tea, and steeped in almond water. She also torched pieces of cinnamon bark for added aromatics. Yes, this was one impeccable hot toddy with its balanced flavors, thoughtful presentation and just enough boozy kick to keep you extra warm on a winter's night. They will cost $9 each.

December 17, 2012
Kupros' owner denies firing pregnant employee

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Note: This post has been updated with comments from the former Kupros employee

For followers of Sacramento's restaurant scene, Facebook was abuzz this morning from posts on the page for Kupros Bistro with a serious accusation. The post came from Kupros Bistro itself, saying: "To all those I had the pleasure to meet in the last 2 and a half years: Steve, the owner no longer feels it is appropriate to have a (woman) expecting to work in his establishment so he has let me go. I wish all you wonderful regulars the best and will miss you:)"

Discriminating against a pregnant employee violates the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The employee in question is a now former bar manager at Kupros and also helped book bands to play at the bistro.

December 17, 2012
Piatti Ristorante has a new look, but what do you think?

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The 20-plus-year-old Piatti Ristorante reopened last week after a four-month closure for a complete makeover, I reported in this space last week.

We dropped by one recent weeknight for a looksee. The bar was jammed with well-dressed patrons (many of them regulars), the dining room was about half-full, and the servers rushed from the bar station to their tables, carrying glasses of wine and brightly colored cocktails.

The place definitely has a sleeker, more contemporary look - though we've heard a few veteran customers call it "stark," "cafeteria-like" and reminiscent of a "dimestore lunch counter."

Yes, radical changes have been made, but that's part of the biz.

December 13, 2012
'Deadliest Catch' star comes to dinner in Monterey

timebanditjpeg.JPGIf your weekend road-trip plans include a stop in Monterey on Saturday, you can linger over a three-course dinner that includes Alaskan king crab or Alaskan salmon, and meet the wild and wooly Capt. Johnathan Hillstrand, who will be in town.

He and his brother, Andy ("The Bad Boys of the Bering Sea"), are among the stars of the reality-TV show "Deadliest Catch" on the Discovery Channel. It documents the daring fishermen who go out in 60-foot seas to harvest Alaskan king crabs in the Bering Sea.

"I went halibut fishing in Alaska for a week with those guys," restaurateur Dominic Mercurio was saying on the phone today. "Waves were breaking over their (113-foot boat Time Bandit), but it was not nearly as rough as when they're working the crab catch (pictured). I don't know how they stay in the ocean when it's that rough. Those guys are married to the sea."

Mercurio is the owner of Cafe Fina and Domenico's restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey. He's sponsoring the $50-per-person dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. at Domenico's. Reservations: (831) 372-3655. For more information: www.domenicosmonterey.com.

December 13, 2012
The Kitchen, Carpe Vino named in national top 100 restaurants list

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Not only is OpenTable a popular online restaurant reservation system, but OpenTable loves to release surveys. It seems like every month we're getting announcements for another list - best restaurant wine lists, best late night dining, best restaurants for brunch, top restaurants for service, top 100 scenic view restaurants, etc. etc. But if there's any one OpenTable list to make, it's this one: Top 100 Best Restaurants in the United States.

This list includes some of the heaviest hitters in the restaurant world, including The French Laundry, Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York and Le Bernardin in NYC. So, let's give it up for two area restaurants which made the cut: The Kitchen and Auburn's Carpe Vino. Both made this list for the second year in a row, while Carpe Vino remains a perennial favorite for OpenTable's surveys. In November, Carpe Vino was also named among OpenTable's Top 100 Restaurant Wine Lists.

"We were one of only seven restaurants to make both lists nationwide," said Gary Moffat, Carpe Vino's owner and who also ran a formidable campaign for a seat on the Auburn City Council. "Last year, there were just four on both lists. Not bad for a little joint in the sticks."

December 13, 2012
Wayfare Tavern in SF hiring sous chef, reaching out to Sactown

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I just got off the phone with John Gurnee, the chef who wowed more than a few foodies with his skills at Mason's and then, for a short but exciting stint, at Kupros Bistro.

Gurnee is now thriving in San Francisco as executive chef at the always-busy Wayfare Tavern in the Financial District. I checked out some of his photos on Twitter (@John_Gurnee) and his food looks fantastic, especially the dish of stone crabs, sweetbreads and harissa.

Gurnee contacted me because he wanted chefs in Sacramento to know that they're hiring - looking for a sous chef with skills, experience, drive, poise under pressure.

Gurnee is from Sacramento and wanted to spread the word about the opening.

Gurnee.jpg"I know there's a good deal of talent and not a lot of opportunities. There are only so many restaurants in Sacramento. We're a very big restaurant," Gurnee said, noting that Wayfare Tavern does 180 to 230 covers a day and, combined with private events, serves about 500 people daily.

Wayfare Tavern is owned by Tyler Florence, the popular TV chef who has branched out into the wine business.

Gurnee says the sous chef will work 55 to 60 hours a week. Yes, it's hectic and demanding. The pay is $40,000 to $55,000 depending on experience. Benefits include health insurance. Is there room to advance in the Tyler Florence Restaurant Group? Gurnee started as sous chef and now he's executive chef. Tyler Florence's restaurants are thriving.

"Working for certain people or with them in Sacramento, you get pieces of the puzzle. At this restaurant, you kind of see the whole package," Gurnee said. "We're not doing avant garde food or anything, but I've had to learn to facilitate cooking for a large amount of people at a pretty high level. This isn't Meadowood, but having enough product in house and managing a staff of 45 people is a pretty big challenge."

He added: "People are receptive here and Tyler likes to push for the next level, so we're constantly challenging ourselves to do better."

If you have experience managing a kitchen and think this might be for you, contact Gurnee via email at john@wayfaretavern.com.

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

December 12, 2012
Holiday food drive needs fresh fruit, veggies for kids

CFLC_Logo.png All some families want for Christmas is something good to eat. The California Food Literacy Center will try to fill that need with healthy fruit and vegetables via a produce drive for low-income children.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, patrons can contribute fresh fruit and vegetables at the center's stand outside the Nugget Market, 2000 Town Center Plaza, West Sacramento. Participants can buy produce at Nugget to contribute or bring fresh fruit and vegetables from other sources.

The goal is 2,500 pieces - enough to provide five fruit or vegetables a day for five days for every child in the after-school program at Capitol Heights Academy in Oak Park.

"There are so many worthwhile causes right now providing gifts to kids, but we're in a school where 85 percent of the kids are on free and reduced price lunches," said Amber Stott, executive director, California Food Literacy Center. "When they go home for the holiday, we know they don't have access to the fresh produce they've grown to love in our class.

"We all know weight gain rises during the holidays, so this will help them maintain healthy habits," she added, "while also maintaining their enthusiasm for healthy food while they're on break from school."

For more information or to make a monetary donation, contact Stott at amber@californiafoodliteracy.org or call (916) 873-2025.

December 12, 2012
OneSpeed's focaccia-gate update: We blew it on that one

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Following up on yesterday's post about OneSpeed, its missing bread and a carb-crazed customer who was not amused, I received a nice email from owner/chef Rick Mahan, who made no excuses for the missing bread.

His email, which I will excerpt below, also reveals a few things about the business and about why OneSpeed is packed every day it is open. Whether this customer was right to complain -- and most of you think she needed to take a deep breath and shut up a little -- is not really the point from the restaurant's persepective. It wants to serve customers and make them happy. This kind of attitude is not for everyone. Successful people in the service industry, however, seem to have the gene hard-wired into their DNA. Me? You? Wouldn't it be more fun to tell her to take a hike?

Here's what Mahan told me:

"Just got home and saw your post. We blew it on that one for one reason -- nobody working the floor that day responded properly. I got to work that a.m. and discovered my Sunday batch of focaccia dough (Tuesday's bread) was not made -- hence, no focaccia for guests on Tuesday. Was not much to do but let customers know that we did not -- and would not -- have focaccia for that day. Obviously,we did not do a good job of getting the point across. I've spoken to the staff and hopefully they'll do it better should the situation present itself in the future. At the very least they should have been given something bread-like."

Mahan went on to explain that OneSpeed does not, in fact, offer free bread to diners. There is a small charge. Some people ask for bread with their soup or salad, and the servers serve some at no cost. Mahan also agreed with his manager's response to the unhappy customer, as did I.

Then Mahan added: "We should have handled it better. I'd have gone to T.J.s (Trader Joe's) no problem whatsoever if that would have made em' happy.Trying to impress that on my workers."

Again, it doesn't matter if the woman was right or wrong (and a little frantic about it all). If you don't have Mahan's solve-the-problem/serve-the-customer mindset, you probably shouldn't be in the restaurant business. If you agree with his approach, it might be an appropriate show of support to stop by OneSpeed and order some focaccia. That is, if you can get a table. They know what they're doing over there. OneSpeed is at 4818 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento.

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

RELATED:
Ask the expert: Was it cool of me to go nuts when OneSpeed ran out of bread?

December 12, 2012
Carl's Jr. invite: Sorry, but I have to wash my hair that day

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I get all kinds of glamorous invitations sent to me, but never have I had the chance to become a board-certified Carl's Jr. biscuit baker. Too bad I can't make it. Going behind the scenes at a fast-food joint just doesn't do it for me, I'm afraid.

To be fair, I lived in the Deep South for several years and can attest to how good the biscuits were at Hardee's. In the days when I thought I could eat anything without putting on weight or jacking my heart, I used to order a bacon and cheese biscuit at Hardee's for breakfast. If you enjoy big, fluffy biscuits, Carl's Jr. is bringing them to CA in January.

Here's my invite from Carl's Jr. (which also owns Hardee's):

Hi Blair,

I wanted to get in touch on behalf of my client Carl's Jr. to see if you would be interested in joining us for a special behind-the-scenes opportunity at one of our Sacramento-area restaurants in the beginning of January.

Carl's Jr. is in the process of a significant new product rollout for the brand, amping up its breakfast offerings by bringing its sister chain Hardee's signature Made From Scratch Biscuits - which have for decades been a beloved item in the South and Midwest that Hardee's is known for - to our restaurants in the West. We're currently in the process of equipping 80 Sacramento-area restaurants to be able to make the biscuits from scratch each day, and will be celebrating the launch of biscuits in Sacramento on 1/9 with Free Biscuit Day. Guests will be able to receive a free Sausage Biscuit at Carl's Jr. during breakfast hours.

If you're not familiar with the fandom around these back east, the buttermilk biscuits have a reputation because they're made from scratch by Hardee's bakers who come into each restaurant early every single morning to measure and mix up the dough by hand, roll and cut them out by hand, and bake and test them to strict standards. They are never pre-made nor frozen.

If you are available to join us at one of our local restaurants the first/second week of January, we'd like to show you this process firsthand. And ask you to roll up your sleeves and work with our bakers to make the morning's biscuits. In fact, you'll be Hardee's Biscuit Certified by the end of the morning. When we introduced biscuits in Orange County, CA, OC Register writer Nancy Luna joined us for a biscuit training and created a video of the process - you can get a sense of what the training entails here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/carl-323118-biscuits-fast.html

If you're interested in joining us and/or getting some content for your site, let me know and we can work out a date that suits your schedule.

Closer to Free Biscuit Day, we'll also have a release with all of the info and hi-res photos.

We hope you can join us!

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

December 12, 2012
Persimmon explosion leads to holiday cookies

persimmon.jpgPersimmon season is booming - literally. Our backyard Fuyu is fully loaded.

We picked about 60 pounds of fruit, many as big as heirloom tomatoes. (Here's a photo of one big cluster.) There are many more near the top of the tree, out of reach.

But not out of range for squirrels and birds. It's their annual holiday treat. The critters bite or peck into the super-ripe fruit, which falls from the tree - creating a hefty blop!

During a recent wind storm, it sounded like a water balloon fight. Knocked down by gusts, exploded persimmons littered the lawn beneath the tree. (They're now in the compost bin.)

Although I hate wasting any home-grown edible, I already have my hands and kitchen counter full of ripening persimmons. A lot of them will find their way into cookies, a holiday favorite.

I usually use my great-grandmother's recipe, which I posted online as part of The Bee's Holiday Recipe Cookbook. Search for "persimmon cookies."

Ripe persimmons also can substitute for canned pumpkin in other cookie and dessert recipes. What pulp doesn't get baked will go in the freezer for later use - when this season's persimmon "bombs" are just a memory.

December 12, 2012
Who makes the best chicken soups and tummy soothing soups in Sacramento?

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Bleh ... you know the feeling - that achy, runny nose, feel like I'm gonna barf kind of feeling. There seems to be a nasty flu bug going around - and I've been feeling kind of yucky myself - so it's time to heed grandma's advice and serve up some chicken soup, or a clear broth soup with tummy soothing properties. Sure, it's easy enough to pop open a can of Campbell's (and R.I.P. to the Campbell's plant on Franklin Blvd. near 47th Ave.), but sometimes it sounds good to leave the cooking to the professionals.

So,who makes the best chicken soup and other tummy soothing soups in Sacramento?

My first choice for a flu-friendly soup would be suimono, a clear broth Japanese soup. Still, I'm not sure who makes one in the area as most opt for a traditional white or red miso soup. Futami on Freeport Blvd. used to make a good suimono, but it seems like it's been a while since they served it to begin their meals.

December 12, 2012
Critic raves about Enotria's food while ranting about her spouse

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This is the greatest restaurant review ever penned by someone trapped in a boring lesbian relationship. Click here for a look at one critic's take on Enotria while performing a pretty solid takedown of some poor soul named "MK."

Jane Churchon's epic-length review of this stylish fine dining establishment pulls out all the stops. You'll drool. You'll laugh. You'll wince. You may cringe a time or 12.

Forget the lashing Guy Fieri endured for his Times Square monstrosity. MK takes it on the chin, and then some. Yes, this review has it all: discerning thoughts on the incredible food, humor, enmity, awkward references aplenty and more than a few body blows directed at the other half of this very boring relationship. Something tells me it was a little less boring after MK logged on at www.sacpress.com.

December 11, 2012
Blackbird expands hours, opens for lunch

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Downtown lunch options just got a lot more interesting. Blackbird Kitchen + Bar, which opened several months ago and wisely began focusing on its dinner and drinks, is now spreading its wings and serving lunch.

I'm a fan of the restaurant and see it getting even better in the months to come. As I recall, the clam chowder is the best in Sacramento. Seafood is excellent. Lots of other good dishes, and plenty of creativity and precision, too.

Check out the new lunch menu here.

Blackbird is at 1015 9th St., Sacramento. (916) 498-9224. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 4-11 p.m.

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

RELATED:
Dining review: Blackbird usually excellent, sometimes amiss

December 11, 2012
Ten22 bartender earns bragging rights, $350 for best hot toddy

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The Golden Bear was transformed into a midtown winter wonderland on Monday night. Owner Kimio Bazett donned a Santa Claus costume and posed with patrons in a picture booth, while others sported their finest ugly holiday sweaters and elf hats. At the heart of these festivities was a hot toddy contest featuring some of Sacramento's top bartenders and notable up-and-comers. The competitors didn't have many limits for ingredients, except they all had to use Buffalo Trace Bourbon - the contest's sponsor.

Hot Toddies come in various styles, generally using bourbon/whiskey, brandy or rum as its base spirit, and sweetened with honey. A little lemon is usually added to balance the sweetness, and spiced up with cinnamon, clove and other aromatically pleasing ingredients. The "hot" part of a "hot toddy" might come from apple cider, tea or good ol' hot water. Either way, a hot toddy should be soothing, spicy and have a boozy kick - perfect for curling up on a cold winter's night or as a tasty kind of Nyquil substitute during cold/flu season.

The nine hot toddies from Monday night incorporated all kinds of influences and surprises, and I was part of the judging panel with Billy Ngo of Kru, a rep for Buffalo Trace and Angela Rosas, the local social media maven and founder of Chicas Latinas de Sacramento. (She took the above pic that shows some of the toddies). Ella bartender Chris Dooley, who won the hot toddy competition last year, also served as a de facto judge.

December 11, 2012
How to make grenadine, pomegranate molasses

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Pomegranate season brought a red explosion to my kitchen. Our little backyard tree - an aptly named Wonderful pomegranate - produced more than 60 huge red orbs.

They were the biggest pomegranates I've ever grown. Several were as large as softballs and just as round. One weighed 24 ounces.

Inside each fruit were hundreds of plump seed sacs. They seemed to be unusually dark this winter. Instead of crimson, the juicy sacs glistened like black garnets. They produced jelly and grenadine with the same, rich color.

And the flavor is outstanding - which is why I scrambled to preserve it for later enjoyment.

My favorite method is home-made grenadine. It's easy, quick and flexible depending on how much juice you have available. In a stainless steel saucepan, add one cup sugar to every cup of pomegranate juice. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer one minute until the sugar is fully dissolved. Let cool.

That's it. Store the grenadine in a jar and refrigerate; it will keep at least three months. Or freeze it for a year (or more). Grenadine adds color and pomegranate flavor to drinks, desserts, glazes (try it on pork) and other dishes.

Pomegranate molasses, a popular ingredient in Middle eastern cuisine, is similar to grenadine, but not as sweet. It also takes more time to make. For molasses, put 2 cups pomegranate juice in a heavy saucepan. Add 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Bring to boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer for about an hour, until the mixture becomes thick and syrupy. (It will reduce to about 3/4 cup.) Store in a jar in the refrigerator.

For more ideas on enjoying pomegranates, read Chris Macias' story in Wednesday's Food & Wine section in The Bee.

December 11, 2012
Ask the expert: Was it cool of me to go nuts when OneSpeed ran out of bread?

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Here's a little behind-the-scenes look at customer service at one of the area's better casual restaurants.

I'm going to give away the ending: The customer was not happy. At all. Picture Michael Douglas in "Falling Down" trying to order breakfast. Only without the scary glasses.

It starts innocently enough. Woman is a regular at OneSpeed. Woman takes client there for lunch. Woman orders steak. (Really? A steak for lunch?) Woman is told the restaurant is out of bread. Woman fires off email to yours truly. And yours truly promptly puts down everything he is doing and heads over to Folsom Boulevard demanding some answers, and fast.

OK, no I didn't.

Let's start with the email. Then I'll ask how you would have handled it. I'll leave out the name because, well, the writer might just need to enroll in a 12-step "turn and walk away from the bread" program. The email is actually a copy of an email she fired off to OneSpeed. I'll sign her O. Crusty One.

"Mr. Robertson, FYI, below. I thought this was pretty ridiculous.

"Hello. My husband and I are regular customers at One Speed. Today, I was there with a client. Each of us ordered the flat iron steak. Delicious. Not cheap for a lunch plate. I asked for bread and was told you were out of bread. I asked if we could have some pizza crust. Answer: no, how about some crustini? Trader Joe is right next door and has Truckee Pugliese. Your staff could have gone next door and purchased a few loaves for the lunch crowd. I considered doing it myself, but really, a restaurant, especially a pizza place to be out of bread.

Sincerely,"

December 11, 2012
Grateful Bread's seasonal treats include luscious orange stollen

>IMG_0048.JPGBaked goods are an integral part of the holiday season, but, of course, not all breads and pastries are created equal.

Terrific bakeries do abound in our area - you just have to find them. One of our favorite go-to's is Grateful Bread, on the scene now for 22 years.

We dropped by the other day to check out its "Holiday Features" of eight seasonal goodies ($4.50 to $15.75): Black Forest bread (chocolate and cherries), Italian pannetone (golden raisins and citron), Swedish rye limpa (orange rind and anise seed), German Christmas stollen (raisins, almonds, hazelnuts and citrus peel) and fruitcake (only 100 brandy-fed cakes were made, beginning in August; they contain no nuts or candied fruit).

Coming Dec. 20 will be alpine lemon bread, a puckery treat with a loyal following. Also: Choose a bread and master baker-owner Joe Artim will shape it into bears, wreathes and Christmas trees (by special order only).

There's one more holiday bread to mention, something new to us. Fragrant orange stollen

We returned for two more light-as-air loaves, much of which was turned into crispy French toast. In a word: Yum!

"The recipe came from a seminar on enriched dough held in 2005 at the San Francisco Baking Institute," Artim recalled. "The chef (who demonstrated it) was from the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. We played with (the recipe) a little bit and tweaked it for our needs."

Grateful Bread in Loehmann's Plaza, 2543 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 487-9179. Open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.

December 10, 2012
Piatti Ristorante reopens in Pavilions with a new direction

Piatti Ristorante at the Pavilions center is back in business after a four-month closure for a makeover. What took so long?

"We were going to do a small facelift, but instead we decided to completely expand the scope and redo everything," said Nick Dedier on the phone today. He's the Italian-themed restaurant's director of operations. His resume includes more than five years with the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group in Yountville. During that time, he ran Bouchon for a year and Ad Hoc for four years.

Piatti certainly has a brighter, cleaner look.

December 10, 2012
Looking for a job in food and wine? This place is hiring

In this economy, Ficklin-Wilcox.JPGI know there are a lot of talented but unemployed (or under-employed) people in Midtown, so I was happy to run across this "Now Hiring" sign in a storefront window on 20th Street.

The store, Ficklin-Wilcox, has yet to open, but the concept sounds interesting, and the company behind it - the widely respected Ficklin Vineyards -- certainly knows what it's doing. The family-owned business has been going strong since 1946.

I just got off the phone with Liz Wilcox of Ficklin Vineyards in Madera. I called her to ask about the jobs and what kind of people they are looking for. Turns out, you don't have to be a certified sommelier or a bona fide food snob to get hired. The most important thing is you have to be good with people and you must have a sincere appreciation for sales and service.

Ficklin-Wilcox will be a wine tasting room as well as a kitchen store. In the back, there will be a classroom space for seminars, lectures, cooking demonstrations, etc. The store will have a full line of pots and pans, kitchen gadgets, barware and all kinds of other products related to food and wine.

December 7, 2012
UC Davis makes the grade in survey of '52 Best Colleges for Food in America'

Looks like we missed this original announcement, but UC Davis is an especially tasty place to eat. TheDailyMeal.com released a survey of the "52 Best Colleges for Food in America" back in September, and UC Davis ranked a very respectable #18.

That was a better showing than such venerable institutions as Stanford University and Yale University - and sorry, Bears, but the University of California, Berkeley didn't even make the cut.

Says the DailyMeal folks: "The dining services team invites guest chefs to present authentic meals from countries around the world, and also hosts diversity dinners. Twice each year, the school's tradition of using local and sustainable food is highlighted at its Farm to College Night."

Given UC Davis' strong agricultural programs, proximity to local farms and its esteemed Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, this all makes sense that students have access to some good food. The sample menu items of honey-nut pancakes and dosas with sambar and chutney sure sounds like better chow than I ate back in the early 1990s, when I was living in UC Davis' dorms. My UC Davis dorm food memories from back then are visions of starch, and that "steak night" was the cue to order a pizza. Can you say, "Freshman 15?"

The biggest UC bragging rights go to UCLA, which ranked #4. The top school was listed as Virginia Tech.

December 6, 2012
Is Enotria Sacramento's hottest restaurant?

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Wednesday night on Del Paso Blvd. - it's generally never been one of Sacramento's main dining destinations. But what is this? Inside Enotria Restaurant Wine Bar, the dining room is near capacity as tunes from Everything But the Girl bump gently on the sound system. Meanwhile, a party of more than two dozen feasts in a separate room. David Hardie, Enotria's owner, pops through the dining room with a well earned smile. He's run Enotria since 1997 but business has been hit and miss, with any number of key staff changes, and sunk $1.8 million into a renovation effort to help Enotria better establish its mark on Sacramento's wining and dining scene.

Has Enotria emerged as Sacramento's hottest restaurant of the day?

Just picked up a copy of the new Sactown magazine, and look at this: an extended feature on Enotria executive chef Pajo Bruich and more about Enotria's restaurant experience. That's just the latest press on Enotria, which has included:

* A spread in the Nov. issue of Comstock's magazine

December 5, 2012
What chef Adam Pechal fed Bill Clinton in Sacramento

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His belly full of Korean tacos on Tuesday afternoon, chef Adam Pechal announced he was in a hurry.

"Sorry guys, gotta go," he said. "I've got to get ready to feed Bill."

The "Bill" in question was former President Bill Clinton, who appeared Tuesday night at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium for a speech on current affairs. Pechal, the executive chef and co-owner of Sacramento's Tuli Bistro and Restaurant THIR13EN, had the job of feeding Clinton and the former president's staff before the appearance. He was referred for the job by organizers of the Sacramento Speakers Series, which hosted the event, and Pechal didn't know he'd be cooking for Clinton until the day before the appearance.

December 4, 2012
Is turnabout fair play? Restaurateurs rate the restaurant critics


The Daily Meal, the online site that covers all things food and drink (www.thedailymeal.com), is taking much delight over the results of its latest survey, "Top Chefs Rate America's Food Critics."

In fairness, the term "food writers" should have been added to that title, as some of the people on the list do not strictly qualify as restaurant critics, though they do cover the food and dining scenes to varying degrees.

At any rate, the Daily Meal explains: "We have given dozens of chefs and restaurateurs a chance to turn the tables on food critics by asking them to divulge their opinions about the men and women who write reviews for America's top publications. While anonymity was guaranteed to elicit the most truthful responses, every chef and restaurateur is an elite industry figure. Most, in fact, are household names."

December 4, 2012
Second annual Bacon Fest Sacramento coming in January

Get that Lipitor prescription ready, because the dates are now set for BaconFest Sacramento. The second edition of this veritable pork-a-palooza will run from Jan. 20 through Jan. 27 at various locales around Sacramento. The details are still being flushed out, but highlights include a Bacon Fest Sacramento Chef's Challenge at Mulvaney's B&L Pig on the Corner on Jan. 27, the second annual "Kevin Bacon Tribute Night" on Jan. 25 with local bands covering tunes from Kevin Bacon movies at Old Ironsides (chef Mike Thiemann of Ella will prepare the grub), and even a coloring book contest for kids at Doughbot throughout the week.

A series of Bacon Fest dinners and specials will also be held throughout the week, and happy hour specials at local watering holes. Participants on board thus far include: Bacon and Butter (duh), Magpie Cafe, the soon-to-be opened Low Brau (in the former Lounge ON20 spot at 20th & K), Shady Lady, Pangaea Two Brews Cafe and Selland's Market Cafe.

Last year's Bacon Fest was marked by food items selling out and a whole lot of full tummies. The event has grown from three days in its inaugural year to a full week and up to 20 participating venues. That's due in large part to sponsorship this year from the California Pork Producers Association, which is helping to fund some of the events.

December 3, 2012
Darrell Corti, 'Skyfall' and herbal wine meet over cocktails

There's a connection between Sacramento grocer Darrell Corti - an internationally recognized food and wine expert - and "Skyfall," the 23rd James Bond adventure now playing in theaters.

Some context: First there was the Vesper cocktail, the classic "shaken, not stirred" mega-martini that James Bond favored in "Casino Royale." That was the title of the 1953 Ian Fleming thriller that became the 2006 movie that introduced Daniel Craig at Agent 007, in which the Vesper found new cachet.

Inspired by "Skyfall," the head mixologist at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London - Erik Lorincz - decided to "refresh" the ingredients of the Vesper and create a special cocktail called the Skyfall. This is what he came up with; note there are just about 30 milliliters in one ounce:

December 3, 2012
Five restaurants will gather to dish for a fund-raiser

Five restaurants will be in one place at one time, dishing food and talk, with live music playing in the background and a silent auction as part of it. And it's all in the name of a good cause.

Taste of the Town
will feature Fabian's Italian Bistro, Tower Bridge Bistro, Coffee Republic, River City BBQ, and Noodles & Company, each offering tastes of their specialties.

Proceeds will will help raise funds to refurbish the community stage at Crossroads Church of Carmichael. Organizers describe the much-used stage as "a canvas, a host, a venue and a tool."

Heap goodies on your plate from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday at 7100 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael; (916) 501-5916. Cost is $15 for adults, $5 for children 12 and younger; free for ages 3 and younger.



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