January 31, 2013
Biba Caggiano honored by Italian culinary academy

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A group composed of Italian academics and culinary experts recently honored Biba Caggiano of Biba Restaurant for her work as a highly regarded restaurateur, best-selling cookbook author and cooking teacher.

Members of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine) dined at Biba and presented her with a commemorative plate.

According to its website, "The Accademia was instituted to safeguard Italian culinary traditions, but also to study enogastronomyhistory and anthropology. The Accademia's purpose is also to provide information and organize initiatives that will help consumers better understand the Italian culinary values."

"I thought it was very nice," said Caggiano, when I caught up with her by phone. "I looked at all of my people in the kitchen and said, 'This is for you, too, because you do a very good job.'"

In addition to celebrating its 60th anniversary, the group's members were in town to officially launch the Sacramento chapter, which will be headed by Orietta Gianjorio.

I called Gianjorio to get more information about the Accademia. She compared their work to the famed Michelin food inspectors, whose Michelin stars are among the most coveted forms of recognition in the restaurant world.

"We are not a group of chefs. We are a group of food tasters who go to restaurants and rate restaurants," she said. "We are also a cultural group that promotes authentic Italian food. We want to make sure people around the world understand and remember to keep the traditions alive."

January 31, 2013
Ultimate smoked meatloaf sandwich is right here in town

IMG_0131.JPGLunch pal Neal Hagen was back in town after a business trip to Tennessee, and was talking about some of the meals he'd had there. "Fried chicken, fried catfish, fried okra - fried everything," he said.

The chat turned to the subject of meatloaf. "I don't know anybody who doesn't love meatloaf," he said. "But you never find consistent meatloaf at restaurants. Even the meatloaf at the same restaurant will vary from visit to visit, so I have to question their contents. The trick is to find a restaurant that intentionally makes the same meatloaf day after day."

I know of such a place, I told him, and they serve meatloaf every day. Well, then, he said...

That's how we found ourselves standing in line at Roxie Deli at 11:15 this morning, while the countermen assembled our sandwiches: house-smoked meatloaf on chewy ciabatta rolls with melted cheddar and provolone cheeses, horseradish, mayonnaise, tomato, onion and crisp jalepeno coins. They're built in three sizes (big, bigger and biggest) for three prices - $7.56, $9.52 and $15.06, after tax.

Here's how Roxie co-owner Chris Tannous (with wife Amy) makes the meatloaf: "I mix 80-20 ground chuck with eggs and my secret rub, then form (the loaves) in pans and put them in the smoker. It's not your mother's meatloaf."

What's in the secret spice mix? I was joking, right?

Neal and I sat in the sunshine at a small table next to the massive smoker, which burns oak and fruitwood. Wisps of fragrant smoke wafted by now and then.

We unwrapped the sandwiches, admired their artistry and began demolishing them. The melange of tastes and textures is a template for all other meatloaf sandwiches to follow.

"Gee, whiz!" Neal exclaimed. "You can smell the flavors before you even take a bite. Most meatloaves are dry, but this is moist and delicious."

Chris Tannous came outside and opened the smoker to rearrange fragrant, mahogany-dark briskets, which are smoked for 16 hours. Then he opened a top compartment and showed us the pans of meatloaf.

"I put these in at 5:30 this morning, and I'll take them out at about 5 this afternoon," he said.

Any specials coming up? "We'll smoke brisket, ribs, tri-tip and Buffalo wings for Superbowl Sunday," he said. "Get here early."

We chewed the last bites of the sandwiches and wadded up the last of the napkins.

"Sitting outside of a little grocery store, next to a smoker in a parking lot, eating a meal like this..." Neal said. "Only in America."

Neal should know - he's traveled the world. Ironically, the best meatloaf sandwich he's ever had has been right here all along.

Roxie Deli, 3340 C St., Sacramento; (916) 443-5402,

January 30, 2013
Could this be the freshest frozen salmon in Sacramento?

Lovers of fresh salmon filets and steaks couldn't wait to fire up their outdoor grills last April when the commercial salmon-fishing season opened and markets began to fill with the delectable fish. But smiles turned to frowns when the season closed at the end of summer. Home cooks have had to settle for farm-raised salmon while they wait for the season to reopen in the spring.

There's an option, though. Corti Bros. Market is selling an innovative new product, Frozen At Sea wild king salmon, for $15 to $20 a pound (depending on cut and occasional sales).

The technique as explained by FAS distributors involves "rapid freezing of the fish at minus-40 degrees while the boat is still at sea." This takes place while the fish is still pliant, which means, they say, it will have a higher moisture content when thawed out, resulting in better flavor and texture. There's more science to it than that, but you get the drift.

We broiled lightly seasoned steaks and fillets of FAS salmon at home and found them to be better than any farm-raised salmon steaks and fillets we've had, and pretty much the same in flavor and texture as fresh salmon. The succulent fish disappeared so fast, though, that we'd better get some more and conduct a second tasting just to be sure.

Corti Bros. gets its FAS salmon from Seafood Suppliers of San Francisco. The actual fisher responsible for that supply is Heather Sears, captain of the F/V Princess, docked in Fort Bragg. She and her crew caught the fish between Point Arena and Bodega Bay, an area that was thick with krill last season. Salmon love to eat krill; in turn, the small crustaceans intensify the salmons' natural orange color.

Corti Bros. Market is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 736-3800,

January 30, 2013
Valentine's dinners are filling up fast; where are you going?

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I'm putting together a story on dining out for Valentine's Day. In doing so, I just found out that Biba, the great Italian restaurant on Capitol Avenue, is already fully booked for its special prix fixe dinner that night. That's good news for the restaurant. But it's a reminder for those of you planning to wine and dine with a loved one on Feb 14. It's time to make reservations.

If you wait too long, you'll have to be a smooth talker, indeed, to explain to your significant other what exactly is so romantic about eating a Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse. Nothing says true love like getting all of your daily calories in one greasy appetizer (2210 calories).

Along those lines, we ask you the reader to weigh in (no pun intended). Where are you going for Valentine's Day? Where was your best -- and your worst -- Valentine's dinner in years past?

Let us know in the comments below and your suggestions, if they're not the work of enraged, rambling mouth-breathers, may find their way into our story. And that Bloomin' Onion, by the way, is looking better and better.

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

January 30, 2013
How to build your own Snackadium for Super Bowl Sunday

23520_SnackadiumAngle2r_1.jpg Who's counting calories? The Snackadium scores!

Pillsbury's creative staff came up with this striking 7- by 10-foot centerpiece for its display at Saturday's Taste of the NFL "Party with a Purpose" in New Orleans as part of Super Bowl weekend.

The crowd-size Snackadium uses eight dozen Italian super sub sandwiches (made with Pillsbury's refrigerated crusty French loaf bread dough) for the walls. The cookie sheet field is coated with a layer of guacamole, striped with sour cream yardlines. The red and gold end zones are chunky salsa and cheese dip.

Created out of disposable aluminum pans cut to size, the stands are filled with an assortment of Pillsbury favorites: Mini Crescent Dogs, Pepperoni Pizza Slices, Bacon-Cheeseburger Calzones, Bacon-Cheddar Pinwheels, Crescent Pizza Pockets, Totino's Pizza Rolls Snacks, Bugles, Green Giant Veggie Chips, Pillsbury Baguette Chips and Chex Mix.

It's the extra touches that make this foodie project stand out. Cherry tomatoes and black olives became players' helmets. Atop breadstick posts, the "pennants" are cone-shaped Bugle snacks and sliced fruit roll-up snacks.

Pillsbury has detailed instructions for how to build your own Snackadium, down-sized for smaller gatherings. Some of the variations include a "retractable" bacon dome with beer-can blimp and a veggie version with broccoli and baby carrots in the stands.

See for yourself at

January 30, 2013
Sacramento chef Adam Pechal advances on ABC's 'The Taste'


After two episodes and nearly three hours of prime time TV, the anticipation is over. Congrats all around to Sacramento's Adam Pechal, who not only passed the audition phase on ABC's "The Taste" on Tuesday night, but wowed the entire judging panel. This new cooking show, which features such culinary luminaries as Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson as judges/mentors, debuted on Jan. 22 but with about zero air time for Pechal that first week. But that all changed Tuesday, when in the last 10 minutes of the show, Pechal whipped up some seared scallops with sweet corn hash and props went all around for the chef and co-owner of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en.

Pechal, who's already known around Sacramento as a veritable quote machine, also delivered the most memorable line of the night:

"If food's your drug of choice, you have to figure out a way to become the dealer."

January 29, 2013
Napa wine country to host major music festival

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If you like Oakville cabernet with a side of electric guitar, here's a music festival that just might rock your world. Look for Bottle Rock Napa Valley to take over Napa wine country from May 10 - May 12, featuring 50 bands along with showing off the region's food and wine. While the official line-up has yet to be released from promoters, a story posted (and then quickly removed) by the Napa Valley Register listed such acts as Black Keys, Black Crowes, Primus, Jane's Addiction and the Shins. Other reports show Sacramento's own Cake and Ben Harper also joining the bill. Cake, in fact, lists a May 12 date for Napa's Bottle Rock festival on its web site.

We'll keep you posted of official word, but something big is definitely brewing in Napa, something like San Francisco's famed Outside Lands but among the vineyards instead of Golden Gate Park.


* Downtown Napa luring tourists who once bypassed it

January 29, 2013
IHOP celebrates National Pancake Day with free pancakes

ihop.jpg Here's a deal to flip over: Free pancakes!

Next Tuesday, International House of Pancakes will celebrate National Pancake Day by offering a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes to all customers. The free pancakes will be available at all participating IHOPs from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 5.

In return, patrons may make voluntary donations to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, the event's official charity, and its program at UC Davis Children's Hospital.

Last year, IHOP hosted a similar National Pancake Day party and served about 4 million free pancakes. If added together, all those "short stacks" would be nearly 16 miles tall. During the 2012 event, customers donated more than $3 million to children's charities.

IHOP hopes to reach that goal again next Tuesday. Local participating IHOPs are located at 2941 Advantage Lane in Sacramento, 2525 Iron Point Road in Folsom, and 2035 Arden Way in Sacramento

To find a participating IHOP near you or to learn more, click on

January 29, 2013
Amore Cafe-Bakery changes hands, but food will stay the same

amore.JPGNader Shirakh phoned to say he and wife Fariba have sold their Amore Cafe, Bakery and Espresso Bar in Gold River, one of our favorite go-to's.

The new owners are husband-wife Abhishek and Nina Paul, who took over Jan. 21 after the Shirakhs trained them in the restaurant's operation.

"We will have exactly the same menu, but will add some Indian cuisine in a month or so," Abhishek Paul said. "Nina is the chef, and comes from a family of chefs. She has many family recipes for Indian food."

The Pauls relocated from India to Canada, where they ran a restaurant for eight years, and then moved to Sacramento two months ago.

The cuisine at Amore will remain primarily a fusion of Mediterranean, Italian, French and Persian, prepared from scratch. To ensure that continuation, Fariba Shirakh schooled the new owners on her cooking techniques and handed over the recipes.

Nader and Fariba Shirakh once ran the fine-dining house Amadeus on Fair Oaks Boulevard, then segued to Amore Cafe about eight years ago.

"It was time to get out," Nader Shirakh said. "We want to travel around the country and we might go to Europe. After that, I'm going to get tired of sitting at home, I'm so used to doing something."

Could that include returning to the restaurant business? "You never know," he said. "We need to see where we are in a few months. I'm always open to opportunity. I never close my eyes on it."

The Shirakhs were gracious hosts who built a loyal clientele. "(Some of) our customers cried when we told them the news," Nader Shirakh said. "We've had such a wonderful relationship with the community. It has been the most beautiful experience in our lives."

Amore Cafe is at 220 Gold Springs Court, Gold River; (916) 463-0011.

January 28, 2013
Bacon Fest wraps up, Magpie Cafe dominates chef contest


"It's going to be a two Lipitor kind of night."

So said Darrell Corti, the influential gourmand and grocer, who was among the judging panel for the Bacon Fest 2 chef's competition on Sunday. A sold out crowd of 260 crammed Mulvaney's Pig on the Corner to sample bacon dishes from local chefs at this festival finale. Like last year's Bacon Fest debut, this week-long festival was marked once again with food sell-outs and record crowds. The local appetite for bacon went unabated, and Corti himself is among the most ardent of fans for this cured pig meat. Taking a seat next to Corti at the judge's table, I asked him how often he cooks bacon at home.

"Every single day," said Corti, sporting his signature blue grocer's jacket.

January 28, 2013
Ice cream inspiration for Super Bowl, Valentine's Day

product_shots-peppermint.jpg Sample ice cream in January? It's cold work, but somebody has to do it.

I recently had the pleasure of helping the experts at Crystal Creamery choose new seasonal flavors for summer. With production in Modesto, the company currently has 31 flavors in its year-round ice cream portfolio, so picking something that wasn't already on that frozen dessert menu wasn't easy.

Instead of more candy bar-inspired combinations, fresh fruit flavors appealed most to my taste buds. (Crystal will reveal the winners in late spring.)

Meanwhile, production is wrapping up on another seasonal favorite: Monday Nut Football ice cream. It's vanilla base with football-shaped chocolate cookies, chocolate-covered nuts and a fudge swirl. How's that sound for Super Bowl dessert?

For winter, Crystal also released Peppermint Blizzard, a very minty red and white ice cream. Although its target market is December, that combination would look great in Valentine's Day desserts, too. I can imagine an ice cream cake with that flavor as its base.

Crystal used Peppermint Blizzard as filling for whoopie pies - a perfect Valentine's Day dessert. Find the recipe at

Such flavors make ice cream sound appealing even on a freezing day in January.

January 25, 2013
Looking for romantic restaurants? OpenTable has 100 of 'em

9.jpg Valentine's Day is Feb. 14, and romance is beginning to fill the air. Which segues to this: The diners have finished their meals (and held hands), the votes have been counted and the results are in. Check out OpenTable's "2013 Diners' Choice Award Winners for the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in the United States" at

OpenTable, the free online restaurant reservations site, pored over 5 million reviews of 15,000 restaurants, "submitted (last year) by verified OpenTable diners." Most of the restaurants on the list serve French or Italian cuisines.

Of course, California had the most winners (16), followed by Hawaii and Florida. No Sacramento-area restaurants were included, but there are two in San Francisco - Acquerello and Fleur de Lys (pictured) - as well as Madrona Manor in Healdsburg and Shadowbrook in Capitola.

January 24, 2013
Bartender, what's this bacon doing in my beer?

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If you've been out and about the last couple of days, you'll know that Sacramento's weeklong BaconFest is in full throttle at numerous pubs and restaurants. We dropped by Pangaea Two Brews on Franklin Boulevard last night after dinner to take part in the experience. I had their now-famous - or instantly notorious - "Suicide IPA," which is a blend of 4 or 5 of the IPAs on tap, garnished with a strip of bacon.

An IPA, of course, can have - and should have - plenty of that hoppy bitterness greeting the front of the palate. Sometimes that's balanced with a sweet or fruity finish, sometimes not. The "Suicide" tends to tone things down rather than ramp them up.

"What's good about blending them," bartender Nate Burns told me, "is that it kind of takes away specific characteristics of one IPA, but it also hides the weaknesses of each."

In other words, those rough edges are smoothed out a tad. And the bacon? Not only does it give you something to chew on, and offer, ahem, a more complete nutritional profile to your evening drinking experience, but it tends to counteract that telltale IPA bitterness.

It worked for me. And these were no ordinary IPAs. Included in the Suicide blend last night were Pliny the Elder, Sculpin and Track 7 Panic. Lynn had the Panic, brewed just a couple of miles away, and it was first-rate.

January 24, 2013
Midtown Cocktail Week coming Aug. 18 - Aug. 25


Planning is now underway for the sixth annual Midtown Cocktail Week, and while the full scope of events is still being worked out, we can report these cocktail festivities will run from Aug. 18 to Aug. 25 at various central city restaurants and watering holes. In previous editions, Midtown Cocktail Week has featured a variety of tastings, classes and cocktail competitions.

Organizers are talking about expanding the scope of Midtown Cocktail Week 2013, with additional locations and a possible "hub" for the festivities with a series of satellite events. We'll keep you posted as more news comes through.

Either way, Midtown Cocktail Week will jibe nicely with a series of national accolades for Sacramento's cocktail scene. Imbibe magazine recently listed Sacramento as one of the country's Top 10 destinations for cocktails, and the San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a story on the rise Sacramento's cocktail scene.

January 23, 2013
Celebrate National Pie Day with slice of specials

redvelvet.jpgHere's an All-American foodie holiday: Happy National Pie Day! Today celebrates all things pie, the favorite dessert of millions.

Specifically, apple pie is the pick of an estimated 36 million Americans, according to the American Pie Council. The board offers a wealth of recipes, pie-making tips and ways to celebrate via its website,

Marie Callender's, a restaurant chain synonymous with pie, marks National Pie Day with specials. Its Perfect Pie Trio features chicken pot pie ($9.99) or Shepherd's pie ($11.99), accompanied by Caesar salad and a slice of (what else?) pie for dessert. (Cheesecakes, seasonal fresh fruit pies and promotional pies not included.)

If you miss Pie Day, don't worry. The offer is good through March 28.

Marie Callender's also has a new pie: Red Velvet Dream Pie. It's vanilla cream with layers of red velvet cake, topped by cream cheese icing. It's a good match for two holidays: National Pie Day and Valentine's Day.

The Red Velvet Dream Pie is $13.99 plus tin, available through Feb. 28. For locations, click on

January 23, 2013
Tune in next Tuesday for Adam Pechal's debut on 'The Taste'


The local foodie community was glued to ABC last night, hoping to catch a glimpse of Adam Pechal on "The Taste." As reported in the Bee and seemingly every other news outlet in the 916 area code, the co-owner of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en is slated to be on this new cooking competition, which is something like "The Voice" but with chefs instead of singers. Well, last night's debut was pretty anti-climactic for locals, given that Pechal didn't receive any air time. However, these audition episodes of "The Taste" will continue next Tuesday night and Pechal dropped me a note to say he will "definitely be on next week."

So, the suspense continues for Sacramento. For those who like to see chefs get picked apart on national TV, last nights episode featured plenty of blunt critiques and a few bleeped out f-bombs from judge/mentor Anthony Bourdain. In this show, a combination of pro and home chefs make a dish that's served in a spoon - a single taste - that's served blind to a judging panel. In these first episodes, the judges are either eliminating the would-bes or choosing them to be mentored on a team. As the show rolls along, these teams headed by Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludovic Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey will go through a series of culinary challenges that result in weekly eliminations. The last chef standing receives $100,000 and a new car.

Thus far, the home cooks have fared exceptionally well on "The Taste." Chooclate cake and mashed potatoes made by amateurs were among the selected "tastes" last night, while many frou frou chefs were sent packing. So, how will Pechal fare in the hot seat of national TV? Tune to ABC next Tuesday to find out.

January 22, 2013
Espanol restaurant closed? Nope, it's 90 years old and thriving

Let's spike this rumor before it spreads: No, the venerable old-school Espanol restaurant in east Sacramento has not closed its doors.

"This is our 90th year in business and things are going well," said Perry Luigi this morning. He co-owns the restaurant with family members. "We've held our menu prices for at least years and still serve family-style dinners."

The cause of the confusion: El Dorado Savings vacated the space next door to the Espanol to move across the street, into the Sav-Mart shopping center. Temporarily occupying the empty building is Liberty Tax, which will camp there through tax season. For those driving by on Folsom Boulevard, it may look like the Espanol has closed.

The Espanol opened in the 1920s and calls itself "the Italian restaurant with a Spanish name." It began life as a Basque restaurant created to accommodate the Spanish sheepherders who lodged in boardinghouse quarters above it, at 11th and J streets. Today, the minestrone soup is brought to the table in a blue tureen with a ladle, a remnant of the Espanol's heritage of serving meals "Basque-style" or "family-style."

The Espanol changed hands and relocated in 1952 to Third and I streets in the Commercial Hotel, then to Folsom Boulevard in 1965, its present site.

Certainly, the Espanol is out of the hip farm-to-fork mainstream. It's more of a relic of a bygone era, but its clientele is famously loyal.

"The menu and the staff haven't changed much in years," Luigi said. "We're a straightforward, no-gimmick restaurant. We do what we do, and we do it well."

The Espanol is at 5723 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 457-1936.

January 21, 2013
Sacramento's restaurant scene rolling with more recognition

Sacramento's restaurant scene continues to shed its Stuart Smalley status. For too long, in the looming shadow of San Francisco, the mantra around town seemed to be, "We're good enough. We're smart enough, and doggone it, people like us!" After all, this city is surrounded by some of the best agriculture found anywhere, and Sacramento teems with the culinary talent and vision to put these ingredients to their proper use.

So, how cool it was to see the San Francisco Chronicle run a package of stories on Sacramento in its Food & Wine section on Sunday. The lead piece, "Sacramento comes of age," tracked the rise of Sacramento's farm-to-fork scene along with interviewing some of its key players. The piece was written by Ed Murrieta, a former Sacramento Bee staffer and longtime food writer. Companion pieces included "A tale of 2 farmers markets," which focused on the Davis and Sacramento Downtown Farmers Market," and a spot-on feature about Sacramento's cocktail scene.

Murrieta's lead feature also contained this great nugget of news: Mark Liberman of AQ in San Francisco is looking to open a restaurant in Sacramento. Liberman is formerly of Folsom, and AQ has since earned a James Beard nomination under his watch. We'll keep you posted with more of this tantalizing prospect for Sacramento's restaurant scene.

January 21, 2013
Third annual Napa Truffle Festival continues today

IMG_0122.JPGToday is the final day of the third annual Napa Valley Truffle Festival, where "world-class cuisine meets cutting-edge truffle science."

The festival got started last Friday, with a reception at La Toque restaurant, and continued over the weekend with truffle-centric seminars, winery tours, food-and-wine pairings, a winemaker dinner, a truffle orchard tour and a mushroom-foraging excursion.

Today, the free Festival Marketplace is taking over the Oxbow Public Market in the town of Napa, with cooking demonstrations, winetastings ($25), special truffle-accented dishes, and a cornucopia of local foodstuffs and wines for sale.

The festival sells out early each year, bringing foodies from all over California and a few foreign countries. It's a big deal. Remember, truffles are delicacies in the global marketplace. Black truffles retail for about $1,700 a pound; white truffles cost around $4,500 a pound. For centuries, truffles have been a treasured ingredient in haute cuisine, prized by master chefs around the world.

On Sunday, we caught the truffle festival luncheon at the Beringer winery in St. Helena, which included an informative tour of the caves. A day trip to the winery is a treat any time. The grounds are gorgeous, the winetasting is fine and the history is fascinating (the winery dates from the 1870s;

January 18, 2013
Real fish, not fish oil, is what's good for your heart


We don't often preach about health and health food in this space, figuring that food-lovers can make those choices themselves.

But after hearing Dr. Oz tell Piers Morgan the other day that french fries were the single worst food you could possibly eat (hmm, I'll see your french fries and raise you a chimichanga and a Bloomin' Onion), I thought I would point out something I I just learned. I think of myself as a two-pronged eater: I will try anything, but I also want to balance that with eating healthy food. In other words, dinner during BaconFest might be preceded by a breakfast of a green smoothie and then berries and yogurt for lunch.

For several years, I have taken fish oil supplements for my health, along with Vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and a multi-vitamin. But I just read in the following missive that fish oil isn't nearly as effective as eating actual fish when it comes to heart health. The author, Dr. Gabe Mirkin, is a physician (and endurance athlete) who pens a regular email newsletter related to healthy living. It's very good and I recommend you subscribe if you're interested in simple, straight-forward health advice. Check out his website here, and sign up for the weekly email via a section in the right column,

So, here's what the doctor says about fish v. fish oil. It was news to me, someone who tries to eat seafood as often as possible (the photo above is of the grilled octopus I enjoyed at Restaurant 1833 in Monterey).

Fish, but Not Fish Oil Pills, Reduce Heart Attack Risk

* A review of 17 prospective studies shows that EATING
FISH ONCE A WEEK, compared to eating less fish, was associated
with a 16 percent lower risk of fatal heart attacks.
* A review of 14 randomized, double-blind, placebo-
controlled trials showed that TAKING FISH OIL PILLS (EPA-DHA)
does not offer protection from fatal heart attacks (Current
Opinion in Lipidology. Dec, 2012;23(6):554-9).
These conclusions agree with previous studies showing
that eating fish is associated with protection from heart
attacks, while taking fish oil pills is not (Eur Heart J. 2008
Aug;29(16):2024-30; Eur Heart J September, 2011).

January 17, 2013
Magpie's chicken for two is one of Sactown's great dishes

chicken.JPGOne of my my food-related resolutions for 2013 is to eat at Magpie more often. So, when I heard the great restaurant on R Street was resurrecting its chicken dinner for two, we got there in a hurry.

This was one of the first dishes Lynn and I ordered at Magpie, back in those early days when it was pretty much an empty, fledgling restaurant and co-owner Janel Inouye was our server. The chicken back then was a revelation, and it seemed to encapsulate the quality and values that would come to define Magpie.

So much has changed since spring of 2009. Magpie is constantly busy and it has become a restaurant loved and admired for its earnest sourcing and honest cooking. It's real food done very, very well, as most of you know by now.

But would the new chicken dish be as good as the one we remembered? Our answer came shortly after the dish arrived at our table. Our expectations were extremely high -- and we were still blown away. And really? Who orders chicken at a top-flight restaurant anyway? But the chicken here was -- and is -- transcendent. The latest chicken for two, at $29, is one of the most impressive and thoroughly enjoyable chicken dishes I've ever had. What's more, I've never tasted spinach done as well as this -- sauteed with great finesse in the drippings of the chicken and deglazed with a cider vinaigrette, the flavors and perfect texture (not too cooked, not chewy or watery) blew me away.

I asked chef and co-owner Ed Roehr for his thoughts on the new dish, which at once rekindles memories of the original while taking it to new heights.

"When we opened, Magpie was essentially a deli counter. We had salads and sandwiches and this chicken dish," he said when we chatted by phone. "We tried different chickens and recipes. For awhile, we went to a poussin (young chicken), which was great. We started to look in different directions for the menu. We looked at what it is we're doing and the reasons we're doing it, and we said, 'Wait a minute! We don't want to leave that behind.'"

The Magpie kitchen, visible to the dinner guests, is a sight to behold. Clearly, they're into what they're doing. It's all about focus and technique back there. They pay attention.

Roehr says this wonderful chicken is actually cooked via two different methods. The main body is roasted, while the quarters are done confit style in duck fat.

"That way, we felt we could keep the integrity of the dish," he explained. "It's a really good way to cook the quarters of a chicken."

The sauce, applied generously over the chicken, is chervil, a bit of ginger and little else.

January 17, 2013
Enotria taps French Laundry and Per Se star as new GM

Enotria Anani Tayikos Lawson.jpg

Pajo Bruich has made no secret of his mission to provide a "Michelin-caliber" experience at Enotria, where he is the new executive chef earning all kinds of accolades. Thing is, the vaunted restaurant guide doesn't assess restaurants in the Sacramento area.

That hasn't stopped Bruich. And those familiar with the national fine dining scene at the highest levels just might be startled to discover that Anani Lawson has been hired as Enotria's new general manager.

Lawson was the sommelier at the French Laundry in Yountville, which many consider the greatest restaurant in the United States. After that, he went on to serve as sommelier at Per Se in New York, which many others consider the greatest restaurant in the country. That's two restaurants, six Michelin stars and one world-class pedigree coming to Del Paso Boulevard.

Says, Bruich: "From Day 1, my goal has been to elevate the cuisine of the restaurant and infuse it with my personality and my vision. I think we've been very successful at doing that. The addition of Anani, with his level of expertise and with him spending so much time working with Thomas Keller, it shows we want to continue to evolve and be the best - not just in the Sacramento market, but the national market."

January 17, 2013
$2 specials for Star Ginger's second anniversary


Lunch on Wednesday meant scarfing down an order of Star Ginger's tasty pad thai at my desk, and hello, looks like I'll be back again soon. Star Ginger, operated by Mai Pham of Lemon Grass fame and a noted cookbook author, is celebrating its upcoming second anniversary with a slew of $2 specials. Among these $2 deals: soup, Asian tacos, banh mi sandwiches and beer. These deals will run from Jan. 25 through Jan. 31, and the fine print says the $2 specials are available for dine-in only and a limit of one menu special per person.

Star Ginger is located at 3101 Folsom Blvd. For more info: (916) 231-8888,

January 17, 2013
Passmore Ranch hosting entire staff of Michelin 3-star restaurant

ranch sign.jpg

Just after 6 a.m. today, I chatted by phone with Michael Passmore, owner and operator of Passmore Ranch, which raises six species of fish in eco-friendly ponds in Sloughhouse.

He was already in the office, and with good reason. Passmore was tending to last-minute details for some very special guests today - about 50 very special guests.

One of Passmore Ranch's customers is Meadowood, the world-class restaurant in St. Helena that is one of two Michelin three-star restaurants in California (the other is the French Laundry). Executive Chef Christopher Kostow and the entire restaurant staff has embarked on an educational sojourn while the dining room is being remodeled, and one of the learning trips is to Passmore Ranch.

Kostow and company have been doing all kinds of things while the dining room is being renovated (it will reopen Feb. 18), from wine tastings to a trip to the St. Helena Historical Society so the staff can learn more about the area. Follow the restaurant on Twitter to see where the staff goes on its learning excursions.

January 16, 2013
Randy Paragary's Cafe Bernardo will open in Pavilions

Randy Paragary.jpg The speculation is over. After sitting vacant since July 2011, the Market at Pavilions has a new tenant.

That would be Sacramento restaurateur Randy Paragary (pictured), who has signed a lease and plans to renovate the space and open a Cafe Bernardo in the 4,000 square-foot space by June.

The new Cafe Bernardo will be the fifth in the Paragary Restaurant Group, which also operates Paragary's Bar & Oven, Esquire Grill, Spataro and Centro, as well as three bars.

The Cafe Bernardo concept is described on the company's website, as "relaxed casual" and "inspired by the European tradition of cafe dining."

Calls to Paragary and his restaurant-group offices were not returned.

The specialty-foods Market at Pavilions closed its doors July 1, 2011, after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy from its creditors in April 2011.

Until 2008, the Market had been owned by food-and-wine expert David Berkley for 25 years and was called David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods.

In July 2008, Berkley sold his store to Greg Rhategan and investor Raymond Matteson. Rhategan was a specialty-foods and wine purveyor and restaurateur from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and was the face of the Market.

The Market's landlord - and now Paragary's - was the Costa Mesa-based retail-property company Donahue Schriber, which owns Pavilions.

At the time of the Market's closure, Donahue Schriber marketing director Audrey Yokota said the company was ready to move on. "We want to find a replacement (for the Market)," she said then. "Our leasing agents are talking with a number of players and prospects."

One well-known restaurateur whose name kept coming up as a possible new tenant was Randall Selland, whose Selland Group owns the Sacramento fine-dining restaurants Ella and The Kitchen.

Shortly before opening a second Selland's Market Cafe in Eldorado Hills Town Center in January 2012 (the original cafe is on H Street in east Sacramento), he said he was exploring additional expansion opportunities. One of them was the empty Market at Pavilions.

"There's a possibility we will open something there and still keep our (H Street) location," he said at the time. "We've been talking to Donahue Schriber about that space for a long time."

Obviously, that didn't happen.

January 16, 2013
Who are top 50 most powerful people in the food biz?

gu;y fieri.JPG
Those arbiters of all things food and drink at the Daily Meal have announced their third annual "America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food" list, and it's a cornucopia of tasty bites.

"These are the men and woman who have made a substantial impact on the way we eat," explains a spokesman. "Their decisions directly affect what we consume day to day - for better or for worse."

Though most of the players on the list are corporate and government types whose companies and federal agencies have international influence, included are Santa Rosa-based restaurateur-TV host Guy Fieri (pictured), who was the subject of a media blitz when the New York Times' restaurant critic blasted his Guy's American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square in mid-November; Napa Valley restaurateur Thomas "The French Laundry" Keller; restaurateur Wolfgang Puck, whose Spago in L.A. helped spark the California cuisine movement when it opened in 1982; author and TV host Anthony "No Reservations" Bourdain; author Michael "The Omnivore's Dilemma" Pollan; and New York restaurateur-chef Mario Batali.

Here are the top 10 influencers. See the complete list at P.S.: Coming in at No. 50 - "the American farmer."

January 15, 2013
Drewski's to expand with second food truck, new brick and mortar cafe


Here's a tip of the chef's toque to the Munchie Musings blog, which first reported this news. Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen, the popular local food truck, is in the midst of a significant expansion mode. Look for a second Drewski's truck to hit the road in about eight weeks, says owner Andrew Blaskovich. He purchased the GMC truck on Friday, which is now undergoing a complete overhaul to build a kitchen and all the necessary food truck features.

"It's going to be completely all new on the inside," said Blaskovich. "I get to design the kitchen the way I want and maybe we'll be adding a broiler, so we can play with different ideas on the menu. Either way, it's going to be dope."

Blaskovich is also eyeing the opening of his second brick-and-mortar location with Lil Drewski's. This eatery will be located in a Folsom office park near Iron Point Rd., and aiming for a mid-February opening. It's a small spot - just about 1,000 square feet total - and will operate like a quick service cafe. Along with some of Drewski's signature grilled sandwiches, Lil Drewski's will offer coffee drinks, smoothies, salads and grab-and-go items.

January 14, 2013
See's Candies has a special lineup for Valentine's Day

Bee photograph by Tim Reese

see's candies.JPGChocolate is tempting and resistance is futile.That's why See's Candies does such a landslide business throughout the year, especially when its special limited-edition batches of seasonal goodies hit the shelves in its 200 candy shops in 13 states.

Now through Feb. 14, its Valentine's Day offerings include several versions of heart-shaped boxes (including a satin box) filled with various chocolates, plus marshmallow hearts, hot hearts, sour hearts and cinnamon lollypops ($5.40 to $38.50).

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.

January 11, 2013
Chef Mike Thiemann to leave Sacramento, become culinary director for Tyler Florence


Just about a year to the date which Mike Thiemann took over as executive chef for Ella Dining Room & Bar, he will be leaving Sacramento in early February. Thiemann has accepted a job as culinary director for Tyler Florence, the Food Network celebrity chef who oversees restaurants, a line of cookware and authors cookbooks. Before Thiemann came to Ella in early 2012, he served as Florence's chef de cuisine and helped him open restaurants and develop recipes.

Thiemann will serve as Florence's right hand man in many facets of his food empire.

"It was cool that he offered me the title," said Thiemann. "I didn't expect to leave Sacramento so quick. Tyler was always a great working partner. The idea of doing multiple projects is something that works with me. There is going to be a new learning curve."

January 11, 2013
Seasons 52 to open Jan. 28 at Arden Fair

Hey, good news for you hungry shoppers. When a bunch of knuckleheads aren't putting Arden Fair Mall in lockdown mode, there's a new place to grab a bite. Seasons 52 is set to open Jan. 28, at the site of the former Fresh Choice at the mall. For those not keeping score at home, Fresh Choice shuttered the last of its veggie buffet eateries in December following Chapter 7 liquidation.

Seasons 52 will include a wine bar with 100 wine selections, and 60 of them offered by the glass. Food wise, you can expect plenty of pizza-like flatbreads, steaks, seafood and a menu of bar bites. Seasons 52 is a Florida-based chain, in which this Arden Fair location will be its first northen California location. A sample wine list boasts plenty of Napa favorites, including Silver Oak, Caymus Special Selection and Cakebread. They also feature German riseling, sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, Argentine malbec and other worldy wines. Not a bad way to wind down after returning gifts at Macy's.

For more information:

January 11, 2013
Sactown may be a beer town, but it fails to make this Top-10 list

As many of you know, Sacramento was once a very significant beer town, home to several respected breweries prior to Prohibition. I'm writing this, by the way, from The Bee newsroom -- our property at 21st and Q was once the site of the Buffalo Brewing Co., which started in 1889 and was once the largest brewery west of the Mississippi. It built its red-brick brewery, complete with an ice plant and stables for horses used to pull the delivery wagons, for $400,000.

These days, our city is making a comeback when it comes to beer, and we have a new and vibrant craft beer movement afoot in and around Sacramento. Some, including the brand new New Helvetia Brewing Co. and Ruhstaller Beer, have sought to resurrect our great beer legacy with new and impressive brewing operations. We also have a growing number of excellent pubs where you can enjoy beer in the company of others.

We recently came across a list from the website AMOG (Alpha Male of the Group) that offers up its take on the 10 best beer towns in the U.S. No, Sacramento didn't make the list. But if you look at the cities on it, there's certainly potential for Sacramento to make a name for itself in the months and years ahead.

Here's a look a quick look at the list:

10. Cleveland
9. St. Louis
8. Burlington, Vt.
7. San Francisco
6. Boston
5. Albuquerque
4. Chicago
3. Philadelphia
2. Denver
1. Portland

For more details on this list, click here.

And if you're looking to learn more about Sacramento's past when it comes to beer and breweries, pick up a copy of the excellent book, "Sacramento's Breweries" by Ed Carroll. Last time I checked, you could buy a copy at Beer's Books for $14.95.

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


Sacramento has a rich history in brewing lore

January 10, 2013
Countdown to BaconFest: Is bacon actually bad for you?


While it is fashionable for foodies to see all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks of bacon, aren't we all missing one key piece of information? Namely, that bacon is bad for you.

Well, I eat bacon. I have friends who eat bacon. I just had lunch with a friend who's a doctor -- and he had thick strips of bacon on his his sandwich, after splitting a pork belly appetizer with yours truly. While we were eating, we were chatting about his running workout that morning. In other words, bacon isn't only for gluttons and those with a death wish.

Are we rationalizing this simply because bacon smells and tastes so good? Maybe. But you don't have to look too far these days to find bacon's defenders.

Joseph Mercola, a well-known and occasionally controversial physician (he is not a fan of immunizations, for instance) recently weighed in, via his popular website, on the not-so-harmful aspects of bacon.

Kegvin Bacon.jpg"Bacon's primary asset is its fat, and that fat-- surprise! - is primarily monounsaturated. Fifty percent of the fat in bacon is monounsaturated, mostly consisting of oleic acid, the type so valued in olive oil. About three percent of that is palmitoleic acid, a monounsaturate with valuable antimicrobial properties. About 40 percent of bacon fat is saturated, a level that worries fat phobics, but is the reason why bacon fat is relatively stable and unlikely to go rancid under normal storage and cooking conditions. That's important, given the fact that the remaining 10 percent is in the valuable but unstable form of polyunsaturates.7

"Pork fat also contains a novel form of phosphatidylcholine that possesses antioxidant activity superior to Vitamin E. This may be one reason why lard and bacon fat are relatively stable and not prone to rancidity from free radicals.8

"Bacon fat from pastured pigs also comes replete with fat-soluble vitamin D, provided it's bacon from foraging pigs that romp outdoors in the sun for most of year. Factory-farmed pigs kept indoors and fed rations from soy, casein, corn meal, and other grains, are likely to show low levels of Vitamin D."

We don't often give medical advice on this blog, so I will stop short of saying that moderate consumption of bacon will make you live longer or give you super-human strength. But bacon just may be OK for you after all.

And during BaconFest, it's more than OK to let your guard down, indulge a little and, say, balance it out by eating a few extra salads (hold the bacon bits) after it's all said and done.

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

January 10, 2013
Sacramento Bacon Fest organizers bracing for big crowds


We're now at t-minus 10 days and counting for the pork-a-palooza known as Sacramento Bacon Fest 2. Got off the phone with Brian Guido, a co-founder of this festival, and it sounds like Sacramento Bacon Fest 2 will entertain some big crowds with a taste for cured pork belly. Case in point: The chef's competition at Mulvaney's Pig on the Corner on Jan. 27 has already sold out.

For those lucky enough to have scored tickets, this bacon cook-off will feature eight chefs who will both cure and cook up bacon and make a sweet or savory dish. And Lipitor be darned, I'll be on the judging panel once again, which this year includes the walking encyclopedia of food known as Darrell Corti, Sacramento News & Review restaurant reviewer Becky Grunewald, and Lesa Eidman from the California Pork Producers Association.

Either way, Sacramento Bacon Fest 2 includes participation from restaurants all over the Sacramento area which will prepare special bacon dishes, brunches and more from Jan. 20 to Jan. 27. Just a few who've signed up for the cause are Formoli's Bistro, Boulevard Bistro in Elk Grove, Bows & Arrows, the Waterboy and many more. Last year's Sacramento Bacon Fest debut was noted for food sell-outs, and this year is expected to produce much of the same.

January 10, 2013
Oskar Blues beers will team with five courses at Fabian's

dales_pale_ale.jpgWhen it comes to wine and beer, Christian Forte knows his stuff and proves it at the bar of Fabian's Italian Bistro, the restaurant he and wife Mercedes Forte own in Fair Oaks.

Each month, they sponsor a wine or beer event featuring tastes and small plates. This time around, though, there's a five-course dinner that will match beers from the Oskar Blues Brewery of Colorado ( with creations by chef Tom Patterson. On site will be Eben Weisberg from the brewery, talking about all things beer.

The dinner is $42 per person at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at Fabian's, 11755 Fair Oaks Blvd. in the Almond Orchard center; (916) 536-9891,

"We're also planning a Rocky Mountain Beer Dinner in celebration of Sacramento Beer Week (Feb. 22-March 3), with the date to be determined," Christian Forte said. "We'll have the Boulder Beer Brewing and Grand Teton Brewing Company here, with with some new specials by Chef Tom."

Meanwhile, here's the menu for Oskar Blues dinner:

First course: Dale's Pale Ale with blackened scallops
Second: G'Night Imperial Red with a warm salad of house-smoked salmon, frisee, spinach and chanterelle mushroom
Third: Deviant Dale's IPA with crispy pork belly
Fourth: Old Chub Scotch Ale with beer-braised beef short rib
Fifth: Ten Fidy Imperial Stout with chocolate cake and salted pretzel gelato

January 10, 2013
PBS searching for healthy soul food recipes

pulled-pork-list.jpg Can soul food be healthy? PBS is looking for examples.

In conjunction with the upcoming broadcast debut of Byron Hurt's "Soul Food Junkies," PBS is asking viewers for their revamped recipes of traditional favorites.

"Soul Food Junkies," which will air in Sacramento on "Independent Lens" at midnight Jan. 21, explores the rich culinary tradition of soul food and its relevance to black cultural identity. Viewers also can watch the film (after Monday) and trailers now online at

Hurt's examination was spurred by his father, who stuck to his traditional soul food diet in the face of a health crisis and ultimately died at age 63.

In its healthy soul food makeover, PBS offers online seven revised recipes for such favorites as pulled pork sandwiches (shown here) and black-eyed pea fritters. But the network wants one more from viewers to complete its set.

The winning recipe will be featured on a printable (and post-able) recipe card. To submit an original recipe, send it to or fill out the form online. (Just follow the links from the "Independent Lens" home page.) Deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday.

January 9, 2013
Toast National Pizza Week (and big game) with beer dough

PRINT_5x7_300dpi_NewOrleansPizza_LowAngle_1296.jpg.jpg.jpg.jpg.jpg Here's a toast (and a twist) to National Pizza Week! (Yes, it's pizza week, now through Saturday.) Instead of beer and pizza, how about putting the beer IN the pizza?

Pizza expert Mark Bello of New York City's Pizza a Casa Pizza School ( perfected this recipe for The Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

Pizza, of course, is a popular pick for Super Bowl parties. The Big Game is Feb. 3 in New Orleans. So, Bello offers a twist on the classic Italian Margherita pizza with a spicy New Orleans' Big Game Pizza.

January 8, 2013
Try Kurtz Culinary Creations for luscious sauces and spreads

photo (1).JPGNext time you're strolling along Ocean Avenue in Carmel, pop into Kurtz Culinary Creations, near the corner of Ocean and San Carlos (831-625-5267).

You'll find hundreds of specialty foods, many available for tasting - jams and jellies, spreads and dipping sauces, marinades and dressings, curds and fruit butters.

"We have more items than I've ever counted," said owner Anne Just. "More than half are under the Kurtz brand from our family farm in Canada. The others are from premium companies from around the world. Surprisingly, we've introduced a lot of Californians to their own products."

The best-selling item on both sides of the border is the house-brand Asiago "bread topper," a brightly flavored mix of Asiago cheese, herbs and spices in grapeseed oil ($16.95), made in Ontario.

January 8, 2013
Thin Mints, anyone? Girl Scout cookie season starts Friday

cookie_tm.pngGet ready for some Thin Mints and maybe some Mango Cremes, too.

Girl Scout cookie season kicks off Friday as the young women in green start taking pre-orders for 2013.

After preorders, Girl Scouts will sell cookies at booths outside of local storefronts, Feb. 22 to March 17.

The price remains the same; $4 per package. After Friday, you can place an order from a local Girl Scout by calling the Cookie Hotline, (866) 472-6657 (GSCOOKS).

This year's cookies will boast a new look with redesigned packaging, emphasizing the skills girls learn while scouting.

There's a new flavor, too - "Mango Cremes with Nutrifusion," mango cream filling with real fruit nutrients and vitamins sandwiched between vanilla-coconut wafers. As always, Thin Mints - the most popular flavor - returns along with Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Shortbread, Lemonades and chocolate-dipped Thanks-A-Lot.

The Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012 and has been hosting cookie sales almost as long - since 1917. Each year, the organization sells more than 200 million boxes nationwide.

More than 29,000 girls are part of the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California council, based in Sacramento.

For more details, click on

January 8, 2013
Dine Downtown Restaurant Week coming Wednesday

ella.JPGThe early part of January typically gets tagged as a slow part of the year for the restaurant industry, but here in Sacramento, it's a favorite time of the year for foodies. That's because January means Dine Downtown Restaurant Week, in which restaurants around the central city offer special three-course menus for a reasonable $30 price tag. For example, Ella Dining Room & Bar will be offering first course options of treviso greens or nantes carrot soup, an entree of pappardelle with poached egg or cauliflower tagine, plus dessert. They'll also offer wine pairings for an additional $15.

Other participating restaurants include: Biba, Il Fornaio, Grange, Ten22, Mulvaney's B&L and about 30 more. Some participants, including Capitol Garage, Mayahuel and The Melting Pot are offering both vegetarian and gluten free options.

There should be an asterisk next to Dine Downtown Restaurant Week*, since in this case a "week" means Jan. 9 through Jan. 18. For the full list of participants, click on this link.

January 8, 2013
Formoli's will host fundraiser this Sunday for veteran server

2013 got off to a terrible start for Kristina Gonzales, the veteran server at Formoli's Bistro who lost all of her possessions when her home was ravaged by fire in the wee hours of New Year's Day.

The folks at the East Sacramento restaurant have rallied to support her, and after some brainstorming, have decided to host an informal fundraiser that just might turn something dismal into something memorable and fun.

This Sunday, Formoli's Bistro will host a brunch with a twist - the servers will cook and the chefs will serve. Don't expect the usual high-caliber dining experience you normally get at Formoli's, but it should be plenty of fun, with a few flubs here and there, perhaps, all for a good cause.

Gonzales is currently apartment hunting and will have to come up with a hefty deposit while trying to replace many of the necessities lost in the fire.

The brunch, which will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., is open to everyone. The chefs will bring out the food and serve it family-style. There will be omelets and blood orange mimosas, among other things. There is no specific charge for the food. Customers are free to make any kind of donation they can manage, be it cash (Formoli's asks that cash be placed in sealed envelopes) or things like towels, dishes or even furniture.

"We thought we would do something fun to get her spirits up," said Suzanne Ricci, who owns the restaurant with husband (and chef) Aimal Formoli. "I've known Kristina for about 10 years and she has worked for us for about five years. She is a loyal, dependable person and we think of her as family."

Formoli's is at 3839 J St., Sacramento. (916) 448-5699.

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

January 7, 2013
Pillsbury Bake-Off mixes up its $1 million recipe contest

thumb_pillsbury.gifThat venerable cookoff classic, the Pillsbury Bake-Off radically revamped its recipe for 2013. It's simpler, more diverse and ultimately more democratic.

For the first time, the public will determine all 100 recipes that will vie for the grand prize, Pillsbury announced Monday. The creators of those recipes will compete Nov. 10-12 in Las Vegas for more than $1 million.

"We're excited to roll out changes to the ever-classic Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest," said Jann Atkins, Bake-Off kitchens manager. "We know consumers crave recipes that are delicious, yet easy to make, so adding an ingredient limit allows us to provide inspiration for even the busiest families and novice cooks. And with voters selecting all 100 finalists, we hope to rally excitement and friendly competition across the country as people choose their favorites."

Recipes will be limited to seven ingredients (not counting table salt, black pepper or water) and must take less than 30 minutes to prepare (not counting baking or cooling time).

Home cooks will have more chances to win with three separate recipe categories and three entry periods:

- Amazing Doable Dinners: This category is open now through Feb. 7.

- Simple Sweets and Starters: Entry period runs from April 4 to May 9.

- Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts: Entry period runs from July 4 to Aug. 8.

For full details, click on

January 7, 2013
On the verge of closing, J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que gets a reprieve

Shortly after local TV stations reported Friday that J.R. Rothenberger's three iconic J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que restaurants would be closing their doors within five days "because of a slumping economy," crowds of loyal customers showed up to help save the day.

The new bottom line: "I'm still here and in the game," the outspoken 'cue master told me earlier today.

Rothenberger got a reprieve in the form of a $20,000 personal loan "from a friend" and will continue to deliver hard-to-find smoked brisket, deeply flavored pork and beef ribs, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey and hot links. "The Lord has worked this out," he said. "I'm cool."

January 7, 2013
Leading cocktail magazine lists Sacramento in Top 10 'places to visit'


One of my favorite facets of Sacramento's food and beverage scene is its thriving cocktail culture. Drop into one of our town's fine watering holes - be it Shady Lady, Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co., Red Rabbit and many more - and you'll find plenty of creativity, devotion to craft and some seriously tasty dranks. The editors of Imbibe magazine, a leading publication for the spirits industry (or "liquid culture," as they say), feel the same way. In its recent feature of "The Imbibe 75 - People, Places and Flavors that will shape the way you drink in 2013," Sacramento was named in its Top 10 of "places to visit in 2013." So sayeth the Imbibe editors:

"Unless you live close by, play in a touring punk band, or work in California
state government, Sacramento probably isn't on your list of cities to visit this
year. But you might want to add it to your travel plans--while its drinks scene
has flown under the national radar, it's gaining a lot of momentum locally."

The Sacramento shout-out then mentions the rise of Midtown Cocktail Week, the city's proximity to wine country and thriving restaurant and coffee scenes. We'd also like to add Sacramento's craft beer industry, the exceptional range of tequilas found around town (Zocalo, Azul, Mayahuel) and the great selection of whiskys offered at such locales as Pour House and de Vere's as reasons of why Sacramento's spirits scene rocks.

January 7, 2013
A morning of opposites -- warp speed and slow speed --in the test kitchen

I'm cooking two things in two very different ways today, utilizing the pressure cooker to make chicken thighs and rice in all of 10 minutes, and simultaneously loading up the slow cooker to make a whole chicken with fingerling potatoes and olive tapenade in 10 hours. Productivity experts might say that multitasking is a bad idea, so I'm counting this as a single task, albeit a slightly confusing one.

Pressure cooker II.JPGFirst, the pressure cooker. I am working on a story about these great and under-appreciated kitchen appliances, so I have been testing a variety of recipes with my Fagor Duo pressure cooker. This one, though, is for the three dogs. Yes, I'm also testing a book of canine recipes -- "Feed Your Best Friend Better" by Rick Woodford -- so I thought I would combine them this morning.

As some readers may recall, I did hard-boiled eggs in the pressure cooker, based on a technique I learned about on the excellent website Hip Pressure Cooking, which Laura Pazzaglia maintains from her home outside Rome, Italy. I have since done these eggs regularly, keeping some cooked eggs in the fridge for a quick, healthy protein snack. Check out Laura's work at

But this time, with Oscar, Macy and Abbey looking on with noses twitching, I made arroz con pollo for dogs -- boneless chicken thighs, a bell pepper, rice, oregano, rosemary, garlic powder and water. With the pressure cooker, this takes about 15 minutes, including some prep work.

Pressure cooker III.JPGThe standard method would be 45 minutes to an hour. I started cooking for the dogs a few months ago after gradually becoming dissatisfied with mass-produced packaged dog food, even if it was supposedly high-end kibble. I began cooking for the dogs with a product called Happy Dog Food, which is based in Salinas (locally, it can be purchased at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op). The food is uncooked, containing pearled barley, brown rice, split peas, sweet potatoes and several other healthy things for dogs. You cook that with meat you buy on your own. The dogs love it, so I thought I would explore other healthy things they can eat.

So I had the arroz con pollo dog food going quickly, while the human food I wanted to go slowly. As many of you know, cooking at home involves planning and, more importantly, timing. Because Lynn and I often like to do a workout after work, as well as go on long walks with the dogs, we're often pressed for time if we also want to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Sound familiar?

The beauty of the slow cooker is that you can make time work for you. The problem many people have with the slow cooker is that the recipes turn out to be disappointing -- soggy vegetables, uninspired meats, bland flavors. At The Bee, we recently received a copy of a new book that sounds promising, "Mediterranean Slow Cooker" by Michele Scicolone. I'll be trying several recipes in the days ahead in preparation for a short story in The Bee about this book.

slow cooker.JPGThe first recipe, roasted whole chicken with tapenade, is quite simple. I bought a so-called "Smart Chicken" and fingerling potatoes at Compton's Market this morning. You mince some garlic and fresh rosemary, mix it into an olive tapenade (from a jar or you can make it yourself). You put half of this mixture into the cavity of the bird and rub the rest onto the outside. You put the chicken on top of the potatoes in the slow cooker, put on the lid and you can go on with the rest of your day.

I set the cooker for 10 hours, meaning that it can simmer and stay warm longer than that. After work, we can do what we need to do, get our workouts finished and not feel rushed. Then we can eat -- after, of course, I feed the dogs their arroz con pollo, which is waiting in the fridge. To be honest, this is the second time I've made this recipe for the dogs, and it smells so good I almost grabbed a serving for myself!

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

January 4, 2013
Countdown to BaconFest: The pork descends upon Sactown

Mulvaney.jpgBaconFest came out of nowhere last year at this time and blew people away. It was fun. It was popular. It created a buzz. And best of all, it brought plenty of traffic into the area's restaurants. That's top chef Patrick Mulvaney pictured getting in some heavy lifting

The second annual BaconFest is coming and there's even more excitement building. This celebration of all things bacon -- including some pretty incredible doughnuts at Doughbot -- begins Jan. 20 with an opening night party at Hook & Ladder, and concludes with the second annual Chefs Challenge at Mulvaney's on Jan. 27. Brad Cecchi of Grange returns as the defending champion.

It was quite a spectacle on S Street when the California Pork Producers Association recently delivered three whole hogs and 20 pork bellies free of charge in preparation for the finale. Tickets for the contest can be purchased online for $30 at Eventbrite. Click here to buy tickets.
Renowned food and wine expert Darrell Corti will be among the judges for the Chefs Challenge.

Scoff, sneer and overlook this week-long event at your peril. Restaurants are lining up to get in on this, featuring something special and bacon-centric on their menus during the week. The serious foodies try to check off as many places as possible on the list.

Doughbot.jpgIf you're into the dining scene, be it food trucks, casual eateries or fine dining destinations, there's plenty here for you. Personally, this year I'm planning on tasting every bacon-related dish on offer. Checking the line-up, I've eaten at every place except LowBrau, which opened on New Year's Eve in a great spot at 20th and K.

Here's a list we received from the BaconFest organizers. As you'll notice, some of our best restaurants are involved.

Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co.
Formoli's Bistro
Enotria Restaurant Winebar
Old Ironsides
Magpie Cafe
Shady Lady Saloon
Pangaea Two Brews Cafe
Selland's Market-Cafe
Bacon & Butter
The Golden Bear
Mulvaney's B&L
Yellowbill Cafe
The Waterboy
The Eatery
Boulevard Bistro
Bows & Arrows
Lucca Restaurant
Ella Dining Room & Bar
Restaurant Thir13en
Grange Restaurant
Gold Rush Grill
State Bear
Sacramento Bartenders Guild
Testa Duro Salumi
The Republic
Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen
Broderick Bar & Grill

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

January 4, 2013
Sacramento is a burger kind of town, so what's your favorite?

IMG_0055.JPGConsider the hamburger, in concept a simple meal. The reality is something else.

We've made a national obsession out of a sandwich that originated as beef tartare in the Baltic province of Russia. In the 1800s, the story goes, German sailors brought back the strange dish to Hamburg, a seaport town, where somebody was inspired to roll up a handful, flatten it and cook it. The burger as we know it debuted at the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904.

Our town is blessed with hamburgers. Big burgers, little burgers (sliders), Wagyu beef burgers, hand-formed burgers, fully loaded burgers, half-pound burgers, steakhouse burgers (think Morton's, Land Ocean and Chops) and even a burger made from ground Niman Ranch shortrib meat. That one is at Maranello in Fair Oaks, and is topped with manchego cheese, Little Gem lettuce, tomato confit, onion straws and a "dijonnaise" of house-made mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, with a side of skinny twice-cooked fries (916-241-9365,

Raley Field was packed with burger-lovers last September, when Elk Grove website designer Rodney Blackwell ( organized the inaugural Sacramento Burger Battle. Fifteen restaurants flipped their best offerings in a sizzling judged throwdown. When the smoke cleared, the winner was the Chef's Table of Rocklin (916-771-5656,

For a great burger at a bargain price, our vote goes to the prime-beef burger with fries (pictured) served during Ruth's Chris steakhouse's happy hour, dubbed "Sizzle, Swizzle & Swirl." The thick, juicy burger normally goes for $13.50, but it's yours for $7 from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, in the bar area.

Where: In the Pavilions center on Fair Oaks Boulevard near Howe Avenue, (916) 286-2702; and in Roseville in the Galleria center on Galleria Boulevard, (916) 780-6910. Visit

So, what's your favorite burger and/or burger deal? Share your picks in "Comments" below.

January 4, 2013
Spoto Wines to star at Firehouse winemaker dinner


One of the things that distinguishes The Firehouse as an excellent restaurant is its enduring commitment to wine dinners. They're major events in their own right, featuring multi-course prix fixe menus with wine pairings from some of the best producers going. The next such dinner, on Jan. 25, will showcase Spoto Wines, a rarity in the California wine trade. These highly regarded wines are made with grapes from the Oakville appellation at Spoto's tiny winery in a residential neighborhood in Sacramento.

This is where the Firehouse staff really demonstrates its knowledge, hospitality, talent and keen attention to detail. As I noted in my review in April, these special wine dinners also offer executive chef Deneb Williams an opportunity to showcase his impressive repertoire in an expanded and sometimes edgier way than what guests might encounter during a regular dinner or lunch.

"I'm very honored to be featured there," Spoto told me when I asked about the Firehouse event. "When I see the magnitude of the wineries they've had in the past, I've got some big shoes to fill."

January 3, 2013
Fundraiser in works for Formoli's server whose home was destroyed in a fire

I spoke with chef Aimal Formoli on Wednesday about the plight of longtime Formoli's Bistro employee Kristina Gonzales. Those who have dined at this East Sacramento gem have probably encountered her professional and personable service style. In 2009, Gonzales made my list of best servers of the year.

2013 did not get off to a good start for her. In the wee hours of New Year's Eve, the Victorian home where Gonzales lived was severely damaged by fire, making the the dwelling uninhabitable. All of her possessions were destroyed, Formoli told me.

The chef said he and others are quickly putting together a fundraiser to help Gonzales get back on her feet. Stay tuned on this blog for more information as those details become clearer. We certainly wish Gonzales the best and hope that her colleagues in the restaurant profession respond in force to help her out. She deserves it.

Here is what was posted on the restaurant's Facebook page:

"Some unfortunate news for one of our Formoli family members. If you watched the news at all in the last few days, the house on P street was our lovely server Kristina's home. Kristina is one of our longest standing employees at Formoli's and we care deeply for her. We need everyone's help!!! We are working on a fundraiser for Kristina to help replace some of the things she lost. We will update you all. Hope everyone in our industry could come support. Event details will be posted soon. Hope everyone had a happy New year!"

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

January 3, 2013
Update: County Jail will emphasize customer service after all

main_jail.jpgThings are looking up for those who have visited the Sacramento County Jail, as I did recently, only to encounter uniformed deputies who weren't exactly embracing the idea of good manners and cordial service to the public.

When I wrote about that bewildering experience last week - and sought to compare and contrast it with the kind of service we see at restaurants - it didn't sit well with a certain captain of the Sacramento Sheriff's Department. Rick Pattison is the commander of the jail, meaning he's in charge. As luck would have it, Pattison is also a well-traveled and discerning dining enthusiast. Pattison got word of the blog post while traveling and took time to read it while waiting for a flight at the Salt Lake City airport.

aclk.jpgPattison called me when he got back in town and responded in the way any excellent business or institution would. He didn't make excuses. He apologized. And he pledged that things would get better. It was as if he had read the book "Setting The Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business" by the great New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer. In fact, when I listed a couple of books in my post, including "Lessons in Service From Charlie Trotter," Pattison said he immediately thought of the Meyer book.

January 2, 2013
Remembering The Broiler's Marylou Lords

This past Sunday, The Bee remembered the artists -- musicians, painters, actors -- who passed away in 2012. But what about those creative souls in the kitchen? Here, Chris Macias memorializes the gracious, down-to-earth Marylou Lords, who had a sizable impact on our city's restaurant scene.


Sacramento restaurateur
July 24, 1945 - Aug. 23, 2012

For a quarter century, Marylou Lords helped bring heapings of protein and a backdrop for power lunches in downtown Sacramento. Lords, who passed away in August at the age of 67, was co-founder of downtown's Broiler Steakhouse. The restaurant's proximity to the Capitol always made it perfectly suited for politicians, lobbyists and others with expense accounts to burn - not to mention Sacramentans who are simply hungry for a big hunk of beef and a side of au gratin potatoes. The restaurant originally opened in 1950 under a different ownership.

Photo caption: A portrait of steak on the hoof looks down on diners in the Broiler in downtown Sacramento.

January 2, 2013
LowBrau celebrates grand opening on New Year's Eve

photo (13).jpg

The new year rang with grand opening of LowBrau, a much anticipated German styled beer hall with a sausage-focused menu at 20th and K streets. LowBrau takes over the former spot of Lounge ON20, which shut down in May after a challenging four year run. Meanwhile, on Dec. 31, LowBrau hosted a sold out crowd which included a live performance by the electro-pop Sony recording artist St. Lucia, plus sets from leading local DJs.

Many folks have a business stake in LowBrau. Two members of its ownership group are fairly new to the restaurant industry. Clay Nutting is best known as a local music promoter behind "Concerts 4 Charity," while Michael Hargis' background is primarily with interior design. Nutting and Hargis collaborated this summer to present LAUNCH 2012, a six day festival of music and fashion that culminated with a concert at Cesar Chavez Plaza featuring DJ Shadow and the Joy Formidable. The ownership team behind Shady Lady - Jason Boggs, Alex Origoni and Garrett Van Vleck - are acting as consultants for LowBrau. They're helping to design the food and cocktail programs among other functions, and also have an ownership stake in LowBrau.

I dropped by LowBrau last Friday for a sneak peek of LowBrau, and so far so good. (The pic above is from the soft opening, not the sold out shindig). The new design has more of a funky, quasi-industrial feel and the bar moved closer to the center of the room. Gone are the South Beach-isms and wanna-be Vegas VIP flavor of Lounge ON20. LowBrau is more about wood furnishings, including community tables, that feel comfy and welcoming.

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