March 30, 2013
Lawson out as GM at Enotria, raising many questions about short-lived tenure (updated)


(NOTE: This item has been updated as of 3:15 p.m. to include a brief comment from Anani Lawson sent via text message.)

Anani Lawson, whose vaunted work history includes a total of 10 years as sommelier at two of America's greatest restaurants, arrived in Sacramento amid plenty of fanfare, taking the reins at Enotria and pledging to transform it into a Michelin-starred restaurant.

But his arrival also came with questions about why a man with such a distinguished track record would settle down in a city where, among other things, the vaunted Michelin Guide doesn't even rate restaurants. Now there are even more questions as Lawson's tenure as general manager of Enotria has ended abruptly.

The news about Lawson has already started to gain traction among insiders in the local restaurant scene, though no one is saying exactly what happened.

Lawson did not return a phone message for an interview, but in a brief text message, he stated: "Family emergencies have come up where I couldn't spend that much time in Sacramento on a full-time basis. Enotria is in good hands and will prosper due to the efforts of their entire team."

Bruich.jpegExecutive chef Pajo Bruich, whose work has taken Enotria to new heights since he started there in the fall, initially confirmed the news about Lawson's departure via a text message Friday night. In an interview Saturday morning, Bruich said the personnel change should not be seen as something negative.

March 29, 2013
Pour House slammed with demand for its winning Bloody Mary mix


The hottest cocktail in town just might be the Bloody Mary at midtown's Pour House. And we're not necessarily talking in the spicy sense - though the Sriracha salt used by Pour House in its Bloody Mary adds some nice heat - but in a business sense. Since The Bee's story about Bloody Marys in Wednesday's Food & Wine section, Pour House has been swamped with Bloody Mary orders.

The story focused on Pour House's Bloody Mary mix, which was created by general manager Jason Poole and led to him earning the title of "California's Best Bloody Mary" in a competition by Absolut Vodka. In the national round of this contest, Poole placed second. Given this news, on Wednesday Pour House sold out of its Bloody Mary mix, which sells for $9 a quart. Some customers hoping to buy a bottle had to be added to a waiting list. That meant Poole was up into the wee hours of Thursday morning crafting enough Bloody Mary mix to satisfy demand.

March 29, 2013
Fish taco hits the spot at Gordon Biersch Tavern at Galleria

taco.JPGAs mall food courts go, the one at the Galleria in Roseville is a cut above. The spacious (and always crowded) second-floor dining area offers a wide range of ethnic-oriented choices - American, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese.

We dropped by the Galleria the other day and serendipitously grabbed a bite at the Gordon Biersch Tavern, under an umbrella at a little table for two.

The server was efficient and courteous, and twice the manager stopped by to check on our well-being. Nice touches for a food-court restaurant, where a top priority is turning tables - though we never felt rushed.

The brief menu offers fish tacos, wings, roasted turkey sandwich, a cheeseburger, sliders and "signature garlic fries" ($2.50 to $10).

This being a brewery restaurant, there's plenty of German-style beer on tap. GB started in Palo Alto in 1988 and now has 36 fast-casual taverns across the nation, including Hawaii.

We found a winner with the fish taco (pictured). Blackened mahi joins pepper jack cheese, lettuce, mildly spicy remoulade (think aioli) and salsa in a crunchy blue-corn tortilla nestled inside a soft flour tortilla ($4.95); we added avocado for $1 more.

We hit the tacos with shots of Cholula hot sauce and took big bites. Wow! Were we on the Baja peninsula?

Get it 1151 Galleria Blvd., Roseville; (916) 772-2739,

March 27, 2013
QVC's Venable tweaks tradition with Easter ham glaze

hamglaze.jpg Tired of the same old ham? QVC host and cookbook author David Venable ("In the Kitchen with David: QVC's Resident Foodie Presents Comfort Foods That Take You Home") likes to mix it up with some tweaks to traditional favorites.

"Like most holidays, Easter menus tend to be very traditional and filled with dishes deemed 'family classics,' " Venable said. "I love classics -- especially if they're any sort of comfort food classic. But every once in awhile, it pays to try a new recipe."

March 27, 2013
Crowds in Granite Bay camp out for Chick-fil-A's 'First 100'

It's happening again, right now, this time in Granite Bay, all because of a chicken sandwich.

No, that crowd of people camped out along Douglas Boulevard isn't there to make a statement about the U.S. Supreme Court's ongoing deliberation over Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage. Nor is it linked to controversial statements on same-sex marriage made last year by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy.

Instead, those folks are congregated at 4040 Douglas Blvd. waiting for Thursday's morning's grand opening of the Sacramento area's fifth Chick-fil-A, bringing the total number in California to 62.

March 27, 2013
Lunch at Waterboy, a chat with former teen idol Fabian Forte

fabian.JPGFabian Forte was in town for a few days, visiting with his son and daughter-in-law, Christian and Mercedes Forte, and with his two grandchildren. I joined Fabian and Christian for lunch at the estimable Waterboy, chef Rick Mahan's restaurant at 20th Street and Capitol Avenue in downtown.

You remember Fabian, right? He was one of the groomed-and-packaged teen idols of the late 1950s and 1960s to come out of Philadelphia, a star on "American Bandstand," the guy who rocked the worlds of hysterical teen girls.

"The singing sensation of the nation" had his share of hits ("Turn Me Loose," "Tiger") before signing a movie contract and moving to Los Angeles. His filmography is impressive - 30-plus movies, including "High Times" with Bing Crosby, "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" with Jimmy Stewart, "The Longest Day" with Henry Fonda, "North to Alaska" with John Wayne.

salmon.JPGFor the past 28 years, he and longtime pals and fellow teen idols Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell have toured their show, "Golden Boys," around the nation. Last summer they were in Reno for "Hot August Nights," but not this year.

"We used to do 90 shows a year," said Fabian, 70, digging into a gorgeous salmon fillet (pictured). "Now we play cemeteries - we don't have to worry about the sound system. No, really, we do 25 shows a year. It gets me out of the house."

"The house" is on 40 rural acres outside Philadelphia, shared with his wife, Andrea Patrick-Forte, 52, a former Miss Pennsylvania-USA.

"I've never been happier," Fabian said. "I ride my ATV and tractor and cut the grass. Where I grew up, there wasn't any grass.

"I'm looking forward to spring, when I can plant my garden - tomatoes, corn, you name it," he added. "I don't even water it and it grows. I just got a (gas-fueled) Weber grill and I'm waiting to get the searing thing going - lamb, fish, vegetables."

pasta.JPGChristian and Mercedes Forte own Fabian's Italian Bistro in Fair Oaks. On one wall is an iconic black-and-white photo of Fabian at 15, looking 25, in a suit and well-oiled hair, taken by famed portrait photographer Richard Avedon.

"We named the restaurant after my dad as (an homage) to our family and heritage," Christian Forte said, finishing a bowl of seafood-filled squid-ink pasta (also pictured).

Last summer, Fabian was among the guests of honor at the San Francisco Bohemian Club's exclusive retreat in the luxurious Bohemian Grove campground in Monte Rio. Its membership consists of megastars in the arts, politics, business and media.

"For years they asked me to go, but I told them I don't camp," Fabian said with a laugh, then went on for 15 minutes to say how incredible the experience was.

We declined dessert, but I had one last question. Who is Fabian's favorite singer?

"Bob Seeger," he said without hesitation. "He's a rocker whose songwriting speaks to me. When you see him perform live, you want to shoot yourself because you know you'll never do anything like that."

Fabian paid the bill and we left. Rock on.

March 27, 2013
Question for readers: Is this the new style of family dining?

Last night we visited a pretty decent neighborhood restaurant and bar. It's more casual than upscale, but it's a serious enough place that you would expect good behavior and manners from the customers.

That's pretty much what we found, though we spotted one family of four behaving in a way I just found bewildering. The parents were in their mid to late-40s. The kids were about 9 (a girl) and 6 or 7 (a boy). The parents ordered a couple of beers. Dad looked at his phone several times, reading something while mom sat there. But the kids, they both had full headphones on and had their own iPads. They were immersed in their own little worlds.

I couldn't tell what the girl was watching, but the boy was on Netflix and was watching a movie. The parents never looked at them and never said anything. The two kids never looked at the parents and never exchanged words.

While the behavior troubled me, it wasn't disruptive, and it certainly wasn't any of my business. But I wanted to bring it up here and get some feedback.

Is this normal? OK family time? Unacceptable? Have these parents simply given up and have come to rely on iPads to babysit so they can go out and enjoy a plate of pasta and a beer?

Families like this, right or wrong, are missing out on crucial experiences that can shape memories and strengthen relationships for all concerned. A night out at a restaurant is about sharing and connecting -- not only with one another but with the restaurant staff and maybe other customers. It's a public space, and we're supposed to behave differently in such settings.

Indeed, I can still remember dinners with the family -- the great ones, fun ones, botched ones, the ones where I had to get dressed up. They all mean plenty these days, and none of them happened while I was wearing headphones.

Trips to restaurants are also a learning experience for kids -- how to talk to strangers, how to order food, how to use good manners. These lessons sink in. They shape behavior and build character. When these kids are out on their own, will they even understand what it means to be in a public space and behave accordingly?

Let us know what you think.

March 27, 2013
Two produce award winners in Sacramento area

Two Raley's produce managers will be honored in May in San Diego by the United Fresh Produce Association as 2013 Retail Produce Manager Award Winners.

Thumbnail image for Raley.jpegRyan Acosta of Raley's in Sacramento and Corey Watkins of Raley's in Elk Grove were among the 25 winners selected from hundreds of nominations submitted by retailers and produce suppliers across the industry.

According to a United Fresh press release, the awards recognize "those on the front-line in supermarkets working everyday to increase sales and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables."

Winners will be honored at a dinner and share their produce merchandising strategies during a produce trade show in mid-May in San Diego.

March 26, 2013
Chando's iPhone app: Mexican street food meets high-tech

Chando's app.JPG

When I heard that Chando's Tacos had launched a new iPhone app, it made me think of my favorite line from Lisandro "Chando" Madrigal when I reviewed his humble little place in February of 2011 - "We're high-tech Mexicans."

In fact, Madrigal was a successful employee in sales at Apple at the time he said that.

Since then, he left Apple to focus on Chando's, which has grown to two locations and a new custom-equipped 2013 model food truck (soon to hit the streets).

March 26, 2013
Chef Mike Ward leaves Sacramento for Tyler Florence's El Paseo

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Sacramento's culinary talent has been tapped yet again by the Bay Area. Mike Ward, former executive chef of Slocum House and sous chef at The Kitchen, was recently named executive chef of El Paseo in Mill Valley. This eatery is part of the restaurant group overseen by celebrity chef Tyler Florence, and includes the "red rocker" Sammy Hagar as a proprietor.

Ward's been on the new job just a week, and he's already rubbed elbows with one Hollywood starlet. In his first night on the job, the actress Jessica Alba was one of El Paseo's diners, and posted a pic of her red beet soaked deviled eggs on her Instagram feed. Ward got his own shot with Alba as well.

"She gave me a hug," said a still smitten Ward. "I won't front - that was pretty cool."

March 26, 2013
Biscuits drive home lesson to authors Dupree, Graubart

Author Photo Nathalie and Cynthia.jpg Common sense can be lost in translation - especially when it comes to cookbooks.

Cynthia Graubart, co-author with Nathalie Dupree of "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," offers this example from her own Atlanta kitchen:

"My son - who likes to cook - was home (from college) and he tried one of our biscuit recipes while we were working on the book," Graubart recalled. "He was about to put them in the oven when Nathalie noticed all this dough left on the board."

He said, "The recipe said 'makes 12 biscuits,' so I made 12 biscuits."

Most experienced cooks would roll out that extra dough into another biscuit or two, Graubart noted.

"It really brought home to us how careful we had to be with language," she said. "People read 'cut in butter,' and they use scissors."

(A pastry blender or two knives are the preferred tools.)

Dupree and Graubart will demonstrate biscuit making at 3 p.m. April 3 during a visit to American River College, 4700 College Oak Blvd., Sacramento. Open to the public, the free demonstration will be held in the culinary lab (Room 505).

That's next door to the Oak Cafe, where the co-authors will sign copies of their new cookbook starting at 11:30 a.m. that same day. During the signing, the restaurant will serve two seatings of a special lunch featuring recipes from the book. For reservations, call (916) 484-8526.

For more about "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," recipe testing and a great gumbo, see

March 26, 2013
Relive St. Pat's day with corned beef (and pastrami) at Sam's


St. Patrick's Day came and went, but we're still dreaming about that corned Wagyu beef brisket and tender cabbage we feasted on for three days.

Which led us to Sam's Hof Brau on Saturday, looking for a hand-carved corned beef sandwich with a bowl of fragrant jus on the side for dipping.

Standing in the cafeteria-style order line, the thought struck: How about a combo corned beef-pastrami "heavyweight" instead? The counterman thought that was a good idea, too.

We admired his artistry with a carving knife as he sliced pieces off the two seasoned briskets in a blur of metal and meat and stacked them on rye bread. Also tempting: Polish sausage, chicken pot pie, veal cutlet and stuffed bell peppers.

Tableside, horseradish and hot mustard became involved with the delicious brisket duo, and the dipping jus was just the right touch.

Get it for $6.69 at Sam's, 2500 El Camino Ave.; (916) 482-2175,

How about some Sam's history:

March 22, 2013
Sean Minor Wines nabs two spots in Wine & Spirits poll

MINOR1.jpgSean Minor Wines, which is headquartered in Sacramento's Sierra Oaks neighborhood, received some news that ranks the company among the nation's best. The April issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine features its 24th annual poll of the favorite wines served in restaurants, and Sean Minor Wines received two nods.

In Wine & Spirits' list of "The Restaurant Top 50," Sean Minor Wines ranked No. 30, a listing which placed the company ahead of such stalwarts as Rombauer Vineyards and Robert Mondavi Winery. Cakebread Cellars of Napa earned the top spot in this polling of brands which received the strongest restaurant sales during the final quarter of 2012.

For the listing of most popular pinot noirs, Sean Minor Wines earned a very respectable No. 17 spot.

March 22, 2013
Plenty of exposure means cleaned-out shelves for bakery


Thursday was a big day for Pushkin's Bakery, the fledgling gluten-free/dairy-free bakery that opened on Valentine's Day. We featured the bakery in The Bee, complete with several photos and a story about the very likable young couple that opened the business, and an online photo slideshow.

Needless to say, the media exposure brought in plenty of new customers. Gluten-free eating is a growing business, not only for those with serious food allergies but for countless others looking for alternatives to wheat flour.

Co-owner Danny Turner said the article brought in many new customers - many with gluten-free needs.

"Most of our customers are young, but this was an older demographic and an established demographic, so it was great to see," he said.

Turner and his wife Olga, the baker, had heard that such an article would mean a busy day, so they baked twice as many items - and sold out by 5:30 p.m. They close at 7 p.m.

On the bakery's Facebook page, they wrote: "If you'd like to come by and just chit chat, come by. Otherwise, we're completely sold out of everything."

All of our customers were really happy for us," Danny Turner said.

If you missed the story, you can't miss it when you visit the bakery. The Turners offered a 15-percent discount to customers who brought in a copy of the paper - and they hung them on a wall in the shop.

Pushkin's Bakery is at 1820 29th St. (near S Street) in Sacramento.

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

March 21, 2013
Here comes the 'bride,' dressed in 1,000 French macarons

st.francis.jpgNext time your travels take you to San Francisco, carve out some time for a look a 6-1/2-foot-tall wedding cake made out of vibrantly colored French macarons (meringue-like cookies).

The mega-cake is inside the ornate lobby of the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square, next to the 157-year-old Viennese Magneta grandfather clock, a popular rendezvous spot for generations of San Franciscans. The cake is in celebration of the spring and summer wedding seasons, said a spokesperson, and will be displayed through May 6.

"Growing up in France, macarons were and still are my favorite dessert, and I find it very exciting that they've become the treat du jour here in the U.S.," says St. Francis executive pastry chef jean-François Houdré. "This wedding cake is a labor of love inspired by my childhood roots."

The chef and his staff devoted 75 hours to the cake, which is decorated with 1,000 handmade macarons in various sizes and flavors.

Upcoming at the St. Francis are Easter weekend lodging packages, children's activities, special programs and brunch. For more information:, 415-397-7000.

March 21, 2013
Capitol Dawg's 'hot Italian' is gone, but Ruffhaus' brat is a go-to

bratwurst.JPGWe've sorely missed our go-to wurst since Capitol Dawg shut its doors at Capitol Avenue and 20th Street last November. Our favorite was the "hot Italian" - a juicy Italian sausage on a seeded roll topped with a heap of hot giardineria, the Italian relish of spicy pickled vegetables.

There are other wurst options, one of which serves our substitute go-to dog. Ruffhaus lists five wursts on its recently expanded menu. We've tasted them all, but keep going back to the crisp, complexly flavored bratwurst that we dress semi-Chicago-style. We get it on a seeded bun topped with sport peppers and neon-green relish, with house-made potato chips (about $7.50 for the package; pictured).

Now, about neon relish, which looks like it might glow in the dark: In the 1930s, a certain preservative was commonly put into pickle relish that made it neon-green. The chemical hasn't been used for decades, but because neon relish is a part of Chicago's food lore, many companies there use a mix of mint and artificial food coloring to replicate the bright-green hue. Call it tradition.

Ruffhaus sources neon relish, giardineria and sport peppers from the Puckered Pickle in Chicago ( Ruffhaus is at 4366 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-3647,

Other dog-centric options include:
Wienery, 715 56th St., Sacramento; (916) 455-0497,
Wiener Works, 5207 Madison Ave., Sacramento; (916) 334-8711,
Parker's, 1605 Douglas Blvd., Roseville; (916) 786-2202,
Hotdogger, 29 E St., Davis; (530) 753-6291,
Burney's, 886 Lincoln Way, Auburn; (530) 887-1262.

March 20, 2013
Site of Sacramento area 2012 norovirus outbreak identified

In Wednesday's story about a possible norovirus outbreak at Mulvaney's B&L, a county public official noted that one norovirus outbreak had been confirmed for a local restaurant in 2012. Dr. Olivia Kasirye, county public health officer, initially declined to name the establishment. After a follow-up request from The Bee, Kasirye provided the information.

It turns out the outbreak didn't occur at a restaurant, but Sacramento Elks Lodge No. 6 on Riverside Boulevard near Florin Road. The lodge hosted an event in September of 2012 in which dozens of people were sickened. The lodge did not use an outside caterer, but provided food service themselves, said Kasirye. A county investigation interviewed 93 individuals, and confirmed 57 illnesses due to norovirus.

To report a possible incident of foodborne illness, call the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services: (916) 875-5881


* Sacramento County probes possible outbreak of norovirus at Mulvaney's restaurant

March 20, 2013
More on Hank Shaw: his poignant thoughts on killing for food


Yesterday we told you about local food blogger and author Hank Shaw's third nomination for a James Beard award. Today, I thought I'd give you an idea of why he was nominated and, more than that, why deserves to win.

One of the reasons I like Shaw and his work is because he is not smug about hunting and killing. His sensitivity is very admirable and, it seems, essential to the way he lives his life.

I eat meat -- in my job as a restaurant critic, I am obligated to eat nearly everything and be open-minded about it -- but I am also an animal lover. During my daily walks with the dogs along the river, I often see ducks and geese going about their business. Often, I will stop and marvel at the simple beauty and elegance of a duck skimming to a landing on the water's surface, or look upward and appreciate the power and precision -- and ingenuity -- of geese flying in formation, much the way we cyclists clumsily try to do it in a peloton to save energy.

Shaw's work centers around honest eating, and if you read him closely, you'll see that many who attend his talks haven't come to grips with all that he does. He kills the animals he eats. We -- those of us who eat meat in the modern world -- let others do it for us. We don't want to confront those twisted emotions.

On that note, here's a passage by Shaw on what it means to kill. And I have to say, the way he lives -- the honesty and integrity he exudes as he pursues his next meaty meal -- suggests he is operating on a higher plane than most of us.

March 19, 2013
Hank Shaw nominated for 3rd James Beard Award; Frank Fat's nominated as an American classic


Sacramento-area food blogger Hank Shaw has been nominated a third time for a prestigious James Beard Award and, in something of a surprise, venerable Sacramento restaurant Frank Fat's has received a nomination in a special category, "America's Classics."

Shaw, 42, a longtime newspaper journalist who parlayed a well-received blog into a new and successful writing career, says he is happy to be recognized once again by the James Beard Foundation - and he's not yet ready to think of himself as the Susan Lucci of the food-writing set.

"It's always great to be nominated," Shaw said. "James Beards are a big deal. There's a little bit of a Susan Lucci thing going on, but the most important thing is I've already podiumed. The worst I can do is a bronze medal."

Shaw's blog is called "Hunter Angler Gardener Cook," in which he chronicles his quest for what he calls "honest food...nothing packaged, nothing in a box, nothing wrapped in plastic." It can be found at Shaw's first book, published in 2011, is called "Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast." His second book, slated for an Oct. 1 release, is "Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild."

His competition for the Beard Award in the Individual Food Blog category is "Canelle et Vanille" by Aran Goyoaga, and "Vinography" by Alder Yarrow.

"What I'm most excited about is Fran Fat's being recognized in this manner," said Shaw.
The iconic local restaurant is nominated with four other restaurants in the America's Classics category.

The winners will be named at a ceremony in New York in May.

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

March 19, 2013
The proof is in the chocolate bread pudding (with gelato)

Though it sounds like a mundane dessert to the uninitiated, bread pudding can be a delight.

It's found in various world cusines and in seemingly every restaurant throughout the South. In its simplest form, it's stale bread softed with milk, bound with egg, spiced with mace or cinnamon, and sweetened with rum- or caramel-based sauce.

We discovered a chocolate-rich incarnation at Fabaian's Italian Bistro the other night. Resistance was futile.

Chef Tom Patterson combines Acme-brand challah (egg bread), heavy cream, eggs, sugar and cinnamon and bakes the base for 40 minutes at 450 degrees. Then he whips up cocolate sauce from Guittard chocolate - the brand used for See's candies - adds Guittard chocolate chips to it and pours it over the pudding. It's served warm with orange gelato from the Italian Ice Cream Co. in Folsom.

Get it while it lasts ($6.95) at 1755 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 536-9891, www.fabiansitalianbistro.

March 18, 2013
Dog-friendly food truck events scheduled for March

Most food truck festivals require that your beloved pooch and other pets be left at home. Now, three events are on the books that welcome both dogs and their owners. "Food Trucks 4 Fido" will offer a mix of communal dining, pet adoptions and other animal-friendly activities. This event series is sponsored by SactoMoFo, the Sacramento City Animal Shelter and Chef Michael's Dog Food Truck, which is an enterprise of Purina pet foods.

Animal adoptions are the goal of this event. Free dinner for two will be given at each event for the first 10 folks who adopt an animal. You'll also find pet grooming and free dog treats on site. The final event on March 28 also includes food truck vouchers for to the first 100 people.

Here's the rundown of events. Each one runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.:

March 18, 2013
Sonoma County Restaurant Week will serve through Sunday

spaghetti.JPGIf you have a taste for dining out, and enjoy winetasting and short drives, you should know that the fourth annual Sonoma County Restaurant Week starts today and runs through Sunday.

On the table: More than 115 restaurants will offer three-course prix-fixe dinners for $19, $29 or $39, along with optional wine-pairings. After all, Sonoma County is known for its many wineries.

Cuisines range from Italian, French and Japanese, to American and "wine country" - a term that usually translates to mean locally sourced and artisanal ingredients.

"The meals are across the board," said spokeswoman Audrey Bendowski. "We have burgers and pizza, but we have salmon and ribeye steaks, too."

For more information:

March 14, 2013
Darrell Corti named one of the 'coolest people in food & drink'

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In the latest example of Sacramento's culinary scene landing on the national radar, one of our own has been listed in "The 60 (Plus) Coolest People in Food & Drink" by That would be Darrell Corti, the grocer and gourmand behind Corti Brothers on Folsom Blvd. near 59th St.

Corti was described as "America's coolest grocer," and included with such fellow cool folks as David Chang of Momofuku, Mission Chinese Food's Danny Bowien and Daniel Boulud, who's among the most lauded chefs in the world. Said The Daily Meal about Corti:

"Of course, Corti is a grocer like Itzhak Perlman plays some fiddle. Corti is simply one of the most deeply knowledgeable food and drink experts in America, able to expound with equal authority on Chinese tea, Spanish vinegar, Central Asian wine, Italian pasta, and about 30,000 other gastronomic topics."

March 14, 2013
Gearing up for grilling season with new Flavor Infusers

Years ago, many adventurous home cooks who like to wrestle with whole turkeys moved beyond brining them in a spiced-saltwater solution and turned to the flavor-injection method. Turkey injector kits are sold in many barbecue-supply stores, sporting-goods and hardware stores, and online.

In this method, a big "syringe" is filled with seasoned marinade (or beer, wine, sherry, olive oil or whatever). Then the attached big-gauge needle is inserted into the turkey carcass at multiple sites and in various directions. The plunger is pushed with each insertion, spreading the liquid throughout. The injected turkey is refrigerated overnight, then smoked, deep-fried or oven-roasted the next day. The result is a juicer, more flavorful turkey.

In a smaller, far-less-hassle scenario, the French's company (of ballpark mustard fame) has introduced its new line of Flavor Infuser marinades. The theory is the same as above, but less ambitious and much easier for the weekend griller who's cooking, say, chicken breasts, pork loin, steak or fish.

Here's how: Remove the cap from the infuser, stick the plastic "needle" into the meat at several sites, remove slowly while simultaneously squeezing the plastic tube - slowly. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before grilling.

Flavor Infusers sell for about $3 each at supermarkets and come in four flavors - Sweet & Tangy Teriyaki, Classic Steakhouse, Zesty Italian and Caribbean Jerk.

While we waited for the charcoal in our Weber grill to burn down, we injected two chicken breasts (pictured), a filet of salmon, a thick porkchop and a market steak with the four flavors. The liquids certainly plumped up the meats. We found some marinade streaks when we cut into them later, but overall the infusers delivered what they promised - more juice, more flavor.

Caution: Because of the risk of cross-contamination on the injector tips, French's urges consumers not to reuse the plastic infusers. If you don't use a whole tube of liquid (which infuses up to four pounds), toss it.

For more information:

March 11, 2013
Too bad 'The Taste' can't visit Tuli Bistro, or vice versa

pizza.JPGAdam Pechal, chef and co-owner of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en, had a good run on the ABC-TV cooking competition "The Taste" before he was shown the door on Feb. 26. His appearances were chronicled at by my colleague, wine and food writer Chris Macias.

With that in mind, lunch pal Gloria Glyer and I walked over to Tuli to say hello. Gloria writes the weekly "Fundraisers" calendar for The Bee and is a former Dining Diva for Sacramento magazine.

Pechal wasn't in evidence, but we grabbed a patio table anyway and shared a "pollo caliente" sandwich and a Molinari salumi pizza (pictured).

The huge sandwich was tops - tender chicken breast, white cheddar, crispy onion, cabbage slaw and chipotle BBQ sauce on focaccia ($12). The accompanying skinny fries were smothered in terrific chili, chunky with succulent pork and al-dente beans, and gooey with melted cheese.

We think Tuli assembles one of the most well-balanced pizzas around, cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven that blisters the edges of the thin, chewy crust.
Ours was topped with Molinari-brand pepperoni, salami and hot coppa, rich sauce from fire-roasted tomatoes and just the right amount of mozzarella ($15).

Too bad Pechal couldn't have made those winners on "The Taste."
Tuli Bistro, 2031 S St., Sacramento; (916) 451-8854,

March 7, 2013
SactoMoFo 6 food truck festival coming April 27

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Ah yes, it's starting to feel like spring, the sun's shining a bit more and Daylight Savings is about to start. You know what that means ... time for a food truck festival!

SactoMoFo 6 is on board for April 27, and will be held once again at 6th and W streets in downtown Sacramento - the site of the Sunday farmers market. More than two dozen trucks from northern California are being booked, including such first-time SactoMoFo participants as Roli Roti. Many of the perennial favorites will also be whipping up their food truck fare, including Chando's Tacos, The Chairman and Krush Burger.

Here's a list of the mobile food vendors thus far:

March 6, 2013
Mikuni on Hazel Ave. re-opens today following December fire

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There's never a good time for a well-established restaurant to catch on fire, but this incident was an especially hard hit for the Hazel Ave. location of Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar. An early morning fire in late-December caused extensive smoke and water damage to the popular restaurant, with an estimated four months of closure while the restaurant was repaired. The fire started in the restaurant's HVAC system, causing $50,000 worth of damage.

"It was right before the rush of New Year's Eve, which is our best sales of the year," said Taro Arai, Mikuni's co-founder and executive chef. "That was a disaster. We had to call 200 people to cancel their reservations."

The upside is that Mikuni's repairs were finished ahead of schedule, and the restaurant re-opened today at 11:30 a.m. for lunch. The renovations didn't add many new changes at this Mikuni location, which opened in 1987 and has undergone four previous remodels. Customers, however, will find some brighter color schemes in the interior.

March 6, 2013
What's on the menu at salmon dinner? Uh, chicken and ribs

salmon.JPGDetermining the exact dates of the $1.4 billion salmon season is a complicated and, well, fluid exercise. Right now, the opening and closing dates are a work-in-progress, but it's fair to say that recreational and commercial salmon-fishing seasons will be from around mid-April to around the end of September, or maybe into October.

Helping the finny natural resource along is the Golden Gate Salmon Association, which will host its annual dinner (with appetizers and cocktails) and fund-raiser at 5:30 p.m. April 26 at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento; (916) 452-5881.

Tickets go fast and are on sale now at (855) 251-4472 and They're $80 per person, $140 per couple, $40 for ages 16 and younger. "Table Sponsor" packages for eight are $800 and include reserved VIP seating, raffle tickets and a drawing. Look for auctions hosted by auctioneers from the Discovery Channel's show "Auction Kings."

The GGSA's membership includes salmon fishermen and restaurants. So, what's for dinner? "You'd expect it to be salmon, but (the members) are around salmon all the time and they want to eat something else," said a spokesman. "There will be some salmon on the menu, but primarily it will be ribs and chicken."

March 4, 2013
Two J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que restaurants in Sacramento close

By Mark Glover

Two of three J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que restaurants in Sacramento closed for good over the weekend.

According to a Facebook posting, the restaurants at 3445 El Camino Ave. and 232 Jibboom St. closed Saturday.

Another J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que restaurant at 180 Otto Circle in south Sacramento remains open.

On Saturday, the restaurant's Facebook page posted a message that said "it's a sad, sad day for us at JR's Bar-B-Que. We hope you will come see us at 180 Otto Circle. Thank you all for the great run."

A Feb. 28 post cited "the economy and the (rising cost) of doing business."

J.R.'s has been marking its 25th year in business.

March 4, 2013
The Great Burger Hunt strikes it rich in Placerille

burger.JPGOutstanding burgers are where you find 'em, in this case at Cascada Mexican restaurant in Placerville.

The thick, juicy half-pound patty is made from prime-rib meat and sits on a lightly toasted ciabatta roll that can handle the heft.

Ours was topped with avocado, bacon, pepper-jack cheese and sauteed mushrooms, with a mound of crisp, well-seasoned fries ($11.95). Best strategy: Cut the monster into halves.

Get it at 384 Main St.; (530) 344-7757,

Tip: Sit at the bar for this meal; it's the best seat for people-watching and to overhear the inside chatter between the bartenders and the serviers.

March 4, 2013
Sacramento Food Film Fest features honey, sushi and more

beemovie.jpg Some movies go great with food, but these films explore food as a central topic.

Slow Food Sacramento will host its second Food Film Festival on March 15 and 16 at the Guild Theater, Broadway and 35th Street in Sacramento.

Local honey and sushi team up for the Friday night opener. To be screened at 5:30 p.m. March 15, "Quest for Local Honey" will be followed with a Q&A led by its Nevada City filmmakers. Then, Taro Arai of Mikuni and Billy Ngo of Kru will lead a sushi tasting and discussion of sustainable seafood, followed by the screening of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."

Saturday's day-long schedule features five films, each with its own discussion. Preceded by an 11 a.m. scavenger hunt, "What's On Your Plate?" - a youthful exploration into a city's food chain - kicks off the second day of the foodie film fest. At 1 p.m., "Community of Gardeners" - an exploration of seven community gardens in Washington, D.C. - will be followed with a discussion of what's happening here by Sacramento garden coordinator Bill Maynard.

Winner of the 2013 New York Food Film Festival, "Meat Hooked!" - about local butchers regaining popularity - will be screened at 3 p.m. March 16. That's followed by "American Harvest" (4:15 p.m.) - a candid look at migrant labor - and "Symphony of the Soil" (6:30 p.m.) with special guest, filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia.

Tickets are $55 for both days, $40 for Friday's honey-sushi gala or $25 for all day Saturday. In addition, Saturday's films are available individually at $7.

Proceeds benefit Slow Food Sacramento and the California Food Literacy Center. For a complete schedule and tickets, click on

March 4, 2013
Sacramento Beer Week wrap-up: long lines, big business for festivities

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Sacramento Beer Week, a celebration of all-things ale that brought significant boosts to many area businesses, wrapped up Sunday with long lines and a few logistical challenges.

More than 76 area businesses participated in the 10-day event, offering a selection of happy hour specials, beer dinners and tastings geared towards enthusiastic hopsheads. Dylan Mauro, owner of Samuel Horne's Tavern in Folsom, was surrounded Monday morning by tapped kegs left over from Beer Week. He said that business doubled during the event, including a line 100 deep for a "Hop Rodeo" event on Saturday featuring coveted craft beers.

"It's our biggest week of the year by far," said Mauro. "We're busy from the second we open until we close our doors. It all went smoothly. We were staffed up to make sure we could handle it."

March 4, 2013
Updated: Pyramid Alehouse on K Street closes after 10 years

Information is very limited at the moment, but we are pursuing a story about the sudden closing of Pyramid Alehouse, the popular brew pub on K Street downtown.

We have contacted the company's corporate office in Seattle for an explanation. So far, the only thing we know is what's posted on the local pub's Facebook page:

"As of today, Monday, March 4, the Sacramento Pyramid Alehouse has permanently closed its doors. It's been an amazing 10 years and we want to thank all of our loyal customers who have become friends."

Along with the now-shuttered Sacramento location, Pyramid Brewing has what it calls "alehouses" in Berkeley, Walnut Creak, Portland and Seattle. The timing is odd, to the say the least, coming a day after the end of the very successful 4th annual Sacramento Beer Week.

Here's an update:

We're not getting a lot more from corporate, but here's s a lengthier statement about the closure.

"The Pyramid Sacramento Alehouse business has declined due to economic, social and competitive factors affecting downtown businesses in the area. The Sacramento location will close on March 4, 2013. Employees have been notified and offered severance," said Glenn Hancock, Pyramid Breweries.

"We want to thank all of our Sacramento employees for their hard work and years of service and the Sacramento community for their patronage," said Hancock. "Pyramid Breweries will focus resources on Alehouse locations with breweries in California, Oregon and Washington, along with our successful location in Walnut Creek. Brewing beer and creating an experience around beer is at the heart of what we do."

Note the mention of the poor economy, along with other "competitive factors." Hard to say which sunk Pyramid. The location may have played a role, too. That said, the best places in town are really humming, despite what the leading economic indicators suggest. We went to Magpie Cafe for brunch on Sunday and couldn't get a table. We went to Red Rabbit recently for dinner and the wait was over an hour. Hot City Pizza during Beer Week? The line was out the door. And I was just in Santa Rosa, where folks stand in lines for up to seven hours to drink Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing. Sure, this economy is tough for many. But what it does more than anything is magnify weaknesses.

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

March 1, 2013
Beer Week: Final weekend highlights


Pardon the pun, but hope you're not tapped out already from Sacramento Beer Week. As noted before, a "week" in the Sacramento Beer Week world means closer to 10 days, and this year's edition has already been packed with good times. We're talking epic lines and interest for the much ballyhooed Pliny the Younger, a beer dinner at Pangaea Two Brews Cafe with guest chef Billy Ngo and various kegs of Hitachino Nest ales (my personal favorite brewery) and more than 100 individual events.

Beer Week events will continue to foam over this weekend. Check out its official web site for a full listing, and for now here are some quick picks:

Barrel-Aged Day at Davis Beer Shoppe: Brewers are increasingly using casks for wine and whiskey to age beers. This adds new layers of flavor and aroma complexity, and especially an added fruitiness when wine barrels are used. Davis Beer Shoppe (211 G St., Davis) has eight barrel-aged beers to sample today, and can also be purchased in a flight.

March 1, 2013
Doughbot to strut its deep-fried stuff on 'Doughnut Masters'

doughnuts.JPGThe doughnut can be a work of art, as proven by a few doughnut shops around town - like Doughbot, whose motto is, "Resistance is futile." Its pastry expertise is on display from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Get there early for such exotic flavors as chocolate-caramel-stout (for Sacrmento Beer Week) and peanut butter-jelly-blood orange.

Meanwhile, Sacramento-area doughnut cognoscenti aren't the only ones who think highly of Doughbot's pastries, created by husband-wife co-owners Bryan and Dannah Widener.

Late last year, the couple traveled far north and crossed the border to compete on a new half-hour show created by Food Network Canada. "Doughnut Masters" will star doughnut-makers from 30 American and 12 Canadian doughnut shops.

Each episode will feature three contestants who must make doughnuts from three "secret ingredients." Judges choose a winner, who walks away with $10,000. That's right - they're handing out 10 grand a week.

Though the taping is a done deal and the show is scheduled to premiere at 10 p.m. April 2 on Food Network Canada, the Wideners can't talk about how they fared or who the winners and losers were.

"Our contract states we can't talk to anybody about it, and (the producers) are really serious about that," Bryan Widener said on the phone today.

Fair enough - but let's hope Food Network USA picks up the show so we can see for ourselves. Meanwhile, check out some of the "Doughnut Masters" audition videos on YouTube. Sorry, but Doughbot's isn't among them.

Doughbot is at 2226 10th St., Sacramento; (916) 444-5157,

March 1, 2013
Local chefs react to mayor proclaiming 2013 as 'Year of Food'

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The announcement of a bid to keep the Sacramento Kings in town wasn't the only news coming from Mayor Kevin Johnson's "State of the City" speech on Thursday night. Johnson proclaimed 2013 as Sacramento's "Year of Food," with initiatives that include a major food festival in September, chef showcases and food education. This decree stems from Johnson branding the Sacramento as "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital" in October (as pictured above).

"There's no better theme to capture who we are and what we should be known for," said Johnson on Thursday night. "We are so lucky to have some of the nation's most impressive culinary talents in the city and we're excited about showcasing them."

Chefs Patrick Mulvaney and Adam Pechal stood in support of this announcement. Both chefs broke away from their nightly cooking duties, including Pechal hosting a Sacramento Beer Week dinner at his Restaurant Thir13en, to hear the mayor speak in support of food. In the hallway of the Memorial Auditorium following the State of the City, both chefs were happy with what they heard.

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