Appetizers
April 29, 2013
SactoMoFo 6 matches record attendance

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The local food truck movement shows no signs of slowing down.

SactoMoFo 6, which was held Saturday at 6th and X streets, drew a crowd which matched its record attendance. The California Highway Patrol told SactoMoFo organizers that attendance was estimated between 8,000 and 10,000 people. Those numbers match the debut of this mobile food festival in April of 2011, which was held in midtown's Fremont Park.

Saturday's event featured more than two dozen food trucks and lines in some cases lasted more than an hour long. At its peak, the line for The Chairman Truck lasted 75 minutes - a long time to wait for an order of steamed buns.

Attendance had dipped at SactoMoFo 3 to about 5,000, which was held in December of 2011. Organizers credit Saturday's near perfect weather and other close-by events, including the debut of midtown's farmers market at 20th and J streets, for bringing plenty of traffic to SactoMoFo 6.

April 29, 2013
Zinfest is a celebration of all things zinfandel -- and much more

zinfandel.JPGWith 80 wineries and tasting rooms and 750-plus grape growers invested in 100,000 acres of vineyards, the Lodi area is obviously well-positioned to host the annual Zinfest, a celebration of zinfandel. The red wine is famous for its flavors of berry, licorice and black pepper.

Tasters can choose from among 200 wines (zins and other varietals) from more than 40 area wineries, and stroll the banks of the Mokelumne River, enjoy live music and wandering entertainers, buy wine-country goods from merchants, and dine on regional cuisine from many of San Joaquin County's restaurants.

Not enough? Chefs, wine experts and guest speakers will host cooking classes, wine-pairing lessons and hands-on seminars, including how to blend your own zinfandel.

Zinfest will be noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 18 at Lodi Lake Park, 1101 W. Turner Road in Lodi. Tickets are $45 in advance, $55 at the door. Advance tickets are at www.zinfest.com/wine-festival and at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, 2545 W. Turner Road in Lodi, (209) 365-0621.

April 29, 2013
Get in the mood for 'cue season with Smoke & Fire

tri-tip.JPGOne way to get a belly full of inspiration for the start of barbecue season is to show up at the second annual Smoke & Fire BBQ Cook-Off.

The 'cue fest will star competitive cooking crews from eight Sacramento fire stations, whose smoky offerings of tri-tip and pork ribs will be judged by a panel of experts, followed by an awards ceremony. It's sponsored by the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership.

The price is a bargain - $5 for a tasting, $10 for a heaped plate - with proceeds benefitting the Sacramento City Fire Volunteer Reserves.

Also: live music, beer garden, a display of antique fire trucks, community booths and more.

Check it out between noon and 4 p.m. Saturday May 4 at 1409 Del Paso Blvd., at the corner of Del Paso Boulevard and Edgewater Road. Information: (916) 923-6200, www.smokeandfirecookoff.com.

April 27, 2013
Live blog: SactoMoFo6: Sacramento food truck festival

April 27, 2013
Capital City International Beerfest begins at 2 p.m.

By Blair Anthony Robertson

brobertson@sacbee.com

The second annual Capital City International Beerfest is today from 2-5 p.m. at Turn Verein Hall, 3349 J St., Sacramento. Tickets are $25 if ordered online or $30 at the door.

The long list of beers being served is very impressive, and this gives newcomers and aficionados alike a chance to taste a great variety of beer styles.

The cost of admission gives you unlimited tastes, so keep that in mind when planning your transportation.

Gourmet hot dogs will be served by Heavenly Dog, and music is by Mere Mortals Band.

April 26, 2013
Ginger Elizabeth "Coffee Day" features one-time only desserts

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If you're a fan of Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates, as well as an admirer of the great coffee scene that has grown up and flourished here in recent years, you won't want to miss "Coffee Day" at Ginger Elizabeth on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Ginger Elizabeth Hahn and staff have been planning and prepping for this for weeks, and the results look incredible. We managed to get a couple of photos of the coffee -centric desserts, including the opera cake (pictured above) featuring Four Barrel coffee from San Francisco, and the eclair (pictured below) using coffee from Old Soul.

A few weeks ago, I attended a cupping at Old Soul in which Hahn and her husband, Tom, tasted several coffees as they sought to select one that would work best with the planned desserts. It was a meticulous, hour-long process of sniffing, tasting (with and without a spoonful of dessert), re-tasting and careful note-taking.

The collaborations with the other coffee roasters -- Temple, Chocolate Fish, Four Barrel, and Ritual (from the Bay Area) -- were just as thorough.

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Here are the coffee desserts available for Coffee Day (Tip: after Saturday, these desserts won't be available -- so get there early):


*Coffee Orange Blossom Ganache. $4.50

*Oeufs à la Neige (Floating Island): Macadamia Nut Crumble, Banana Custard and Old Soul Co. Coffee Crème Anglaise layered in a jar and topped with Chilled Poached Meringue. $6.50

*Ice Cream Pint: Cold Infused Chocolate Fish Coffee Ice Cream, Toffee Sauce Swirl with Ginger Elizabeth Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pieces. $9

*Opera cake: Caramelized Milk and Four Barrel Coffee Mousse, Four Barrel Coffee Jam, Valrhona 66% Caribe Chocolate Crémeux, Joconde Sponge, Chocolate Cake and Cocoa Crumble. $6.50

*Dessert Macaron: Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake Mousse, Anise Biscotti Crust, Temple Coffee Curd, Temple Espresso Gelée between two Lemon Macaron Cookies. $8

Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich: Ritual Roasters Coffee Caramel Ice Cream with Fleur de Sel Caramel Swirl. $5.50

*Éclair-: Crispy Pâte à Choux filled with Old Soul Co. Coffee Pastry Cream, Coffee Fondant. $4.50

*A selection of Coffee Inspired Chocolates, $1.50 and Macarons, $1.75

Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates is at 1801 L St. #60, Sacramento. (916) 706-1738.


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


RELATED: Chocolatier Ginger Elizabeth Hahn teams with coffee roasters for special dessert day

April 25, 2013
Second Chocolate Fish location up and running in East Sac

I finally had time to stop by the exciting new Chocolate Fish coffee shop on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento. As familiar as I am with these guys and as much as I like their coffee, I still came away very impressed.

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The employees, normally clad in T-shirts at the Chocolate Fish downtown (at Q and 3rd), look very sharp in dress shirts and vests (and some with neckties). It's a nice touch, and it makes it look like they mean business, which they definitely do.

Besides the obvious quality of the coffee -- the roasting, the execution of the espressos, cappuccinos and "flat whites" -- the most impressive thing is the decor. It's the best looking coffee shop I've ever seen, thanks to the custom work of Marc Foster, a furniture maker and craftsman you'll be learning more about soon.

Foster did the counters, fashioned out of a quarter-inch thick "rolled steel," which gives the normally cold material a warmth and softness. Foster also made the chairs, tables, shelving and the covering for the large wall behind the roaster -- rough-cut redwood pieces that give the wall a depth and texture that works so nicely with the deep grays of the steel counters.

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Foster is a real talent, and his work is definitely worth checking out over a great cup of coffee.

Besides the aesthetics, the new shop has plenty of functionality. It will serve as the hub for Chocolate Fish -- the new home of the roastery, as well as a training center and office. The roaster itself, is practically sculptural in its beauty. The pastries are from Yellowbill/Magpie. And if you choose to sit outside, you look across Folsom Boulevard to East Sacramento Hardware and OneSpeed Pizza.

Congratulations to Edie and Andy Baker, and all of the employees, on the launch of the second location. For serious coffee lovers in East Sacramento, this will be a great addition to the neighborhood.


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

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April 25, 2013
Live chat: Making the most of SactoMoFo6

April 24, 2013
Health woes force permanent closure of beloved Market Club

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By now, many of the regulars at the Market Club have begun to make peace with and mourn the bad news, that their beloved little out-of-the-way eatery was closed for good after decades of good food and service that made it seem like a second home.

Owner Jim Sakata suffered a heart attack in early April, shut the Market Club on an emergency basis and then never reopened. There was no farewell. No send-off. No party. No time to say goodbye and thanks for the memories.

Reached at his home, Sakata, 62, told me he suffered a heart attack within days of a health inspection report that forced the temporary closure of the restaurant. The inspector found rats droppings in a storage area. Sakata said he hired a crew to clean it up and take care of the problem, hoping to reopen soon.

"The next day, I just felt really lousy," he said. "I was home and got up to go to the bathroom and I just collapsed. I felt weak. There was a slight tightening in my chest. I'm fine now, but I don't think I can keep going the way I was going. I was working pretty much seven days a week. It was just me and my wife."

Started by Roy Tomita, the Market Club was beloved by many for the hearty cooking and the homey ambience. To a younger generation of foodies, the Market Club was the coolest little eating joint in town, with honest food and an impossibly cool location - tucked into a weathered old loading dock off 5th Street and Broadway. It served only breakfast and lunch, and it closed at 1 p.m.

Tomita sold the restaurant to Sakata about 18 years ago on the condition that everything stay the way it was - the same style, the same recipes, the same vibe, friendly and unassuming.

Sakata ran the place with his wife Mona, but really, they were married to the Market Club. It was their life. In bed by 8:30 p.m., up at 4 a.m. and open by 5:30 a.m. Customers had their favorite dishes, but the braised short ribs were the most famous, followed by the "broasted" chicken - chicken deep-fried under pressure so the skin was crispy and the meat tender and juicy. For breakfast, one of the late Tomita's old recipes - hamburger royal - was the most popular: ground beef, onions, oyster sauce and eggs over rice.

"After 18 years, we were getting a little tired," he said.

After the heart attack, Sakata and his wife, Mona, realized the restaurant was getting the best of them and it was time to move on. The Market Club never reopened. Sakata says the entire structure will eventually be torn down and new condominiums will be built at the site. The Market Club shared the complex with Produce Express, which sells to many of the area's best restaurants.

Asked if he had considered selling the restaurant, Sakata said, "I thought about it, but I think it would be cruel to sell it to some kid who dreamed of having his own restaurant. He would have to spend thousands of dollars to bring it up to code and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance. We never had any problems serving handicapped people, but were just flying under the radar as far as ADA compliance."

For now, Sakata is continuing to recover, resting at home. An 18 handicap golfer, he says he plans to spend more time on his game "and just enjoy life a little."

He also stressed that he wished he could have said so long to all of the regulars who made the Market Club such a beloved gem.

"I just want to thanks to all of our regular customers. Over the years, they've become friends. I know them by their names and what they order. It was just a very friendly place," he said.

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

April 24, 2013
Dine at Dawson's in support of the Sacramento Youth Symphony

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It's no big secret that school music have taken huge hits over the last few years, with scores of kids never knowing what it is to play an instrument and learn the likes of Brahms and Beethoven. That's why we applaud the Sacramento Youth Symphony for keeping orchestral music alive for young musicians throughout the area.

Some alumni have embarked on successful musical careers, including Eric Gorfain. The former Greenhaven resident from John F. Kennedy High School has become one of the top session violinists in the Los Angeles area, and toured with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and backed Christina Aguilera, Eric Clapton and many more.

But the Sacramento Youth Symphony still needs plenty of financial support. Along those ends, a fundraising dinner will be held Thursday at Dawson's Steak House inside the Hyatt Regency (1209 L St., Sacramento). 25 percent of proceeds will go towards the Sacramento Youth Symphony, and members will play in various small ensemble configurations from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

April 23, 2013
Chili cook-off coming to Folsom on Saturday

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Saturday's looking for a prime day to keep a bottle of Tums handy. Not only is SactoMoFo 6 coming to 6th and X streets with more than two dozen food trucks, but a most hearty chili cook-off will be happening that day in Folsom.

The Folsom Chili Cook-Off will feature teams vying for a $200 cash prize and invaluable bragging rights. A "people's choice" award will result in ribbons. Along with all that chili sampling, beer and other foods will be for sale, with proceeds going toward diabetes research. To top it off, the Cappuccino Cruisers will also be on the scene and showing off their very fresh rides from days gone by.

The cook-off will be held at 215 Scott St. in Folsom, and runs from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $8, and kids under 12 accompanied by an adult are free. Information: folsomchilicookoff.com.

April 22, 2013
Feast for the Streets tickets still available for Wednesday night

The 22nd annual Feast for the Streets, a food and wine event with a social conscience, is this Wednesday from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Temple.

The event features 36 restaurants and 10 wineries. Tickets are $50 per person, with proceeds going to Francis House, the local non-profit that serves as "an emergency room for homeless families and individuals," according to Steve Caruso, executive director.

Feast for the Streets is one of the biggest food and wine nights of the year and is a must-attend spectacle for local foodies. Among the restaurants involved are Grange, Mulvaney's, Tuli, Mama Kim Eats and Hook & Ladder.

"It was the foodie event before there were foodies," Caruso said. "It's quite the party.

Tickets are available online at www.feastforthestreets.com or francishouse.org. You can also get your tickets over the phone, (916) 443-2646.

While homeless issues are challenging and complex, Francis House makes a meaningful difference through its efforts, including handing out bus passes for the needy, helping secure missing state IDs and aiding employment efforts.

Why should folks attend Feast for the Streets?

"It's our major fundraiser of the year," said Caruso. "We're doing our small part to guide people who are homeless in the right direction to correct their situation or at least alleviate it for awhile. It's also a very fun event. When you have this many restaurants of this caliber, it can't help but be fun."

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

April 18, 2013
Taste Sacramento's signature white wine: Chenin blanc

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A movement's been afoot over the last year to designate chenin blanc as the Sacramento area's signature white wine. While plenty of white varietals grow in the region, including such consumer favorites as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, a growing argument is being made that Clarksburg chenin blanc best expresses this region's terroir for white wines. Even Jon Bonne of the San Francisco Chronicle agrees, saying recently that, "Clarksburg, in the Sacramento delta, is California's ground zero for this grape."

Local chenin blanc expressions range from pineapple fruitiness to leaner styles that are more aligned with France's Loire Valley. On Tuesday at Revolution Wines (2831 S St., Sacramento), local wine lovers can sample some of the area's best chenin blanc in a tasting sponsored by Green Restaurants Alliance Sacramento (GRAS).

The tasting will feature such local producers as Revolution Wines, Bogle (which has grown chenin blanc for decades), Clarksburg Wine Company, Dancing Coyote and more. The tasting runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and costs $10. A following Slow Foods Sacramento mixer runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., which features appetizers from Revolution Wines' bistro and includes more wines. The cost is $18. Or, you can save a few bucks and buy a combined tasting and mixer ticket for $25. Information: (916) 444-7711, rwwinery.com.

April 17, 2013
Add one more 'cue joint to Sacramento's smokin' lineup

ribs.JPGOur town hungers for smokey barbecue, but there just don't seem to be enough joints to go around. Now 'cue lovers can add one more option.

Dickey's Barbecue Pit will open at 11 a.m. Thursday in the Park Place shopping center, 4630 Natomas Blvd., Sacramento (916-378-4122, www.dickeys.com). The first 100 customers through the door will get a free pulled pork sandwich. Another store is at 110 Laguna Blvd., Elk Grove (916-546-4400); it opened in March 2012. Children eat for free on Sundays at both sites.

Dickey's started about 70 years ago in Dallas; now there are nearly 300 franchise stores in 43 states.

"We've stayed true to our Texas roots," the website says. "All meats are seasoned and slow smoked on-site at each restaurant."

Though we've not eaten there, the menu looks good: brisket, ribs (maybe like the ones pictured here?) , pulled pork, Virginia ham and Polish sausage, with a dozen sides that include jalepeno beans, fried okra and potato casserole.

We'll be knocking down a spread of 'cue at the new store for an upcoming "Counter Culture" restaurant review column. Soon.

April 16, 2013
Lucca celebrates 10th anniversary with fund-raising dinners

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Lucca, the ever-popular midtown restaurant, is marking 10 years in business with its third fund-raising dinner (of a scheduled four) Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.. Appetizers and wine will begin at 5:30 p.m.

The five-course dinner is $100 and includes wine and beer. There will also be a fashion show featuring the designs of Phoebe Verkov.

Proceeds for this dinner go to the Sacramento Children's Home. Two other dinners marking Lucca's 10th anniversary have raised money for Mustard Seed, the school for homeless children; and Verge Center for the Arts.

The fourth dinner in this admirable series, dubbed "Giving back deliciously," is April 24, when proceeds will be donated to the city's new Farm-to-Fork effort.

For more information or to make reservations for the dinner tomorrow or next week (or both) click here.

April 15, 2013
Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is coming to town. Are you ready?

wienermobile.jpgThe good news is the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is coming to town as part of its national promotional tour (it averages 500 miles a day), and you can go inside and tour the 27-foot-long hot dog-shaped vehicle.

The not-so-much part is there won't be any free hot dogs involved; instead, visitors will be given Wiener Whistles and stickers. Meanwhile, go for a blog ride at www.hotdoggerblog.com and visit www.kraftbrands.com/oscarmayer.

Relish the Wienermobile experience in front of Walmart stores at these locations:

April 19: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 7010 Auburn Blvd., Citrus Heights

April 20: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 900 Pleasant Grove Ave., Roseville

April 21: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 5821 Antelope Road, Sacramento

April 22: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 3460 El Camino Ave., Sacramento

April 22: 2 to 5 p.m. at 7901 Watt Ave., Antelope

April 15, 2013
Fish are where you find 'em -- in this case, swordfish skewers

swordfish.JPGFor centuries, one of the most sought-after kings of the oceans has been the swordfish. Predictably, in recent decades the demand for its firm, flavorful flesh led to gross overfishing.

Thanks to 1998's national "Give Swordfish a Break" promotion and the subsequent conservation efforts led by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, the swordfish stocks in the North Atlantic and the Pacific oceans reportedly are now stable.

Stocks continue to be stringently overseen to protect the resource, meaning that diners can eat swordfish from those fisheries without a lot of guilt. Still, swordfish overkill is a concern in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.

That said, one of the best seafood dishes we've found is the seared swordfish skewers with tzatziki sauce at Bistro 33 in Eldorado Hills (sourced from the North Atlanic and the Pacific).

Slightly charred on the outside, moist and succulent inside, the chunks of fish are made even better with dips into the garlicky yogurt-based sauce ($9.95). Get it at 4364 Town Center Blvd., Eldorado Hills; (916) 358-3733, www.edh.bistro33.com.

April 11, 2013
Drewski to open second and third brick-and-mortar eateries

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In January, we told you about a new brick and mortar café in Folsom for Andrew Blaskovich, the food truck impresario behind Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen. Blaskovich also runs the kitchen at Republic, the popular bar on 15th Street.

But before he could even open that second location, Blaskovich has worked out plans for a third - he's getting the keys Saturday and will be ready to start building out a full-service restaurant at McClellan Office Park (formerly McClellan Air Force Base). This Drewski's will begin serving lunch only but could expand its hours if demand warrants. Both this place and the one in Folsom are slated to open sometime in June, Blaskovich said Thursday.

The restaurant at McClellan will be up to 5,000 square feet and will have a large patio. Blaskovich plans to have a beer and wine license.

While some might consider McClellan off the beaten path, Blaskovich says 15,000 people work on the sprawling property, which converted to mostly non-military use after the air force base closed in 2001 (the U.S. Coast Guard continues to use the airport there). The restaurant will be at 5504 Dudley Ave. Unlike the Republic, which is a partnership, these two other brick-and-mortar eateries are by Blaskovich as a solo businessman.

Blaskovich is also set to launch a second food truck - decked out with a state-of-the-art $80,000 kitchen.

Since he the debut of his first food truck two years ago, cashing out his 401K from a corporate job to get started, Blaskovich has built a large following and enjoyed plenty of success with a variety of creative grilled sandwiches. Some days, he says, he is triple-booked for catering jobs. The McClellan restaurant, which has a large walk-in refrigerator, will also serve as a staging area for the trucks and catering businesses. Parking the trucks on site, he said, will save $1,100 a month.

"In terms of growth, when all of the entities are running on full steam, we're going to have 50 to 60 employees. I'd eventually like to have 100 employees," Blaskovich said.

The Folsom café, located in an office complex, will serve mostly employees who work on the property.

Blaskovich, who turns 40 this month and has a daughter, Hailey, at UC Santa Barbara, will mark the 2-year anniversary of his food truck at a Second Saturday event outside Spanish Fly Hair Garage on J Street near 17th.

April 10, 2013
Fava beans not for everyone, can cause 'Favism'

fava.jpg Fava beans may be delicious, but they're not for everyone. Like peanuts, fava beans can create health issues.

In the case of favas, the reaction is linked to a genetic hormone deficiency called G6PD, short for Glucose 6 Phosphate Dehydrogenase deficiency.

"An important fact about fava beans is that individuals with G6PD hormone deficiency, also known as 'Favism,' often - though not always - have a very serious allergy to fava beans," said Tom Roberson of Sacramento. "Our 5-year-old son has the G6PD deficiency, so we carefully avoid fava beans.

"The G6PD deficiency is very common around the world, and, I believe, is now routinely tested for at birth," he added.

According to medical experts, G6PD deficiency is seen in about 10 percent of African-American males in the U.S., and is also common in the Mediterranean region, Africa and parts of Asia.

Learn more about G6PD at http://g6pddeficiency.org/wp/.

Most people can eat favas without worry. Favas are entering their peak spring season. For recipes and tips, see http://bit.ly/152qAg9.

April 10, 2013
Blaze forces temporary closure of Zinfandel Grille

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The popular Zinfandel Grille on Fair Oaks Boulevard suffered a chimney fire Monday morning shortly before opening for lunch, forcing the restaurant to close for at least a week until the smoke and debris are cleaned up.

No one was hurt in the blaze and the restaurant's dining room was not damaged by the flames, according to Will Cruz, manager at Zinfandel Grille.

The restaurant will be closed until about April 20 while the clean-up and repairs take place, Cruz explained.

"It's pretty much the roof and the chimney that need to be repaired," the manager said. "Luckily, the fire department got here fast enough and there was no damage to the inside of the restaurant."

While servers will not be able to wait tables - and make tip money - during the closure, Cruz said they can clock in and help with the clean-up and other duties.

"We're able to keep them busy and get them paid," he said.

Zinfandel Grille is at 2384 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento.

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

April 10, 2013
Tex Wasabi's gets instant makeover to a Johnny Garlic's

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Tex Wasabi's, which featured a bold menu created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, closed its doors Sunday after six years in Sacramento. But fret not Fieri fans. The location is about to open as a Johnny Garlic's (there's already one in Roseville).

What's the difference, you ask? We wondered the same thing.

"It's totally different. It's going from barbecue sushi fusion to pizzas and pastas. It's a completely different menu," said Michael Daugherty, the general manger.

Daugherty actually answered the phone "Hello, Johnny Garlic's," which pretty much took care of the reason we were calling. A reader alerted me via Twitter that this transformation might be about to happen. It is slated as Johnny Garlic's on Thursday. The restaurant is at 2234 Arden Way, Sacramento.

As fans of the personable Fieri know, the TV host has plenty of love for Sacramento. He has highlighted several local eateries on his hit show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." And he took culinary classes at American River College.

In 2009, my colleague Allen Pierleoni, who writes "Counter Culture," discovered he liked quite a lot about the recently opened Johnny Garlic's in Roseville.

He wrote:

"The menu is long and creative, encompassing appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches, grilled and specialty items (Cuban pork chop, mojito chicken), pasta and six pizzas. Prices range from $3.50 to $18.95.

"We ordered Key lime calamari (which came with halves of green Persian limes, not yellow West Indian limes, which are what Key limes are; $8.95); "Brick in the Wall" bird (named after Pink Floyd's 1979 album "The Wall"? we wondered; $9.95); sloppy Joe sliders ($9.50); Mediterranean pizza ($13.95); and a frozen slice of chocolate-heavy mint pie, hiding Junior Mints inside ice cream ($4.95).

"This was a fine spread, with bold flavors, interesting textures and fresh ingredients. The sliders were startlingly spicy, the sauced ground beef (on buttered potato rolls) topped with onion straws and accompanied by crisp, house-made garlic potato chips with rich onion dip on the side."

Let us know what you think about the transformation.

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

April 10, 2013
From a reader: Going above and beyond at Seasons 52


My morning started with a pleasant surprise by reading an email from a reader about an experience at Seasons 52. Usually, these kinds of emails are inspired by a major faux pas or outright mistreatment by someone at a restaurant. But this one is different. I asked the emailer, Pamela Peacock, for permission to share her story with readers of Appetizers. Let us know what you think in the comments section (unless, of course, you're going to blame Obama for the steak being overcooked). Happy anniversary, Pamela, to you and "Hubby."

She writes:

Hubby and I enjoyed an exceptional dinner at Seasons52 on April 8, 2013---our 41st wedding anniversary.

We had reservations (and did NOT mention it was our anniversary). As we were being seated Hubby realized there was food/substance on the seat and didn't sit; asked to have it cleaned. Hostess was EXTREMELY apologetic and immediately moved us to another table. We were fine---did not complain to anyone.

Appetizer (flatbread) suggested by server, Bryan was scrumptious. Shortly he introduced us to Tierra who then took over as server. Both she and Bryan were most attentive---explaining everything, told us about Seasons52, the menu. At the same time Tierra was "out of site" appropriately. I ordered the Piedmontese strip steak medium rare, explaining I like it PINK---Tierra agreed with me.

Our Greek and Spinach salads were delish. Entrees arrived. As I cut into my steak, I thought to myself it wasn't QUITE as pink as I prefer, but "fine." Tierra arrived back at our table to check on things. She looked at my steak---then at me and said "hmmm---is that steak too done?" I replied it would be "okay." She offered to return it and order another steak; I refused that offer, saying my steak would be "okay."


April 10, 2013
IACP honors culinary professionals in San Francisco

alicewaters.JPGMore than 600 members of the International Association of Culinary Professionals gathered in San Francisco over the past five days for the organization's 35th annual conference, "Dirt to Digital: Real Food in a Virtual World."

Converging in the banquet rooms of the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the Embarcadero - and the Ferry Building Marketplace across the street - were chefs, dietitians and nutritionists, food stylists and photographers, cookbook authors, academics, food bloggers, farmers and others. They participated in a lengthy menu of culinary tours, cooking classes, demonstrations, lectures and panel discussions.

The conference culminated last night with an awards ceremony in multiple categories. Among the presenters were chef Thomas Keller (the French Laundry in Yountville) and restaurateur-cookbook author Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill in Chicago).

Among the award-winners were San Francisco restaurateur Charles Phan (Slanted Door and others) for his cookbook "Vietnamese Home Cooking"; restaurateur and cookbook author Alice Waters of Berkeley (Chez Panisse) for lifetime achievement (pictured); and www.food52.com and www.saveur.com for best culinary web sites.

For the complete list of winners, go to www.iacp.com.

The 35-year-old IACP has more than 2,000 members in 32 countries. It fosters connections between professionals in all walks of culinary life and serves as "a crossroads where everyone can meet to share experiences and expertise."

April 9, 2013
Biscuits, more biscuits and lots of recipes for biscuits

biscuits.JPGOver here we have the croissant and the scone. Over there are cornbread, soda bread and shortcake. Meandering around close by is the good 'ol Southern biscuit, a cultural icon.

Think of it: dark and crusty on the outside, tender and flaky and steaming in the middle. Add butter, honey and/or fruit preserves, or spice-heavy country sausage and skillet gravy. There are as many variations as there are home cooks, and we would gladly line up to sample all of them.

Unfortunately, we can't join the other 20,000 biscuit-lovers who will do something close to that at the International Biscuit Festival, May 16-18 in Knoxville, Tenn. But the Food Network and the Cooking Channel will be there - along with celebrity chef Alton Brown - strolling along Biscuit Boulevard, filming the action and tasting the goods.

This year's biscuit-partner is 47-year-old Southern Living magazine of Birmingham, Ala., a regional lifestyle publication devoted to food, travel, home and garden as represented in the culture of the South.

Its test kitchen will set up temporary shop at the fest, and its editors and cooks will help judge the biscuit bake-off. Bonus: The magazine curates a kitchenful of biscuit recipes at www.southernliving.com, along with recipes for other authentic Southern dishes.

Listen to Southern Living's editor, Lindsay Bierman: "We will never give up on our quest to discover or formulate the world's most perfect biscuit. It's one of our culture's simplest, most satisfying soul foods."

For more on the biscuit festival, visit www.biscuitfest.com. It was named the nation's No. 1 food festival by Livability.com, the arbiter of "America's best places to live and visit."

Meanwhile, we have some baking to do...

April 8, 2013
Dishcrawling through Davis offers a 12-course tasting


dishcrawl.JPGThe dining scene in Davis has never been better or more diverse. To get a taste of what's happening across the Yolo Causeway, the Cupertino-based food-tour company Dishcrawl is offering a mini-tour of four Davis restaurants.

Each restaurant will offer samples of three house-specialty dishes, from bites to small plates - maybe something like the dish pictured here. Adult beverages are not included, but can be purchased separately.

Which restaurants will be visited? That's a secret until just before the tour launches. If you sign up at www.dishcrawl.com/davis, you'll be emailed the name and address of the first restaurant on the tour, 48 hours in advance; that's the tour meet-up spot.

Dishcrawl in Davis starts at 7 p.m. April 23. For a 15 percent discount, use the promotional code word "downtowndavis."

April 4, 2013
America's Best Coffee Shops include three in California

coffee.JPGA cuppa joe is so much more than just a drink. Preparing and sipping coffee is a comforting ritual that is either good for you or bad for you, depending on the science of the moment. But is there actually a coffee-lover who has given up the habit based on shaky data from sources that are suspect to begin with?

Now those arbiters of all things food at drink at www.thedailymeal.com have conferred with coffee roasters, coffeehouse owners, baristas (including U.S. barista champ Katie Carguilo) and coffee bloggers around the country to finalize their list of America's Best Coffee Shops.

The criteria for singling out the 33 winners included "quality of coffee, quality of food, customer service, atmosphere and the 'unique' factor."

The top choice is Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia because "what you won't find there is an attitude," the Daily Meal editors write. "That's exactly what our panelists noted Ultimo so highly for in the customer service and atmosphere categories."

California showed three winners in the list - Lamill Coffee Boutique in Los Angeles (No. 6), Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco (No. 8) and Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz (No. 22).

For the complete list, go to www.thedailymeal.com/americas-best-coffee-shops-slideshow.

BTW: What's your go-to coffee joint? Let us know in "Comments" below.

April 2, 2013
Dawson's celebrates its 25th anniversary with dinner specials

tenderloin1.164318.jpgHere's a novelty: In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Dawson's restaurant at the Hyatt Regency hotel will roll back prices to 1988 for a special four-course dinner. Alert: It's a one-time deal on Saturday, April 6.

The Rollback Menu For Two is $88, with items from Dawson's original menu. It starts with potato stuffed with whipped crème fraîche and caviar, then moves to a crab Louis salad, French onion soup, bacon-wrapped filet mignon (pictured) and scampi-style shrimp with sides of twice-baked potato and asparagus, and ends with bananas Foster cheesecake.

There's more anniversary celebration with a $25 prix fixe prime rib dinner, served Sundays from April 7 through December. The menu: lettuce wedge salad, prime rib, baked potato and cheesecake.

Dawson's at the Hyatt Regency, 1209 L St., Sacramento. For reservation: (916) 321-3600. Information: www.sacramento.hyatt.com.

April 1, 2013
Plan now for Sierra Foothills Artisan Cheese & Wine Fest

wine.jpgWould you like some cheeses with those wines, with emphasis on regional sourcing?

The second annual Sierra Foothills Artisan Cheese & Wine Festival will offer wine and cheese pairings, workshops, winemaking demonstrations, winery and vineyard tours, tastings of Rhone- and Bordeaux-style wines, a marketplace and more.

Tickets are limited, so plan ahead. The festival will be from noon to 4 p.m. May 4 at Lavender Ridge Winery, 3030 Hunt Road, Copperopolis.

Tickets are $40 ($30 for wine club members). A separate cheesemaking course will be 9 a.m. to noon for an additional $65.

For more information: (209) 728-2441, www.lavenderridgevineyard.com.



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