Appetizers
August 6, 2013
Temple Coffee makes list of country's best roasters

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Congratulations to Temple Coffee on being named one of the best roasters in the U.S. by national food website The Daily Meal. It's the latest kudos for Temple -- and for Sacramento's coffee scene, which continues to flourish.

In 2011, Temple was named by CNN as one of the 17 best "small coffee makers." Simultaneous with The Daily Meal, Temple is listed here as one of the six best roasters by Yahoo! Shine.

"It's really exciting for us," said Temple owner Sean Kohmescher. "We sell a lot of coffee all over the United States. It's exciting to be on the list with the other top roasters in the country."

Called "28 Coffee Roasters We Love," The Daily Meal's list includes heavy hitters like Blue Bottle (Oakland) and Intelligentsia (Chicago). That's impressive company for Temple, which blew everyone away in 2010 when one of its coffees, Guatemala Hunapu Antigua Bourbon, scored 97 points by highly regarded Coffee Review -- the highest score of the year.

I was lucky enough to buy a pound of that extraordinary coffee before it quickly sold out soon after the score was posted. Fortunately, that coffee is back in stock and is currently selling for $15.50 for 12 ounces.

To see the complete list of roasters, click here, or here for the slideshow.

Photo: Sean Kohmescher is the owner of Temple Fine Coffee and Tea on 28th Street in Sacramento, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009. (Michael Allen Jones)

July 24, 2013
Red Rabbit partners to team up with new East Sac brewery


I had a quick chat tonight with The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar co-owner Sonny Mayugba, who confirmed that he and two other partners in the successful midtown restaurant and bar will get into the craft brewery business.

Mayugba, bartender Matt Nurge and chef John Bays are new partners in Twelve Rounds Brewing Co., which is expected to open in September on 57th Street in East Sacramento (AKA Antique Row). Daniel Murphy and wife Elle Murphy mapped out the business plan and set the brewery in motion, but they realized they needed more expertise on the food side of their business, which will feature a full kitchen and restaurant program.

"They had this idea to open a place and they needed someone to run the kitchen, but they didn't know how to get it done," Mayugba told me. "We had this really good meeting and I really like what they are doing. I love everything they stand for."

Mayugba added that Daniel Murphy has for years been brewing beer out of his Woodland garage and that at Twelve Rounds he will brew a variety of styles but will specialize in barrel-aged beers."

No word yet on specifics of the food that will be served, but expect an assortment of charcuterie and other bites that pair well with beer. We'll have plenty more on Twelve Rounds and its collaboration with the Red Rabbit trio in the weeks to come.

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


July 24, 2013
Feeding Crane's GM leaves farm to manage Broderick

Shannin Stein, who became a force in the local farm and restaurant community over the past year, has left her position at Feeding Crane Farms to become general manager and partner at Broderick Roadhouse in West Sacramento.

Stein started the new job this week. We will have more on her new plans, as well as what's going on at Feeding Crane Farms, which made such a splash a year ago but is now in transition. Watch for an update with more details soon.

July 20, 2013
Two great foodie events today

This is a busy weekend for beer lovers and foodies.

Pangaea, the Curtis Park brewpub and coffeehouse, is celebrating its fifth anniversary by teaming with BaconFest team and Track Seven Brewing to host a block party today from 3-8 p.m.

The ever-popular BaconFest has organized BLT Week, and many of the bacon-centric bites will be available at the block party. Participating restaurants include Bacon & Butter, Formoli's, Golden Bear, Grange Restaurant, Hook & Ladder, LowBrau, Magpie Cafe, Mulvaney's B&L, Selland's, Shady Lady Saloon, Thir13en, Tuli Bistro. It's going to be another hot afternoon, but worry not -- there will be bacon ice cream from Gunther's (which is right across the street).

July 5, 2013
Shoki owners close to signing lease for third location

I called Shoki Ramen House this morning after a reader told me via Twitter that the second location, on R Street, doesn't have air conditioning. Given the slew of days above 105F lately, I wanted to know how that could be possible.

They have AC, it turns out, though it doesn't work well and they're hoping to upgrade it. While chatting with Kathy Ueyama, whose husband, Yasushi, is the chef, I got a pretty god nugget of information -- they are "99.9 certain" they are about to open a third location. Until they sign the lease, I'll hold off on specifics, but it will be close to William Land Park, I'm told.

The concept will be dramatically different from the two excellent ramen houses. This one will focus on breakfast and lunch, and will feature a fusion of American and Japanese cooking styles. In other words, you might get scrambled eggs with hints of Japanese flavors and ingredients.

The new place will also try to source as much produce as possible from local organic farms, Kathy Ueyama told me. As for the AC at the Shoki on R Street, we'll keep you posted on how that goes. For now, fortunately, the really hot weather seems to have eased off a bit.

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

July 2, 2013
The New Yorker produces a craft beer interactive map

Here's a useful multi-media tool from the venerable literary magazine the New Yorker. It's an interactive map of the craft beer business and includes all kinds of useful information about this rapidly growing industry and its 2,400-and-counting breweries.The data used for the map are from the Brewers Association.

There's all kinds of useful information here that will make you sound like the know-it-all you deserve to be next time you're ponied up to the bar and you start talking beer -- the largest craft breweries (Sierra Nevada is No. 2), the fastest growing breweries(Sacramento isn't on the list, but wait 'til next year), and a state by state breakdown of production (some folks may brew more beer in their garage than all of Mississippi).

Click here to explore the map.


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

July 1, 2013
Proud dad of the national homebrewing champ

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Ok, here's a heartwarming photo of one very proud dad, Bob Johnson, pointing to a story in The Bee about his daughter, Annie Johnson, who had just won the prestigious title "Homebrewer of the Year" at the American Homebrewers Association conference in Philadelphia over the weekend. Bob, 81, is seriously ill and in hospice care at Emerald Gardens Nursing Center in Sacramento.

For Annie, winning the homebrewing title is a very impressive accomplishment, and it was great to find this photo this morning on my Twitter page. If Annie can Tweet a photo of her dad holding up a printout of this blog post, I promising to put that up, too!

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

July 1, 2013
Area's craft beer brings home prizes at State Fair

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The Sacramento region is booming when it comes to craft beer, and the results of the California State Fair craft beer competition show us to be a hotbed of high-quality brewing.

Some of the breweries that won big may have surprised some folks -- Sudwerk, Ol' Republic and Hangtown all did well in multiple style categories.

What follows is a list of local success at the State Fair. If I missed any, please let me know. I've had the excellent Common Sense by Berryessa Brewing in Winters at several local hot spots lately. I also got to try the very nice English IPA by Ol' Republic in Nevada City last time I dropped in at Extreme Pizza. Both won first place. And I was actually drinking a Homeland Stout (pictured above) at New Helvetia Brewing on Friday when the brewery learned that this very fine beer had been awarded a first place.

Light lager--Dortmunder/Premium American
First: Auburn Export Lager, Auburn Ale House (Auburn)
Third: Dead Canary, Ol' Republic Brewing (Nevada City)

Light Lager -- Munich Helles
Third: Lager, Sudwerk (Davis)

Pilsner -- Bohemian/Classic American
Third: Gold Country Pilsner, Auburn Alehouse

Amber lager
Second: Marzen, Sudwerk

Dark lager
Second: Bavarian Black Lager, Ol' Republic

Bock
Second: Mai Bock, Sudwerk

Light hybrid -- blonde ale
First: Common Sense, Berryessa Brewing (Winters)

Amber hybrid
Second: California Amber Lager, Ol' Republic

Scottish/Irish Ale -- Irish red ale
First: Conner's Pride, Old Hangtown Beer (Placervile)

American Ale -- American pale ale
Third: American River Pale Ale, Auburn Alehouse

American Ale -- American amber ale
Second: Rubicon Amber, Rubicon Brewing (Sacramento)

American Ale -- American brown ale
First: Coloma Brown, American River Brewing (Rancho Cordova)

English Brown Ale
Third: Whippersnapper, Berryessa Brewing

Porter -- Baltic porter
Second: Recesson Ale, Loomis Basin Brewing (Loomis)

Stout -- Oatmeal stout
First: Oatmeal Stout, Sudwerk

Stout -- Foreign export stout
First: New Helvetia Brewing (Sacramento)

India Pale Ale -- English IPA
First: English IPA, Ol' Republic

Belgian and French Ale -- Belgian Pale Ale
Third: Saison, Berryessa

Fruit Beer
Second: Golden Eagle Wheat, Loomis Basin

Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer -- Christmas/Winter specialty spiced beer
First: Stumpkin, Old Hangtown

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


June 24, 2013
An inside source drops a dime on The Dime

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If you grow up and play your cards right -- and really geek out on writing Yelp reviews -- you, too, could be honored as a Yelp Elite. I happen to know a Yelp Elite -- and yes, he is a superior person in many ways. But I digress.

This individual recently attended an invitation-only event at The Dime, which is headed by Noah Zonca, the longtime frontman/chef at The Kitchen. The Dime is still a couple of weeks from opening, but this is the behind-the-activity that happens as they start to ramp things up and test the food and the service on foodies and friends.

Now we have our first glimpses of the food, which is going to be around $10. It's a great spot in the 1800 block of L Street and, if the quality of the cooking lives up to expectations, folks are going to be lining up around the block to eat here. The dirty little secret in the farm-to-fork movement is that the food is often really expensive at restaurants that tout this way of cooking and eating.

If Zonca and company can feed the masses for $10 a pop, The Dime could be the next big thing.

Here's what my source reported to me. They're his words and his photos.


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Heirloom Watermelon salad w/ fresh Perlini mozarella and poached wild prawns - Vietnamese fish sauce, peanuts, mint, Thai basil, cilantro and some other things. An extremely light and refreshing dish yet with a depth of complex flavors that complimented one another like a well-orchestrated symphony. My favorite dish of the night and one of the most creative takes on watermelon salad I've had.

June 18, 2013
Zonca assembles kitchen team for soon-to-open The Dime

Noah Zonca, the former star chef at The Kitchen, is speeding toward opening his new restaurant on L Street, The Dime, by the Fourth of July weekend. Today, he announced the key players of his kitchen crew.

The head chef will be Juan Vaca, a longtime sous chef at Esquire Grille who most recently cooked at Mulvaney's, just around the corner on 19th Street.

"He's someone I trust immensely. He worked with me at The Kitchen," Zonca said.

Chef de cuisine is Ruben Perez.

"He's got the things you can't teach. He's got the drive, the heart and the passion for the industry," Zonca told me by phone.

And the sous chef is Brian "Chachi" Maydahl, an experienced cook who has worked at Shady Lady and de Vere's, among other places.

Zonca said and the team have been cooking and testing recipes the past three weeks and that the main menu is now set, with many of the dishes coming in at $10 or less. Zonca also hinted that this is the first of several Dimes.

"I want to put a team together that can split off and do their own restaurants," he said. "This restaurant is about value. It's about food chefs eat."

Zonca is now working on a breakfast/brunch menu. He expects to be serving brunch on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with Monday being an "industry" meal for people in the restaurant business.

There has been some confusion about the actual name of this restaurant in the 1800 block of L Street. Some reports have had it as Capital Dime, while others have called it The Dime. Which is it? When I asked Zonca, he replied, "That's a good question," before being heard asking someone in the distance at the restaurant.

OK, it will be called The Dime. It rolls off the tongue better than Capital Dime, which is the name of the LLC (limited liabilty company).

We'll keep you posted as The Dime gets closer to opening. The concept sounds like a winner -- farm to fork fare at bargain prices.


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

June 17, 2013
Slocum House founder gets back in restaurant game

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Kerry Kassis opened Slocum House in Fair Oaks Village in May of 1986 and ran it for 23 years, taking it from an aspiring but underperforming restaurant to one of the great dining destinations in the region.

In 2009, in the throes of an economic downturn that hit fine dining especially hard, Kassis sold his beloved Slocum House. Though he was on the sidelines, Kassis' heart was still in the business. Slocum House struggled for 18 months under the new ownership and then closed, leaving a charming but aging building and an iconic patio - complete with feral chickens roaming the grounds - empty.

Now Kassis is back in the restaurant game, moving from the suburbs to Old Sacramento. Kassis recently made his purchase of Rio City Café and says he is excited about its prospects. The deal is expected to close by mid-July. Kassis' transaction comes at a fortuitous time - just weeks before the city learned it would retain the Sacramento Kings and would build a downtown arena.

Why did Kassis get back in the restaurant business?

June 14, 2013
Scoop or no scoop: Catching up with Noah Zonca

In the newspaper business, scoops are pretty darn important. Years ago, at the Detroit Free Press, where I wrote about crime and covered things like major murder trials, I would have hell to pay if the scrappy newspaper down the street, the Detroit News, had a story I had missed.

What, you may ask, does that have to do with food, restaurants and, in this case, a talented chef named Noah Zonca? Well, I thought I had a scoop - and missed it - regarding Zonca, once the headliner at the much-admired performance restaurant The Kitchen. Zonca quietly stepped down at The Kitchen at the beginning of 2013, headed out of town for a spell, and just as quietly returned to Sacramento.

When I was eating recently at The Rind, the new cheese bar in the 1800 block of L Street, someone named "Noah" was mentioned by the waiter as the person behind the papered-in windows next door at a restaurant to be called Dime. This would be in the site of the former L Wine Lounge, which closed two years ago amid legal disputes with the landlord. So I tracked down Zonca and asked about it. That was two weeks ago. Back then, Zonca told me he had a "silent interest" in Dime and would have to get permission from the main investor before releasing more information.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago and I was rather startled to read on Sactown Magazine's website that Zonca was opening a new restaurant called Dime. Say what? So I called Zonca again and wondered, "Have I been breathing in too many fumes? Or have you?"


June 13, 2013
A few recommended beers that pair nicely with Father's Day

If your dad has enough socks and doesn't need another paisley tie, maybe it's time to get him something he'll really remember: really good beer.

There are all kinds of options, but for this little mixed six pack, let's stick as close to home as possible.

1. Hoptologist double IPA, from Knee Deep Brewery (available at better stores and bottle shops). This is an outstanding DIPA, brewed in Lincoln. It's got that full-bore West Coast IPA punch, wonderful aromas and plenty of complexity.This brewery is about to really take off. If your dad is into craft beer, he'll really appreciate a 22-ounce bottle of this stuff.

2. Gilt Edge lager, from Ruhstaller (various retail outlets, including Nugget Markets; recently spotted on tap at The Rind). This brand new release in a cool retro can, may seem like an easy-going lager, but it has plenty of finesse and a moderate hoppiness that makes for a dynamic drinking experience.

3. Big 4 Strong Ale by Track 7 Brewing (now in bottles at certain shops and often on tap at the brewery). Here's a powerful brew that will stand out in this Father's Day six pack. It's a blend of five hop varietals with some big-time numbers: 10 percent ABV and a whopping 168 IBUs. If the old man doesn't know what those abbreviations mean, he will after three sips.

4. Monkey Knife Fight American Pale Ale by Rubicon Brewing. I really like this beer and have ordered it at a couple of restaurants lately. It's made by an enduring success story in the local craft beer scene. This is a very drinkable beer with gentle citrus notes and hoppiness. It's great with food (enjoyed mine most recently with pasta).

5. Vindicator IPA by Loomis Basin Brewing. I had this beer recently at the Raley Field Brewfest and it stood up nicely to the heavy hitters on site that scorching hot night. This is a relatively low alcohol, low IBU IPA that still packs plenty of flavor.

6. Hoppy Face Amber Ale by Hoppy Brewing. This successful and enduring brewery and brewpub make an admirably hoppy IPA in the West Coast style that has a pleasing bitterness balanced with lots of flavor and a crisp finish.

May 22, 2013
The Rind giving a sneak preview -- right now

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As we just tweeted, thanks to a call from a friendly reader, The Rind has nudged its doors open a day ahead of the soft opening slated for 11 a.m. Thursday. So if you're in the 1800 block of L Street in midtown, stop in, taste some cheese and wish them luck.

We'll be reporting more on this new venture, which will serve artisan cheeses, wine and beer, with many suggestions for pairings.


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

May 20, 2013
Follow-up: The Rind to open Thursday (with details!)

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Turns out, Sara Arbabian did not succumb to foul play, is not pinned beneath a giant cheese wheel, does not have a cat that nested on her keyboard and, best of all, is not intentionally ducking the press.

After a bit of nudging, I finally caught up with a very affable Arbabian to hear about her plans for The Rind, a cheese bar featuring wine and beer pairings. To this observer, it's a great fit on a great block and her timing is excellent.

In fact, I think it's going to be such a big hit that Chris Hansen is going to buy it and try to move it to Seattle! (Then Mayor KJ will step in at the 11th hour, make a speech to the Cheese Board and all will be OK).

While wine and cheese pairings are well accepted, the whole idea of finding the right cheese with the right beer is an exciting and relatively unexplored concept for many folks, foodies included. Beyond that, craft beer is taking off locally and throughout many parts of the country, as more and more people are taking beer seriously and enjoying small-batch, quality-driven beer. There's certainly plenty to choose from. Watch for a future "The Beer Run" column in which Arbabian and I discuss how to enjoy cheese with beer.


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Arbabian is opening Thursday at 11 a.m. For now, The Rind will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. It will be closed for staff training Mondays and Tuesdays, at least for the time being.

How will it work when you walk into The Rind? For one thing, the atmosphere will be relaxed. Visitors can select one of the designated cheese samplers, featuring three cheeses, or select their own cheeses to enjoy. The Rind is also going to feature artisan grilled cheese sandwiches and mac & cheese, all with top-quality cheeses and breads. At every step of the way, the staff will be on hand to provide details about the cheeses, answer questions and give suggestions for pairings. There will be 15-20 wines at first, some available by the glass, along with six beers on tap and 10 in bottles

This is a small operation. Arbabian's husband, Stephen Tatterson, will be helping out after he gets off from his day job. There will also be a couple of other employees starting out.

If you're interested in the fascinating world of cheese and are looking for a different kind of food and beverage experience, The Rind just might become a destination for you.

We'll have more on this new venture soon after it opens. Stay tuned.

The Rind is at 1801 L St., Sacramento.

(Photos courtesy of The Rind).

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



May 20, 2013
O, new little cheese place (with wine & beer) on L Street, call us, we really want to help spread the word that you're about to open, but, um, it would be helpful if you returned our calls

There is a new new cheese shop (with wine and beer) all set to open on one of the best blocks in midtown.

It's called The Rind.

It's at 1801 L Street.

It will have lots of cheese

And wine.

And beer.

And that's all we really know.

We've left voicemails. We've sent emails. We've done walk-bys. We've done everything but go all Dustin Hoffman from "The Graduate" when strolled past and spotted the owner and two others casually sipping wine while seated at the bar. Instead of banging on the glass, "Mrs. Cheese Person, why won't you return our emails and phone calls?" we decided better of it, dignity-wise, and opted to go to Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates for yet another amazing ice cream sandwich (with lemon ice cream).

Still, we wonder about The Rind. We'd like to know more about the concept, the cheeses, the grilled cheeses, the whole dream of opening a new business and forgoing silly things like phones and internets. We want to share these things with our readers.

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I contemplated the possibilities: They're ignoring us. Yes, this is a clever counter-intuitive marketing strategy to absolutely perplex everyone and generate some kind of viral reaction that winds up on CNN, sells lots and lots of cheese and leads to a book deal: "Telling People About Your New Business is Stupid.".

We contemplated foul play. Did a giant wheel of cave-aged Gruyere tumble off a shelf and pin the owner to the floor? Does the owner have a cat? A cat sat that likes to sit on computer keyboards and freeze up computers? And the owner has no idea someone is emailing her to ask this potentially exciting new venture?

And wish her luck?

And ask when we can stop by and taste some cheese (and beer and wine)?

We hear it's Thursday.

But that's all we really know.

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

RELATED: Which restaurants do the best at marketing and promoting?

May 10, 2013
Enotria lands (another) new GM with Michelin-star credentials

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Watch for our story coming next week in The Bee about the latest hire at highly regarded Enotria Restaurant Wine Bar, general manager Jenny Yun.

Yun is the former assistant restaurant director at the Restaurant at Meadowood, where executive chef Christopher Kostow continues to wow guests. Meadowood is one of two current restaurants in California to earn three Michelin stars.The other is The French Laundry, where Enotria's previous GM, Anani Lawson, worked as a sommelier. Lawson's tenure at Enotria was short-lived and ended abruptly.

Stay tuned for more on Yun, Enotria's executive chef Pajo Bruich and what the restaurant is up to.

Enotria is at 1431 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento.

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

RELATED:

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

Dining review: Enotria has stratospherically upgraded

May 4, 2013
Catching up with James Beard award winner Hank Shaw

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I just got off the phone with Hank Shaw, who won a James Beard award Friday night in New York for best blog. Shaw is traveling with significant other Holly Heyser, journalist in residence at California State University, Sacramento (and the one responsible for many of the photos on the blog).

I asked Shaw, whose blog is called "Hunter Angler Gardener Cook," about the awards ceremony and what it felt like the moment he heard his name called.

The ceremony was at Gotham Hall, a massive old art deco style building with a large rotunda. There were about 500 in attendance (the awards for chefs and restaurants are Monday) and it was hosted by Ted Allen.

"It was a swanky affair. Everybody was dressed up and the room was buzzing," Shaw said.

I asked him about the meal, prepared by three chefs from San Diego, but Shaw said he was so nervous that his stomach was churning and "things got blurry."

When the ceremony began, Shaw waited nervously at his table. Several of his friends with "wild" backgrounds who forage, fish or hunt were nominated in other categories but did not win. Shaw had psyched himself up to lose, too, in part so he wouldn't be disappointed (this was his third nomination).

Then came time for his category, and if you've been reading food blogs, you know the quality is high, the competition fierce. And when Shaw heard his name?

"I basically stood up and shouted," he said with a laugh.

He walked to the stage and Allen put the gold medal around his neck. Shaw thought back to his days as a track and field athlete, noting he once dreamed of going to the Olympics only to realize he didn't have that level of talent.

"Last night, I got my Olympic medal," he said.

Shaw is now one of three James Beard award winners from Sacramento. Elaine Corn won for her 1994 book "Now You're Cooking: Everything a Beginner Needs to Know to Start Cooking Today." And on Monday, the iconic Sacramento restaurant Frank Fat's will receive a James Beard award in a special lifetime achievement category, "America's Classic."

After the big news, Shaw, Heyser and friends left Gotham Hall and hit the town to celebrate. First stop was for oysters at The John Dory Oyster Bar. Then they went for a night cap at the historic Algonquin Hotel, which is especially famous in literary circles for its "Algonquin Roundtable" - a group of renowned writers and editors that convened daily for the better part of a decade.

Today, Shaw plans to eat and eat some more. He and Heyser will be going to Pok Pok, the Thai restaurant making such a splash of late. Then they'll visit Michelin-rated WD-50, where they are supposed to meet the famous modernist cooking wizard (and owner of WD-50) Wylie Dufresne.

On Sunday, Shaw has been invited to brunch at the Michelin 3-star Restaurant Daniel, owned by renowned French chef Daniel Boulud. Later Sunday, they fly home.
Asked how it feels to finally be a James Beard award winner, Shaw laughed and said, "It doesn't suck."

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

Complete list of James Beard award winners for 2013

May 3, 2013
On third try, Shaw wins James Beard award for best blog

Local blogging star and author Hank Shaw brought home the big prize for best blog at the James Beard Foundation awards ceremony in New York City tonight.

Twice previously, Shaw had been nominated but did not win in this relatively new and highly competitive category. Shaw's blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, offers Shaw's thoughts, tips, recipes and observations related to foraging, hunting and a wide range of related topics. The blog became such a hit that last year Shaw published a book, "Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast."

Shaw's second book, "Duck, Duck, Goose," about cooking waterfowl, is due out in the fall.

Since it is late on the east coast, we hope to get Shaw's reaction sometime this weekend and post an update.

Shaw is actually one of two local winners. The other Sacramento winner of a James Beard award, a lifetime achievement honor in a special category called "America's Classics," went to the downtown Chinese restaurant Frank Fat's. That award was announced several weeks in advance.

Congratulations to both winners for these great honors.

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

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 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 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 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 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
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."


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

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

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

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

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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

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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 honest-food.net. 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 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.

February 25, 2013
Beer Week: Already a couple of excellent outings

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The 4th annual Sacramento Beer Week is off to a splendid start throughout the region, and we're starting to see a trend wherever we go: enthusiastic but laid-back crowds, great beer, good times.

We dropped by Track 7 Brewing Co. on Saturday to find a rather amazing site - folks lining up for the excellent beer brewed on-site at a facility that was once an industrial park but is now on the verge of being something very special. If you're looking to visit -- and you should if you're into craft beer -- Track 7 is at 3747 W. Pacific Ave., Sacramento (if it feels like you've made a wrong turn and it looks like the wrong place, you're there; dogs and kids welcome, too). While there, we bumped into the affable Brian Guido, one of the forces behind the recent and highly successful Sacramento BaconFest. He convinced us to take light rail out to Folsom to hit the happy hour at Samuel Horne's Tavern -- we'll be doing that sometime this week.

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February 22, 2013
Beer with food: All kinds of events during Sacramento Beer Week

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When my editor asked me to compile a list of food events that interested me during Sacramento Beer Week, I immediately said "No problem." Then I started to look at all that's happening in the region during this great week of beer.

Yikes! Hundreds of cool events. Big ones. Little ones. Pricey ones. Bargain ones. That's the good news. It's easy to find things to do that center on good beer and trying new beers from today through next weekend. Here's a sampling of what I came up with in today's Ticket section. I went with food-beer events at a variety of price points.

But I also asked Dan Scott, executive director of Sacramento Beer Week, to weigh in with beer dinners that interest him.

Here's his list:


*High Water Beer Dinner at Ten22

*Berryessa Beer Dinner at Hook & Ladder

*Sierra Nevada at Mulvaney's B&L (with head brewer and UCDavis Brewing professor Charlie Bamforth)

*21st Amendment Beer Dinner at Centro

Two Rivers Cider Dinner at Mulvaney's

US v Belgium Beer Dinner at The Shack

Dinner with Charles Bamforth at Enotria

That's a pretty amazing assortment of beer dinners. And there are more. I especially wanted to attend U.S. v. Belgium dinner at The Shack. Alas, it's already sold out. So if you see something that interests you here or at www.sacramentobeerweek.com, you probably should act fast and make a reservation.

To keep up with what's happening during Beer Week, check back with us here at Appetizers and at www.sacramentobeerweek.com.

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

RELATED:

Beer Week activities include tastings, food pairings


February 14, 2013
Folks behind "Ideas in Food" holding dinner, class in SF

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I was browsing on the always stimulating "Ideas in Food" website today and saw that they are going to be doing a dinner and an all-day class on meat in San Francisco. The couple, Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, always have bright, creative, fun and challenging ideas about food and cooking, often with modernist techniques.

This dinner on Feb. 22 at Alexander's Steakhouse seems to showcase that. Check out the menu -- pretty edgy. And I like the pun in the first course. The all-day class on Feb. 23 is $250 per person. If you're interested, I understand there are still a few spots open. If you want to be revered and feared by friends and foodies alike, this class might be your thing. The book is very informative, endlessly thoughtful and entertaining.

Nine courses, $230; wine pairings optional

heart-beet tartare: cured beef heart, beets, puffed tendon

bone marrow tots: uni thousand island, mendocino uni

36hr veal tongue: pepperoni broth, italian kimchi, korean rice cakes

Miyazaki bms 9 ribeye in three services: "dry aged", smoked, salad

boneless beef short rib: crispy dungeness crab rice, spring garlic

beef carpaccio: shaved triple cream cheese, pickles

tallow doughnuts: cinnamon, lime, lemon curd

Alexander's Steakhouse is at 448 Brannan Street, San Francisco. Phone: (415) 495-1111.

February 14, 2013
Food scene rising: Sacramento Epicureans doubles membership

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I caught up with the always-busy Paul Somerhausen on Wednesday and learned that his foodie group Sacramento Epicureans is busier than ever. Readers may recall that I wrote about Sacramento Epicureans back in October and shared with you Somerhausen's passion for exposing people to all kinds of food experiences, from high-profile places like The Kitchen to lesser-known casual ethnic eateries like Macau Café and the many new food trucks on the scene.

The growth of his group says something about this area's rise as a true culinary city with its own personality. We don't get the attention or acclaim that Napa and the Bay Area do, of course, but there's a distinct uptick in the quality of the eating experience here and the enthusiasm for going out and finding it. Just ask Somerhausen.

"The group has more than doubled in size within the first two months of the article, from 300 and change to over 800 now," he told me. "The energy and enthusiasm that's coming from it has spurred me to do more events."

Participants learn about upcoming events through a group mailing list.

"The events are selling out in an hour or two. As soon as I post them, they are selling out," he said.


February 8, 2013
Another (very affordable) Valentine's option

Following up once more on our Valentine's dining story today, here's a solid choice for the bargain-minded romantics. Yes, dinner for two for under $30.

Here are the details I received from the folks at Mimi's Cafe:

Mimi's Cafe is celebrating the season of love by offering a romantic Valentine's Menu for two at $26.99. Available February 7 - 17 from 4-11 p.m., the Valentine's Menu will offer guests a French-inspired three-course meal featuring a variety of delicious options.

$26.99 Valentine's Menu for Two (Available February 7-17)

Course 1: Choice of soup, Garden or Caesar Salad

Course 2: Choice of Chicken Madeira, Beef Bourguignon, Quatre Fromages Ravioli or "Soul" Piccata

Course 3: Mimi's Classic Ensemble dessert or for $2.99

There are two Sacramento Mimi's Cafe locations:

2029 Alta Arden Expressway, (916) 614-9278

and

3511 N Freeway Blvd., (916) 575-9501

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

February 8, 2013
Restaurants offering Valentine's Day specials

We have a story in today's Ticket section taking a look at Valentine's dining. We looked at five restaurants and how they prepare for this very important day in the restaurant business.

But there are obviously many more options out there. If you're serious about going out that night, you probably need to book your reservation ASAP. The other option is to get on a waiting list. A lot of people, to the chagrin of restaurants, make multiple bookings on Valentine's Day. That's a headache for restaurants, but it might allow you to slip in at the last moment.

And because Valentine's is on a Thursday, many restaurants offering special menus are extending the offerings through Friday and Saturday.

February 7, 2013
Our encounter with the phenomenon that is Pliny the Younger

Pliny.JPG

We had a great day trip to Santa Rosa on Wednesday to work on my story about the cult of Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder.

It was quite a sight to witness folks standing in line well before the Russian River Brewing Co. opened its doors. I interviewed Natalie Cilurzo about the phenomenon and had my first Pliny the Younger at, ahem, 10 .m., an hour before the brew pub opens for business. Natalie's husband, Vinnie, is a brewmaster legend in the craft beer world and his beers are so coveted that folks travel from around the world to experience them. Indeed, three of the guys I met later at the pub were brewers from Japan who came to Santa Rosa specifically for the Pliny the Younger experience. I also met some folks from Sacramento enjoying their Plinys.

Pliny II.JPG

If you're into good beer -- and we have more and more good beer here in Sacramento -- you should consider making the trip. They only pour Pliny the Younger the first two weeks of February, and then that's it until next year.

You're limited to three 10-ounce pours at $4.50 each. But trust me, you don't need any more than that.

What compels people to line up for up to seven hours for a chance to drink this beer? I'll try to answer that and more in my story, which will run in The Bee next Wednesday.

Pliny III.JPG

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


February 1, 2013
Vanilla Bean Bistro sold to chef, Gonul Blum focuses on Trio

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When Gonul Blum opened her second restaurant months ago, it slowly but surely underscored one basic reality: she couldn't be two places at once.

Blum recently sold Vanilla Bean Bistro to her longtime chef so she could focus on Trio, her new restaurant downtown. Vanilla Bean will become a Turkish bistro, Blum said, owned by Murat Vozkurt, who cooked for her for six years.

Does this news say something about the potential pitfalls of tinkering and changing locations? Perhaps. A couple of years ago, Blum swapped locations on J Street in East Sacramento with Formoli's Bistro, which took over Gonul's J Street Café. Gonul's downsized and became Vanilla Bean. But both places found themselves struggling at times in their new locations.

Meanwhile, Blum found herself stretched too thin.

"When I opened Trio, I wanted to be at Vanilla Bean as much as possible, but I couldn't," she told me. "It was hard to manage both of them because I am it - I don't have anybody else. I am a perfectionist, and if I am not there I am not happy."

Blum says she is happy - and possibly relieved - about the sale. And she will be able to devote all of her time to Trio. I dined there once and found the cooking to be very good. But the restaurant has yet to catch on.

"I am happy, but we are slow," Blum said. "The food is excellent. I give a lot of my love to the food. Once people know about it and try it, they come back."

Trio Restaurant is at 826 J St., downtown.

We'll give you more information on the Turkish bistro when we get it. We're told it could open in the next 10 days.

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

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

Octapus.JPG


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

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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
Passmore Ranch hosting entire staff of Michelin 3-star restaurant

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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 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.

RELATED:

Sacramento has a rich history in brewing lore

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

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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 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
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 www.hippressurecooking.com.

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.


PARTICIPATING RESTAURANTS:
Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co.
Formoli's Bistro
LowBrau
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
Ten22
Restaurant Thir13en
Grange Restaurant
Masullo
Doughbot
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
Spoto Wines to star at Firehouse winemaker dinner

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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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Second Course • Paired with a Cilantro Cooler Cocktail

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

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

Third Course • Paired with Ferrari Carrano Fume Blanc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth Course • Paired with a holiday inspired Champagne Cocktail

Blood Orange Crème Caramel
Baked Caramel Custard, Blood Orange Tuile

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

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

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

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

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


December 27, 2012
Lessons in Service from Sacramento County Jail

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what Mahan told me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Blair,

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hope you can join us!

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

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

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

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

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

December 11, 2012
Blackbird expands hours, opens for lunch

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

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

Check out the new lunch menu here.

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

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

RELATED:
Dining review: Blackbird usually excellent, sometimes amiss

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

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

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

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

OK, no I didn't.

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

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

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

Sincerely,"

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

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

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

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

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

November 30, 2012
After stint at Alinea, chef returns to do inventive $100 dinner

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On the heels of a four-month stint in one of the country's most revered kitchens, Chef Scott Ostrander is orchestrating a pop-up style dinner at the Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar on Monday that could, if all goes according to plan, become the stuff of local legend.

After chatting with Ostrander by phone and then looking at the intensely ambitious menu, the dinner appears to be influenced by the likes of Rene Redzepi and Heston Blumenthal, two of the world's great culinary wizards.

Ostrander, 30, who is in town for a few weeks before starting a new gig at a restaurant in Yountville (more on that another time), worked at Alinea in Chicago, the modernist restaurant with three Michelin stars that some now consider the best in the U.S. After four months, Ostrander is ready to move on to his next restaurant.

"The room for error there was small, so you weren't allowed to make mistakes," the chef told me when I asked if the Alinea experience made him a better chef. "So my personal skills went through the roof."

Apparently, so did his ambition. His menu looks incredible - creative, soulful, edgy, risky, wild and maybe just a little insane. It's the kind of high-voltage shock to the system that the Sacramento culinary scene needs more of. He has dubbed the dinner, "Winter in Lake Tahoe: A Culinary and Libation Excursion."

November 28, 2012
Chocolate Fish poised to expand to second location

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Good news for fans of seriously good coffee: Chocolate Fish, which has won legions of fans at its downtown coffee shop, is opening a second location - in East Sacramento.

I'm told the new coffee shop, across the street from East Sacramento Hardware and OneSpeed Pizza on Folsom Boulevard, is expected to open to the public in January.

While Chocolate Fish's current location caters to the downtown work crowd and closes at 4 p.m. on weekdays, the East Sac shop should attract a different clientele and will stay open later.

November 27, 2012
Feeding Crane Farms/Lulu's Kitchen hosting open house

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Feeding Crane Farms is on the move -- again. The organic farm and forward-thinking food operation based in Natomas is hosting an open house at its newest venture, Lulu's Kitchen.

If you're into the food scene and curious about a young company on the rise, you'll want to stop by and get to know these folks. The event is this Tuesday (Dec. 4) from 5-8 p.m. It is open to the public, but those interested in attending are asked to RSVP via email, luluskitchen@feedingcranefarms.com. Several of the food companies that use the kitchen will also be on hand serving samples.

November 21, 2012
Masullo's growing fame a mixed blessing: No dough for you!

Sometimes when a restaurant is mentioned positively in The Bee, it can bring in plenty of new business -- and a good bit of chaos.

I spotted this on Masullo's Facebook page:

"Our apologies for not having enough dough. The Bee ran an article naming us best pizza in town and we sold more at lunch today than all dayTuesday a week ago. We have a three day ferment for our dough and we can not just make more at the drop of a hat. We are sorry for the trouble it may cause to customers, but believe us we would like to have it to sell to you."

As you can see, you cannot rush a great crust. If you want to try truly great pizza in the Neapolitan style, get there early today.

Masullo is at 2711 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento.

Update: I caught up with owner Robert Masullo when his restaurant opened for lunch and asked him about the surge in traffic. The servers are happy -- they're making good, honest money. The cooks are busy. And no, the dough cannot be rushed. Masullo has experienced a one-two punch of acclaim from The Bee this year. Prior to topping the best pizza list, it was featured in a full review, where I gave it four stars.

"We saw back in the summer a real huge bump for a couple of months," Masullo told me Wednesday. For the last four weeks, we've been quieter by a long shot. Monday, it picked right back up and it almost doubled from a typical Monday."

Some customers come in and wonder why they can't jump whip up a new batch of dough. It doesn't work that way.

"Part of the reason why what we're turning out is as good as it is, is we don't take a short cut," Masullo said. "I'd rather make it as good as we can, even if that means we have to tell people we're out of dough."

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

RELATED COVERAGE
Dining review: Masullo up with the best pizza -- anywhere
Pizza: Bee's critic lists his area favorites

November 21, 2012
Hard-boiled eggs in the...pressure cooker.

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I'm a big believer in the pressure cooker. For one thing, it's a green appliance -- once you build up the pressure, you can turn the heat way down, and the cooking time is much shorter than standard methods for most things. It's also efficient and effective. And these new and improved pressure cookers are much safer -- you can usually tell they are about to explode about 1.5 seconds before they actually do (don't ask me how I know this).

Despite my near-death experience (it was last year, I've recovered from the trauma, no one was actually hurt, we eventually got all the black beans off the 9-foot ceiling and the cats are almost finished with their therapy sessions), I continue to advocate for the pressure cooker. In fact, I'm working on a story about the many uses for the pressure cooker and how it, this old-fashioned relic of the '50s, is getting some serious traction in modern kitchens.


November 20, 2012
Ambience Restaurant in Carmichael will close in January

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One of the Sacramento area's best fine dining restaurants is closing. I spoke by phone with Morgan Song, the owner/chef of Ambience Restaurant in Carmichael, who told me business has lagged and he has decided to relocate to Los Altos. He expects to pack up and close for good by the middle or end of January.

This is a significant loss to the local culinary scene, as many food aficionados considered Song to be among the best, most precise and artistic chefs in the area. Almost all of his dishes were so beautifully plated you couldn't be blamed for staring instead of eating.

And yet, Ambience was rarely crowded - and wasn't as crowded as it should have been or deserved to be. Song said much of that had to do with the less-than-prestigious location in Carmichael (he extensively renovated an old Wendy's) and the persistence of the economic downturn.

That may be partly true. The meals at Ambience were prix fixe, meaning there were no options for anything but the $70 for five courses or $95 for seven courses, and the cooking was geared toward nouvelle French cuisine. If you wanted an $18 pasta dish and a glass of wine on your way home from work, you were out of luck. A gourmet burger and a beer at happy hour? Not here. It was all or nothing. In that location and in this economy, that was probably a recipe for failure.

November 16, 2012
A high-end Ho Ho lives on as Hostess and the Twinkie crumble

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For those of us who grew up on Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos (and lived to tell about it), today's news that Hostess will liquidate its assets comes as a bittersweet blow. It's quite possibly the end of an era for these icons of mass-produced sweet treats.

Beyond that, there is the loss of most of the 18,500 jobs at plants around the country, including one in Sacramento.

Twinkies aren't dead yet - someone could buy the rights and rejuvenate the brand - but they're on the ropes.

For those looking for some consolation or simply want to have something chocolaty and sweet to stomach this jolt of grief, all is not lost. The highly regarded Karen's Bakery Café in Old Folsom has been making a gourmet version of the Ho Ho for years.

I called owner Karen Holmes this morning to ask about her high-end interpretation of this mass-market treat. Turns out, she, too, is mourning the demise of Hostess.

November 2, 2012
Is cooking a creative endeavor?

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The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently published a story on the bow tie-wearing grouch Christopher Kimball of Cook's Illustrated Magazine, who is fond of proclaiming that cooking is not creative.

For many of us who love to cook and think of ourselves as devoted home cooks who are open to trying new ingredients and techniques (and maybe straying from written recipes), that could be taken as an affront. It shouldn't - because he's right. Cooking is not creative. In fact, in my upcoming restaurant review this Sunday, I touch on that point when I address the idea of consistency.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations to Chris and Hank for this fine achievement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arctic char with eggplant and green curry broth


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

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A tomato sphere with burrata cheese that turns into a gazpacho

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

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Photos with permission from Smith-Madrone

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

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

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

From so-so Pinot to very good Chardonnay:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 21, 2012
Taylor's Market offers butchering class, ranch tour and dinner

Here's a fun, educational, and delicious event for foodies: a butchering class and family-style dinner right on the farm where the cattle are raised.

On Oct. 21, a Sunday, Taylor's Market, which has long been known for its meat counter run by skilled butchers, will hold a Butchering 101 class, along with a tour of the Wintun Ranch property in Roseville, followed by a family-style dinner at the ranch.

As Taylor's owner and butcher Danny Johnson told me by phone, it doesn't get any more "farm-to-table" than that.

The class, tour and dinner costs $75 per person (wine is extra). Add up all you get and that's a tremendous value. The Bee has written about the butcher classes at Taylor's and I have heard from participants that they are a great learning experience. You don't have to be an aspiring butcher - or even have an interest in breaking down your own side of beef sometime in the future. Johnson says it's all about educating consumers about the various cuts of meat and how to handle them. That said, Johnson hired a guy who took his butchering class last year, so you can learn plenty.

September 20, 2012
With a focus on seafood, is Blackbird ready to shine?

I have been eating quite an array of seafood lately at a several places in and around Sacramento, along with a few out of town joints. Squid, octopus, rock cod, hamachi, arctic char cooked, arctic char raw (topped with potato chips and fish eggs), tilapia on tacos, blackened catfish, whole roasted trout, striped bass, salmon teriyaki, oysters, clams mussels, lobster, crab. The list goes on.

OK, it's been quite the seafood feast in recent weeks. Which leads me to the focal point of this brief post: Blackbird Kitchen + Bar. That's the new downtown restaurant I will be reviewing this Sunday.

As a preview, I thought you might enjoy seeing a few photos from recent visits. Below that, I thought I would include a couple of pics from a recent drop-in at Restaurant 1833 in Monterey. I'll be writing about that place in the weeks (or months) to come.

August 2012 Oscar, etc 352.JPG Arctic char in vichyssoise topped with potato chips and cured roe.


August 2012 Oscar, etc 357.JPG Whole roasted trout with steamed clams and sea beans

September 033.JPG Striped bass

September 17, 2012
Thiemann earns early promotion but will still cook at Ella

There's a lot going on with the local restaurant scene these days, but one thing you may not have heard about is the expanded role of Michael Thiemann, the chef at Ella Dining Room & Bar, who has been winning raves since taking over for Kelly McKown.

The Selland Group, which owns Ella, as well as The Kitchen and Selland's Market-Café, didn't put out a public announcement about it, but Thiemann's role has definitely expanded in recent weeks to include oversight of all of the kitchens.

"Mike Thiemann has been given a promotion. That's something that's been done ahead of schedule," Josh Nelson, co-founder and chief financial officer of the Selland Group, told me Monday.


September 14, 2012
Feeding Crane Farms buys Steel Magnolia Commercial Kitchen

There aren't many slow days down on the farm - not when your name is Feeding Crane Farms. The young upstart on the local food scene has been extra busy lately as it expands its reach. It continues to supply produce to local restaurants and it's heavily involved in developing a brand for a variety of food products to be sold in grocery stores.

According to Shannin Stein, general manager at Feeding Crane Farms, the Natomas-based farm is in the process of completing the purchase of Steel Magnolia, the commercial kitchen on 16th Street in midtown that rents its space to chefs and small companies involved in food production. The kitchen has become a hub for fledgling food businesses and catering companies since it opened in late 2009.

One important component is that the kitchen is inspected by the county Health Department, also known as the Department of Environmental Management, just like restaurants are. That's crucial if companies want to sell their food to the general public.

September 14, 2012
Preview photos: Burger Battle contenders strut their stuff

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Following up on our report the other day about the upcoming Sacramento Burger Battle -- a heated competition, yes, but a charity fundraiser, too -- we've found a collection of promotional photos of the 15 competing chefs and their burgers. We're told that the actual burger recipes for the competition remain top-secret in several cases, so these giant, juicy burgers in these very impressive photos may be decoys or the real McCoy. Check out the photos by clicking here. The burgers look great. And several of the chefs certainly wore their "game faces" for their photo.

Congratulations ahead of time to the chefs for getting involved with a first-time event that promises to be the start of a great new food tradition for the Sacramento area, as well as a meaningful fundraiser for the Chrohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. Rodney Blackwell, author of the blog Burger Junkies, is the man who organized the Sacramento Burger Battle. The event is this Tuesday at Raley Field from 7-10 p.m. (VIP ticketholders get in at 6 p.m.). Tickets are $55 per person, which includes sample sizes of the competing burgers, beer, wine and cider, as well as live music. For more information or to buy tickets, click here.

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


September 13, 2012
Ella celebrates 5 years with Happy Hour specials

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Congratulations to the crew at Ella Dining Room & Bar on hitting the five-year milestone -- not just five years in business, which is admirable enough, but five years as one of the city's very best restaurants.

Ella set a standard right out of the gate as an elegant, lively, cosmopolitan restaurant with very good food and polished, big-league service. Since then, the restaurant has had three chefs: David English, who now owns the impressive and popular Press Bistro on Capitol; Kelly McKown, who left to run the kitchen at Goose & Gander in St. Helena; and current head chef Micheal Thiemann, who departed Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco to return home to Sacramento. As most foodies know, Ella is owned and operated by the Selland Family Restaurants, a mini-empire that includes The Kitchen and Selland Market-Cafe (now with a second location in El Dorado Hills, in addition to the East Sac spot).

We happened upon this sign (pictured above) recently while out for a walk with the dogs. Years ago, as many locals know, K Street wasn't exactly the most appealing place for a stroll, run-down and sketchy as it had become. That's changing, and Ella has been a part of that new optimism and energy on K Street, bolstered even more by the arrival of Pizza Rock. Sometime in the next year or two, expect much more, including more housing.

Meanwhile, whether you have yet to try Ella or simply want to enjoy more of that atmosphere, food and service, this is a good time to drop by for Happy Hour or head over to enjoy a full meal. The Happy Hour anniversary specials run throughout September, as does a special $35 prix fixe dinner. To see the prix fixe menu, click here. It sure looks good.

Ella is at 1131 K St., Sacramento. (916) 443-3772.

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


September 10, 2012
Sacramento Burger Battle promises to be big, meaningful

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If you're the least bit tied in the local food scene, you probably already know about the Sacramento Burger Battle event on Sept. 18 at Raley Field.

How so? Rodney Blackwell, the man behind the upcoming extravaganza of sizzling beef and gooey cheese is a one-man social media dynamo. He tweets. He blogs. He says stuff on Facebook. And he makes things happen.

The Burger Battle not only promises to be a significant annual food event in Sacramento, it's going to raise thousands of dollars for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. Blackwell's oldest daughter, 9-year-old Karina, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age 5.

"I've been donating to them ever since, but I wanted to do more," Blackwell told me Monday.

September 7, 2012
Pajo Bruich and Enotria could be a great pairing

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I was excited to learn that Pajo Bruich, the artistic, modernist chef with the ever-growing reputation (but still rather thin resume) had landed a new gig as executive chef at Enotria. That's the restaurant with the stellar wine list that, at least to me, tended to under-achieve in the kitchen.

Is this the final piece of the puzzle for a place that appears to have not only deep pockets but a commitment to raise the bar?

When I encountered Bruich's food over the past year at Lounge ON20, where he teamed with sous chef extraordinaire Mike Ward, I was sometimes blown away by the flavor combinations, the thinking behind the ingredients, the arcane techniques, the artistry of the plating and the unabashed yearning to do something new and innovative. I like people who aren't comfortable fitting in and being ordinary, especially when they have the talent and know-how to back up their peculiarities.

The Lounge gig didn't last. People didn't get it. And the restaurant wasn't really a restaurant -- it was a lounge that happened to have a kitchen. The lounge didn't showcase Bruich and Ward properly, if at all. In fact, the very people who might admire their food - savvy, well-traveled and well-heeled epicureans -- would take one look at the exterior of Lounge ON20, complete with a big, bad bouncer standing guard outside, and rightly conclude, "Not for me."

Lounge hired Bruich to do his thing. Then after a month or two of lagging sales, instead of marketing the food better, it pulled back. Bruich's new marching orders? "You know why we hired you? To be modernist and artistic and edgy? Don't do that."

September 7, 2012
Top of Folsom art, food and wine event is Sept. 15

Just a reminder that Top of Folsom, the event featuring fine art with food and wine set atop the scenic rooftop of the parking garage in historic Old Folsom is Saturday, Sept. 15 from 6-9 p.m.

It should be quite an evening -- featuring 20 artists, 20 wineries and 15 chefs. Live music, too. All for a good cause.

If that's not enough, Karen Holmes of Karen's Bakery & Cafe fame will be making a "public salad," based on a performance art piece first showcased by American artist Alison Knowles at the Tate Museum in London in 1962. In this updated version, Holmes will have help from culinary students at American River College. I'm not privy to all the details, but expect massive amounts of salad greens to be dropped -- or tossed -- from the fourth-floor level of the garage to the third level, where they will be caught in a large tarp. A pitch fork could be used to toss the greens with the dressing. This might make more sense when you see it in person -- after a glass or two of old vine zin.

Tickets are $75. Proceeds go to the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary and the Folsom Historic District. For more information or to purchase tickets online, click here.

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

August 9, 2012
A dress code at a restaurant? Here? Huh?

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I recently dined at a restaurant that does something very unusual - it informs people when they call to make a reservation that they are expected to dress appropriately for dinner - and that does not mean men showing up in shorts and flip-flops.

This led me to wonder: where have all the dress codes gone? Are they a relic of a bygone era? Do we have any standards for evening attire these days? Does it matter?

In Sacramento and throughout much of Northern California, the answer is simple: there are no standards. Sure, the French Laundry (in Yountville) still requires men to wear jackets, but there aren't many places like that left. More often than not, anything goes, including baseball caps in white-tablecloth restaurants.

Men, especially, have been dressing down more and more for dinner. The gender divide may be growing, too. If there is a disparity gender-wise, women tend to dress more appropriately for the occasion. These days, it is very common to see a woman in a stylish dress accompanied by a man in jeans and a T-shirt.

Since I feel like I'm in the minority on this topic, I wanted to consult with an expert. So I called Ryan Douglas Hammonds, the 32-year-old owner of R. Douglas Custom Clothier, which makes and hand-delivers custom suits, blazers, slacks and shirts for men. He recently introduced a line of men's dress shoes. Check out the company's website here. His clothes look great.

August 8, 2012
Hot Italian hosts Ruthie Bolton book-signing this Saturday

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Former Sacramento Monarchs guard and WNBA all-star Ruthie Bolton will be at Hot Italian (1627 16th St., Sacramento) this Saturday from 3-6 p.m. to meet fans and sign copies of her new book, "The Ride of a Lifetime: The Making of Mighty Ruthie."

The event coincides with the Olympic gold medal game in women's basketball, which will be shown at the pizzeria starting at 4 p.m.

As many Sacramentans know, Bolton was not only an excellent basketball player but a widely respected woman off the court with a compelling life story.

August 6, 2012
Some things ARE impossible: a glass of wine with a dog at the Weatherstone

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During my many visits to restaurants, I occasionally run up against befuddling rules related to the establishment's liquor license. Sometimes, for instance you can have wine inside but not out, on the patio but not at the tables along the sidewalk. Liquor ads in the windows? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What's the rule? Depends who's asking.

Perhaps the strangest "rule" I have seen so far is the one at Old Soul at the Weatherstone on 21st Street. I "discovered" it, to my chagrin, while out for a stroll through midtown with one of our three dogs. We were having a peaceful walk. We met other dogs. We had a staring contest with the cat in the window at Richard L Press Fine and Scholarly Books. We greeted children, frightened squirrels, sniffed things here and there. After awhile, I was craving a bite to eat and a glass of wine - and I wanted to hang out with Abbey, who loves coffee shops and just about everybody and everything except fireworks.

Turns out, you can visit Old Soul at the Weatherstone and enjoy a bite to eat or a coffee with your dog. You can certainly enjoy a glass of wine there. But you can't bring your dog AND enjoy a glass of wine. It's impossible, thanks to two government agencies and their restrictions, which may or may not make sense.

All I wanted to do was hang out, relax, taste a very nice petite syrah, try to catch up on my New Yorker subscription and watch the world go by as I clawed my way through a Zadie Smith short story.

August 3, 2012
Restaurants and marketing part III: The Eatery in West Sac

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My look at how restaurants market and promote themselves is turning into an ongoing series. That's because it's a huge part of the business, and because I am fascinated by how busy restaurants stay busy. If you think it's all about the food, you're wrong.

Getting the attention of the consumer - connecting with newcomers, making friends with regulars - is a way to build a restaurant that has staying power.

I'm writing this just after I received a long, sincere email from a reader responding to my recent review of Erawan Thai Restaurant, in which I take the business to task for not doing enough to attract attention, fill the seats and, thus, make dining there a lively, entertaining experience. Every time I visited, the place was a ghost town.

The emailer states, "The owners establish a strong base with the customers that do come in and as a result we become loyal customers. If you are a Buddhist customer with strong spiritual ties, the atmosphere is very pleasing and peaceful."

August 3, 2012
Feeding Crane Farms poised to launch product line, acquire commercial kitchen

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If you follow the local food scene, you're probably already familiar with Feeding Crane Farms, a new boutique organic farm in within the city limits (in Natomas) that focuses on growing for local restaurants.

The small urban farm has big plans. I recently caught up with Mike Ward to learn more. Ward, you may recall, was the talented chef de cuisine at Lounge on 20 where he was best known for his amazing charcuterie plates. When the restaurant went under, he quickly landed a job at Feeding Crane Farms in a newly created position - culinary development manager.

That was back in May. Since then, Ward has been very busy - working, planning, dreaming.

August 2, 2012
A few thoughts on extraordinary ice cream at Ginger Elizabeth

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Just the other day, I tasted one of the greatest ice creams I've ever had. The flavor? Lemon custard with Graham crackers and blueberry jam, $9 for a pint at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates (1801 L St. #61, Sacramento).

In the past, I've praised many things about this small midtown business -- the macarons, the hand-crafted chocolates, and the incredible ice cream sandwiches. And I've told you about the proprietor, Ginger Elizabeth Hahn, who has been named one of the top 10 chocolatiers in the country by "Dessert Professional Magazine."

There's more. Ginger Elizabeth ice creams are extraordinary -- and this particular flavor exceeded my lofty expectations. I contacted Hahn to chat about this ice cream and get her thoughts on creating flavor.


August 1, 2012
Raising salad-making to the level of performance art, with wine

I just got off the phone with Karen Holmes of Karen's Bakery and Cafe in Folsom. I called her after reading about an upcoming food, wine and fine art event that sounds like a lot of fun. It will be held on the top floor of the parking garage in Historic Old Folsom on Sept. 15, with proceeds going to the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary. For more information and to buy tickets, go here.

Holmes sent me an earlier email in which she said, "I wanted to bring a Fine Art event to the Historic District of Folsom. Artists from outside our community who create fine art -- not arts and crafts. I love art, and the artists who can think that way, and wanted to support fine art in my community. My vision was an event that brought fine art, food, and wine together. I wanted the artists to be able to sell their work, and for people to be able to taste wine and food, similar to the events I've been to at Pebble Beach and Los Angeles."

I was especially intrigued by Holmes' role - she's going to be preparing a "public salad." What's a public salad, you ask? That's what I wanted to know.


July 31, 2012
Request from a reader: Trying to track down Belgian-style fries

Greg, a reader pining away for some especially good French fries, writes:

"Where in the Sacramento area can I buy good twice-cooked or double-fried French fries? These are sometimes called Belgian Fries or Flemish Fries. I can't find good examples anywhere in the area. I used to get them from A&W on Madison & Date sometime before they closed. Also, I may have got them unintentionally from the new Squeeze Inn in West Sac when they first opened. The line was out the door and I think they probably pre-cooked some fries in preparation for the large crowds. Then as the orders came in, they cooked the fries a second time to finish cooking them and presto - Belgian-style fries.

"If you would give me a few recommendations on where I might find good Belgian-style French fries in the Sacramento area, I'd really appreciate it."

July 27, 2012
Cowboy steak part II -- amazing steak photos suddenly appear on my phone

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If you're a meat eater, this is one of the great indulgences - a big, thick juicy steak you cook yourself. Enjoying a steak of this magnitude and in this manner involves care, knowledge, maybe a ritual or two, and a little bit of precision. You think about it, make a special trip to buy it, take it home and center your entire evening around cooking and then eating it.

One of the great steaks in this neck of the woods is the "cowboy steak" at Corti Brothers. Meat eaters know this cut well - and they know it's worth every penny. I wrote about my encounter with the cowboy steak, and followed up with a blog post about a similarly incredible steak from the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op here.

Since then, Nate Simon, a Sacramento physician and major food enthusiast, has been biding his time until he could tackle his very own cowboy steak. I learned about his meal as it was coming out of the pan. The photos came out of nowhere. I was eating a salad, of all things, when I got a text from Nate. It was the photo you see above - a great steak that had been cooked in a cast iron pan. The only thing missing was the campfire and the covered wagon. Prior to that, I had received a few texts of great-looking food while Nate was dining at a French bistro -- in Paris.

July 26, 2012
Restaurants and marketing part II

Last week, I compiled a list of restaurants doing a very good job at marketing and promoting their businesses. What led to the list? My recent experience with Erawan Thai Restaurant, which has good food and, at least until the review came out, very few actual customers.

Restaurants that sit back and wait for customers to discover their tasty food and friendly staffs are destined to lose out to those that realize this is a highly competitive business that requires smarts, persistence, exposure and repetition.

Many folks emailed me to point out restaurants I might want to add to the list. Two certainly stand out - Mikuni and de Vere's Irish Pub. Consider them added. These two do an excellent job. In fact, struggling restaurants looking for a boost would do well to study what these places are up to.


July 20, 2012
Which restaurants do the best at marketing and promoting?

Good cooking, great service and a pleasant atmosphere. Those are the key components of a successful restaurant. But there's something even more important than that - getting the word out about these components.

That's right, there are some very empty restaurants out there serving good food. There are also some very crowded restaurants serving OK food. One explanation for that comes down to how these restaurants sell themselves - how they tell their story and explain why customers should give them a try. In this economy, especially, when families are cutting back on eating out, restaurants need to make their case - often, loudly and with creative ideas.

Marketing a restaurant is complicated. The best marketing ideas tell stories about the people who work there, about the food, the purveyors, the thinking behind the food. Like any good story, these are elements that help potential customers connect in some way with the business. Connecting equals likability.

There are other, more basic ways to connect - for instance, talking about quality and price, and what makes this restaurant stand out from all the others. One big mistake I occasionally see: restaurateurs making divisive political comments on Facebook or Twitter. You have the right to do it, sure. But it's incredibly dumb to slam Obama, Bush, Romney or others when it might alienate half your customer base.

Advertising is where chain restaurants beat locally owned restaurants pretty handily, mostly because the chains have the budgets to buy plenty of advertising. It's also because chains usually have a finely honed concept and plenty of fresh ideas about how to sell it.

But there are local places that are really doing well in this crucial part of doing business - and staying relevant. I was reminded of that when I recently received a detailed email from the Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento. The reason? The executive chef, Deneb Williams, was rolling out an impressive new seasonal menu. The email explained what the restaurant was doing, the thinking behind the new menu and, finally, it provided the entire menu, which looks irresistible.

I was reminded in a different way when I drove by Fremont Park in midtown/downtown the other day. There was a lunchtime concert in the park - a wonderful idea by Hot Italian, the pizzeria that faces the park.

July 16, 2012
Take a bike ride out to Feeding Crane Farms on July 22

The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is leading a bike ride out to Feeding Crane Farms, the newest organic farm in the area, on July 22 (Sunday). If you want to join in the fun and learn about an urban farm that focuses on supplying restaurants with specialty items and that recently started distributed a CSA box for home cooks, you have to act fast.

Deadline for registration is Tuesday (July 17). The cost is $15, which includes what will undoubtedly be a farm-fresh lunch. The leisurely ride to the farm in Natomas will leave Edible Pedal at 9 a.m., returning around 1 p.m. Round trip from midtown, it's about 15 miles. To register or to learn more, click here. You can also call the Co-op at (916) 455-2667.

July 13, 2012
Aimal Formoli to be next guest chef at Plates Cafe

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Plates Café and Catering is an innovative program that offers intensive on-the-job training programs to help formerly homeless women with children develop their skills and find careers in the hospitality industry. It operates in conjunction with St. John's Shelter for Women & Children.

One of the main attractions at Plates is the delicious and eclectic lunch menu, available weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

On the first Thursday night of every month, Plates also showcases the work of a guest chef. In August, it's Aimal Formoli, the enterprising and creative chef behind the superb food at Formoli's Bistro in East Sacramento. It's an honor to be selected for this guest chef position and it's a treat for patrons to try the food these chefs present for their special dinners. The featured wine maker on this occasion is Naggiar Vineyards; the desserts will be by Drizzle Cupcakes.

July 12, 2012
Two upcoming events at the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg

Here are two events on the horizon at the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg you might enjoy. Besides wine, each involves something near and dear to my heart: pet adoption and, in a completely different way, bread and cheese.

The Old Sugar Mill is a feel-good place - a short drive from downtown Sacramento, it seems as if you're way out in the country in a beautifully renovated setting that is ruggedly industrial yet refined. There are six wineries with tasting rooms, as well as a crush facility on the premises.

The first event is called "Pups and Pinot" this Saturday, July 14, from 1-5 p.m. featuring dogs up for adoption from Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary.

July 9, 2012
Fun for the family: A Sunday drive with a few stops at farms

This looks to have the makings of a fun and educational food and farm-related event for those looking for a pleasant Sunday drive with the kids out to the Sierra foothills.

It's called the Living Lands' Third Annual Farm Tour and Family Fun Festival. The tour is on July 15 (Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.. Those attending are encouraged to visit three of the six participating farms, meet the farmers and learn about their operations.

Then, from 1-5 p.m., adults and kids are invited to attend the festival at First Rain Farm in Nevada City. There will be lunch, ice cream, live music and a variety of activities, including butter churning and goat milking.

July 6, 2012
Bacon Fest announces BLT Week and a BLT bike crawl

bacon.jpgBack in January, Bacon Fest proved to be exceptionally popular with food lovers as well as lucrative for local restaurants and pubs that participated.

Fast forward to summer, and restaurateurs are eager to get involved with a new Bacon Fest-sponsored event: "Bacon Fest Sacramento presents BLT Week 2012."

It's the perfect bacon theme for summertime, especially with tomatoes reaching their peak.

What is BLT Week? I caught up with Brian Guido, the man behind Bacon Fest, to get the details.

July 5, 2012
Pot and pans -- a restaurant gets busted for peddling cannabis-enriched baked goods

Back in March, I noticed a new restaurant had opened on El Camino Avenue in the space occupied for years by the beloved Palomino Room (and later, a Chinese food buffet). What's more, this new place, The Farmer's Daughter, seemed like it might be one of those enlightened farm-to-table kind of places. It was farm-to-table all right - more, it turns out, than we could have imagined.

We lined up a visit with the intention of writing a "First Impressions" piece, but we were almost immediately taken aback. My girlfriend noticed the guy who greeted us had a roach clip thingy hanging from his cap. No big deal. Maybe this is what the kids call a fashion accessory these days.

We looked around the room. Weird décor, odd vibe. Then we got the news. There was a "snafu" in the kitchen and the food offerings would be limited. Was this a poor choice of words by the manager? Or was it a code word? I was oblivious.

I called the overall concept of the place "dazed and confused." I guess I could have asked, "What were these people smoking? Check out the story The Bee's Anita Creamer wrote yesterday. The Sheriff's Department just busted the joint and recovered 80 pounds of marijuana. Good thing I didn't order a brownie. According to a Sheriff's spokesman, desserts could be fortified with medical-grade cannabis.

The sandwiches and soup I sampled were decent. I haven't seen the entire report from the Sheriff, but I'm going to assume that these meager offerings weren't fortified with anything more than mustard or mayo.


June 29, 2012
A few thoughts on sourdough starter, old-fashioned values, etc.

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The next two restaurants I am reviewing - Juno's Kitchen in East Sacramento and, a week later, Masullo Pizza in Land Park - have several things in common. They employ old-world techniques to prepare their food, and both places insist on using excellent ingredients. Beyond that, both places maintain a sourdough starter - Mark Helms of Juno's uses his to bake bread, and Robert Masullo's starter is the foundation for the Neapolitan-style dough for his pizzas. The starter is a key component of both businesses.

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A starter, or natural leaven, is an amazing thing, a bubbly, soupy mix of flour, water, naturally occurring yeast and bacteria. As a bread-baking (and occasionally pizza-making) hobbyist, I have maintained a starter for about a decade, feeding it a regular diet of flour and water to keep it alive and active and ready to use.

June 22, 2012
Follow-up: Landlord not to blame in closure of Scott's Seafood

Following up on a post here a few days ago about the closure of Scott's Seafood at Loehmann's Plaza, it seems as if many readers may have gotten the wrong idea about the negotiations of the lease terms. Scott's co-owner Alan Irvine tells me the landlord has been receiving angry emails since the news came out. (Scott's two other Sacramento area restaurants remain open and are doing well).

Irvine explained that since the recession hit in 2008, the Scott's at Loehmann's Plaza had been especially hard hit, thanks to an aging demographic in the area and increased competition nearby.

"I stopped taking a salary two or three years ago. We shared our information with the landlord and they initially helped us through one year and we repaid that," he said. "It didn't get any better and we basically paid what we could after that. They were very reasonable with us, but there came a point where we realized we just couldn't continue."

June 21, 2012
Thoughts of a restaurateur: Are you really ready to run a business?

I get lots of emails, but there's one each month I always make sure I read -- the newsletter from Cafe Luna's co-owner David Van Buskirk. It's smart, funny, poignant and always entertaining. The restaurant is in Placerville and is always a good bet for creative and delicious food, good wine and an enjoyable dining experience.

Van Buskirk's latest missive covers all kinds of terrain, but I wanted to excerpt one area because it touches on unrealistic expectations of starting a business. It certainly applies to some who go into the restaurant business and think it will be sort of glamorous and fun.

Here's what Van Buskirk wrote:

June 21, 2012
Local chef vying for $250,000 grant to launch farm-to-table food truck idea

David Hill, owner of the popular and much-respected restaurant The Chef's Table in Rocklin, has an idea for a food truck - and he's looking for public support to help him land one of 12 $250,000 grants available to get the truck up and running and heading out to area farmers markets.

The catch? Plenty of stiff competition across the country for one of the slices of start-up funding from a $3 million pie. The program is the result of a partnership between Chase bank and LivingSocial.

I caught up with Hill to ask him about his vision for a food truck. Turns out, the restaurateur and former culinary instructor has been thinking about food trucks for years.

June 18, 2012
Scott's Seafood closes Loehmann's Plaza location, citing economy

Scott's Seafood Grill & Bar at Loehmann's Plaza, a stalwart in the community since it opened in 1991, announced suddenly Monday that it was closing the restaurant.

SCOTTS.jpegThe persistent recession, competition from newer downtown restaurants and an aging neighborhood demographic that was eating out less frequently all played a role in the restaurant's downturn, according to Alan Irvine, co-owner of the three Sacramento area Scott's Seafood restaurants. The Scott's at Le Rivage Hotel along the Sacramento River and the Scott's in Folsom continue to do well and will remain open, Irvine said.

The company posted a notice on its website Monday, stating in part:

"It is with great regret that we announce the closure of Scott's Seafood Grill and Bar in Loehmann's Plaza. Alan Irvine, John Cook and their families opened this restaurant over 20 years ago, on October 31, 1991. It quickly became the most popular seafood restaurant in Sacramento, winning awards year after year in the Sacramento Bee, News and Review, KCRA's A List and Sacramento Magazine.
"The owners, management and staff have all been working very hard to keep this beautiful restaurant viable but the local economy's lack of recovery and our failure to strike new lease terms with the landlord has made it impossible to continue."
June 17, 2012
Apologizing for an error that caused sorrow for many

I made an unfortunate error in today's restaurant review of Silva's Sheldon Inn. I failed to connect with the restaurant's owners prior to publication. Had I, I would have learned that Don Brown, the longtime executive chef at Biba who later became sous chef at Silva's Sheldon Inn, died in 2010. Mr. Brown was mentioned briefly in the review. I have already heard from many of Mr. Brown's friends and loved ones, and I want to apologize for the jolt of pain and anguish my error caused.

Those who knew Don Brown have told me, as one email stated this morning, that he was "a great father, wonderful chef, super person." Other emails have made similar characterizations.

This error has already been addressed in the online version of the review and will be corrected in the newspaper. I feel terrible about the mistake and will redouble my efforts to make sure errors big or small do not find their way into my work.


June 15, 2012
Compton's Market launches free wine tastings every Friday

Compton's Market in McKinley Park (East Sacramento) recently expanded its wine selection to include a special area for international wines with numerous appealing choices at various price points. Now, they're going even heavier into wine with featured wine tastings on Friday afternoons from 3-7 p.m.

Compton's is at 4065 McKinley Blvd. It is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., except Sunday when it closes at 8 p.m.

Owner Sunil Hans told me each tasting will feature three wines and the tastings are complimentary. In order to conduct the tastings, the grocery store had to apply for a special license called Type 86, which allows the store to conduct instructional wine tastings, he said. The license also allows for beer and spirits tastings.

"Our neighborhood clientele have been asking about this for almost a year," Hans said. "We did a little survey and everybody wants it."

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

June 15, 2012
Question for readers: What obligation do parents have when their kids misbehave at a restaurant?


In midtown and downtown, we rarely encounter gaggles of misbehaving children in restaurants. But my GF and I sure did the other night at a casual but high-quality restaurant.

The noise was incredible. There was yelling, screaming, running, grabbing. And it made me realize: isn't it really about misbehaving adults? The kids were bored. They probably couldn't care less about the artisan techniques or the local, sustainable, organic produce.

Yes, the adults in this case - two couples in their 30s - did almost nothing to discipline their six young kids or get them to pipe down. They were oblivious. To us, it seemed as if they were letting the kids run roughshod around the restaurant, disrupting the rest of us, so they could engage in adult conversation. We were essentially the child care service while they were having some adult time.


June 15, 2012
Chocolate Fish to host "latte art throw down" June 30

latte art.JPGSacramento is losing one of its best baristas to the Air Force Reserves, and to send him off in style, Chocolate Fish Coffee is hosting a latte throw down and barbecue. It is Saturday June 30 at 4 p.m. Chocolate Fish is at the corner of Q and 3rd streets downtown.

It's essentially a friendly competition to see who can do the coolest art with the steamed milk atop lattes and cappuccinos.

In recent years, one of the many developments that distinguishes independent coffee shops from major chains like Starbucks or Peet's is that when you order a latte or cappuccino, you're usually treated to something special with the design of the milk cap. Often it's a stylized tree, a heart or something abstract. It's an aesthetic flourish that doesn't make the coffee taste any better but is an extra nice touch that has become pretty much standard practice at the better independents. You rarely if ever see latte art at Starbucks and Peet's. Maybe it's because most of the coffee orders are to go and the cups have a lid.

Some of the best latte art I've seen in Sacramento has been done by Chocolate Fish's Kyle Baumann, who told me recently he is leaving the business for the Air Force Reserves, which entails many months of training. Not only was he a devoted employee and coffee practitioner, he's an an all-around good guy. I have had many an excellent espresso and flat white at Chocolate Fish.

As for the latte art competition, it should be a lot of fun. Great coffee, good food, and lots of friendly folks saying farewell to one of the city's best baristas. As a small leaflet promoting the event states: "Kyle's last hurrah as a barista and your last chance to challenge him to a latte art thrown down."

The event is open to the public.

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

June 14, 2012
Sugar and Spice closes retail shop to focus on wholesale, catering

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Carissa Jones makes beautiful desserts - creative, delicious, little works of art. Whimsical, classical and everything in between. Cookies, tarts, cakes and more.

So it came as a tremendous jolt to many of her admirers when she placed a sign in the door last Tuesday with the unsavory news: the retail component of her bakery, Sugar and Spice Specialty Desserts, was no more.

storefront.JPGYes, the charm of walking into this little storefront bakery, sizing up each and every delectable offering on display, chatting with the owner and then picking out something just right - that special experience has come to an end.

I finally caught up with Jones by telephone to find out what happened.

June 8, 2012
Guest post: the case in favor of the ban on foie gras

Note: After an earlier posting today on three special events devoted to foie gras, I received a call from Jennifer Fearing, California Senior State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. I invited her to state the case in support of the ban on foie gras, which begins July 1. What follows is what she wrote:

The notion of foodies gorging on fatty liver from force-fed ducks and geese is more than a little ironic.

Foie gras, French for "fatty liver," is the diseased and enlarged liver of a duck or goose, produced through force-feeding. Multiple times each day for several weeks, a pipe is shoved down the birds' throats to force-feed them. The birds' livers, diseased with hepatic lipidosis, grow up to ten times their normal size, and are then sold as foie gras. Evidence suggests ducks and geese experience fear, acute and chronic stress, and pain. Mortality rates for force-feed ducks are 10-20 times higher than those for non-force fed ducks. Many animal welfare experts condemn the practice and no existing animal welfare program certifies a producer who force feeds their animals.

June 8, 2012
Three exciting menus bid farewell to foie gras

As most food enthusiasts know by now, foie gras will be banned in California on July 1. Note: I was unaware of a provision in the bill that would allow the production of foie gras without force feeding, so I am updating this blog post and deleting that error.

Several top restaurants have held special foie gras dinners and more are planning them. Here are three that should delight foie gras aficionados. Reservations for any of the dinners is highly recommended.

June 5, 2012
End of an era II: Ford's side of the break-up with Taylor's

Yesterday we told you about the end of the 20-year relationship between two beloved local institutions that do things the old-fashioned way: Taylor's Market and Ford's Hamburgers. Because Ford's is closed Mondays, we didn't catch up with owner Peter Paul Vereschzagin until this morning to get his side of things.

Taylor's, which has supplied beef to Ford's for two decades, was not happy with the way the relationship ended and recently took to Facebook to wish the restaurant luck and say they "hope they are able maintain the same level of quality while using a corporate source for their beef." Some saw the comment as bitter or snide.

June 4, 2012
End of an era: Taylor's Market and Ford's Hamburgers part ways

OK, maybe it came off as a bit of a dig when the much-admired and locally owned Taylor's Market posted a brief note on Facebook, informing its fans that it would no longer be the supplier to locally owned Ford's Hamburgers just up the street.

It went like this: "We are sad to announce that after 25 years our business relationship with Ford's Hamburgers has ended. We wish the owners well and hope they are able maintain the same level of quality while using a corporate source for their beef."

The last sentence was obviously provocative. Some saw it as snide. I didn't mind it a bit. I'm a big fan of Taylor's. For me and many others, it's pretty much the perfect grocery store, from the old-fashioned meat counter staffed by skilled butchers (including owner Danny Johnson), great cheese selection, excellent sandwiches and a small selection of wine and beer in which there are no subpar choices. I like the size, too - who wants to wander up and down vast aisles looking for stuff? I'm in and out of Taylor's in 10 minutes.

So I called Danny Johnson (he and wife Kathy own Taylor's) to ask about the Ford's dust-up, sensing there was more to the story (Ford's is closed on Mondays, so we'll follow up soon with that side).


June 4, 2012
Pacha Coffee offers new option to the grid's great scene

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There's another coffee shop in a midtown alley, but it doesn't serve coffee, it doesn't roast coffee and you won't find anyone hanging out there reading, writing, surfing or chatting. The hours? They're weak.

Pacha Coffee Cooperative focuses on one thing: it sells beans - very good beans, at a very good price and, best of all, without all that awkward exploitation associated with much of the coffee we drink in the Western world.

I recently stopped by Pacha (short for Pachamama, or mother earth, which too many people found too difficult to say) to check it out. It is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., that is, when the employee doesn't lock up to make a quick lunch run. The address is 919 20th St., though you enter on the alley between I and J streets.

As reported in The Bee and elsewhere, Pacha's business model is unusual and enlightening - it's not out to make big money. Instead, this cooperative operates on behalf of the coffee farmers who own the cooperative. The farmers get the profits and are able to reinvest the money into their farms.

June 1, 2012
Sactown Dining Collective kick-off dinner: sold out

Here's a sign that the local restaurant scene is coming together and picking up momentum: the kic