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  • Bee staff

    Served during a recent omakase meal at Lou’s Sushi, two cuts from the same tuna each offer a different experience. The lighter colored tuna in front is chu toro, which is closer to the outside of the fish where the flesh is fattier; in back is the leaner maguro toro.

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    Seafood tacos are a popular appetizer at Lou’s Sushi on P Street. Other creative menu items include the seafood nachos and Mount Fuji roll.

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    Blue Point oysters from Maryland.

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    Dayboat scallops from Maine.

Is Sacramento erasing its cultural food boundaries?

Published: Monday, Mar. 24, 2014 - 11:23 am

This Sunday, I reviewed a place called Lou’s Sushi. It is a new neighborhood restaurant owned and operated by a man whose name happens to be Lou Valente.

I wonder how many people looked at that name and moved on, assuming a guy named Lou was probably a Johnny-Come-Lately who was doing trendy, possibly inferior sushi.

And yet, those who have followed Valente’s career know he is a true student of the craft. He put in his time, apprenticing for years to gain the knowledge and skill to do sushi the right way. Sure, his menu has some of Valente’s personality, but the quality of the products he uses – and the respect with which he uses them – is very impressive.

We are in a new and possibly enlightened era of food and culture in this town and, really, throughout the country. There are several sushi places of note owned by Vietnamese and Korean sushi chefs. More and more people are making regular trips to the amazing food to be found in a place the city has recognized as “Little Saigon,” the epicenter being Stockton Boulevard and 65th Street.

My colleague Allen Pierleoni recently wrote about the great bounty of food at Koreana Plaza and its multicultural food court that reflects the array of nationalities in Rancho Cordova. Part of the appeal of food is the sense of adventure we get when we try something new, if not exotic. Another part of it is how food can be an entry point to understanding other cultures in a casual and meaningful way.

Does food have boundaries? Certainly. But there are ways to show respect for those boundaries without being hamstrung by them. Having a global outlook when it comes to food can be about possibilities, about pushing the limits, about inspiration and fusion and lifelong learning – for those who eat and those who cook.

Before it closed a couple of years ago, one of my favorite fine dining experiences was at Ambience, a restaurant in Carmichael where the owner/chef was Korean, his talented sous chef was Mexican-American, and the two found a beautiful bond by making modernist, artistically realized French food. Imagine the dialogue in the kitchen – an older chef with a heavy Korean accent talking French technique to his young protege. Like Valente, Chef Morgan Song was sometimes considered an outsider in the world of French cuisine mostly because of his name. Song has since opened a new restaurant called Ambience in Los Altos.

Then there are the global-inspired dishes we see in some fine dining establishments. This isn’t being derivative. It means the chefs are paying attention and are inspired to add new flavors and combinations to their repertoires. Last week I ate an amazing example of poutine – French fries and gravy and cheese curds. Yet, we’re an awful long way from French-speaking Canada where this heart-attack-on-a-plate originated. That same restaurant served a bone marrow dish with the flavors of pho, the delicious Vietnamese soup that has its own multicultural fan base in this town.

Some of our best restaurants have added to their menus their take on the banh mi sandwich, a very flavorful Vietnamese sandwich with great, crunchy textures along with delicious meat. Served on crunchy baguettes (from the French influence in Vietnam), these sandwiches usually cost a few bucks on Stockton Boulevard, but now we’re seeing upscale versions of them for $10 or more. I love both kinds, and I’m especially fond of the stellar banh mi at Magpie and Juno’s. Prior to its closing, Tuli Bistro also had a banh mi.

So, if you’re a cultural purist when it comes to food, you may be closing your mind to a new opportunities, whether you’re scoffing at a place called Lou’s Sushi or wondering how some American chef could possibly do a banh mi sandwich. Perhaps the best way to embrace global cuisine is to focus on how the food can enlighten us, inspire us and, perhaps, bring us together.

To read Allen Pierleoni’s take on Koreana Plaza, click here.

To see my review of Lou’s Sushi, click here.

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

Read more articles by Blair Anthony Robertson

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

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Note: The Appetizers blog switched blog platforms in August 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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