Appetizers Food & Dining blog logo
Thursday, October 2 2014
Hey, honey! What say we grab a bite?
Allen Pierleoni/
Spease Bees honey has moved from grass-roots sales to a presence in Save Mart stores.

Someone at the family-owned Spease Bees Honey Company in Elk Grove reached back to the 1920s for its slogan to describes its product: “It’s the Bee’s Knees.” Meaning it’s the cat’s meow. Or, if you prefer, the cat’s whiskers or the cat’s pajamas. Translation: “the height of excellence.”

We agree. We’ve tasted the honey, sourced from wildflowers along the Cosumnes River, and found its well-balanced, mild floral flavor not too sweet, and its consistency not too thick. We’ve poured it over croissants, English muffins and cornbread, and stirred it in to hot tea. We even mixed it with barbecue sauce and brushed it on a whole chicken before roasting. But we liked it best by the spoonful straight from the jar.

The honey was introduced to the market in a grass-roots way six months ago, and has migrated into 20 Save Mart stores. It sells for $8 per 12-ounce jar (look for end-of-aisle displays). More at

Now this segue: Just when you thought Sacramento Farm to Fork Week was over (and it is), along comes the outdoor Sunday Supper at the Ranch, hosted by Spease Bees and Bravo’s Soup & Sandwich Shoppe. The multi-course menu will feature ingredients from local farms and wineries. Some of the dishes: skewwers of roasted veggies, grass-fed beef tenderloin, spice-rubbed pulled pork, herb-crusted grilled free-range chicken, pumpkin risotto, and apple-cider doughnut bread pudding with maple cream sauce.

Allen Pierleoni/
Grilled sand dabs and crab Louis complemented the view at the Sandbar on Monterey’s Wharf No. 2.

Sure, the bayside cities of Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel host some of the best (and costliest) seafood restaurants in Northern California, but you don’t have to follow the tourist trail and pay $32 for a piece of halibut with yellow squash as the side.

There are a bunch of places where in-the-know diners congregate, including the Sandbar & Grill (”Where locals meet to eat”) on Monterey’s Municipal Wharf No. 2, next to another locals’ spot, LouLou’s Griddle In the Middle (”Good eats and crazy waitresses”).

Wharf No. 2 is a “working” wharf, built in 1926 and home to wholesale fish companies, a commercial abalone-farming operation and the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club. It’s not to be confused with nearby Old Fisherman’s Wharf, a honkytonk of souvenir shops, fishing and whale-watching charters, and restaurants (the best are Cafe Fina and Domenico’s).

We took a left just past LouLou’s and climbed down a stairway to the near-water-level Sandbar, rang a ship’s bell to announce ourselves, and went inside. Narrow room, big bar, nautical decor. We scored a table by a window overlooking the marina. Stand-up paddleboarders cruised by, mere feet away from where we sat. Boats motored past, close enough to hail. A few sea otters looked our way. We watched a sailboating school in session, with one daring kid more interested in turning his boat over than in keeping it afloat. Apparently, it was more fun to be in the the water than out.

Courtsey of Selland Family Restaurants
David Chavez, 31, has been hired as executive chef at The Kitchen.

With little fanfare or public announcement, The Kitchen Restaurant has replaced its executive chef and, for the next month or so, brought back founder and frontman Randall Selland to cook and perform at his family’s landmark eatery.

David Chavez, who has held high-level kitchen positions at several properties in the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, has taken the helm at the restaurant after John Griffiths, who won the job more than a year ago in a national search, decided to leave the post. Selland will help Chavez acclimate to working the $135-per-person dinners, in which the chef not only cooks but acts as a sort of an emcee for the evening.

“It’s a very humbling opportunity to take (up) Randall’s legacy – what he has done for Sacramento and the community – and I just hope I can live up to it,” Chavez said.

Chavez, 31, had been hired several months ago as a sous chef by the Selland Family Restaurants, even though Selland said there was not a specific job opening at the time. The Selland Family also owns highly regarded Ella Dining Room and Bar, and two locations of Selland’s Market-Cafe. When Griffiths announced he was leaving, Chavez, who had shown both his culinary and people skills, was named to what many consider to be one of the most coveted kitchen jobs in the city.

Wednesday, October 1 2014
But wait, there’s more — dump cake
Cathy Mitchell’s “Quick & Easy Dump Cakes and More” has sold more than 1 million copies.

Cathy Mitchell’s delightful “ Quick & Easy Dump Cakes and More” (TeleBrands), featured in today’s Food & Wine section, includes lots of combinations, almost all starting with a package of mix and a can of fruit. The varieties of cake mix and fruit often are interchangeable.

This novel “Island Delight” cake uses fresh fruit — or canned. Chopped fresh mangoes make up the bottom layer, but fresh (or canned) peaches can be substituted. The recipe uses lemon-lime or orange soda for leavening and to moisten the cake mix, but no eggs or oil.

“You can use any kind of soda — orange, lemon-lime, whatever you like,” Mitchell said. “The carbonation helps it rise.”

Experiment for yourself. You may come up with your own delightful dump cake combination. For more on dump cakes and Mitchell’s cookbook, go to

Bee staff
Yakitori Yuchan in Davis specializes in Japanese pub foods and skewered meats. This five-way yakitori sampler includes grilled chicken with wasabi cream, garlic and other seasonings.

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at

And now let’s head over the causeway to Davis, the home of the Aggies. Students who recently started the quarter at UC Davis and townfolk alike have a new downtown eating option, one that’s a break from the typical Thai food options and sushi buffets geared for student loan budgets.

Yakitori Yuchan opened in mid-September, taking over a downtown Davis space formerly occupied by a Beach Hut Deli. Unlike the teriyaki bowl and all-you-can eat sushi spots that typify Japanese food in downtown Davis, Yakitori Yuchan is modeled closer to an izakaya, or a Japanese pub that specializes in small-plate foods.

Yakitori Yuchan focuses on grilled, skewered meats, vegetables and seafood. But will this approach appeal to the folks who might otherwise head to the nearby Mikuni for Japanese eats? Here’s what you can expect thus far:

Tuesday, September 30 2014
Jerry Brown vetoes seafood labeling bill
Bruce Smith/ The Associated Press
Fishmonger Erik Espinoza shovels ice onto fresh fish at the Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have criminalized the selling of mislabeled seafood, handing another loss to lawmakers who pursued several high-profile efforts this year to give Californians more information about what they eat and drink.

“Much of what the bill seeks to accomplish is good,” Brown wrote in his veto message for Senate Bill 1138. “Requiring seafood producers and wholesalers to identify whether fish and shellfish are wild caught or farm raised, domestic or imported – these are reasonable and helpful facts for purchases to know.”

“Requiring more precise, species-specific labeling of seafood, however, is not as easily achieved,” he added.

Brown expressed concerns that the legislation – authored by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, to combat widespread fraud in California’s seafood supply chain – would “create uncertainties and complexities that may not be easily resolved” by requiring businesses to identify fish by its “common name.”

GGO33KMEQ.2Senior Photographer
Paul Kitagaki Jr./

A profile of Andrew Calisterio was the Feast cover story back in August, showing how this talented 26-year-old bartender exemplified the latest generation of craft cocktailers in Sacramento.

So how does Calisterio follow this up? By moving to Phoenix.

That’s right, Calisterio is pulling a reverse Kevin Johnson and setting up shop soon in Arizona. Calisterio is moving on Oct. 12, but his last shift at Hook & Ladder will take place tonight. He’ll follow that with a final shift on Tuesday morning at Golden Bear.

“I just want to have a nice, calm shift to get some cash in my pocket so I can go out that night,” said Calisterio.

Monday, September 29 2014
Free cups of Joe on National Coffee Day
Apichart Weerawong/ AP
It’s National Coffee Day and that means free coffee at some coffee shops.

It’s National Coffee Day and that means free java.

Among the coffee brewing establishments giving away hot coffee on Sept 29:

• Visit any participating Peet's and get a free coffee or espresso beverage to share with a friend when you buy one.

• Get a free 12-ounce cup of coffee or a 12-ounce mocha, latte or iced coffee for $1 at participating Krispy Kreme locations.

Wednesday, September 24 2014
Go gourd crazy at annual festival
GEL32KBFL.2Senior Photojournalist
Renee C. Byer/
Gourd artwork — priced from $1 to as much as $1,000 — was on sale at the annual Gourd Festival at Davis Ranch in Sloughhouse. The sixth annual festival will be held this weekend.

It’s time to get into gourds at Davis Ranch.

This weekend, the iconic Sloughhouse outpost will host its sixth annual gourd festival. With free admission and parking, this family event features gourd arts and crafts as well as gourd sales. Adding to the festive weekend will be music, multicultural performers and food vendors. Tractor rides offer a tour of the ranch, located about 30 minutes from downtown Sacramento. Younger kids will enjoy pony rides, corn maze and other fall fun.

But the main attraction are thousands of gourds. With plenty of hands-on opportunities, learn how to turn an ordinary hollow squash into a work of art. Find out the many uses of these hard-shelled squashes and a little about their history.

During the festival, the California Gourd Society will host its Northern California competition for most creative use of gourds. Society members will offer free demonstrations of gourd how-to’s throughout the weekend.

Allen Pierleoni/
Pumpkin-spice English muffins are on store shelves now.

Thomas’ bakery has been busy this year with limited-edition offerings of bagels and English muffin. Over the past few months, consumers have seen maple french toast-flavored bagels and cinnamon-vanilla English muffins, followed by cinnamon-redolent apple pie muffins and bagels.

New to the lineup is the 130-year-old company’s most popular flavor, pumpkin-spice muffins and bagels, along with cranberry muffins and bagels. Prices range from $3.99 to $4.69. Pumpkin-spice will be around into November; cranberry will debut in October and be available into December. The pumpkin-spice flavor has been so popular in past years that Thomas’ has had to literally work overtime to meet the demand.

If you like bold flavors, they’re for you.

More at

Florence Low/
Evan Elsberry is the award-winning chef-owner of Evan's Kitchen.

Chef Evan Elsberry specializes in a number of dishes at his restaurant, Evan’s Kitchen, including prime rib, rack of lamb and seafood pasta. He also regularly matches ethnic cuisines with appropriate wines, usually coming up with some surprises. In past months, he’s sold out his Italian, French, Spanish and German wine-pairing dinners.

Now he's presenting “Take a Walk On the Wild Side,” a multi-course meal of game dishes. It's planned from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 6. The cost is $75 per person, with reservations at (916) 452-3896. Evan's Kitchen is at 855 57th St., Sacramento, in the Antiques Mall.

The dinner looks like this:

First course: mint trout cakes with apple horseradish, paired with 2011 Santa Digna chardonnay

Thursday, September 18 2014
Taste chocolates with unusual cachet
Allen Pierleoni/
Three flavors of Cachet Belgian chocolate didn’t last long.

Chocolate is expensive. We’re not talking Hershey’s Kisses, though everybody likes ‘em, but fine chocolate from Belgium and Switzerland, and from small-production companies in California. For instance, we’ve seen 2.5-ounce artisanal chocolate bars made in the Bay Area sell for as much as $12 at specialty stores, and bars of imported chocolate bars typically priced at $6 to $8.

Given that, we were pleasantly surprised to find a display of very reasonably priced Cachet Belgian chocolate bars at Corti Bros. Market. We bought a sampling of 3.5-ounce dark-chocolate bars for $3.19 each, in intriguing and delicious flavor combinations — pear-almond, lemon-black pepper, orange-almond and blackberry-ginger.

Despite what wine snobs say about pairing chocolate with wine (don’t do it!), we teamed the chocolate with glasses of zinfandel and pinot noir and had a grand time. Corti’s is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento, (916) 736-3800.

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

Appetizers Archives

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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