We went on a walkabout inside the Cost Plus World Market to discover some of its seasonal food items that could complement a backyard barbecue or picnic in the park.
Just inside the store is a Global Dog "food truck" – shelves of condiments and chips that could be used to assemble ethnic-style hot dogs. As in Asian (shrimp-flavored puffs), Latin (hot sauces), German (sauerkraut) and American (ketchups).
In the back of the store we encountered thousands of food and drink items (and spices and sauces) from a dozen countries, including the United States.
We cruised through aisles stocked with Kahlua seasoning salt (Hawaii), apple shortbread (Brittany), caramel waffle cookies (Italy), cured bockwurst (Germany), curry sauces (India), chestnut spread (France), hot mustard (Russia) and much more.
Our panel tasted a sampling and somehow got stuck on the concept of heat: Mama Zuma's habanero potato chips (Virginia), Sriracha Thai chili-flavored popcorn (Seattle), Sriracha chili- and garlic-coated green peas (Thailand), Da Kine barbecue sauce (Hawaii), Sabrett brand chopped onions in relish-style sauce (New York), Melinda's habanero ketchup (Costa Rica), Alstertor Dusseldorf-style mustard (New Jersey) and brine-packed pork frankfurters (Germany).
To drink: Lorina pink citrus lemonade (France), Fruits of the Nile mango- orange nectar (Egypt), Jackson Hole strawberry-rhubarb soda (Wyoming) and Moxie "original elixir" (since 1884; New Hampshire).
Herr's Stadium Dawg potato chips (Pennsylvania) taste just like a fully loaded hot dog. We pictured flavor developers wearing white lab coats and hair nets, concocting a variety of chemicals to fuse with potatoes. Why not just eat a hot dog instead?
The chips are among Cost Plus manager Tom Hedtke's favorite items.
"We sampled them here last week, and the look on everybody's face was so startled," he said. "Just like yours."
Cost Plus World Market is at 1821 Howe Ave., Sacramento; (916) 929-0220, www.worldmarket.com. The store is one of eight in the greater Sacramento area, part of a 260-unit national chain that began life in 1958 on Fisherman's Wharf.
Pasta pleases at Piatti
Pasta comes in a delightful array of shapes, sizes and names, from the familiar (rigatoni, lasagna) to the obscure (maltagliati, sorprese lisce).
Linguine translates into English as "little tongues" and is a go-to in Genoa and the Liguria region of coastal Italy, food experts tell us. When teamed with clams and white sauce to make "linguine alle vongole," the long, flat noodles become sublime.
We found a marvelous version at Piatti Ristorante in Sacramento, where the starter bowl is $13, the entree is $18.
Steaming-hot al dente linguine is covered in a silken, complex sauce and topped with plump, briny clams in the shell. Add some grated cheese and cracked black peppercorns. Flavors and textures exploded with each forkful, as a touch of heat lingered in the background. How good was it? My lunch pal went with a Margherita pizza, and we ended up dipping the leftover pizza crust into the leftover clam sauce.
We asked executive chef Lance Carlini to disassemble the dish.
The sauce: The fragrant creation is a marriage of Parmesan broth, white wine, preserved Meyer lemon, lemon juice, garlic, tomato, herbs and butter, finished with olive oil-cured Calabrian chili peppers, he explained.
The house-made Parmesan broth is based on the rinds from the 75 pounds of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese the restaurant uses each week. Typically, the rinds are cooked in water with olive oil, caramelized onion, garlic, aromatic herbs and other ingredients.
The clams: "We use littleneck clams because they stand up to the heat a little better than Manila clams, and they're bigger," Carlini said.
The pasta: "It's made in-house. The key is the organic eggs we use, from Vega Farms near Davis. We get them less than 24 hours after they're laid. The yolks are super-orange."
Get it at Piatti in the Pavilions center, just off Fair Oaks Boulevard and just east of Howe Avenue; (916) 649-8885, www.piatti.com.
Big Catch gets bad rap
The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants to feed the Big Catch to the sharks. Recently, the well- regarded but excitable consumer-advocacy group called Long John Silver's new entree item "the nation's deadliest restaurant meal."
The chain's Big Catch is a large fillet of "sustainably harvested" haddock, hush puppies (balls of seasoned cornbread) and a side. The CSPI chose onion rings for its side, not the optional french fries, corn, green beans, rice or coleslaw.
The CSPI sponsored laboratory tests that showed the Big Catch "has an astonishing 33 grams of trans fat (and) 19 grams of saturated fat and nearly 3,700 milligrams of sodium." The group then dropped a few worrisome words related to the findings – heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, calories (1,320 of 'em).
Bad report card, and a natural for this column. We made tracks for one of the six Long John Silver's in our area. It's housed inside a KFC outlet.
We didn't specify a side dish to the counterman when we ordered, so he gave us fries. We took the meal to a booth. In the interest of "healthful eating," we ignored the fries and hush puppies, and splashed malt vinegar on the fish instead of dipping it into gloppy tartar sauce. We even chose Diet Pepsis and felt almost virtuous.
Packaging is vital to marketing, yes, but the Big Catch is overpackaged, arriving in an oversized, bright blue-and-yellow cardboard container. Also, the fish is way oversalted. However, the steaming-hot fillet was moist and flaky, jacketed in a thin, crunchy coating. It was pretty darn good.
"This is just fish 'n' chips, and you're not gonna eat it every day," said the lunch pal. "So what's the big deal with how bad it is for you?"
Long John Silver's is at 2128 Sutterville Road, Sacramento; Sacramento; (916) 454-4811, www.ljsilvers.com.
Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. On Twitter: @apierleonisacbe