Appetizers
May 6, 2013
Krush Burger to open location in Dubai

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Count Sacramento's Krush Burger as the first local food truck vendor to go international. According to a lengthy post on its web page, Krush Burger plans to open a brick-and-mortar location in Dubai. Owner Davin Vculek will be traveling to Dubai next week to oversee construction on this new spot, which is located near the massive Dubai Mall.

"The long term goal of our operating partner in Dubai is to open a second location there as well as one in Abu Dhabi, the capitol city of United Arab Emirates," said a statement from Vculek. "Where it goes beyond there is an exciting prospect. We are soo fortunate, through the loyal efforts of our fans here in Sacramento, we re able to take this amazing step in such a short period of time."

The statement also references plans to open more Krush Burger locations in Sacramento and expand to the Bay Area. Krush Burger opened its first brick-and-mortar shop near downtown at the California Lottery Headquarters in late 2012.

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.

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.

May 3, 2013
Evan's Kitchen will pair German dishes with local wines

pot roast.JPGSacramento chef Evan Elsberry is always up to something, whether it's entering (and winning) food competitions or hosting themed dinners at his restaurant, Evan's Kitchen.

Elsberry particularly enjoys getting the creative current moving by matching ethnic cuisines with appropriate wines, usually resulting in some unusual twists. Last year, he sold out his Italian-, French- and Spanish wine-pairing dinners.

Now he's ready for the next one, with a German theme. It's planned from 6 to 9 p.m. May 20. The cost is $75 per person, with reservations at (916) 452-3896. The previous wine dinners filled up fast, so...

Evan's Kitchen is at 855 57th St., Sacramento, in the Antiques Mall; www.chefevan.com.

The German dinner looks like this; note that all wines are from Frog's Tooth winery in Murphys (www.frogstooth.com).

First course: shrimp in dill cream
Served with 2011 pinot grigio

Second course: split pea soup with Black Forest ham laced with coriander, cumin and ginger
Served with 2011 meritage white

Third course: roasted pork shanks
Served with 2010 barbera

Fourth course: slow-cooked marinated roast beef with spiced and braised red cabbage, curried butternut squash, and potato pancakes with apple salsa
Served with 2009 malbec

Dessert: apple strudel
Served with 2011 dulcinea

May 2, 2013
Capital Tea Garden shuts down, to re-open under new ownership

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After serving dim sum and other Chinese foods for a quarter century, Capital Tea Garden on 11th and T streets shut down on Sunday. The good news is this appears to be a temporary closure. A sign in the window says the eatery will re-open following a remodel by new management.

Meanwhile, our friends at the Cowtown Eats blog have a screenshot from a Facebook friend who was at Capital Tea Garden on Sunday night and was told the current owners are retiring and the place will re-open under the new ownership in the next few months. Check out that post here.

We've been unsuccessful thus far in reaching any owners, and will fill in with more details as they come. Stay tuned, and we look forward to seeing the Lazy Susan spin again soon at Capital Tea Garden.

May 1, 2013
Weekday farmers markets in downtown launch today

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The high season for downtown farmers markets has arrived. Along with the year-round market under the freeway each Sunday at 6th and X streets, five more downtown farmers markets will run from May until fall.

A farmers market runs each Wednesday starting today at Cesar Chavez Plaza (10th and J streets, Sacramento) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This market will run weekly through Oct. 30.

Two more downtown farmers markets kick off Thursday: Capitol Mall (6th and Capitol, Sacramento) and Capitol Park (15th and L streets). Both of these markets will run through Sept. 26 and be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

May 1, 2013
'Snacks' is a user-friendly cookbook with twists by the 'aisle'

snacks.JPGA library of cookbooks is published each year, the daunting avalanche overwhelming the curious home cook who's daring enough to browse the Cookbooks section of bookstores.

Where to begin? One manageable starting point could be the just-released "Snacks" by self-proclaimed "food explorer" Marcy Smothers (HarperOne, $19.99, 293 pages). It's one of cookbookdom's most entertaining and user-friendly new titles, with a foreword by celebrity chef-restaurateur Guy "Johnny Garlic's" Fieri, Smothers' longtime pal.

"Snacks" is a mini-feast of food lore, tips and trivia, surprising factoids and original recipes with chapters organized by "aisles," modeled after what a shopper will find along each aisle of a supermarket. For instance, Smothers begins with Produce, moves to Bread, then Cheese, then Frozen Food and so on - 15 aisles altogether.

Randomly flipping through the book, we found:

- The fresher the vegetables, the quicker they will cook (it's a moisture thing).

- What do the colored plastic tags on commercially baked breads signify? Answer: the day of the week they were baked (blue for Monday, green for Tuesday and so on).

- Tomato sauce doesn't have to simmer all day to be good; 20 minutes will do.

- There's no nutritional difference between white eggs and brown eggs.

Among the 50 recipes, consider prime rib sauce, crab Rangoon, fried rice and pork tacos with watermelon salsa.

As Fieri puts it: "When Marcy talks about food, I listen."

April 29, 2013
SactoMoFo 6 matches record attendance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Blair Anthony Robertson

brobertson@sacbee.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


*Coffee Orange Blossom Ganache. $4.50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why should folks attend Feast for the Streets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 10, 2013
Blaze forces temporary closure of Zinfandel Grille

Zinfandel Grille.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wrote:

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

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

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

Let us know what you think about the transformation.

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

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


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

She writes:

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

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

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

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


April 10, 2013
IACP honors culinary professionals in San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, we have some baking to do...

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 29, 2013
Pour House slammed with demand for its winning Bloody Mary mix

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The hottest cocktail in town just might be the Bloody Mary at midtown's Pour House. And we're not necessarily talking in the spicy sense - though the Sriracha salt used by Pour House in its Bloody Mary adds some nice heat - but in a business sense. Since The Bee's story about Bloody Marys in Wednesday's Food & Wine section, Pour House has been swamped with Bloody Mary orders.

The story focused on Pour House's Bloody Mary mix, which was created by general manager Jason Poole and led to him earning the title of "California's Best Bloody Mary" in a competition by Absolut Vodka. In the national round of this contest, Poole placed second. Given this news, on Wednesday Pour House sold out of its Bloody Mary mix, which sells for $9 a quart. Some customers hoping to buy a bottle had to be added to a waiting list. That meant Poole was up into the wee hours of Thursday morning crafting enough Bloody Mary mix to satisfy demand.

March 29, 2013
Fish taco hits the spot at Gordon Biersch Tavern at Galleria

taco.JPGAs mall food courts go, the one at the Galleria in Roseville is a cut above. The spacious (and always crowded) second-floor dining area offers a wide range of ethnic-oriented choices - American, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese.

We dropped by the Galleria the other day and serendipitously grabbed a bite at the Gordon Biersch Tavern, under an umbrella at a little table for two.

The server was efficient and courteous, and twice the manager stopped by to check on our well-being. Nice touches for a food-court restaurant, where a top priority is turning tables - though we never felt rushed.

The brief menu offers fish tacos, wings, roasted turkey sandwich, a cheeseburger, sliders and "signature garlic fries" ($2.50 to $10).

This being a brewery restaurant, there's plenty of German-style beer on tap. GB started in Palo Alto in 1988 and now has 36 fast-casual taverns across the nation, including Hawaii.

We found a winner with the fish taco (pictured). Blackened mahi joins pepper jack cheese, lettuce, mildly spicy remoulade (think aioli) and salsa in a crunchy blue-corn tortilla nestled inside a soft flour tortilla ($4.95); we added avocado for $1 more.

We hit the tacos with shots of Cholula hot sauce and took big bites. Wow! Were we on the Baja peninsula?

Get it 1151 Galleria Blvd., Roseville; (916) 772-2739, www.gordonbiersch.com.

March 27, 2013
QVC's Venable tweaks tradition with Easter ham glaze

hamglaze.jpg Tired of the same old ham? QVC host and cookbook author David Venable ("In the Kitchen with David: QVC's Resident Foodie Presents Comfort Foods That Take You Home") likes to mix it up with some tweaks to traditional favorites.

"Like most holidays, Easter menus tend to be very traditional and filled with dishes deemed 'family classics,' " Venable said. "I love classics -- especially if they're any sort of comfort food classic. But every once in awhile, it pays to try a new recipe."

March 27, 2013
Crowds in Granite Bay camp out for Chick-fil-A's 'First 100'

It's happening again, right now, this time in Granite Bay, all because of a chicken sandwich.

No, that crowd of people camped out along Douglas Boulevard isn't there to make a statement about the U.S. Supreme Court's ongoing deliberation over Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage. Nor is it linked to controversial statements on same-sex marriage made last year by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy.

Instead, those folks are congregated at 4040 Douglas Blvd. waiting for Thursday's morning's grand opening of the Sacramento area's fifth Chick-fil-A, bringing the total number in California to 62.

March 27, 2013
Lunch at Waterboy, a chat with former teen idol Fabian Forte

fabian.JPGFabian Forte was in town for a few days, visiting with his son and daughter-in-law, Christian and Mercedes Forte, and with his two grandchildren. I joined Fabian and Christian for lunch at the estimable Waterboy, chef Rick Mahan's restaurant at 20th Street and Capitol Avenue in downtown.

You remember Fabian, right? He was one of the groomed-and-packaged teen idols of the late 1950s and 1960s to come out of Philadelphia, a star on "American Bandstand," the guy who rocked the worlds of hysterical teen girls.

"The singing sensation of the nation" had his share of hits ("Turn Me Loose," "Tiger") before signing a movie contract and moving to Los Angeles. His filmography is impressive - 30-plus movies, including "High Times" with Bing Crosby, "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" with Jimmy Stewart, "The Longest Day" with Henry Fonda, "North to Alaska" with John Wayne.

salmon.JPGFor the past 28 years, he and longtime pals and fellow teen idols Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell have toured their show, "Golden Boys," around the nation. Last summer they were in Reno for "Hot August Nights," but not this year.

"We used to do 90 shows a year," said Fabian, 70, digging into a gorgeous salmon fillet (pictured). "Now we play cemeteries - we don't have to worry about the sound system. No, really, we do 25 shows a year. It gets me out of the house."

"The house" is on 40 rural acres outside Philadelphia, shared with his wife, Andrea Patrick-Forte, 52, a former Miss Pennsylvania-USA.

"I've never been happier," Fabian said. "I ride my ATV and tractor and cut the grass. Where I grew up, there wasn't any grass.

"I'm looking forward to spring, when I can plant my garden - tomatoes, corn, you name it," he added. "I don't even water it and it grows. I just got a (gas-fueled) Weber grill and I'm waiting to get the searing thing going - lamb, fish, vegetables."

pasta.JPGChristian and Mercedes Forte own Fabian's Italian Bistro in Fair Oaks. On one wall is an iconic black-and-white photo of Fabian at 15, looking 25, in a suit and well-oiled hair, taken by famed portrait photographer Richard Avedon.

"We named the restaurant after my dad as (an homage) to our family and heritage," Christian Forte said, finishing a bowl of seafood-filled squid-ink pasta (also pictured).

Last summer, Fabian was among the guests of honor at the San Francisco Bohemian Club's exclusive retreat in the luxurious Bohemian Grove campground in Monte Rio. Its membership consists of megastars in the arts, politics, business and media.

"For years they asked me to go, but I told them I don't camp," Fabian said with a laugh, then went on for 15 minutes to say how incredible the experience was.

We declined dessert, but I had one last question. Who is Fabian's favorite singer?

"Bob Seeger," he said without hesitation. "He's a rocker whose songwriting speaks to me. When you see him perform live, you want to shoot yourself because you know you'll never do anything like that."

Fabian paid the bill and we left. Rock on.

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 27, 2013
Two produce award winners in Sacramento area

Two Raley's produce managers will be honored in May in San Diego by the United Fresh Produce Association as 2013 Retail Produce Manager Award Winners.

Thumbnail image for Raley.jpegRyan Acosta of Raley's in Sacramento and Corey Watkins of Raley's in Elk Grove were among the 25 winners selected from hundreds of nominations submitted by retailers and produce suppliers across the industry.

According to a United Fresh press release, the awards recognize "those on the front-line in supermarkets working everyday to increase sales and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables."

Winners will be honored at a dinner and share their produce merchandising strategies during a produce trade show in mid-May in San Diego.

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

Chando's app.JPG

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 26, 2013
Chef Mike Ward leaves Sacramento for Tyler Florence's El Paseo

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Sacramento's culinary talent has been tapped yet again by the Bay Area. Mike Ward, former executive chef of Slocum House and sous chef at The Kitchen, was recently named executive chef of El Paseo in Mill Valley. This eatery is part of the restaurant group overseen by celebrity chef Tyler Florence, and includes the "red rocker" Sammy Hagar as a proprietor.

Ward's been on the new job just a week, and he's already rubbed elbows with one Hollywood starlet. In his first night on the job, the actress Jessica Alba was one of El Paseo's diners, and posted a pic of her red beet soaked deviled eggs on her Instagram feed. Ward got his own shot with Alba as well.

"She gave me a hug," said a still smitten Ward. "I won't front - that was pretty cool."

March 26, 2013
Biscuits drive home lesson to authors Dupree, Graubart

Author Photo Nathalie and Cynthia.jpg Common sense can be lost in translation - especially when it comes to cookbooks.

Cynthia Graubart, co-author with Nathalie Dupree of "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," offers this example from her own Atlanta kitchen:

"My son - who likes to cook - was home (from college) and he tried one of our biscuit recipes while we were working on the book," Graubart recalled. "He was about to put them in the oven when Nathalie noticed all this dough left on the board."

He said, "The recipe said 'makes 12 biscuits,' so I made 12 biscuits."

Most experienced cooks would roll out that extra dough into another biscuit or two, Graubart noted.

"It really brought home to us how careful we had to be with language," she said. "People read 'cut in butter,' and they use scissors."

(A pastry blender or two knives are the preferred tools.)

Dupree and Graubart will demonstrate biscuit making at 3 p.m. April 3 during a visit to American River College, 4700 College Oak Blvd., Sacramento. Open to the public, the free demonstration will be held in the culinary lab (Room 505).

That's next door to the Oak Cafe, where the co-authors will sign copies of their new cookbook starting at 11:30 a.m. that same day. During the signing, the restaurant will serve two seatings of a special lunch featuring recipes from the book. For reservations, call (916) 484-8526.

For more about "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," recipe testing and a great gumbo, see http://bit.ly/103mM8L

March 26, 2013
Relive St. Pat's day with corned beef (and pastrami) at Sam's

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St. Patrick's Day came and went, but we're still dreaming about that corned Wagyu beef brisket and tender cabbage we feasted on for three days.

Which led us to Sam's Hof Brau on Saturday, looking for a hand-carved corned beef sandwich with a bowl of fragrant jus on the side for dipping.

Standing in the cafeteria-style order line, the thought struck: How about a combo corned beef-pastrami "heavyweight" instead? The counterman thought that was a good idea, too.

We admired his artistry with a carving knife as he sliced pieces off the two seasoned briskets in a blur of metal and meat and stacked them on rye bread. Also tempting: Polish sausage, chicken pot pie, veal cutlet and stuffed bell peppers.

Tableside, horseradish and hot mustard became involved with the delicious brisket duo, and the dipping jus was just the right touch.

Get it for $6.69 at Sam's, 2500 El Camino Ave.; (916) 482-2175, www.thehofbrau.com.

How about some Sam's history:

March 22, 2013
Sean Minor Wines nabs two spots in Wine & Spirits poll

MINOR1.jpgSean Minor Wines, which is headquartered in Sacramento's Sierra Oaks neighborhood, received some news that ranks the company among the nation's best. The April issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine features its 24th annual poll of the favorite wines served in restaurants, and Sean Minor Wines received two nods.

In Wine & Spirits' list of "The Restaurant Top 50," Sean Minor Wines ranked No. 30, a listing which placed the company ahead of such stalwarts as Rombauer Vineyards and Robert Mondavi Winery. Cakebread Cellars of Napa earned the top spot in this polling of brands which received the strongest restaurant sales during the final quarter of 2012.

For the listing of most popular pinot noirs, Sean Minor Wines earned a very respectable No. 17 spot.

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

Pushkin's.jpeg

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 21, 2013
Here comes the 'bride,' dressed in 1,000 French macarons

st.francis.jpgNext time your travels take you to San Francisco, carve out some time for a look a 6-1/2-foot-tall wedding cake made out of vibrantly colored French macarons (meringue-like cookies).

The mega-cake is inside the ornate lobby of the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square, next to the 157-year-old Viennese Magneta grandfather clock, a popular rendezvous spot for generations of San Franciscans. The cake is in celebration of the spring and summer wedding seasons, said a spokesperson, and will be displayed through May 6.

"Growing up in France, macarons were and still are my favorite dessert, and I find it very exciting that they've become the treat du jour here in the U.S.," says St. Francis executive pastry chef jean-François Houdré. "This wedding cake is a labor of love inspired by my childhood roots."

The chef and his staff devoted 75 hours to the cake, which is decorated with 1,000 handmade macarons in various sizes and flavors.

Upcoming at the St. Francis are Easter weekend lodging packages, children's activities, special programs and brunch. For more information: www.westinstfrancis.com, 415-397-7000.

March 21, 2013
Capitol Dawg's 'hot Italian' is gone, but Ruffhaus' brat is a go-to

bratwurst.JPGWe've sorely missed our go-to wurst since Capitol Dawg shut its doors at Capitol Avenue and 20th Street last November. Our favorite was the "hot Italian" - a juicy Italian sausage on a seeded roll topped with a heap of hot giardineria, the Italian relish of spicy pickled vegetables.

There are other wurst options, one of which serves our substitute go-to dog. Ruffhaus lists five wursts on its recently expanded menu. We've tasted them all, but keep going back to the crisp, complexly flavored bratwurst that we dress semi-Chicago-style. We get it on a seeded bun topped with sport peppers and neon-green relish, with house-made potato chips (about $7.50 for the package; pictured).

Now, about neon relish, which looks like it might glow in the dark: In the 1930s, a certain preservative was commonly put into pickle relish that made it neon-green. The chemical hasn't been used for decades, but because neon relish is a part of Chicago's food lore, many companies there use a mix of mint and artificial food coloring to replicate the bright-green hue. Call it tradition.

Ruffhaus sources neon relish, giardineria and sport peppers from the Puckered Pickle in Chicago (www.puckeredpickle.com). Ruffhaus is at 4366 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-3647, www.ruffhaushotdogco.com.

Other dog-centric options include:
Wienery, 715 56th St., Sacramento; (916) 455-0497, www.thewienerysacramento.com.
Wiener Works, 5207 Madison Ave., Sacramento; (916) 334-8711, www.weinerworksmadison.com.
Parker's, 1605 Douglas Blvd., Roseville; (916) 786-2202, www.parkershotdogs.com.
Hotdogger, 29 E St., Davis; (530) 753-6291, www.thehotdogger.com.
Burney's, 886 Lincoln Way, Auburn; (530) 887-1262.

March 20, 2013
Site of Sacramento area 2012 norovirus outbreak identified

In Wednesday's story about a possible norovirus outbreak at Mulvaney's B&L, a county public official noted that one norovirus outbreak had been confirmed for a local restaurant in 2012. Dr. Olivia Kasirye, county public health officer, initially declined to name the establishment. After a follow-up request from The Bee, Kasirye provided the information.

It turns out the outbreak didn't occur at a restaurant, but Sacramento Elks Lodge No. 6 on Riverside Boulevard near Florin Road. The lodge hosted an event in September of 2012 in which dozens of people were sickened. The lodge did not use an outside caterer, but provided food service themselves, said Kasirye. A county investigation interviewed 93 individuals, and confirmed 57 illnesses due to norovirus.

To report a possible incident of foodborne illness, call the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services: (916) 875-5881

FROM THE BEE:

* Sacramento County probes possible outbreak of norovirus at Mulvaney's restaurant

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

duck.jpg

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 19, 2013
The proof is in the chocolate bread pudding (with gelato)

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Though it sounds like a mundane dessert to the uninitiated, bread pudding can be a delight.

It's found in various world cusines and in seemingly every restaurant throughout the South. In its simplest form, it's stale bread softed with milk, bound with egg, spiced with mace or cinnamon, and sweetened with rum- or caramel-based sauce.

We discovered a chocolate-rich incarnation at Fabaian's Italian Bistro the other night. Resistance was futile.

Chef Tom Patterson combines Acme-brand challah (egg bread), heavy cream, eggs, sugar and cinnamon and bakes the base for 40 minutes at 450 degrees. Then he whips up cocolate sauce from Guittard chocolate - the brand used for See's candies - adds Guittard chocolate chips to it and pours it over the pudding. It's served warm with orange gelato from the Italian Ice Cream Co. in Folsom.

Get it while it lasts ($6.95) at 1755 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 536-9891, www.fabiansitalianbistro.

March 18, 2013
Dog-friendly food truck events scheduled for March

Most food truck festivals require that your beloved pooch and other pets be left at home. Now, three events are on the books that welcome both dogs and their owners. "Food Trucks 4 Fido" will offer a mix of communal dining, pet adoptions and other animal-friendly activities. This event series is sponsored by SactoMoFo, the Sacramento City Animal Shelter and Chef Michael's Dog Food Truck, which is an enterprise of Purina pet foods.

Animal adoptions are the goal of this event. Free dinner for two will be given at each event for the first 10 folks who adopt an animal. You'll also find pet grooming and free dog treats on site. The final event on March 28 also includes food truck vouchers for to the first 100 people.

Here's the rundown of events. Each one runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.:

March 18, 2013
Sonoma County Restaurant Week will serve through Sunday

spaghetti.JPGIf you have a taste for dining out, and enjoy winetasting and short drives, you should know that the fourth annual Sonoma County Restaurant Week starts today and runs through Sunday.

On the table: More than 115 restaurants will offer three-course prix-fixe dinners for $19, $29 or $39, along with optional wine-pairings. After all, Sonoma County is known for its many wineries.

Cuisines range from Italian, French and Japanese, to American and "wine country" - a term that usually translates to mean locally sourced and artisanal ingredients.

"The meals are across the board," said spokeswoman Audrey Bendowski. "We have burgers and pizza, but we have salmon and ribeye steaks, too."

For more information: www.restaurantweek@sonoma-county.org.

March 14, 2013
Darrell Corti named one of the 'coolest people in food & drink'

RP CORTI37440.jpg

In the latest example of Sacramento's culinary scene landing on the national radar, one of our own has been listed in "The 60 (Plus) Coolest People in Food & Drink" by dailymeal.com. That would be Darrell Corti, the grocer and gourmand behind Corti Brothers on Folsom Blvd. near 59th St.

Corti was described as "America's coolest grocer," and included with such fellow cool folks as David Chang of Momofuku, Mission Chinese Food's Danny Bowien and Daniel Boulud, who's among the most lauded chefs in the world. Said The Daily Meal about Corti:

"Of course, Corti is a grocer like Itzhak Perlman plays some fiddle. Corti is simply one of the most deeply knowledgeable food and drink experts in America, able to expound with equal authority on Chinese tea, Spanish vinegar, Central Asian wine, Italian pasta, and about 30,000 other gastronomic topics."

March 14, 2013
Gearing up for grilling season with new Flavor Infusers

chicken.JPGinfusers.JPG
Years ago, many adventurous home cooks who like to wrestle with whole turkeys moved beyond brining them in a spiced-saltwater solution and turned to the flavor-injection method. Turkey injector kits are sold in many barbecue-supply stores, sporting-goods and hardware stores, and online.

In this method, a big "syringe" is filled with seasoned marinade (or beer, wine, sherry, olive oil or whatever). Then the attached big-gauge needle is inserted into the turkey carcass at multiple sites and in various directions. The plunger is pushed with each insertion, spreading the liquid throughout. The injected turkey is refrigerated overnight, then smoked, deep-fried or oven-roasted the next day. The result is a juicer, more flavorful turkey.

In a smaller, far-less-hassle scenario, the French's company (of ballpark mustard fame) has introduced its new line of Flavor Infuser marinades. The theory is the same as above, but less ambitious and much easier for the weekend griller who's cooking, say, chicken breasts, pork loin, steak or fish.

Here's how: Remove the cap from the infuser, stick the plastic "needle" into the meat at several sites, remove slowly while simultaneously squeezing the plastic tube - slowly. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before grilling.

Flavor Infusers sell for about $3 each at supermarkets and come in four flavors - Sweet & Tangy Teriyaki, Classic Steakhouse, Zesty Italian and Caribbean Jerk.

While we waited for the charcoal in our Weber grill to burn down, we injected two chicken breasts (pictured), a filet of salmon, a thick porkchop and a market steak with the four flavors. The liquids certainly plumped up the meats. We found some marinade streaks when we cut into them later, but overall the infusers delivered what they promised - more juice, more flavor.

Caution: Because of the risk of cross-contamination on the injector tips, French's urges consumers not to reuse the plastic infusers. If you don't use a whole tube of liquid (which infuses up to four pounds), toss it.

For more information: www.frenchs.com.

March 11, 2013
Too bad 'The Taste' can't visit Tuli Bistro, or vice versa

pizza.JPGAdam Pechal, chef and co-owner of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en, had a good run on the ABC-TV cooking competition "The Taste" before he was shown the door on Feb. 26. His appearances were chronicled at www.sacbee.com/appetizers by my colleague, wine and food writer Chris Macias.

With that in mind, lunch pal Gloria Glyer and I walked over to Tuli to say hello. Gloria writes the weekly "Fundraisers" calendar for The Bee and is a former Dining Diva for Sacramento magazine.

Pechal wasn't in evidence, but we grabbed a patio table anyway and shared a "pollo caliente" sandwich and a Molinari salumi pizza (pictured).

The huge sandwich was tops - tender chicken breast, white cheddar, crispy onion, cabbage slaw and chipotle BBQ sauce on focaccia ($12). The accompanying skinny fries were smothered in terrific chili, chunky with succulent pork and al-dente beans, and gooey with melted cheese.

We think Tuli assembles one of the most well-balanced pizzas around, cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven that blisters the edges of the thin, chewy crust.
Ours was topped with Molinari-brand pepperoni, salami and hot coppa, rich sauce from fire-roasted tomatoes and just the right amount of mozzarella ($15).

Too bad Pechal couldn't have made those winners on "The Taste."
Tuli Bistro, 2031 S St., Sacramento; (916) 451-8854, www.tulibistro.com





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