California Forum

Good news, bad news: less kale, more expensive drinks and other delectable tidbits

Thank goodness for less kale, especially in Caesar salad, which is made using lengths of romaine lettuce.
Thank goodness for less kale, especially in Caesar salad, which is made using lengths of romaine lettuce. Tribune News Service

The end of the year brings out the lists. Bests and worsts, predictions we write like wishes we know will never come true. Let’s start with the good news.

Kalecified. Less kale is showing up in up in Caesar salad.

An impromptu dish from Tijuana, the original salad was made tableside using lengths of romaine, not kale, to better scoop the reason for Caesar’s salad’s fame – the dressing.

Now made with anchovies, the dressing has garlic, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice. Among its famed ingredients is a coddled egg cooked to a stage just before the whites coagulate, added to make frenemies out of oil and water, which in this case is lemon juice. Coddling an egg is about as easy as coddling taxes. So, most of us just use a raw egg, prompting the fine print on menus that implies we’re all gonna die.

Less kale, more hail.

More shred, less head. Which brings me to Brussels sprouts, now sold clinging to its entire stalk with more mini-me cabbages than a Brusseleir could eat at one sitting. Unless you’re a professional chef who’s got the knack, either they’re overcooked to bitterish camo-green or undercooked as to qualify as official equipment for Olympic ping-pong.

The clever cook would chiffonade (thinly slice) the little cabbages and sauté the shreds in oil and garlic or turn them into cole slaw. Even Blue Apron has got this down.

Dessert deprived. I’m the kind of diner who asks for the dessert menu with the wine list. Dinner is not a murder mystery; I want to know how it’s going to end. Which is why I mourn the loss of perhaps the best panna cotta dessert this side of Italy, caused by the disappearance of former Paragary’s chef Scott Ostrander, who decamped to a resort called Park Winters.

If you do not know this dessert, it’s cooked (“cotta”) cream and buttermilk set up by Ostrander with a gentle addition of cold-bloom gelatin. Panna cotta cannot be compared to crème brulee, which has eggs. Ostrander would change it up by season – a drizzle strained lump-free apricot puree in summer, drips of pomegranate juice in fall – you get the idea.

Having never been to Park Winters, I have not again had the pleasure of panna cotta this good except at Boulevard restaurant in San Francisco. I can enjoy this perhaps once a decade without cashing out my IRA.

How high the highball? Which brings me to Sacramento’s $16 glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Or the $19 martini without benefit of the adjective “craft.” For that kind of money, a real grey goose should fly me my drink.

Recently I winced at a midtown lunch for two – three oysters apiece, a sandwich, and a stir-fry over noodles formed into a nest the size of a softball – $60.

And what’s with avocado toast? Yup, a slice of toast spread with perhaps half a mashed avocado topped by a few strands of alfalfa sprouts and a couple of pumpkin seeds – $11. Are you kidding me?

Is rent so high that gouging the customer is the only way to pay that nut?

Maybe not in Silicon Valley, where a millionaire might think our prices low. Disposable income is sensitive. Refusing to return to a restaurant is a punishment worse than high rent, food costs and labor. It’s death.

No one doubts this is an exciting time for downtown Sacramento. Rent around Golden 1 Center is now about $3 a square foot. It could soon hit $5. For a 5,000-square-foot space, monthly rent would be $25,000. That’s a lot of lamb chops.

And what will a glass of Sauvignon Blanc cost then?

That depends on what the market will bear. Will you pay for $16 for a glass of wine?

Elaine Corn is an award-winning cookbook author, newspaper food editor and occasional contributor to NPR affiliate Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. Contact her at