Bene! (Paragary's Bar & Oven - Sacramento, CA)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Rob and I decided on the spur of the moment to head out to dinner on Friday. "Paragary's!" I shouted. I had been wanting to finally try the seasonal Italian restaurant for some time, and had heard good things. The choice was also auspicious as I had an Entertainment Card, giving us one entree free. Shibby. I got home and hopped on my new best friend, and made my reservations for later that night.

Even before we arrived, the service was above excellent. We were running late and they had no issues moving our reservation back. Once we got there, we were informed by the hostess that there would be a 40 minute wait to eat outside, but we could have appetizers and drinks at the outside bar. On a Friday night at a popular restaurant, I generally expected this for the good seating so I was fine with that. Luckilly our wait only lasted 10 minutes, and we were quickly moved. We were hesitant with the Entertainment Guide card and if they would accept it (my paranoia taking full effect), but the manager was more than happy to put my fears at ease. Props; so far this place was 10 for 10. Our waitress, Naomi, was phenomenal. She was knowledgeable about the dishes, and offered excellent suggestions, refills magically appeared and she was on hand when needed. 11 for 10; I highly suggest you ask for her.

Back a bit, the reason we wanted to sit outside was for Paragary's now famous patio seating. Traditional Italian design with very Napa architechtural accents truly create an excelletn atmosphere. The lush ivy, well lit trees, and calming fountains truly create a calming effect perfect for the dining experience.

The appetizer list was in my opinion, the most decadent section on the menu. My heart almost stopped as I read my appetizer choice. A plate with a ball of warmed herb goat cheese rolled in pistachios, surrounded by roasted peaches, crostini, and the whole plate drizzeled with a red wine syrup arrived before us. The cheese and pistachios, mixed with the syrup, adorned on the peaches created this fan-f'ing-tastic sweet velvet flavor, with the syrup giving it a feral little bite. On the crostini, one could adore and gush over the herbed cheese and soft resistent crunch of the pistachios. True amazement. Snaps to the chef indeed for this little bitch.

Rob and I both had the same plate, a scene I try to avoid, but why betray your own taste for the sake of the blog? It would be a betrayal to us both if I ordered something I felt was a second-hand demo of the kitchen's talents just for the sake of another dish. Anywhose, we both had the handcut rosemary noodles with seared chicken, pancetta, artichokes, leeks, and garlic. Now, I'm not a fan of Italian (or European style cuisine to be more general) but this was damn good. The rosemary was visible, the taste surprising you with a verdant afterglow. Images of grass fields and lush Italian forrests appeared in my mind. The play with the small cut artichokes and leeks had a warming effect, like a small little mama mia was dicing them up herself. The pancetta and garlic was thankfully chopped finely, allowing little fireworks of flavor to explode in my mouth. My eyes were rolling in the back of my head from this.

As I have said before, I'm not the biggest fan of European cooking styles, but Paragary's went above and beyond. The biggest plus? The price. Even without our card, the price was more than reasonable for the level of service, atmosphere, presentation, and taste presented. Bene!

Paragary's Bar & Oven
1401 28th Street
Sacramento, CA 95816
(916) 457-5737

Design Updates

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Well, as you noticed, I finally managed to get a banner up there and tinker with some of the blog's layout. I must say, I'm quite proud of myself seeing as it's been 5 years since I last used Photoshop and I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to html coding.

I want to send my dearest thanks to Liz. I mooched her design since I found it to be so flattering, simple, and clever designs around. She also gave me a lot of advice on how to start going about all these changes. Robyn also deserve a round of applause for her advice in the banner making. You guys have become great food bloggin' buds. I throw snaps to you both.

Also, some helpful advice and encouragement from the many people at Food Blog S'cool helped work out a few kinks. Props.

Okay, my acceptance speech is done. Thankies. *bow*

Rock the Kasbah (Kasbah Lounge - Sacramento, CA)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Luxurious fabrics drape the ceilings, as dim orange light bathes the enterence, creating a Maltese Falcon setting amongst the scent of searing mint, lamb, and hookah smoke. Sadly, this is not a lax hookah bar in the Middle East, but it is the next best thing.

Kasbah Lounge opened next door to the now popular Tapa the World, and is run by the very same owners Paul Ringstrom and Conni Levis. Also like Tapa, Kasbah serves small plates perfect for sharing, and stays open until 3 am. Sweet. We got there early, around 7, but by 9 the belly dancers (you heard me) were out doing their thang, and the place was starting to get jampacked and rollin'.

The luxuriously dim light and low seating, combined with decorative tables and cushiony pillows made for a wonderful place to gather with some friends for dinner. We were all amused to see the hookah bar outside, and contemplated a little jaunt to it after the meal. This was never to be as the food coma was too intense, our riveting conversation turning to catatonic droolings.

We ordered some pomegranate wine and mojitos to start things off. The mojito was actually a mint limeaide with rum. Same thing, but very smooth, and the mint was in no way obliterated by the lime like at most bars. Instead it mingled perfectly with the lime allowing both tastes to flourish. The pomegranate wine was indescribable; sweet, dry, exotic, and the perfect accompaniement to out meal.

Each dish at Kasbah is served as a small plate, but don't let that fool you as there is more than enough. Each plate can feed about four people; get four plates and everyone is more than set. We ordered six. Plus two desserts. Got damn, I need some self control.

The first dish brough to us was Fatima's Palette, warm and yummy flatbread served with three tasty mounds of Hummus, Lebne (a spiced yogurt), and Baba Ganoush. The three perfectly complimented each other, and each one's unique texture and taste was a champion all on it's own. The lebne in particular was throughly tasty with hints of mint and paprika. Total transportation to the Middle East.

Soon we were surprised with a plate of stuffed dates and one plate of ahi. Both had more than enough for four people, yet after a quick prayer to the most convenient dark God, we somehow made room. The dates were stuffed with chorizo and cabrales cheese, then deep fried in a lemon batter. While I had trouble tasting (or even finding) the cabrales, the chorizo was wonderfully spicy and lacked the usual greasiness you would expect, and the friend batter had the perfect hint of lemon. The ahi had been covered in spice rub and lightly grilled on all sides, served with cucumber strings all all covered in a light sesame dressing and a mound of the same yummy yogurt.

Next a tasty lamb stew with lentils, new potatoes, and lamb was served. The flat bread was perfect for acting as a spoon and made the meal all the more fun. Imagine four adults playing a game of bloody knuckles with flatbread tightly squeezed in each fist.

Our two kabob dishes arrived, one kabob with servings of chicken and shallots, the other with spiced ground beef. The beef doesn't really stick out in my mind, but the chicken was life changing. The spice was perfect, the shallots added the perfect counterpoint of sweet and tangy. Just... snap. Snaps for the chefs.

The one dish we saw a lot of but didn't try ourselves was a cheese covered in a quince paste, fried, then given some tableside flash via brandy flambe, followed by a squeeze of fresh lemon. Eye candy for sure, and I do so love fire.

Well, at this point we were all beyond full. But you know how it is; the waitress comes over and she tells you about dessert. She asks if you want any, and even though you're full you can't help but nod as the food coma deters your speech.

Sadly they were out of baklava. Words I never want to hear. "Out of bakalva," is akin to "We need to operate," or "The Simple Life: Season 5." I reluctantly acquiesced to an cafe' creme brule and a dish of fried banana's with caramel and vanilla bean ice cream. While tasty, they really didn't fall in with the rest of the menu like the baklava or rose milk pudding would have. It just seemed out of place.

Overall, the whole experience was dark, sexy, exotic, and a total blast. This is the perfect place to head to before or after a night on the town with friend, or as the sole destination!

Kasbah Lounge
2115 J Street
Sacramento, CA

Diner's Picks, Garlic Fest, & Yogurtland

Monday, July 24, 2006

Three special topics to cover today, all of them of vital interest. I suggest you go read them now. As in go. Now. DO IT!
Diner's Picks
Sacramento Magazine did their annual Subscriber's Choice Awards. If you don't know where to go when it comes to dining, it's a great place to start, offering what Sac residents consider to be the best of the best.

Of course, the only problem with this is that only Sacramento Magazine subscribers, and of them only food lovers, the non-lazy food lovers, participated in this. In theory that means it really should be the creme de la creme, but I have seen a few on the list that in no reason what-so-ever can I figure out why it's on the list. Plus, the list does not give any reason as to why it was picked by voters. It's like a high school popularity contest for prom. Not that I'm bitter. I swear. I didn't want to wear the Prom Queen King crown at all... *cry*.
Gilroy Garlic Festival
Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world is having it's annual Garlic Festival this weekend. I heart driving through Gilroy. I love smelling garlic for miles as you come into, go through, and leave the area. Le sigh...

Anyways, this is a great chance to really feast on garlic laced food like, garlic chicken, sauteed garlic, and garlic ice cream to name a few. There are also three stages of music, plenty of places to shop and buy arts and crafts, and plenty of garlic foods and garlic paraphernalia. All proceeds from tickets go to help local non-profits, so help the community out and eat some garlic.

Garlic lovers, this is heaven.
Yogurt Land
Elise from Simply Recipes alerted me to a great Nor Cal blogger (I know Folsom isn't Sac, but hey, close enough and this is a great blog). Yogurt Land is written by Fethiye, a native of Turkey who moved to California. Reading her blog you'll find some fantastic pictures, mouth watering writing, and some excellent and unique recipes.

I loved Turkey when I got to visit it, and the food was to die for. It was nice to see one or two recipes I recognized and scribbled down so as to make them this weekend. I highly suggest you go check it out and prep your shopping list.

On the River (Chevy's Fresh Mex - Sacramento, CA)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I have to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of Chevy's. Most of the patrons are a little too beer gut, wife beater, missing teeth, out of Deliverance, and it's usually way to loud for me to hear the people I came with sitting right next to me. This time though, I had a throughly pleasent experience.

My friend Penelope and I had dinner there about a week ago. I was hesitant to her suggestion, but I figured, "Why not?" Upon entering we were escorted to the upstair outside balcony area. This area is what made the trip. We were high up and alone, with only two other table being occupied. Given, you would think that with the temperature being in the hundreds we must have been crazy. Ahhh, but not so! The river possessed a tranquil coolness, making the air refreshing, and allowing you to enjoy the summer sun. The atmosphere itself was also throughly pleasant, it took a moment to remember that it was Sacramento. The city sure does have some hidden treasures.

The meal was surprisingly awesome as well. Penelope and I both had the swordfish tacos, which were really the perfect summer treat. The swordfish was firm, the tomatoes fresh, and the sauce complimented the whole thing well and added that cool and refreshing Zing! that made it so yummy. We also shared a prickly pear margarita. It wasn't blended, accompanied by ice cubes, but it was thuroughly fruity none the less. It really helped top off a relaxing, easy going lunch.

There of course were some downsides. The other diners I have gone over. I don't mean to be all snobby and act as the fashion gestapo, but just... ew. Like a Nascar fan convention in there. The salsa was paltry, no tangible spice at all. We asked for something with a bit more kick; we were given a bottle of tobasco. Natch. The waitress, with an overflow of empty tables in her area, checked up on us every 5 minutes. I appreciate the attention, but seriously, let me just eat my freakin' meal.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience. However, based on my past visits this was rare. Yet, if you want some cheap yummy Mexican and some tasty margaritas, and a chance to just enjoy the Sac River, I highly suggest you head on over.

Chevy's Fresh Mex - Riverfront
1369 Garden Highway
Sacramento, CA 95833
(916) 649-0390

Spicy Cranberry Jam & Kumquat Salsa

Friday, July 21, 2006

Yep, we're spicing things up today so you can put some heat into the kitchen. Not that it's already way too hot, but eh, sweating cools you down. Cranberries are one of my favorite foods ever, hands down. They're sweet, tart, sour, and has a rich history in America (another post, another day). Come the fall, it's out in full ruby force in my kitchen.

This spicy cranberry jam was given to me by a friend, and after getting not just a few e-mails demanding the recipe I decided to post it. The recipe is pretty flexible, I've never made it the same way twice, yet each time I find myself deliciously satisfied.

Spicy Cranberry Jam
Makes about 2 cups

What You'll Need...
1 lb. frozen or fresh c
1 cup of sugar
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 granny smith apple
1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chili powder or cayenne pepper

What You'll Do...
1) Wash and drain the berries. Throw them in a bowl with the sugar and lemon juice. Turn a few times and let it sit overnight.

2) Dice the apples up good. Drain some of the juice from the berries. Throw the apples, two spoonfuls of the cranberries, and the grated rind in a heavy saucepan. Add 1/2 cup of water and simmer for 10-20 minutes.

3) Add the rest of the berries and the chili powder. Mix and pour into sterilized jars. Cool and store or gorge yourself.

Add apricots, some raisins, some brown sugar and cut out the water for 1/4 cup of orange juice and 1/4 white vinegar to the initial cooking process for an awesome chutney.

To make the jame a different version of spicy, and give it a more of an Indian flare add some dry mustard, coriander, ginger, and cilantro.


This kumquat salsa was made on a whim a week ago. It was just a basic salsa recipe, the the addition of kumquats gave it a definite sweet-n-citrus flare. A little more salt would have balanced it out a bit more. I also found that it got sweeter as time went by and overpowered some of the heat. I suggest you add a good amount of really strong onions to help out. This is great for chips, or as a condiment for yougurt based soups and on grilled chicken or fish.

I also almost sliced my thumb off in the process while not paying attention and using a brand new knife. It's sharp enough that you could cut time and space with it, and therefore sufficiently sharp enough to cut a bitch (like myself). After 3 hours of applied pressure, and a week of healing, I know have an excellent scar beginning to form. Salsa tasted yummy anyways. Totally worth it.

Kumquat Salsa
Makes about 2 cups

What You'll Need...
1 onion
1 jalepeno
1 bell pepper
5 roma tomatoes
5 kumquats
juice and zest of 1 lime
kosher salt

What You'll Do...
Chop it all up, and mix in a bowl or your mouth. Either one is good, though your mouth cuts out the middleman.


The Butterfly Effect

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I was recently and brusquely tagged for a culinary meme by Sean at Hedonia. Normally I don't ever bother with these things, but I said to myself, "Oh, what the heck?" The meme was started by Dan, who tagged Tana, who tagged Ilva, who as I noted before tagged Sean. It's making it's rounds. Anyways, I was convinced by Dan's simple prose like challenge:

My thought in this meme is food items or events that changed your foodie life. Not some “oh, it’s the first time I didn’t put jelly on a peanut butter sandwich and used bananas instead” sort of change, unless you truly feel that affected you profoundly. That’s the key - it affected you profoundly, in some manner. A moment you can look back at and say “that was a defining moment”. The questions are simple, the answers might be harder - an item, person, event, or place that had that effect on you, and why. They don’t have to be big splashy things - sometimes it’s something very small and simple that changes the way we view the world - the famed “butterfly effect” (and I’m not talking about the Aston Kutcher movie). So, to those who want to participate, copy this and pass it on (and, if you’re so inclined, do a trackback to the originating post). Here are your categories:

1. An ingredient
2. A dish, a recipe
3. A meal (in a restaurant, a home, or elsewhere)
4. A cookbook or other written work
5. A food “personality” (chef, writer, etc.)
6. Another person in your life

Some people are doing all these as 6 different posts, I however am lazy...

1) Honestly, I think one of the most influential ingredients I ever worked with was the cranberry. I heart these little guys. I was lucky enough to go to a farm in Washington and see how they're raised. After learning all there was to practically learn I started to cook with them non-stop. Cinnamon & Cranberry Biscotti, Cranberry Ginger Chuntney, and Spicy Cranberry Jam were just some creations I was inspired to cook and create. This tart and sweet little garnet gem did a lot for me.

2) A dish... hmm... my mom's flank steak. Hands down. No meal I have ever had ever matches the flavor *stops to clean drool off the keyboard* that this creates. I need to learn to kick that bastard still. It is the quintessential ideal of what food should be to me. Warm, welcoming, and effin' tasty as hell. I think this was the first culinary seed planted in me...

3) Poisson Cru I had in Nevis was a meal that showed me the true diversity that food can possess. The subtle layering of flavors, the innovation one can out into food. I had accidentally stumbled into this little outdoor cafe which had little more than a tiny fridge, a grill, and little else. Like ceviche, poisson cru cooks raw fish in citrus juice, but here floral and sticky coconut milk permeated the dish, and secretly little flecks of vanilla peeked out under spring onions, and slivers of kaffir lime leaves. Only the past 500 years of spice trade and history of Nevis could shape what this dish truly was. Art.

4) I honestly can't say any one work on food has really had a lot of impact on me yet. Sure I have enjoyed quite a few, but nothing defined me yet. Ooh, no wait... How to Eat Fried Worms. I dig that book. Oh, wait, a short story M.F.K. Fisher wrote. The name escapes me, but I saw it as the very first quality piece of writing I had ever seen. I immediately after picked up and devoured every single work of hers. Tasty reads, and in part, an inspiration for this here blog.

5) MFK Fisher, you know why. But all the Iron Chefs (minus Bobby Flay and his man-tits and tight shirts). Cora, Sakai, Batali, and Morimoto in particular. They just inspire me every week to go at the whole kitchen alchemy every time.

6) *Sigh* Mom and grandma. Making chocolate chip cookies and snow ice cream in the kitchen. That was where everything started.

Yeah, my descriptions ain't all purty-like, but this ain't that kind-o-blog. There it is, and as tradition states I must tag others like Liz from Good Stuff, Robby from The Girl Who Ate Everything, Joy The Restaurant Whore, Elise of Simply Recipes, Cate from Sweetnicks, and Andrea of Rookie Cookery are now so tagged. Update 8/6/06: Also, Willa from Sorry Fugu!

Now go, reader, go and reflect!


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Zuni Cafe is practically an institute in San Francisco. It receives rave reviews from all who enter it's warming foyer, and delight in their ever changing, seasonal menu. From this of course, what proud home chef, foodie, and restauranteur would not seek to obtain a copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook? A tome of gustatory knowledge and worth.

Winner of the James Beard Cookbook of the Award, it has been lauded as one of the best cookbooks to ever come forth in a long time. In many respects, I have to fully agree. Judy Rodgers does an excellent job of not just making this a simple cookbook, but a novel, an educational course, a book to take to lay out on the couch in the sunshine and immerse yourself in figs and sultry slow cooking.

Judy opens the book with what I believe truly give food and literature it's most subtle yet delicious spice: history. She chronicles culinary education through France and America and how she developed her surprising and unique food flare. She also introduce's us to Zuni's history and how it evolved into what it is today; from grilling chickens in the back alley, to developing their seasonal menus and the hunt for the freshest ingredients.

Further sections on weighing and measuring, analyzing the pros and cons of various tools, and the importance of ingredients are throughly fun to read. The section "The Practice of Salting Early" is one of the best; informational, well written, and, entertaining.

Given however, the book has it's drawbacks. In my current position, I have a crappy apartment over, lacking a few of the most basic devices (I currently have no blender, food processor, or roasting pan. Gasp!), many of the techniques might be too difficult for an Iron Chef, and even though I live in California many of the ingredients are simply not be found or out of my sensible price range. Practically any section that discusses meat of any sort goes something like this:

Today we will be making this wonderful dish with devices you don't own, using ingredients you never heard of and can't find, in a kitchen bigger than your entire house! Now..."

Yeeeeah, no. I can see the ingredient issue really becoming an issue if you don't live in a Metropolitan area along either U.S. coast. One of the most august chapters was the one on sausage making, to which I simply paused with a quizzical look for a moment or two, and proceeded to the next chapter. I won't say that I'll ever make my own sausage someday, I just don't see myself buying the equipment and going through the hellish process I hear it is. (Two things people don't want to know how they're made: laws and sausages. -President Bartlet, The West Wing)

Each recipe does however give very detailed instructions, effortlessly guiding through not only the steps of how to cook the dish, but why you are doing these steps. Each recipe also has a short introduction, bringing to you the recipe's history and evoltuion, ideas for alterations and substitutions, and how and where to obtain certain ingredients and garuntee they're freshness. Take this except from Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes:

A rich old French dish. If you use the orange zest or the clove, it will have a dramatic impact on the flavor and character of the dish, making it sneakily festive. I like it both ways.

For the recipes I do use it for - mainly the breads, desserts, sauces, pickles, and salads - the book is worth it's weight in freakin' gold. The espresso granita, was rock my socks awesome. The orange and currant scones scored me points at work, the and the salad with roasted cherries was makin' me sing Lady Marmalade (fun for me, soon embarassment when Rob caught me, and probably torture for anyone nearby). The preserved limequats though, seriously, if it were like a Klondike bar commercial and they said, "Would you kill a man for these preserved limequats?" I'd be all, "Sure," and shoot the interviewer, promptly taking the limequats and stuffing them into my face with my bare hands. All on camera of course. I'm sure I very much resemble Gollum when I eat them.

Overall, I would suggest this book as a mandatory staple for any cook and foodie. Stunningly beautiful, I keep it out on my coffee table, and not in on my cookbook shelves. Rich, informative, fun too cook from, and a throughly good read, I plan to get generations of use from it.

My Poor, Violated Mouth (Sunrise Restaurant - Davis, CA)

Monday, July 17, 2006

I work in Davis, so I eat here pretty darn often as you've noticed. I personally thought that nothing could meet the horrid conditions that 2K Thai subjected me to. But, wow, just when you think you hit the bottom, someone throws you a shovel.

The shovel was provided by Sunrise Restaurant in Davis. This was just wrong. My mouth was violated. My back destroyed. My patience shattered. So for all this, I won't give you a review of the dishes, that would be like vividly describing the clubbing of a baby seal to a child. You would end up shedding tears for me. Let's just sum up some of the finer points:
  • All three (I was dining with two others) dishes were delivered five to fifteen minutes apart from each other.
  • Roaches, flies, and something else that escaped under the bench. Probably the secret ingredients.
  • The benches and chairs are actually Vietnamese prison furniture, meant to warp your butt and spine into biological devices of pain you can take home with you.
  • Food either possessed no taste, or was just all out disgusting. This is what evil tastes like.
  • The Tapioca Tea tasted like sorrow on that note. Yep, sorrow and evil.
  • Customers not wearing their shirt inside a restaurant is okay at the beach or lake. Not in the middle of downtown, in the entryway.
  • The wait staff skirted us around like we were freakin' five years old, then seemed upset that we weren't aware we were supposed to seat ourselves at a very specific table he wanted us at when the whole place was freakin' empty.
The only okay point was the avocado milkshake, but can you really botch up avocado ice cream and milk in a blender?

Save yourself that scenic tour of Hell's second circle. Eat here instead.

It's Hip to Dip (The Melting Pot - Sacramento, CA)

Friday, July 14, 2006

I was practically raised on fondue, it wasn't really a special occassion in my house growing up. My mom's old electric pot was used on an almost weekly basis. We would have bubling oil ready for thick bite sized cuts of steak, waiting to be dipped in a butter tarragon sauce. In college, I received my own, and Tolblerone bars melted with heavy cream were often waiting to bathe fresh fruit and pound cake in it's svelt, alluring decadence. I wasn't spoiled. I was just lucky.

Fortunately for the masses, fondue seems to be making a comeback, and since not everyone has an old pot from 1976 sitting around, The Melting Pot has you covered. The Melting Pot is a chain fondue restaurant that's everything you would expect from a high class restaurant. Mainly cause in a way it is.

Recently Rob and I were lucky to go get out funky fondue on once again with a few friends, me giggling with anticipation the whole car ride over. Once inside, and after a short wait (we had made reservations, which you'll need to do, but expect a wait anyways at chic restaurants), we were seated in a luxurious and dark room, seductively lit. The room, lighting, and decor was situated so that it became the perfect date place, yet at the same time large groups could easily relax and converse without too much cacophony. Our table was situated with two heaters in the center so as to keep the fondue hot, ensuring that our food would never go cold. Well played, Melting Pot, well played.

The wait staff was practically perfect in every way. I hate it when there seems to be a sense of over-familiarity and horseplay, but don't want to be in the care of a soulless drone with no spunk and a hollow look in their eyes either (kind of like an ice-cream man...). Suggestions were given, and they were obviously knowledgable about the menu and wine selection. They checked in with us at all the right times, and they were overall pleasant.

Ah but the food... lets hit this course by course.

California Salad
Mixed baby salad greens, tossed with roma tomatoes, walnuts and gogonzola cheese. This was a perfect combo as the bitterness of the walnuts and the creaminess of the cheese blended perfectly for this Napa reminscent flavor. This covered with the Raspberry Black Walnut Vinaigrette? I had to ask the hostess to restrain me, I needed to save room. Trust me when I say this... making it past the cheese course can be very difficult.

Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue
The most common of fondues was not so common. Don't expect what you would taste from one of those crap-tastic box fondue kits. No this was pure well made Emmenthaler and Gruyere. Hints of lemon and nutmeg were grated into the pot in front of us, as we watched the cheese melt into one delectable swirl of layers of flavor.

Wisconsin Trio
Butterkase, Fontina and Buttermilk bleu... *sigh* I love blue cheese. I was getting all kinds of hot bothered by this. I don't think any of us even talked to each other. The cheese was so good and so complimenting to every dipping item served, we just took to silence to enjoy every single bite.

Both the cheeses were served with an assortment of breads and veggies. We were all starting to get full at this point, and with three more courses to come, we were starting to worry if we were really up to the task. Luckilly, like the eat beasts we are, we proudly marched forward.

Pacific Rim
At this point my memory begins to fade due to fullness. A bubbling broth was brought before us and situated upon one of the heaters. We watched as scallions, orange zest and juice, garlic, ginger, and I think some white wine werew all poured in.

We were served this along side a platter of teriyaki sirloin, shrimp, peppered crusted pork tenderloin, duck breasts, chicken breasts, and wontons (YUM!) were presented. Each one absorbed and mingled with the flavors of the fondue broth and created a harmony of tropic flavors. The peppercorn pork was truly phenomenal, creating a Hawaii meets rugged Kansas thing. It was a party in my mouth and it had a cowboy luau theme.

Signature Selection
We had this with bubbling oil. This was the classic I was used to. The veggies in tempura were by far the winner here, as was the steak. No wontons served with this, but fish (I honestly can't recall what kind) did. The fish, was honestly not so great with the oil, but was Nirvana with the broth.

Various dips and sauces were also presented allowing you to even further play alchemist with the possible flavors and textures. A favorite that our waiter suggested was to take the baby bella mushrooms, and stuff them with one of the cheese sauces. We then dipped it in tempura batter, and into the poil it went. Jesus tap dancing Christ, I swear I never had a better shroom in my life.

Chocolate Fondue with Irish Creme
This was better than sex. If you think that's a lie, you're wrong. Served with pound cake, brownies, bananas, strawberries, pineapple, and marshmellows rolled in either oreo cookie dust or graham cracker dust. Just... dear Jesus, Zeus, Quetzacoatl, Vishnu, and Buddha; thank all of you for allowing this to happen.

We sat in food coma for some time after that. The wine didn't help with that either. It was a desset wine. I remember liking the selection but the coma mind-wiped me. Time passed, I'm just not sure how much. I suggest you put some time aside for a meal here. Our meal was almost four hours long, but with good food and good friends, it's not a problem. It's also not cheap, but it won't break the bank if you go with friends. One Big Night Out, a four course meal meant for two, will easily feed four. We had two of them for four of us and it would be too much for an ordinary human.

Overall, one of the best meals I've had in Sacramento ever. After this, you'll be out buying your own pot for home, guaranteed.

The Melting Pot
814 15th St.
Sacramento, Ca 95814
(916) 443-2347

Restaurant Gig While Wearing a Wig

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I seriously doubt any restaurant is going to recognize me anytime soon. Regardless, I'm tempted to throw on a pair of rectangular rimless glasses, a thrift shop t-shirt, some low rise, trendy un-trendy jeans, and pumas and go as some Emo child and head to the next soon to be chic culinary hot spot. I would not only look Emo, I would become an Emo; annoying and disenchanted with everything. That's called sacrafice for art people, as I hate Emo kids (and goths, hippies, and any subculture like that in general). I would go undercover, and hide my true identity from the watchful kitchen staff. All for the sake of an honest, and real, review.

Okay, so I doubt I'm known enough (if at all) to need a disguise. I'll also probably go and dress up for fun anyways, but most likely if you read Garlic and Sapphires - The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, then most likely you're digging around for your old wig from that Halloween back in 87' thats somewhere in your closet.

Ruth Reichel, the current editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, and previous restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times chronicles her (mis)adventures as she recently takes on her position at the NYT. The memoir opens up as she's on the plane to the Big Apple, when a restaurant worker on the next to her informs her of the bounty on her head. Ruth learns that every cook, prep chef, restaurant owner, waiter, and hostess is part of an army of personal stalkers. Even the plump plane lady can recite Ruth's personal information. This is how horror movies usually start.

Ruth realizes her predicament: How can she retain her anonimity, and still correctly review a restaurant? Why, go in disguise of course! Ruth begins to develop (with a little help from friends for hair and makeup) a series of identities in order to infiltrate her targeted eateries and provide an accurate review. One that the everyday patron can take to heart on their own visit.

However, each disaguise begins to take on as aspect of Ruth. She doesn't simply make up a persona to match the disguise, but she becomes that persona and subsequently a hidden personal outlooks of her own Ego. This leads to her confronting her dark side in the bitter and lonley Emily who snaps at the wait staff, adopting her bright and bubbly inner child as the smart and colorful Brenda, and recognizing the sexy-powerful Chloe and her apparently dangerously flirtatious tendencies. Each alter-ego strives for the experience that any everywoman would receive. Regardless who she is, she always provides an captivating experience for the reader.

Of course, Ruth also goes into the nitty gritty, showing her devotion to her art. The politics her job plays in the food world, and the sacrafices in her family and social life that she makes due to it lay out the real life drama involved in the glitzy big city food world. The insight into how her personal and work life intertwine, and how her history of food has made her who she is gives pulsing motion to the book, putting life into the pages to be absorbed by the hungry reader.

No review can really do this book justice. I picked this up on a whim with the intention of reading it for a week or two. I finished in in one weekend. I laughed out loud, and I sat on the edge of my seat. Any self proclaimed restauranteur should pick this one up right away.

Wine Lover's Shindig

Well, that time of year has come again, the State Fair is in full swing and that means it almost time to get crazy drunk at the ever wonderful annual California Grape and Gourmet event! Sadly, I cannot go this year. (I work for a Non-Profit. It's called that for a reason.)

What is this event you ask? Well it's a special fundraising event, California wine contest, and social gala of Cali's great food and wine people. More than 600 medal-winning wines from over 200 vineyards in California will be showcasing their wines. You'll also have the oppotunity to taste practically every single one (make sure to spit for this event), and purchase some of truly noble bottles. A perfect chance to sip the best that California has to offer. Local restaurants will provide food. A perfect chance to get to know some of the local restaurants and see a display of California's colorful and luxurious edible bounty.

Tickets are $50 in advance, $60 at the door, and all proceeds go into a scholarship fund, which might pay to send someone into the UCD Eneology Dept. And it's in everyone's best interest to encourage the future's next great wine maker.

To Market, To Market (Taylor's Market - Sacramento, CA)

Monday, July 10, 2006

So on Saturday I went to Taylor's Market in downtwon Sacramento. Honestly, I had passed by the place dozens of times but I had never bothered to actually go in. After I did, I was only filled with the strong desire to go back in time and smack myself upside the head.

The place is, simply put, quite excellent. This is a specialty food store with something to offer everyone. The produce section is pretty darn complete with some awesome deals and some not so awesome deals but all balances out in the end. One of the definite stand outs were the colossal bunches of grapes, each one looking as if it were to literally burst with juice and flavor. Though the real prize to be had was the basket of kumquats I found for a mere two freakin' bucks. TWO!

For all you carnivores out there they also have a meat section that rivals, if not beats, the Nugget markets'. I mean seriously, they have everything. Jumbo prawns big enough to bait and then club a seal. Soft shell crab for a decent right-from-the-wharf price. And hey, if you gotta 100 bucks to spend, you can get 10 lbs of ground beef, 5 lbs. of BBQ steaks. 5 lbs. pork steaks or ribs, 5 lbs. fryer leg quarters, 5 lbs. of bacon (cue heavenly choir), and 5 lbs. of prawns. You're now set for your family get together or nuclear fallout, though for me and prolly many of you out there that's really the same damn thing.

They also have local chefs and vitiners come in and demo their wares. Michelle and Dina, two of the authors of The Plank Grilling Cookbook. were there showing off their grillin' expertise. They were cajoling me to try some their gauc with plank grilled onion and corn. (Okay, so by cajole I mean I had them at knife point demanding fifths seconds.) They were a hoot to chat with, and totally awesome. I checked out their book and recipes like duck breast with wild rice and cranberries demonstrated their quite couture plank grillin' style.

After pestering them and browsing, Rob and I reluctantly took our leave. We picked up a bottle of Raspberry Ancho chille marinade and a basket of those kumquats to go. After waving good bye to my new friends and to the meat department, I knew I'd be back. Cause hell, where else am I gonna find a place that sells bison at a price like that!?

Taylor's Market
2900 Freeport Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95818
(9160 443-6881

So Sorry!

Yeah, it's been a while since I posted, but hear me out, I've been busy with work and a few other obligations. No worries though, tonight there will be a post. Many posts this week. A recipe and war story from the kitchen (I promise this won't become a recipe blog, but who can resist kumquat n' lime salsa?) . Two restaurant reviews. One, maybe two book reviews. PLUS, a specialty market review, and a looksy at a neato grilling demo! Stay tuned.

S'all shibby.

Trust me.


Tennessee Hushpuppies

Thursday, July 6, 2006

So a few days ago, my friend Sarah, a super home style cook, made some awesome hushpuppies for me. Now, there is nothing wrong with southern style food in my book; any culture which encourages you deep fry your veggies is on to something! Anyways, after trying these bad boys, I asked her to share these on Vanilla Garlic, and luckilly she did. These are perfect for any picnic or function, and sure to please.

And now, Sarah's Tennessee Hushpuppies, verbatim:

Tennessee HushPuppies
serves 12

When hunters in the South were cooking their dinner over a campfire, the dogs would get all excited with the smell of the food. Some cornbread batter dropped into hot oil and cooked was then tossed to the dogs to make them be quiet. This recipe involves a 200-year-old (or so my Mom says) cornbread recipe that my Mom gave me. Mom and I have slightly altered the recipe to use vegetable oil instead of lard because, well, we like our arteries just the way they are. I use a cast-iron skillet on medium-low heat, but a deep-fryer works really well too if you've got that.

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 cup veggie oil
1/4 cup white sugar (1/2 cup i
f you want to use brown sugar)
1 cup buttermilk
1 can whole kernel corn, well drained

~mix first four ingredients in a bowl
~add the egg to the center of the bowl and mix well
~mix oil and sugar together
~add sugar/oil to bowl, mix well
~add buttermilk, mix well
~stir in corn
~drop the batter into hot oil one tablespoon at a time
~after a couple minutes, you can unstick them from the bottom using a spatula
~cook until brown (a little darker than golden)
~let cool on a couple layers of paper towel to drain the excess grease off.
~don't try to eat it too soon, or you'll burn your fingers
~I warned you, now go put your finger under cold water
~okay, now it's cool enough to eat

Strawberries Romanoff with Poundcake

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

It's summer, as I'm sure we all know by now. It's getting damn hot out there, and when I start sweating like a hooker at confession, I know that my baking season is done. Yet I still want something classy and fantastic tasting. A decadent dessert that'll wow friends, and yet, still only take me about 5 minutes of time so I can go back to a glass of iced tea, Xena DVDs, and my AC.

My answer to that is Strawberries Romanoff with Poundcake. It's a combination of two classic desserts; Strawberries Romanoff and Strawberry Shortcake. Very quick, very classy, and very simple. I highly suggest it for company or for the hell of it on a sweltering summer evening.

Strawberries Romanoff with Poundcake
Serves 4

What You'll Need...
Frozen pound cake
1 1/2 pounds strawberries
2 tablespoons Cointreau (or Grand Mariner)
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 generous tablespoon of sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons of powdered sugar

What You'll Do...
1) Slice up the strawberries. Place them in a bowl and combine them with the sugar, orange rind, and booze. Drink some of the Cointreau. Refrdigerate for about 1-3 hours. Afterwards, take about 1/3 of the mixture and puree it. (I couldn't puree it since my blender is shot, but do it if you can. I just saved some of the juice instead.)

2) Whip together the powdered sugar and heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold in the puree/juices.

3) Place slices of pound cake in a dish. Spoon on the strawberry mixture, and then some of the whipped cream. If you have crystal goblets or good wine glasses then use those for presentation, however bowls will do just dandy.

Feel free to make these ahead of time and refridgerate them until needed. It's an elegant solution to entertaining and beating the heat. Enjoy.

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