Sunday, August 2, 2015

Go Bananas at the Banana Festival

I really haven't gotten why there's a banana festival in Sacramento. We aren't tropical. They aren't native to our region. And yet we have all sorts of food festivals here and this one is now in its sixth year, each year getting bigger and bigger. 

Why the banana? Well, the festival is a "multicultural celebration of the diverse cultures that use the banana as food".  When you think about it, bananas (or plantains) are used from Asia to Africa to the Caribbean. 

This year's festival takes place on August 8 and 9 in William Land Park. The Banana Festival benefits the National Academic Youth Corps, which provides art and educational programs to over 15,000 people every year as well as over a dozen other local charities. Sacramento Banana Festival is an alcohol- and tobacco-free event that promotes health and wellness along with family-friendly contests, such as the shoebox float competition, and live entertainment, including Elvis tribute artist Rob Ely.

Honestly, this festival has something for everyone. From a banana pancake breakfast each morning at to a beauty pageant to a 5K stroll (to burn off those pancake calories). 

Besides the pancakes, there is a banana pie eating contest, a banana bread tasting, and the chef challenge. The chef challenge is a version of the Bravo cooking show CHOPPED! with a twist added to the mystery bag: Each chef must use a banana in each of three dishes: an appetizer, entrĂ©e and dessert. In keeping with this year’s Viva La Banana’ theme, each dish must represent Las Vegas. Four chefs will compete, one will win $300 and bragging rights.

As a personal note, bananas are my sick-superfood, meaning, whenever I feel ill with an upset stomach, bananas are my go-to food for making me feel better. So sure, why not celebrate them?

WIN 2 TICKETS!  Post a comment below and you could win tickets to the event. How do you like to eat  your bananas?

Disclosure: I was given a free tickets for this event.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Have an Offal Day 3 on August 16th

Often my best ideas come in the early morning. Every day I get up and search the internet for food stories and it's usually during this time that my mind starts churning. That's when I first thought about creating the Sacramento Food Film Festival two years ago. It's also when I thought about creating Have an Offal Day back in March.

I think I was watching some cooking show, probably something with Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain since they seem to eat the most offal. I suddenly wondered if there was such a thing as a good tasting haggis. I had haggis back when I was in Edinburgh when I was a teenager. I tried it and didn't care for it (I found it bland) and it wasn't until later that I was told it was sheep's stomach filled with intestines and other stuff. So here I am one morning wondering if it was possible to make a tasty haggis. Taking the thought a little further, why not have some event with a bunch of offal dishes? 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Localis - the hot new F2F restaurant

This octopus dish was the only thing not local and not on the tasting menu

I happen to pretty much know the foodie circle in town. The chefs, the restaurateurs, the bloggers, the general foodies. That's not to brag but to make a point. When these folk all rave about a restaurant then it's time to make note. They don't throw around kudos lightly.

The current restaurant with bragging rights for getting the most raves from all foodies in town would be Localis. Located in the space formerly occupied by Tuli Bistro and Trick Pony (21st & S), Localis has been getting the most buzz — all of it great.

It's actually easy to understand why for two reasons. First is that it's focusing on seasonal farm to fork dishes. More on this in a moment. The second and more important reason is that Chef Chris Barnum is in the kitchen. 

Prior to Localis Chris Barnum was at Cibo 7 in Roseville and that restaurant had also been getting rave reviews under his stewardship. It also got high marks from Sacramento Magazine and Sacramento News & Review. In fact, I have to think the owners are pretty bummed that he left. Roseville's loss is Sacramento's gain. 

I went Saturday with a friend and the server did a very good job of covering every detail of each dish. So detailed, in fact, that there's no way for me to do justice to describing the pictures below.  I asked them if they might email them to me, so I might add those later. 

The tasting menu is $77 and covers everything you see below except the octopus. For $30 more they upgrade it for two people.  My recommendation, get it for yourself. After three courses we knew we would want more, so we added the octopus. I like that they up it by just $30 for two, but we both left hungry, so just hog it all for yourself if your budget allows.

Someone joked on my tweet of the octopus that it was not local. True. It's imported from Spain because the Pacific octopus they were getting just didn't cut it.  I don't care. The octopus was fantastically tender and if it had to come from Spain, good for me!

So that brings us to the whole farm-to-fork local thing. Localis will be changing the menu daily depending on the seasonal items available. Now true, a lot of restaurants, especially here, are doing that already. Here's the thing. I would have to say this was the absolutely closest thing to farm fresh my taste buds have had lately in a restaurant. What do I mean by that?  Every  bite tasted fresh, clean, bright, earthy...everything your imagination thinks of farm to fork. There was creativity and uniqueness while letting the flavors of the ingredients shine through. Only one item didn't hit with us. (We thought it needed salt and some acidity). 

My two favorites were the octopus (best I've ever had) and the braised lamb belly.

So with that said... time to drool....

(Current descriptions are my own drab ones)

zucchini with poached quail egg

ceviche and pluots

squash 3 ways

bacon and eggs

blistered padron peppers

rabbit with blueberry risotto

braised lamb belly

sweet amuse bouche

panna cotta w/ brulee watermelon

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I'd like to be your friend, not just an acquaintance

Milestone birthdays tend to bring out a lot of emotion and thought. Some dread them, others embrace them, many ignore them.

For me, turning 50 was not a dreadful thing. I actually think turning 51 will be more difficult. What it did do was make me more contemplative of my life. One area I've been dwelling on a bit is Friendships.

Over the decades people have gotten more and more distant and a lot less civil to each other. One of my favorite movies is Gone With the Wind and I always think to the scene where Rhett and Scarlet are pushing Baby Blue's pram down the sidewalk. Each time they pass someone Rhett tips his hat and they all greet each other — "Good morning, Mrs. Meade." "Good morning, Captain Butler". Even into the 60s and a bit into the 70s people would greet each other at work every morning.

These days it's both a me-me-me society as well as being deeply immersed in technology. No more hand written letters when a short email or Facebook nudge will do. So much for cherishing long distance phone calls because they cost so much money. Now we carry our phones with us and can call anywhere in the world in an instant.

All this leads to distance and lessens the number of deep, developed friendships in favor of acquaintances. While driving Uber in SF (which I started so I could socialize more on the weekends) I met a man from Rhodesia who had moved to London and was just finishing up an 18 month job in San Francisco. His next move was to Ireland and he was on his way to say goodbye to friends he had made while here. He commented that he felt that during his stay here he had really only made acquaintances. It seemed that in SF people were very friendly and happy to add another friend to their large keychain filled of friendships, but in actuality, it was very superficial acquaintances that they were making, not deep, developed friendships. People knew him, but none bothered to KNOW him.

That's how I've felt about my 'friends' in Sacramento. Sure I have a large circle of people I know now, but hardly any of them have gotten to know me better or me them.

I know it's a 2-way street. I can't put the blame completely on others because I have to make the effort too. I have to extend the invitations. I have to listen to them and ask questions to get to know them more deeply than what restaurants are their favorites right now.

That's why I've tried recently to reach out to some people and invite them to happy hour or to dinner so that I can get to know them more. And I'm hoping that if I extend the invitation to others, they will be willing to learn more about me as I learn more about them.

I'm terribly guilty of tuning out of conversations and I'm making a real effort to stay "in" the conversation instead of just glazing over. 

I could have another 30 to 50 years to go and they will go a lot faster than the last 50. Sadly, during these next 50 years many people will disappear just from the sad fact of dying. All the more reason to develop friendships that are meaningful and to cherish to the end. 

Social website for making friends (women only) is

More on this topic:

Why It's Hard To Make Friends As An Adult, According to Reddit

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Time to pig out at Heritage Fire 2015

Hey, gang. It's that wonderful time of year again! Heritage Fire is one of Northern California's premiere food events with a barrel load of the region's top chefs. From Sacramento to Napa to the Bay Area, the best love to congregate at Charles Krug winery for a day of paleo eating - all meat, all the time. 

For an overview of last year's event, check out my post highlighting the Sacramento chefs.

This year, so far, we have representation by Michael Thiemann who will soon be opening his meat-centric restaurant, Empress. The other chef I will note is one I consider to be an adopted to Sacramento chef, Matthew Accarrino of San Francisco's SPQR. The reason I say that is because he's become good friends with our Sac chefs and Michael Passmore of Passmore Ranch. And, by the way, he was a James Beard Award nominee this last year. 

During this meat fest you get to dine on all sorts of proteins: rabbit, lamb, pork, beef, sturgeon, chicken, and more! All done over outdoor fire pits.

There's plenty more to Heritage FireIn addition to the meat-laden feast, the event includes animal theatre cooking, butcher demonstrations, lawn games, live music and the opportunity to learn directly from the farmers and producers behind the great wines, brews and ciders of the event. Bring a cooler so that you can purchase some of the butchered meats to take home. Money raised from the butcher sales will benefit the students of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Come join me and our chefs and represent, Sacramento!

To purchase tickets, visit the Heritage Fire Napa ticket page.

Disclosure: I received a press pass for this post.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Comparing Fast Casual Pizzas

Ever since Chipotle's build-your-own fast casual concept became popular others have tried to copy the concept. Most popular has been the pizza version. Here in the Sacramento region I've now tried three different ones, Pieology, Blaze Pizza, and now Blast Pizza

The first out the gate was Pielogy, the only one that's managed to find a location in The Grid. Then Blaze launched in Gold River, Davis, and Roseville shortly after. Blast Pizza is out in Rocklin.  After having now tried all three, I'm ready to compare. 

Blast Pizza

Pieology's crust is made using a pressing machine to flatten out dough balls to make the crust. I found it a suitable crust for what the place is, fast processing of  customers' orders. Thing is, dough is tossed and stretched for a reason. Stretching pulls the gluten threads and makes the crust more tender. Rolling or pressing, then, obviously makes a tougher crust.

What I immediately thought about Blaze Pizza's crust was that it was like cardboard. My least favorite of the three. Both of these very thin crust versions made for quick cooking in the ovens. 

Blast Pizza's was the best. They use hand-stretched dough that is made daily and then set ready, much like Michael Johnson of The Pizza Company does for his mobile pizza oven. This crust is thicker, thus taking longer to cook in the oven than the other two. But it was definitely the best of the bunch because of its being thicker and stretched. 

All three do offer gluten-free crust, but none of them have "clean" situations to keep things away from the flour around the kitchen. Therefore, celiac disease sufferers probably shouldn't eat at any, while gluten intolerant people should be cautious. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sneak Peak: Fish Face

There's a lot of excitement for Thursday's opening of Fish Face, Bill Ngo's newest restaurant. Opening in the refurbished warehouse building at 11th & R Streets, Fish Face is a fast casual concept that is sure to be a success.  In a day where there are "Chipotle for pizza" and "Chipotle for Asian bowls", FF takes the "build your own" method and applies it to Hawaiian poke.

There will be plenty of people that we will never see at FF...those who don't do raw fish. Poke is chopped or sliced pieces of raw fish tossed with extras and sauce. Bill takes this and expands it so that you order it the way you want it, just like building a Chipotle burrito. Pick your seafood (ahi, octopus, shrimp, or even tofu), select a sauce, then add what extras you might like (seaweed, avocado, jalapenos, etc.). 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Pizza Rock offers how many styles of pizza?!?!

Yes, I've eaten at Pizza Rock on occasion, yet one can get an entirely different perspective when meeting the owner and learning more about the restaurant. Media events allow bloggers this opportunity so that we can share what we learn with our friends and readers. This week Pizza Rock's owner, Tony Gemignani, was in town to share some items that were being added to the menu at our Sacramento location.

Now most people may not realize who Tony Gemignani is in the pizza world. He's a pizza rock star. In 2007 he was the first American/non-Italian to win the World Champion Pizza Maker at the World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy. This was a very big deal, like when Napa wines beat French wines in 1976 (depicted in the movie Bottleshock). And actually, when you look at his pizza bio on the World Champions site, you learn that he actually has won 11 World Champion titles! Being the foremost American expert on pizzas, Tony now teaches classes on pizza making and has a book out, The Pizza Bible, covering every style pizza imaginable.

from Pizza Rock

The Sacramento Pizza Rock is only one of 14 restaurants that he owns in Northern California and Las Vegas. Unfortunately I think most Sacramentans just associate it with "the restaurant with a semi truck coming out over the bar". As I've been doing a lot of restaurant profiles for restaurants and restaurant groups/chains across the entire country (for my day job), I've learned a lot about quality and what makes a restaurant group a success so that it can expand. Tony has obviously found a winning formula by supplying the public with every pizza they could ever want. 

Turns out that Pizza Rock has 9 styles of pizzas and 4 different pizza ovens. I even learned of a couple of pizzas I'd never heard of before. Sure they serve American and Neapolitan, but they also have regional styles such as New York, New Haven, and Detroit. Keep in mind that all of these different styles require different crust recipes, pans, ovens, and temperatures. That's why there are always at least 4 pizza ovens in each of Tony's restaurants. Whether it's coal or wood fired, bread or cornmeal crusts, Tony makes sure that each pizza is made properly. For those that are gluten-free, they have a station and a dedicated oven just for gluten-free pizzas.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer Food Events - What will you eat this summer?

The great thing about Sacramento is that we have food events all year long.  Our name of Farm-to-Fork Capitol is appropriate with everything from Baconfest to the Banana Festival. In fact, sometimes competition is fierce for your attention and your dollar.

We are also blessed to be in the middle of so many destinations. With Napa, Tahoe, Reno, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Monterey/Carmel, and Yosemite so close by, there are events to select from throughout Northern California.

Below is the Foodie Calendar through September's Farm-to-Fork Festival. The ones with comments are my favorites that I return to year after year.

July 17-18 Marysville Peach Festival
July 18 Capay Organic Tomato Festival 
July 24-26 Gilroy Garlic Festival
July 27 Courtland Pear Festival

August 2 Cochon Heritage Fire (Napa)
Probably my favorite of the summer, Heritage Fire is a meat lover's dream event. Plucking the best chefs from the Napa Valley and Sacramento. So far I see Michael Thiemann from Mother/Empress listed again and I'm hoping that we have some good Sacramento representation again this year. 

August 8 Woodland Tomato Festival 
August 8-9 Gravenstein Apple Fair

Friday, June 26, 2015

Checking in with Chando

via Sac Bee
It had been well over a year since I last saw Chando Madrigal. We had met in the early days of the gourmet truck movement here in Sacramento, at the time when we founded SactoMoFo. Chando was one of the first Sacramento trucks on the scene, close on the heels of Krushburger (then Miniburger) and Drewski's.

I was lucky in that my office building where I now work was hosting a luncheon for the tenants and they called in Chando's to cater it. I was happy to see that Chando himself arrived on site and we were able to take a few minutes to catch up.

Chando's been busy since those early days. Since we first met he's opened locations in South Sacramento and in Roseville as well as adding a second truck.

He's also been getting some great national press. Last year the blog FiveThirtyEight did a search for the country's best burrito.  For the entire nation, Chando's came in at a tie for 7th place and in the top 20 overall. (Many of the positions had 2 or 3-way ties.) Then in April Chando's was named in Saveur magazine's article on California's historic tortilla-packed Highway 99

I asked him if he was ready to open location #4, possibly in Folsom and he said he's taking a break. His next project is actually to create a central facility where all of the catering and supply will function out of. At this location he can accept all deliveries, prep for catering events, and even make his own tortillas and more items from scratch. 

Then I wondered if he was ever going to do a regular restaurant versus a fast food/fast casual concept. He says he has an idea in his head, but it will be some time before that comes to fruition.

In the meantime I'll have to head over to the Arden Way stand and try this famous burrito. He says that they don't put beans or rice in them, only all the other fixings. This suits me just fine as I always order mine without rice and beans anyway. It's less carbs and less of a gut bomb. I've always been a regular for his great fish tacos (grilled, not fried) and the mulitas. 

Whatever Chando touches has been golden of late and so as the future unfolds I'm sure we'll see even more great things.