Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Help Braeden get a Service Dog

There's is something special about the bond between a human and their animal friend. Even more special is a child with their first pet. The most special of all is the bond between a child and a service animal. The bond between the two is so strong and dependent.

Braeden is eight and has autism. He often has seizures and many doctors appointments which cause him stress and anxiousness. But Braeden calms down among animals. His family is hoping a service dog will help him to become more independent and build self confidence. A young service dog will grow with him through his teen years.

Service dogs are not commonly seen for children with autism and definitely cost a lot of money. Braeden's family must raise $8,000. So far they are half way to that goal. To help reach the goal, Lucca Restaurant is helping the effort. 

On April 21st they are hosting a 4-course dinner with all the ticket sales going to fundraiser for Braeden's dog. Chef Ian McBride will be cooking and there will be raffle prizes for gift certificates and more as well. Tickets are $65 and can be purchased at

If you can't make the dinner, you can still help out. Lucca has created a Braeden Burger with sauteed mushrooms, Fontina, and garlic aioli. The beef, of course, is from their sister company, Lucky Dog Ranch. The burger is $14 and $2 from each goes to the cause.

To donate directly, go to

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sacramento Shines at Pebble Beach Food & Wine

A few weeks ago I wrote about how we had a collection of Sacramento chefs going to the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Show. After a tiring weekend of nonstop events, we are all back home and the chefs are exhausted. 

Unfortunately my press pass was very limited in that I only got to go to the tasting events. No dinners, seminars, or cooking demonstrations. Also no after hours parties and that's where Bill Ngo and Michael Thiemann were.  Never did catch up with Ramon Perez or Ravin Patel. I did catch sight of Kelly McCown as he was leaving. He was done by Saturday afternoon and heading home. Therefore my coverage only extends to Meatopia on Friday and the Grand Tasting Tents on Saturday and Sunday.

Kudos must be shared for Michael Passmore of Passmore Ranch.  Most of the chefs used his fish (trout, catfish, sturgeon, caviar) and he even did a special for Kelly by supplying lamb. He also worked his butt off. He was assisting many of the chefs, but it paid off for him because he got to talk about his business with many people in the food business, including a posse of Top Chefs from the Bravo TV show.

Friday night - MEATOPIA!

Although no Sacramento chefs were featured at the Meatopia event, there was still a good showing as they assisted Chef Matthew Accarrino of SPQR in San Francisco. Accarrino was recently nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef of the West and he's a big fan of Passmore Ranch.  He had a great wow factor bite in that they served up sturgeon chicharron with caviar and then roasted sturgeon. 

The roasted sturgeon was pretty spectacular. Michael says that the fish was 120 pounds out of the water, pre-evisceration. They stuffed it with citrus and herbs and then put it on a spit. They encased it in chicken wire so it wouldn't fall apart as it cooked. As always, the sturgeon was delicious and I even scored the cheek!

Michael talks to celebrity chefs
Helping Accarrino that day was Michael Passmore and Bill Ngo and Tyler Bond from Kru.  I missed seeing Bill on his own as he had the After Parties on Thursday and Saturday nights and press pass had no access.

More from Meatopia...

Bottom left is Kevin Gillespie from Atlanta's Gunshow. You may recognize him from Top Chef. He once said on Top Chef Masters how our own Michael Tuohy was his mentor. I must say that both his bites, Friday and Sunday, were among my favorites from the whole weekend — packed with flavor. Friday's was pork belly with pickled apples and smoked peanut butter (and I'm no peanut butter fan).

Saturday Grand Tasting

Saturday was the second event for Oliver Ridgeway of Grange.  He had also done some catfish poboys for Thursday's golf event. Once again, Michael Passmore was on hand to help out. Oliver got many compliments for his dish being not only tasty, but standing out as different.  It was a dill Yorkshire pudding with trout rillette and caviar with shaved bottarga on top. Bottarga is a new term for me — salted and cured fish roe. It hardens into a block so you can shave it like truffles.  This bottarga was made with sturgeon caviar. (At the time I thought they were shaving truffles.)

Below are shots of some of the other areas.  Driscoll's was a major sponsor so you can see their Berryland in the top right - all berry desserts.  Lexus was also a major sponsor, thus the cars. There were a LOT of wineries represented. A ridiculous number. Lucky for me Perrier was also there. 

And, of course, plenty of bites. The ones in the middle are especially noteworthy. The beef pho from Charles Phan of The Slanted Door. It was good, but difficult to consume with the noodles, etc. The pie slice you see is foie gras and orange and it was delicious. It came from The Modern NYC. I also ran into Dana Cowin, Editor of Food & Wine Magazine (hosts of the event) and asked her to pay more attention to Sacramento, we have so much great food!

There were plenty of celebrity chefs, including Curtis Stone, Charles Phan, Aaron Burns, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Brian Malarkey (from The Taste on TV). I also spotted Elizabeth Falkner, Anita Lo, Jenn Louis, and Iron Chef Morimoto.

Sunday Grand Tasting

It was Mother's turn to shine on Sunday with Matt Masera representing.  I had seen Michael Thiemann on Friday and he explained he had to do the After After Party that night, but it turns out he had to return to Sac for other Mother obligations and so Matt was there with his wife, Dana, to man the fort. Their dish was an almond cake with pea dust soil, carrot puree, turmeric glass, and fennel frond.  He ran out about an hour before the event so hopefully they got to go around and eat what was left around the tent.

And, of course, more bites...
Notable in this collage would be the foie gras peanut butter doughnuts (didn't work for me) and the bottom right, which is Kevin Gillespie's pork and raisin crepinette that I liked. The bottom left is Morimoto's cold noodles with beef and that was a huge hit.  And there was Morimoto, on noodle duty, scooping out handfuls of noodles into each bowl and picking up droppings from the floor to be neat and tidy.

I didn't get too carried away with chef groupie selfies.  Took one with Kevin to say "hi" to Michael Tuohy and then had to get Fabio during prep time before the doors opened. I might not have gotten to more events, but at least it got me in early for the tastings. 

I want to thank Wagstaff Worldwide and Coastal Luxury Management for granting me the pass.  They don't give too many away to bloggers and so I was thrilled that they allowed me the opportunity to cover our Sacramento chefs. And they were a big hit too! Just check out's review of the event and see #4 and #12! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

ClassPass May be the Answer

I'm quite sure I fall among the majority of Americans in that I wish I could go through life without having to exercise. But as I have now reached the half century mark, I've resigned myself that my middle age aches and pains will only be magnified as I age if I don't exercise. The fact is, I've never been athletic and I'm terribly uncoordinated. I have a crappy sense of balance and the only kind of dancing I can do is freestyle.

Going to the gym is a chore and not a pleasure. It's no wonder that I've constantly been on the search for an exercise that I can tolerate if not like. I was really happy with spin until my arthritic hip started hurting. That definitely means running is out. Last year I took up swimming and I find that I rather enjoy it, but trying to get a lane to yourself at a pool is a chore in itself. 

I've also had curiosity about other fitness programs such as The Dailey Method and pilates. The trouble is, you want to try them without having to buy a package. The answer is finally here - ClassPass

ClassPass is a fitness membership that spans across multiple fitness facilities. The beauty of it is that with the one membership you can go to pilates, yoga, barre, crossfit, cycling, boxing, and more at numerous facilities that belong.  Just launched in Sacramento this month, ClassPass is in every major city in the U.S. and even in London and Canada. Each city has different pricing — Sacramento is $79 a month.

Club Pilates in Midtown

For that $79 you get an unlimited number of classes at any of the member facilities. The only catch is that you can only go three times to any one. For instance, you can go to The Dailey Method three times, Aerial Evolution three times, Club Pilates three times, etc.  If one is a group, such as Dailey Method with multiple locations throughout Sacramento, it's three times altogether. You can't go to the downtown one three times and then then to the East Sac one another three times. 

I was given a one-month pass to check it out. So far I've gone to both The Dailey Method downtown and to Club Pilates. I liked both classes. What was great was that they used muscles that I obviously hadn't been using during my other workouts with my trainer at 24 Hour Fitness. The Dailey Method really focused on my core while at Club Pilates I got to finally see and try those pilates machines/contraptions they use with all the straps and pulleys. 

The beauty of ClassPass is that you can switch up your routine and try something new. It also gives you a lot of variety and flexibility. And like my 24 Hour Fitness membership, it's usable in any city that also has ClassPass. In fact, in some cities your ClassPass even includes gyms such as 24 Hour fitness and Gold's Gym. 

At this point I'll probably be joining ClassPass next month. I'm liking the access to different studios and working on other parts of my body in new ways. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Five+ Sac Chefs Heading to Pebble Beach Food & Wine

For the last seven years some of America's best chefs have been traveling to famed Pebble Beach to serve up tasty bites at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine weekend.  This year Sacramento makes a great showing by sending five of our best as well. Our representation includes Oliver Ridgeway from Grange, Kelly McCown, recently returning to the Selland Family fold, Bill Ngo from Kru, and Michael Thiemann and Matt Masera from Mother and Empress

The Pebble Beach Food & Wine (PBFW) weekend is considered to be one of the top, if not THE top, food and wine gatherings in the country. Here you can see your favorite chefs from across the country and your TV screen all in one place. Some are there to do demos. Others are presenting seminars or speaking on panels. Some are just there to enjoy themselves with other top class chefs. Whatever the reason, PBFW spans four days and will have the best of the best. 

Tickets are individually sold for each event, ranging from $100 for a seminar up to $500 for a wine reserve tasting. Money goes toward charities throughout Monterey County, specifically those that deal with families and children, such as Boys & Girls Club, Voices for Children, and Make-a-Wish.

Many of the daytime events focus on wine and alcohol.  You can go to wine pairings or learn about the current revitalization of cocktails as bartenders return to classic shrubs and bitters. There are cooking demonstrations with chefs you might have seen on TV, such as Curtis Stone or maybe learn about ramen from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.

Our Sacramento chefs will be spread throughout the weekend. 

Bill Ngo, owner of Kru, will be busy at two events, the final ones on Thursday and Saturday nights. Bill is busy expanding his business in the next couple of years.  Fish Face will be opening any time now with a variety of poke and other seafood dishes. With the building of the arena and the revitalization of K Street, he'll both be moving and expanding Kru, but also opening a not yet announced place elsewhere.  The current Kru location will be turned into a new concept.

Oliver Ridgeway, from Grange at the Citizen Hotel, will be making bites for Saturday's Grand Tasting event. Oliver has been getting a lot of notice lately after he was named twice on Saveur Magazines Top 100 of 2015

Michael Thiemann (another Selland Family alumni) and Matt Masera are teaming up together for the Grand Tasting event on Sunday, the final event of the weekend.  Will they stick to the vegetarian side as they do at Mother? Or will they venture to the carnivore side to celebrate the soon to be opening Empress Tavern?  Guess we'll have to wait and see. 

I haven't heard from Kelly McCown about the events he's participating in.  Kelly has worked at numerous restaurants throughout the West Coast such asLa Folie, Fleur de Lys, Lampreia, Flying Fish, and the Michelin rated Martini House in St. Helena. He's also been spotted foraging ingredients in the Napa Valley area.  But Sacramento residents remember him from his year's at Ella before he went to Napa's Goose & Gander. Now he's back to helm Randall Selland's new Italian trattoria at the old Andiamo/Good Eats site. Late news:  Ravin Patel, Wine Director of Selland Family Restaurants, is going along with Kelly. Also, sommelier Joe Vaccaro, Wine Director of Selland Family Restaurants. Ramon Perez, from, emailed to say he is going as well. 

I've been lucky enough to get tickets to some events and will catch Oliver, Matt, and Michael at their events. Bill tells me he'll be assisting at Meatopia as well, so I'll run into him there as well as probably Michael Passmore from Passmore Ranch.  Expect a post and pictures from the event in about two weeks!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Saint John's - A Place for Hope and Dreams

Tiffany and Michele Steeb, CEO
Tiffany has a gorgeous, sunny smile and bright, clear eyes. She is gloriously happy, perhaps for the first time in years...or maybe even her life. She has a roof over her head, her son with her, and a bright future. This is in stark contrast to just six months ago when she and her son were living in her car and she was (and still is) dealing with custody battles with her in-laws. She had been homeless for over a year, living in her car and on friend's couches. Tiffany represents the growing number of homeless families in Sacramento and her happy smile is due to one thing - finding help at Saint John's.

Saint John's Program for Change is a charity that was founded in 1985 on the footsteps of St. John's Lutheran Church. It's mission is to help women in crisis come to grips with their lives, battle their demons, and through education, assistance, and a job program, lead them to a new life of independence, productivity, and self sufficiency.

I had recently been asked to come to one of Saint John's guest chef dinners, which we'll get to later. I had been to the dinners before and have ready many posts and articles about them. I wanted to know more.  I wanted to know about the program leading up to the Plates Cafe and to the success stories that come from Saint John's.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Must visit: Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu

I stayed for a week in Honolulu for my vacation in January. In that week I went to Koko Head Cafe three times for breakfast.  It's that good.

Located a few miles from Waikiki in the Waialea neighborhood, Koko Head Cafe  calls itself an "Island Style Brunch House". It's become one of the most popular breakfast destinations on the island for the locals and word has spread enough to attract tourists as well. In fact, while I was there I watched Japanese media filming the place. It's tucked in just off of Waialea Avenue in a nondescript building, but inside it's bright and cheerful with a number of booths and counter seating. The staff are just as bright and cheerful too.

I went three times because the menu is so diverse and so enticing. It also demonstrates what I love most about Hawaiian cuisine, true fusion of American and Asian in a way that only the islands can achieve. Like our own Bacon & ButterKoko Head Cafe only serves brunch from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. While you can find pancakes and eggs on the menu, they will be treated with a Hawaiian touch. For instance, Hawaiian style pancakes are made with a ricotta batter and don't need any syrup because they are sweet enough with their topping of chopped island fruits of pineapple, mango, and/or whatever is in season.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Quick Review: Ninja Sushi in Roseville

I am no fan of Yelp.  I hate the negativity of the bad, sloppy reviewers that you have to read through to get to good, insightful reviews. 

Yet Yelpers do seem to get the Top 100 list right. Recently the 2015 Top 100 Restaurants reviewed on Yelp came out. (I like to make clear that this is a list compiled from Yelp data.  Just like I wish people would realize that the Top 100 list on OpenTable is only of OpenTable restaurants and not ALL restaurants.) Anyway, the point is that two Sacramento area restaurants made this year's list and one was Ninja Sushi and Teriyaki in Roseville. 

Disclaimer:  Ninja reached out to me asking me to come by and check them out. I told them that I would have to come unannounced in order to do an honest review. They did send me a gift certificate to pay for my meal. But that in no way is what is influencing this review since I truly do see the reason they have such great reviews on their own.

Ninja is located just off of Highway 65 at Pleasant Grove Boulevard on the west side of the freeway. The complex has a lot of restaurants, including the new Chando's Tacos Roseville and the Brazil churrascaria restaurant, Flame and Fire. I went with a friend on a Sunday night to find that every table was occupied and there was a wait. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

3 Ways to Juice on Sunday for the Whole Week

I am no juicing expert, but I have gotten into juicing — in a rather convoluted way. You see, I'm a bit of a tightwad and so I see no sense in paying a juice store to do something I can do for far less money on my own.  The irony is in how much I've spent on actual juicers.

I started out with a Breville centrifugal juicer. When it busted I got a Ninja Bullet. Then when the Ninja busted (from me cramming too much into each jar) I went for the big bucks and got a Vitamix so that I could emulsify and keep the fiber.  But I got tired of so much fiber and so I went out and got an Omega cold press juicer to keep all those nutrients.  Finally, I received a free, new Ninja Auto IQ Blender, which I fell in love with.  Yes, I've spent a lot of money on juicers for being a tightwad.  

When I say that I'm not an expert, it's mostly because I don't make a variety of good tasting juices that I switch up each day. No, I keep things simple. I know that you should have mostly vegetables because fruit adds calories, so my juices are pretty green and veggie filled. My routine consists of going to the farmers market on Sunday morning, washing my purchases, then juicing or prepping for the entire week's worth of juices. 

Yes, my juices pretty much taste the same all the time, but I don't care.  I'm getting my nutrients. What do I put in?  Typically I go to the farmers market and buy the following (1 bunch each):  kale, cilantro, carrots (including the greens), celery, parsley, sometimes mint, a few cucumbers, green apples, sometimes kiwis.  At home I'm lucky enough to have a giant grapefruit and lemon tree to take care of the citrus. Citrus is important to cut that green, leafy taste. I'll also add the following at home, varying upon my mood: chia seed, tumeric and coconut oil (they need each other to work), cayenne pepper, pineapple, and ginger. As you can see, my juice is veggie heavy. 

I juice on Sundays and have juices every day for the rest of the week. And I don't lose much nutritional value because I freeze everything. 

Over the course of the last year I have developed three different methods for doing this.  Each has its own merits. Sometimes it's a matter of how lazy I am and sometimes it's a matter of if I want a lot of fiber or do I just want the juice. The common denominator is that I'm not interested in taking time every day to juice and clean juicers.  I'd rather clean up the whole mess just one time.

1. Mason Jars

Mason jars can be put in the freezer because the glass is so thick. The key things to remember is that you must use the wide mouth jars and you must leave an air gap because liquids expand. Forget the air gap and the freezing liquid could make your jar crack or explode in your freezer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hawaiian Baklava

Last month when I was in Hawaii I tasted some extraordinary honey.  It's from the ohia lehua flower and the honey has a tropical sweetness unlike any mainland honeys. Then last week I had a bit of inspiration on using some of my macadamia nuts. Why not make a Hawaiian baklava with macadamia nuts, coconut, and Hawaiian honey? Not only did it make perfect sense, but it made delicious baklava!

Roasting the macadamia nuts

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Scatter about 1/2 pound of macadamia nuts on a cookie sheet. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the nuts are a golden brown.  Remove and cool.  Chop finely for the recipe

Hawaiian Baklava

1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
2 cups chopped roasted macadamia nuts
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut flakes
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup Hawaiian honey

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.

2. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon and coconut flakes. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut stack to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 - 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 - 8 sheets deep.

3. Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows the make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.

4. Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

5. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Pig and the Lady finds a home

Besides Sacramento, I know Honolulu's food scene the next best. Certainly not on my own, but because I have made friends with the two top restaurant food bloggers on Oahu. Mari (@nonstopMari) and Melissa (@Melissa808) work for and they are the two most in tune with Honolulu's food scene. I first met them 2.5 years ago on my last trip and they were the ones to steer me to The Pig & the Lady. At the time it was a pop-up restaurant, which I wrote about when I wrote about the chef, Andrew Le. Andrew brings his family upbringing to the menu with updated Vietnamese food. 

Almost a year and a half ago The Pig & the Lady opened up in a brick and mortar in Chinatown. It has become one of the most popular restaurants among the locals and is drawing visitors because it has been mentioned in such publications as Travel & Leisure and Saveur magazines. Even better, Andrew Le was a James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef in 2014 and Best Chef West for 2015. Quite an achievement for this young chef. 

at the farmers market
On this trip I had to go visit the restaurant and see what Andrew was up to. He is definitely keeping busy. Not only does P&tL operate for lunches and dinner six days a week, but they also go to several farmers markets on the island and set up quite an elaborate food tent. In fact, I was quite blown away with the number of menu items they do out of a tent! Most food vendors will have about 6-10, P&tL is easily at two dozen. Whether you choose one of several pho or a version of their banh mi sandwiches, the options are so numerous it actually makes it difficult to decide. Rest assured, though, the quality of the meals from the tent are just as high and delicious as from the restaurant. 

The day after I saw the team at the Blaisdell farmers market I was having dinner with Mari at the restaurant. The pop-up had been a prix fixe affair, but now it was a standard menu of appetizers and entrees to choose from. We each selected our items before getting caught up with what we had each been up to since we last saw each other.


The restaurant is well organized. There is a lot of seating and even some long tables in the center that can be used for large parties or communal dining. The bar is at the back right and there is another bar, the dessert bar, up to the front with a display case by the door for those that want to just grab some cookies on the go. Above there are light fixtures in chicken wire cages hanging from the high ceilings.  Since there are brick walls and hard surfaces, it does get noisy. Mari said it was one of the loudest restaurants in Honolulu. I was not complaining as it seemed on the quieter side compared to California restaurants. 

Mari ordered the chips and dip to start. They consisted of potato skins served with potato skins, horseradish-creme fraiche, ikura. I had ordered the pork cheeks that were served with lettuce leaves so that you ate it as a sort of lettuce wrap. Andrew was kind enough to send out a sashimi plate as well. 

pork entree
Pork is my favorite meat and so I double dipped with a pork entree as well. After all, it was pork belly. His Shinsato Farm Pork ala Basquaise had chorizo piperrada, olive oil potatoes, leeks braised in espelette & apple cider, hazelnuts, tomato seed vinaigrette, mustard greens

Andrew has brought in a pastry chef for the dessert bar. Mari says Rachel Murai is among the top three pastry chefs in Honolulu.  She had previously been at Nobu where Mari tells me she actually helped to build the dream kitchen for that restaurant. She's apparently very happy to be a part of Andrew's team, always with a big smile. She's also generous. I had ordered the marvelous avocado cake because I had watched it being prepared.  The avocado cake was covered with a layer of sugar that was then bruleed with a torch to create a candy crunch surface. It was then served with local bee pollen, strawberries, pea shoots, and a light corn gelato.

Rachel brought us an extra treat as well. They had gotten a soft serve machine and on this day it had a combo of a vanilla custard ice cream in one side and a lychee sorbet on the other. She brought it to us as a swirl witha sprinkling of blueberries and boba around it. In her had was a large capped test tube, which she poured over the soft serve. It was an elderflower soda. The mini float was such a refreshing end to a fantastic meal. 

Two days later I returned for the lunch menu. I opted for their lunch tasting, which for $24 included a small salad, a small bowl of pho with plenty of noodles, and a small banh mi sandwich.  I selected the pork belly banh mi (shock!) and, while I of course loved it, wished that it had been larger! (The next day I dreamed of ordering one to-go for the plane, but alas, they were closed on Sundays.) It was the small bowl of pho that was the real delight. Bursting with full flavor. I can only dream of making a broth so rich with flavor.

Andrew Le is far left
It's always great when you get to see someone succeed at their dream. Andrew's success is not only because of his great skill in the kitchen, but because he has the love and support of his family. His siblings work in the restaurant and even his mom is there helping out on occasion. 

I can't wait for my next trip back when I can see what else Andrew comes up. He's a local favorite, but if you are visiting Honolulu, get away from Waikiki and visit him in Chinatown.