Monday, May 23, 2016

Skool is in session!

For me the basic principle of dining out is to get something that I don't make at home. (Sometimes that includes because I'm lazy.) I'm not interested in going out for grilled salmon and steamed veggies. I can do that at home! I also prefer to try new dishes that I haven't had before or are done in a unique way. That's how I first had bone marrow, foie gras, and sweetbreads. 

This is one of the reasons I'm loving Skool.  As Sacramento's dining scene increases with the new arena and ever blossoming social scene, it's important that new restaurants joining the fray bring something fresh to the party. Skool does this.

In a few words, Skool offers Asian influenced seafood without offering sushi/sashimi. Skool is obviously a play on "a school of fish". Oh, and happy hour is called "detention hall". 

This is actually the second Skool with the original being in San Francisco. There are two couples that own the business: the Mirabells and the Naganos. As a disclaimer I should tell you that I met the wives first at the Sacramento Food Film Festival. Skool was kind enough to donate a dish to our Japanese night of showing The Birth of Sake. I hit it off with Olia right away and looked forward to trying their restaurant. So even though I had met the owners, I feel that this review stands apart from any influence because the food is good on its own.

A few weeks later I went with a friend for dinner. She had also been eager to try Skool out based on the good word of mouth we'd been hearing. We ordered quite a bit.

We started out with a selection of small plates. This is the smoked salmon chips. They are super crispy slices of salmon skin with just a thin layer of salmon still attached. They are served with a miso aioli. Love them! I ordered them on my second visit as well. 

We also had the paku bbq ribs. Yes, there are fish big enough to supply ribs the size of pork babyback ribs! Being fish, they are super tender and the sticky bbq glaze was sweet and tangy and made with a Japanese whiskey. I know SNR mentioned they thought the sauce overpowered the fish, but I really liked them.

We had also heard about the uni flan. I like uni in moderation and I've also had Bill Ngo's uni panna cotta over at Kru, so I wasn't too interested, but my friend wanted to try it. It was smooth and has a light uni taste, a bit too light. But then again, uni is a hit/miss item and so many will love it this way.

We had heard that the must have dish was the squid ink pasta, so we decided to split an order. Wonderful! It has squid and shrimp, a garlic tomato compote, lemongrass dashi broth, and more. I loved the mixture of flavors. You'd pick up a note of this, then a bit of that. It was a party of flavors in my mouth. Next time I won't be sharing a bowl!

We finished off sharing the two desserts. One was a meyer lemon panna cotta and the other was this lovely macha white chocolate cake in a jar. I'm not a fan of macha tea. It's too grassy for me. But this cake was light, subtle, and original! A must have if it's on the menu.

This past weekend I went for brunch. Skool had been getting good press for dinner, but Olia wanted someone to write about brunch. This meant, of course, that I needed to order their unique brunch items and stay away from french toast.

I ordered the squid ink grits, which would be the breakfast version of the pasta with a few changes. This time it was the grits cooked in a squid ink broth, topped with seared ahi, the garlic tomato compote, a sunnyside egg, and some other ingredients. It is very similar to the pasta, but just as delicious. Keep in mind that I am not a grits lover. I'm not into grits, polenta, cornbread, etc. Yet, I enjoyed this dish immensely and totally forgot that I was eating grits because all the flavors and textures kept me focused elsewhere.

My friend ordered the smoked salmon benedict and was happy with the generous amount of salmon that sat atop some sauteed spinach and then was topped with a mushroom gravy. The fingerling potatoes were perfectly cooked and the fruit cup had a variety of items.

A couple of other notes. They offer still, sparkling, tap water. If you don't want to be charged for bottled water, be sure to say you want the tap water. Service was excellent and the decor is nice. I particularly love the school themed tables and chairs with "Skool" branded into them. 

As to their location...if I had met them before they selected a location I might have veered them away just because that spot is not on the main dining drag and has had a few failed businesses before them. I truly hope that doesn't hurt them as well. I'm praying that the uniqueness of their menu and the quality of food and service will bring success. So far, so good as many are giving Skool positive reviews already. 

Skool on K
2319 K Street

Disclosure: my brunch was comped

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mini review: Binchoyaki Izakaya

mushroom, potato, pork skewers
While I am sad that beloved Doughbot Donuts is no more, I can't be more thrilled with a quality restaurant that took it's place. What's more, it came highly recommended by Bill Ngo, chef extraordinaire of Kru. He was impressed just from the soft opening and we all know that places should (theoretically) get better as they iron out the kinks. Best of all, Binchoyaki is in my neighborhood, just a couple blocks away.

They've done a great job of remodeling the location. Not many people ever got (or needed) to go into the kitchen area or use the bathroom, but the place was pretty ramshackle. One of the (lesser) reasons Doughbot vacated. With the remodel, Binchoyaki is clean, comfortable, and has a nice bathroom!

The name of the place comes from Bincho meaning "charcoal" and Yaki meaning "grill". Therefore, I assume they use Binchō-tan charcoal. 
The fineness and high quality of binchō-tan are attributed to steaming at high temperatures (about 1000 degrees Celsius). Although it is often thought that binchō-tan burns hot, it actually burns at a lower temperature than ordinary charcoal but for a longer period, making it preferable to a number of Japanese chefs.
Meanwhile, "izakaya" is the Japanese equivalent of a gastropub. A social eating house.

Binchoyaki serves mostly small plates a la the robatayaki (customers sitting at a counter while chefs grill) and yakitori (grilled skewers). While there is a line of counter seats so you can watch the grilling, most seats are tables. They do not do reservations or takeout. It is a small place. One Saturday I happened to go by and there was a crowd of people outside waiting for tables.

krispy rice balls

Luckily I was with two girlfriends, so we ordered quite an assortment of items. Keep in mind that these are small plates and skewers are sold individually and are short, not long.

A favorite was the krispy rice balls above, topped with spicy tuna, serrano, chive ponzu. The outer layer is indeed crispy and wonderful. The skewers are mopped with a simple soya glaze, but they did mention an alternate kind as well. 

pork belly skewer

shishito peppers

creme caramel

hibiscus sorbet

You don't really think much of dessert in Japanese restaurants, but the creme caramel was well done and I loved the hibiscus sorbet. I do not know if they buy or make it. (update: they make it themselves)

I'm glad they are in my neighborhood, just wish they did takeout as I had hoped to get some ramen last night. (update: "We wish we did take outs too! But the chef really takes pride in his food and if you take out, the quality of the food drastically drops.")

Binchoyaki Izakaya Dining
2226 10th St.
Sacramento, CA 95818

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Oscar de la Renta at the de Young Museum

courtesy of de Young Museum

You only have til the end of May, but if you are a fashion fan, you need to get to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. 

red carpet dresses

The exhibit has 130 outfits spreading over 60 years. The dresses are sectioned by theme, including Eastern, Spanish, and Russian influenced, day, evening, and, of course, red carpet. 

I'm a tightwad, so the thought of the price of these dresses is beyond my comprehension, but seeing of them up close was pretty impressive. To see the details in embroidery, beading, etc. is just amazing. 

check out the detail work

I loved the sheer layer upon layer

Sunday, April 24, 2016

How I know sugar addiction is like cocaine addiction

This may be a shock to family and childhood classmates, but I took a lot of drugs in college. I want to get that out of the way because that confessional is important to this post. So we'll start with a bit of personal history.

I was raised a good Catholic girl in a very rigid country, Saudi Arabia. So there wasn't a lot of opportunity to act out the same way as in the U.S. Not that I would have. After all, I found out as an adult that there was plenty of acting out going on in our American compound that I never knew about. Probably because I wasn't in the popular crowd. Anyway, I was a good girl at home.

In my all girls high school I did a few crazy things, but it's not until I went to college that I got the true freedom to do whatever I wanted. I, of course, did the college thing and tried drinking and smoking first. Didn't care for smoking, luckily, and soon found out that I had no tolerance for alcohol. I wanted to fit in, have fun, and loosen up, so I turned to drugs.  No need to list them, but among them was marijuana and cocaine. 

After college I still did some drugs, but as life's responsibility got more serious, I gave them up. I would get too paranoid. I did still do cocaine on occasion... because it kept me awake. I don't really do caffeine, so if I went to a concert or wanted to stay up late for a party with friends, I turned to cocaine.

Here's where the addiction showed. I was married at the time and I had never had an addiction craving for any drug.  I never HAD to keep up with any drug and could easily walk away from it...except for cocaine.

Cocaine was the only drug that made me do the following: I would lie about it. I would buy it and not share it with anyone else. In other words, I would hoard it. I would hide it. I would do it at times that I didn't need it, like at work. And cocaine broke up my marriage. I wasn't the only one doing these actions, my husband was too. We were both hoarding, hiding, and using it without telling each other.

That's why I know that sugar addiction is real. I have a sweet tooth. I rarely turn away from dessert. I will seek out sugar. 

I will hoard it. If someone brings a particularly droolworthy dessert that I love, I will watch it, take as much as I can for myself, even hoard it.  Yes, I have taken extra portions and hidden them away so I can enjoy it later. Hoarding, to me, is a huge sign of addiction.

I can even take it back to my elementary years in Saudi. My mother rationed treats, so if I got a few riyals (money) from a babysitting job or something, I would secretly go to the commissary and buy a secret stash of powdered donuts or chocolate. I'd hide them in my drawers under my clothes. 

The reason I'm writing this post now is because I did a seriously warped bit of baked goods hoarding recently. It made me realize I need to admit to my addiction and stop denying the truth. Sugar is just as addicting as cocaine. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cochon time again!

Another year of pork is here. Cochon 555 lands in San Francisco on May 1st. "Cochon" is French for "pig" and the 555 means - 5 chefs, 5 pigs, 5 wineries. What could be better than that? 

Cochon 555 was established as a way to support family farms that raise heritage breed pigs. Since the start it has focused on supporting local agriculture as well. There are tour stops in 10 U.S. cities where the five chosen local chefs compete to make the best dishes from their assigned heritage pigs. The winners from each city then go on to compete in the Grand Cochon finale at the Aspen Wine & Food Classic.  

This year the beneficiary of the funds is Piggy Bank. Launched in 2015 by Brady Lowe, founder of the Cochon555 U.S. Tour and Taste Network, Piggy Bank’s mission is to create a heritage breed pig sanctuary that provides free genetics and business plans to emerging family farms. The sanctuary will change the future of food by uniting a community working together for safer, responsible farming practices and sharing of genetics, livestock and the sharing of information. Piggy Bank is dedicated to creating the first Open Source agriculture platform through the responsible farming of heritage species. 

Tickets for Cochon 555 are $125 (general admission) and $200 (VIP). Both ticket prices includes endless drink and tons of food. GA starts at 5pm. VIP starts at 4pm, and includes one-hour early access to all the food (premium access to limited experiences like Punch Kings, wines and spirits), a chance to hang with the celebrity chefs, judges and media. Everyone is invited to the After Party.  

Where:                    Terra Gallery
                                511 Harrison Street
                                San Francisco, CA 94105

When:                    Sunday, May 1, 2016
                              VIP Admission: 4PM                                                                                                                          
                                General Admission: 5PM
Tickets:                   $125 General Admission
               $200 VIP
                                Purchase tickets at

Disclaimer: I received a free ticket for this post. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2016

Another year and another spectacular time at Pebble Beach Food & Wine. Our chefs were there again providing some delicious bites and making Sacramento proud. This year I've decided to load the pictures to slide shows. 

In this first slide show we start with Ramon Perez from Puur Chocolat who had brought 31 flavors of his excellent chocolates. Then you will see Matt Masera from Empress Tavern and Mother with both a savory and a sweet bite. He's being helped by Michael Fagnoni from Hawks. Finally is the salt cod fritter from Oliver Ridgeway of Grange. You will also see Kelly McCown from The Kitchen and Ravin Patel from Selland Family Restaurants exploring the tent.  I suggest you go full screen as you watch the slideshows.

That evening was the Guy Fieri event at the Intercontinental Hotel in Monterey. For this one Michael and Matt made a braised goat with mole bite. The goat was from Passmore Ranch. Bill and Team Kru made a poke with pork jowel and toro. You will also see the After Party event where Kelly McCown and Ravin Patel served an Indian inspired bite with an assortment of condiments that you could put on it. It was also made with goat from Passmore Ranch. 

On Sunday our three Sacramento chefs were in the same tent. First you'll see Michael Thiemann and Matt Masera from Empress Tavern and Mother with their dessert bite. Then you will see Bill Ngo from Kru with his team serving uni panna cotta. You'll also see Oliver Ridgeway from Grange serving a steak tartare with beef tendon.  At the end, the caviar, bacon, and pig are all actually cakes. 

This summer they will probably be heading down to LA for the Los Angeles Food & Wine with all the Hollywood celebrities. I may be going to that one as well if I'm lucky.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Baking with resistant starch

When I first started writing the post I tried to explain all about resistant starch, but I got overwhelmed and concerned that I'm not being accurate in trying to translate my understanding of it. So I decided that I'd leave that research to you because there is plenty of information on resistant starch on the internet. Dr. Oz has talked about it on his show and there was a lengthy article on it in the March 2016 issue of Prevention Magazine, where I learned about it.

I'll keep my sharing of the information to some basic facts. Resistant starch is found in foods. It acts similarly to soluble fiber in that it does not get absorbed in your upper intestine (where calories are absorbed) and instead feeds your gut flora in the lower intestine and produces compounds that are good for your colon and body. It's good to add to your diet for this effect on your digestive tract, but also for people who need to watch their blood sugar levels because resistant starch doesn't spike blood sugar like regular starch does. 

Prevention Magazine says it can help you slim down by "helping the body burn more fat, better control its weight gain hormones, and curb appetite." It also "nudges the body to burn fat, not carbs, for fuel while shrinking the size of fat cells."

The stabilization of blood sugar is why some people consume and bake with resistant starch. Not only does it help maintain steady blood sugar levels without the spikes, but, like a fiber, creates satiety so that you aren't as hungry. It also reduces the amount of calories of the baked good since the resistant starch will not be absorbed in the upper intestine. All of this without changing the action or flavor of the baked good. All you need to do is swipe 1/3 of the regular flour with resistant starch flour.

There are three resistant starch flours I know of on the market. One is Tiger Nut Flour, which I used. There is also green banana flour and then there is a resistant starch flour manufactured by King Arthur Flour. For the milk, I used cashew milk, but I'm pretty confident any non dairy milk will work. Cashew milk is just low in calories and recommended for many cooking applications.

(On a side note, cashews are high in resistant starch and so I've been eating a few of them throughout the day. It does help to keep me feeling full and it may help me absorb less calories from my other foods.)

I stumbled upon a great recipe for single serving scones and now present to you this healthier version using resistant starch, vegan butter, stevia, and cashew milk. I have no way of knowing the calorie content for regular scone versus this version, but I know this one is definitely guilt free.

Below is the healthy recipe.  Keep in mind that it obviously is very successful if you go the normal route with all flour, butter, sugar, and whole milk.

Single serving scones w/ resistant starch

1/3 cup of flour (I put 2 spoonfuls of resistant starch flour and then top off with regular flour
1 t baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 t stevia powder
1/2 t lemon zest
1 T Earth Balance  buttery spread stick
2.5 T cashew milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a small baking sheet or pie tin with a piece of parchment paper.
In a mini-food processor pulse all ingredients except the milk together until the flour is crumbly from the Earth Balance. Add the milk and pulse again until a moist dough is formed.
Add fruit if desired. I usually had a few frozen blueberries.
Spoon onto the piece of parchment paper.
Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. 

Enjoy guilt free!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Product review: Man Cave Craft Meats

I am not a sausage loving person. I like them, but I don't love them enough to buy them regularly. Usually sausages are consumed at a friend's barbecue or something of the sort. If I do buy, it's usually kielbasa or hot links, not bratwurst.

Recently I got contacted by Man Cave Craft Meats.  I often do get pitched products and services and I say on my bio page that sometimes I'll accept things with no promise of promoting. Basically, I have to like it. So, legal stuff out of the way - disclaimer: I received product in hopes that I would review it. 

Man Cave Craft Meats is based in Minneapolis and the reason I was getting pitched out here in California was because this small producer just landed a distribution deal with Winco. So if you are a Winco shopper, listen up.

Man Cave produces a line of sausages and burger patties. Some of their products include: Jalapeno & Cheddar beef patties, Garden Peppers turkey patties, Bacon, Cheddar, Beer pork bratwurst, and Bacon, Egg, Cheddar, Hash Brown breakfast sausages. 

I was hoping for some burger patties, but initially Winco is only going to carry their sausages, and so Brandon for Man Cave shipped me out some samples. He sent me the Bacon, Cheddar, Beer bratwurst and their Buffalo Style w/ Bleu Cheese bratwurst, even though I warned him I don't like buffalo style or bleu cheese.

Buy these sausages and I'll tell you why. I came home fresh from the gym to find the shipped box on my doorstep. I knew I needed to eat some protein right away and was also in that situation of not having anything planned for dinner.  Being lazy, I opened up the bacon cheddar bratwurst and proceeded to cook it up with a side of sauteed kale. No bun. No condiments. Just a brat and kale. 

I cut myself a piece of that brat and was very pleased at what I tasted. A super juicy brat that was flavorful and oozing melted cheese! I took a closer look at the uncooked brats and sure enough, you could see little pieces of cheddar through the casing. It was mixed in with the ground pork and when you cooked it, the cheese melted so that when you pierced the brat with a knife or fork the melted cheese just oozed out. Plus there is also bacon and beer mixed in as well. I did not need anything else to enjoy this incredibly tasty brat. No bun, no condiments. 

Now I did try the buffalo style as well and while I can't say I cared for it, I can totally see how it is one of their biggest sellers. It had a unique flavor that I can see being a hit with other people, just not with me. Even though the bleu cheese flavor doesn't hit you directly, you still get the undertone of it in the mix.

So I asked Brandon some more about his company. I wanted to know about where the meat is coming from and how they make it. After all, a big reason I don't care for hot dogs is the pink slime factor where the scrapings of carcasses are used.

"We grind pork shoulder muscle- will have a slightly different texture because of the improved leanness." Brandon said.  "For the beef we use Choice Angus chuck and brisket- gives the best grind and flavor. We are very proud of the inclusions as well: real beer (not just some powder), fresh hand-chopped jalapenos (not IQF), real eggs, actual hashbrowns, custom made bacon pieces, Wisconsin cheddar, huge chunks of bleu cheese, real butter and hot sauce for the buffalo sauce." 

The meat is from Midwest farms that do not use growth hormones. "All Bacon we are making and using will specify that we didn't add any nitrates/nitrites (except for those naturally occurring in sea salt and celery powder)."

I asked about the other products and the hope is that if the sausages do well, the patties will follow. So, if you happen to be at Winco and are looking for some incredible sausages for home or to take to your next picnic or camping trip, pick up some brats from Man Cave meats. You won't be disappointed. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Six 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, at The Kitchen by Selland Family, 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 Pig & Anchor BBQ on Saturday and the Grand Tasting Tent on Sunday. Bill is looking forward to moving Kru later this spring to share the quarters with Selland's OBO off Alhambra Blvd. He's also got his second Fish Face opening in Carmichael.

Oliver Ridgeway, from Grange at the Citizen Hotel, will be making bites for Sunday's Grand Tasting event. 

This year Michael Thiemann and Matt Masera (Empress and Mother) are doing separate events. Thiemann is scheduled for the Pig & Anchor BBQ on Saturday and the Grand Tasting Tent on Sunday. Masera is at a Stella Artois luncheon on Friday and then meets up with Thiemann for the BBQ on Saturday.

Kelly McCown has worked at numerous restaurants throughout the West Coast, but Sacramento residents remember him from his years at Ella before he went to Napa's Goose & Gander. Now he's back at the helm at The Kitchen. I'll miss him again as he's at Thursday's Opening Night Reception and then the after hours party on Saturday.

Sommelier Joe Vaccaro, Wine Director of Selland Family Restaurants is also attending PBFW. 

Ramon Perez, from, will also be at the Opening Night Reception and then at the Grand Tasting on Saturday. 

Michael Passmore of Passmore Ranch will surely be there as well. Like last year, he's a major contributor to the chefs, supplying fish for them to use in their dishes. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Quick review: Milestone in EDH

When I heard that the owners of Aji Japanese Bistro was opening another restaurant in El Dorado Hills, I knew I had to put it on my to-do list. Especially because this concept is comfort food. Luckily I have a friend that lives up that direction and so I made a trek up the freeway.

My curiosity was further peaked last month when Milestone was mentioned on a blog I read often, The Bitchy Waiter. He's a server in NYC that blogs about the crap that servers often have to put up with from the jerk customers in this world. Turns out that someone had left Milestone a crappy review and the owner put that reviewer in their place. 

So as I sat waiting for my friend to join me, I scrolled through the Yelp reviews to find that Milestone has a rating of 4.5, as does its sister restaurant, Aji. I read a bit more so I could also see what people were recommending as dishes to order.

My friend arrived and marveled at the change in the location. Formerly an Italian restaurant, she mentioned it was dark and joked about as being the place where people having affairs came to hide in the dark. Now it was bright and open. We were at a wooden booth with pillows velcroed to the backs. I did have to pry off one pillow to add to my other one for extra padding for my back. 

We decided to start with the smoked salmon lettuce cups that were on the happy hour menu. Two large, crisp iceberg lettuce leaves were filled with smoked salmon and ricotta cream, onion smoked salmon, kohlrabi slaw. They were bright and fresh and the perfect light appetizer to have before our heavier comfort food.

A popular recommendation from diners was the roasted cauliflower with almond romesco and chimichurri sauce. My friend shared a story of how she grew up on roasted cauliflower and loved it. This one was nicely done, I only wished for more of the chimichurri sauce.

She ordered another recommended favorite, the fried chicken. She received half a chicken with a splendid herb batter that was fried to perfection. It was super crisp and the meat within was nice and moist. Nothing was left on her plate by the end of the meal.

Even though I was tempted to order the Steak Diane to compare with the bitchy customer's comments, I instead opted for the veal schnitzel served with a mustard cream sauce. We were both a bit shocked by the large, super crisp pieces that arrived with a side of crisp green beans. I'm not kidding on the crisp part. The batter shattered when cut because the fry was done so well. Only complaint, needed more of the sauce.

For dessert we were plied with comfort favorites such as fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, cheesecake, and banana cream pie. Being that it was National Banana Cream Pie day and we were missing the pie eating contest at Fat City, we opted for the pie. The crust was wonderful and flaky without being too hard to cut through, even with a chocolate layer. It was generous with loads of banana as well. We were in dissecting mode at this point and both agreed that the only fault was that the banana was cut in too large chunks. They could have been cut once more in half and still be chunky versus sliced.

All in all we had a great visit and would agree with the majority of reviewers on Yelp. A great find, good service, wonderful food.