Thursday, August 25, 2016

Siren Fish CSF comes to Sacramento

Lingcod is sometimes blue and it is delicious!
Disclosure: I was given a credit by Siren Fish to try their CSF service. 

You may be familiar with the term "CSA", which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Generally it's where you buy a subscription to a local farm or farm group and then on a regular basis you receive a box of fresh, seasonal produce. You help the farm sell what's currently being harvested and are guaranteed the freshest of produce.

The twist to that is a CSF, or Community Supported Fishery. This is where you receive a box of super fresh seafood while supporting local fishermen. In Sacramento, you can get a CSF box from Siren Fish.

Here's how it works:

You sign up and decide whether you want to receive shipments weekly or bi-weekly. You also decide how big a share you want. You can a single share that's good for two people, or a double for four people. You also get a choice of whether you want to receive fish fillets, whole fish, or a variety, which can include both fish fillets and/or shellfish. Finally you choose a pick-up location. In the Sacramento area you can pick up at Broadway Coffee on Wednesdays or at Bike Dog Brewing in West Sacramento on Thursdays. 

A few days before your delivery date, you will get an email telling you what this week's catch is. You can either pick what you want, or you can let them pick something for you. Don't worry, you can also log in a vacation hold if you want to skip a week. Then you just go and pick it up. They will suggest recipes for the type of fish, or you can just cook how you like.

Shares run about $21-$28 each and for the past few weeks it was the equivalent of a pound of whatever fish was that week. Things like rockfish and lingcod are at the lower end and the salmon is at the higher end. What I liked was that for someone who doesn't know much about fish selection besides salmon, trout, and halibut, this gave me a chance to try some other fish and see what they were really like. 

It's also nice to get information about the fishermen you are supporting as well as more information about how the fish was caught and prepared. For instance, this is Captain Anthony Ferrari — a second-generation commercial fishermen who has been joining his father, Lou Ferrari, on the F/V Spellbound since he was nine years old. That week he caught black gill rockfish.
You will notice that the eyes of your Black Gill Rockfish appear to have blown up and then rapidly deflated. You might also notice that these fish appear to have tongues. Both of these strange features result from the rapid change in pressure that occurs as these deep ocean fish are reeled up. The deflated goggle eyes look is common for groundfish and does not indicate poor handling or inferior quality. The “tongue” is in fact an over-inflated swim bladder. Despite these drastic physical changes, it is possible for an experienced fisherman to return a landed rockfish unharmed to the water. They are very resilient creatures.
Another week I got the lingcod pictured at the top of this post. "Some of you may notice that your fish is blue. About 30% of all ling cod are some shade of blue, and this load holds true to that statistic. These blue fish, colloquially called “smurfs” turn white when cook and have no discernible difference in taste." It's nice to know these extra facts.

So I did ask them a couple of questions that were of interest to me. First was regarding whether the fish were frozen at all to kill parasites so I can feel safe eating it raw in something like sashimi, poke, or ceviche. The answer is that the fish are well iced, but they are not frozen. If one wishes to use the fish in a raw capacity, it is suggested that the fish be frozen for at least two days first. 

The second had to do with price. After all, $21 per pound for rockfish is pretty pricey when you can find it for less at the supermarket or at Sunh Fish. Of course there is the fact that this is fish being freshly delivered and that you are helping to support specific local fishermen, but there's more to it than that.

First they say that "72 hours out of the water is our maximum time from boat to door". They aren't negotiating with a bunch of boats trying to get the cheapest catch. Their goal is to work with specific fishermen to buy the catch they caught that day.

"We pay a higher price to the boat for superior onboard treatment. We ask fishermen do go above and beyond with onboard treatment of their catch. We ask for fish to be immediately bled and deep iced when your average load of fish would be stored whole under chip ice. These details improve the texture and shelf life of our fish."

I wanted a little more perspective on all this, so I called an expert, Hank Shaw of Hunt, Gather, Cook. We discussed a bit about how the fish are handled on commercial vessels and price. Basically, you are getting super fresh, well handled fish that could be a step above a really good fish market like Sunh Fish, but definitely a lot better than you would get at a supermarket such as Safeway. He reminded me that you could also go buy a day on a fishing boat at about $120, pull in your limits, and come home with, say, 100 pounds of fish. I chuckled at that. I do plan on going fishing with Hank some day, but for the average Joe, we're still going to get fileted fish from a store. It's just a matter of the quality/price we are wanting or willing to pay.

I will say that all the fish I got was super tasty. I made one of those vacuum sealed frozen filets and it was horrible (I probably didn't do the best job cooking it). But the fish I got in my CSF came out perfectly every time I cooked it. So wonderful!

By the way, I made the Asian Style Baked Rockfish (above) that Siren Fish suggested and it was aromatic and delicious!

Disclosure: I was given a credit by Siren Fish to try their CSF service. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Feast Portland is a month away

When it comes to foodie cities, Portland, Oregon is definitely near the top. It's come a long way. When I was at Lewis & Clark College in the 80s, everything (dining, nightlife) was pretty much on the west side of the Willamette River. Now, it seems, all the cool stuff is primarily in the revitalized neighborhoods on the east side. Back then I was impressed by a lot of ethnic restaurants, such as Filipino and Ethiopian, but the food scene wasn't as vibrant and impactful as it is today.

To celebrate this great food there is the annual Feast Portland event(s). Occurring in September, this year the event spans from Thursday, September 15 to Sunday, September 18. Feast Portland is one year older than our own Farm to Fork Festival, but seems to be so much bigger and draws in foodies and celebrity chefs from around the country. In past years I've had conflicts so that I couldn't attend, but this year I am conflict free and looking forward to staying with my father and visiting a city that I love. 

I'm looking forward to the Sandwich Invitational which puts Portland chefs up against a few visiting chefs, one of which is Ben Ford, famed Los Angeles chef who happens to be Harrison Ford's son. The idea is to go crazy with the idea of stuff between two pieces of bread, or the loose interpretation of bread. 

Sold Out is the super popular Night Market, featuring a light-strung village of stalls serving up a variety of street food from a hand-picked line-up of inspired chefs from Portland and beyond. Another sold out event I'd love to go to is a dinner with Chris Cosentino. There are also a few hands-on classes as well.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you'll be sure to see me tweeting from the Sandwich Invitational and Grand Tasting tents with blog posts to follow.

Photos courtesy of Feast Portland.
Disclosure: I am receiving a press pass to this event. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Saddle Rock mixes old and new

They say that the original Saddle Rock opened as possibly the very first restaurant in Old Sacramento back in the Gold Rush era. Supposedly it was open for about 150 years before closing in the 90s. Saddle Rock 2.0 is now open in Midtown and is successfully mixing old and new thanks to Chef Matt Masera. 

Now I should say that I know both the owner, Chris Jarosz, and the chef. It's my job to disclose that up front. This could lead some to say that I'm biased. Perhaps. The fact is, though, that there will plenty of reviews coming out in the following weeks that will agree with me. The menu is terrific! It's so interesting, that it will take me several visits to try everything!

The concept is to take Gold Rush era dishes and update them for today's palates. Masera is a gifted chef and was up to the challenge. I can guess how excited he was to be given this gift of a challenge. He's done an impressive job.

Take, for instance, the Sacramento Cioppino. Traditional cioppino is made with a variety of salt water seafood and a tomato based broth. Here Masera has localized it by using sturgeon, catfish, and crawdads from our nearby fresh waters and put them in an earthier sauce. Actually, the sturgeon and catfish aren't really coming from the rivers, but from Passmore Ranch's tanks, assuring the freshest and best quality fish.

Other such updated dishes include a Beef Wellington done with short rib and a Masera version of Hangtown Fry, the famed dish named after Placerville. Typically it includes eggs, bacon, and oysters. Masera's includes "dirty bacon, oysters, chive, and goat cheese". 

Passmore Ranch fish is so good that I chose the Stuffed Trout, also featured. It was a nice sized fish that arrived wafting a wonderful, tantalizing aroma. When you opened up the middle you saw it stuffed with lemon slices, cucumber, and kale. On top was a layer of chimichurri. So good!

But I've totally skipped over the appetizers. We were intrigued by the oyster bread thinking there was oyster involved somehow. Not so. It's a popover served with dill butter. A popular choice is the Chicken "Skin" Biscuit served with a pine syrup butter and juniper. It does come with a crisp chip of bacon skin on top. I had a chance to try the Chicken Fried Catfish Nuggets at Bastille Day. These are served with preserved lemon, fried herbs, and summer chilis. 
Note: After some differing accounts, I emailed Masera regarding the oyster bread. Apparently the chopped oysters are in the popover batter. 

Masera is actually one of those chefs that does well with savory, but has made quite a name for himself with his pastry skills. That's why I always leave room for one of his desserts. Here is the Griddle Fried Bread with berries and cream. It may look like French toast, but it's not dunked in egg. Meanwhile, the chocolate cake is scooped out and served with a cremeaux and crushed sablé, giving it that nice textural crunch element. 

They say that the staff were all given history lessons so they can share background information with guests. I kinda wish I had played dumb so I could have heard the spiel. Regardless, the service was very good considering it was their first Saturday night service - well paced and attentive. 

I look forward to several more visits so I can continue through the menu. And mark my words, more praising reviews are soon to follow mine. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Sacramento Hot List - August

A few years ago I used to write the Sacramento Heatmap for If you are familiar with Eater, they do a Heatmap for every city showing the current hot places to eat. Not necessarily the best, but what's currently the hot new spots everyone is trying out. Every month they add and remove restaurants from the list. Restaurants are less than six months old.

I can no longer write for Eater as it is considered a conflict of interest for my job. At the same time, I referred them to another blogger to do Sacramento for them, but they've since written us off once again. As usual, Sacramento apparently doesn't deserve the time of day from them. Population-wise we are number 35, but I don't believe that includes the Sacramento region, only the city. Region-wise, we are about one million people and I consider us to be equivalent to places like Memphis, Charleston, or Austin - all of which are Eater-worthy.

I've decided it's time to take the matter into my own hands and therefore present to you Sacramento's Hot List à la Ms. Munchie.

August 2016: added Saddle Rock

Saddle Rock
If you are into history, then Saddle Rock is for you. The original Saddle Rock restaurant was located in Old Sacramento back in the Gold Rush era. It was apparently Sacramento's first restaurant and lasted over 150 years, closing in 1995. This new version is in Midtown and takes inspiration from era menus and updates them with contemporary methods and ingredients. For instance, above is the Sacramento Cioppino, made with sturgeon and crawdads found in our rivers and delta along with oysters, which were popular at the time. Another dish includes an updated Hangtown Fry, after the famous dish named after Placerville. Matt Masera is the chef and he not only brings his expertise to savory, but he's particularly known for his desserts, so save room.

courtesy of OBO'

OBO' is the long awaited, new addition to the Selland Family Restaurant Group. Like their Selland Market Cafes, this one is a fast casual restaurant where you order at the counter and then your food is brought to you. The difference is the Italian focus and the fact that this one has a full bar, not just beer and wine. This is a neighborhood restaurant where you can socialize with friends or grab a meal from the prepared case for those nights when you are too lazy to cook. (3145 Folsom Blvd)

A few have tried and not been successful at bringing a Japanese izakaya restaurant to Sac. Binchoyaki looks like it has succeeded. The focus is grilled skewers and small plates that are often found in izakayas, or Japanese style social houses. During lunches the menu is filled with bento box selections while dinner offers the extended menu. (2226 10th St)

courtesy of Coconut

Southside is becoming the hot area of town for new restaurants. The newest addition is the second iteration of Coconut Thai. This one is much larger than the original J St. location. Ms. Munchie hasn't had a chance to visit it yet, but is excited to have Thai in walking distance! (1110 T St)

Ms. Munchie loves restaurants that bring something new to town and Skool has done that. Skool features Asian influenced seafood dishes that we really haven't seen anywhere else but from Kru. Owned by two couples who opened the first Skool in San Francisco, the Sac location has been getting positive reviews from critics and Ms. Munchie. (2319 K St)

courtesy of Coconuts

Another Coconuts? This one is unrelated to the Thai one above. Started by a Sacramento native who was living in Maui, Coconuts Fish Cafe is known for its Hawaiian style fish tacos featuring lean ono, poke with ahi tuna, and grilled mahi mahi as well as many other seafood dishes. Coupled with Hawaiian aloha spirit, it's a friendly, cheerful place to grab a bite and sure to be much more successful than the Noodles & Co. it replaces. (16th & O Sts)

Boiling Crab Downtown
The Patriot
Fish Face at Milagro
Milagro Mercado
Selland's on Broadway
Mimosa House
Kru's new location
El Rey

Eat Drink SF at the end of the month

Every city has their big food events and for San Francisco it is Eat Drink SF.  Coming up August 25-28, Eat Drink SF. is put on by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association each year and includes many of San Francisco's top restaurants and purveyors during a weekend of events. Over 160 restaurants will be participating!

Several years ago the event was known as SF Chefs and included a lot of educational seminars and cooking demos. I had been to a few of those and even interviewed chef Daniel Scherotter of Palio. Those have been sadly reduced. There are still cooking demos and cocktail demonstrations, but they are now held during the The Grand Tastings. 

I am particularly interested in Saturday night's Grand Tasting because chef Andrew Le from Honolulu's The Pig and The Lady will be there for a guest demo. You might recall that I have written two blog posts about him as I've watched his career take off. (Links above)

This year, Eat Drink SF has added a special Grand Tasting on Sunday, to celebrate the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s 80th anniversary and honor the legacy restaurants in the Bay Area. The Sunday Afternoon Grand Tasting will feature Bay Area bars and restaurants that have been open for at least 20 years and that have helped shape the distinct flavor of the local culinary experience including Scoma's, Sutro's at the Cliff House, and Tosca.

For a full list of participating restaurants, visit each of the event pages at VIP and General Admission tickets for the Grand Tastings are available for purchase at General Admission tickets are $109 but will increase to $119 on July 25 and VIP tickets are $199 - $209. A limited number of tickets for Taco Knockdown presented by Milagro Tequila are still available for $85. For more information, visit

Eat Drink SF benefits the GGRA Scholarship Foundation and CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture). GGRA’s scholastic-based scholarship program has given more than $500,000 in the past 14 years alone and was established to encourage and provide assistance for students who wish to further their education in pursuit of careers in the hospitality industry.

Disclosure: I am receiving a press pass to this event. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Barn opens with Off the Grid

You couldn't ask for better weather after the recent heat wave. The temperature, assisted by the Delta Breeze, was in the high 80s. A perfect day for the opening event at The Barn in West Sacramento which included Off the Grid food trucks and music. 

Located on the West Sac side riverbank, The Barn is the new event structure in an area newly named The Bridge District. The wooden structure is just phase one, with more landscaping, stages, and bathrooms to come.

The Barn's swooping curvature is meant to be a bridge on land made from barn material - wood. It's very impressive and I was told that is constructed without a single nail. There are large bolts, but all the wooden shingles that line the exterior are without nails. The underside has a lattice design with lights inside to light up at night. More lights with colors will light up the outside. The unique shape means that wherever you stand around it, you get a totally different view of shape.

Every Friday night through October you can enjoy music and food trucks. Off the Grid will have a rotation of food trucks each week. Within The Barn there are cocktails served by Rye on the Road, a bar service out of San Francisco. They have created a selection of mixed drinks that are made en masse for quick and easy service. This is important because the bar line became long quickly. Later on Drake's Brewing Company will be installed in one side as the brewery tenant.

At the back side of The Barn is a temporary stage built by Off the Grid. This self contained stage has all the equipment and lights contained within. During storage, it's a giant box, but when they need it, the walls lift up to create the roof with lighting. The whole thing can be lifted and moved with a forklift if necessary, but for now it is anchored at the site. Each Friday there will be music curated by Capital Public Radio's Nick Brunner from 5-8 and then a local band will play from 8-10. 

The trucks have plenty of food to choose from with tacos, burgers, tacos, ethnic, and desserts.

Off the Grid continues to open new locations in the area. Their locations are well selected. Sunday's on the West Sac Riverwalk are perfect for family picnics. Taco Tuesdays at the Crocker Art Museum are great for an after work bite, some music, and art. Thursday lunches are being served in Rancho Cordova at Prospect Park and later this month Folsom Outlets will host Saturday afternoons for you to grab a bite while shopping. The Sacramento county locations are to be year round while the West Sacramento locations, unfortunately, will only be until the end of October. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

The evolution of food blogging

Have an Offal Day chef explaining his dish

In food blogging years I'm quite old. At 8.5 years, my blog is one of the oldest in the Sacramento area. When I started there were only a few hundred food blogs around the world. Now there are thousands. Then, it was possible for blogs to make money from advertising streams. Now, it's pretty much a joke. 

Now don't get me wrong. I'm no expert on food blogging compared to some of the big guys. I never had aspirations for national or international reach. I always considered my blog my own passion and hobby. So while I can't talk at the same level as those who make money because they have huge followings, I have learned some things.

Many of the things I've learned are from attending the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) numerous times. Others I've learned on my own. But I think that one of the things that I appreciate about IFBC is that it provides excellent seminars for bloggers to learn and grow with the changing times. It's become more and more important that bloggers reach out of the internet to create a presence elsewhere if they expect to make a living with their passion. The blog should only be a launching pad.

Later this week Garrett McCord (Vanilla GarlicCoupe de Grâce), Stephanie Stiavetti (Fearless Fresh) and Sean Timberlake (Hedonia & Punk Domestics) will be talking about blogging for other entities that pay — corporate blogs, web magazines, etc. Garrett, for instance, not only had a gig writing posts about produce for one web magazine site, but he also wrote every description and use for a spice company's web site (Spice Jungle). These are a couple of his paying gigs that generated more income than his own blog.

volunteers from Amber's Food Literacy Center

Today, I will be joined by  Amber Stott, founder of Food Literacy Center and Rodney Blackwell, founder of Burger Junkies and the Sacramento Burger Battle, to discuss how we took our blogs and made them part of our communities through events and a non-profit. Our presence is no longer limited to the cyber page, but we are involved with helping Sacramento via fun events and fundraising.

And, of course, there are those that pursue the cookbook path. Publication of tangible pages is a goal of many food bloggers. 

When I was working as a State worker, writing my blog, many would ask me two things. First they would ask how to make money at blogging. As I said, that's not my path, but I also tend to reply in my Tom Hanks "League of Their Own" voice, "There's no money in food blogging!" Yes, there are the Simply Recipes and The Pioneer Woman blogs out there that get millions of clicks each month so that they can actually live off the ad revenue, but for most of us out there, our blog is not going to pay our mortgage.

The second question I get is, "Then why bother?". I always answered the same way.  I'm having fun, learning, making connections to people in my community. Some day, hopefully, I will get a job in a food industry related way. Guess what? It came true. I retired from the State so that I could go work for a restaurant software company and I love my new job.

Food blogging today can't be a career on its own. Today it requires branching out in many different ways. The key is that you do it in a way that fits your life, your goals, your family. Learn from those that have done so in their own ways and who are willing to share how they did it. 

And that's where IFBC comes in. At IFBC you can meet those bloggers that have done just that. At IFBC your head will swim with the information and ideas that you will get from others. Or, you will suddenly get that lightbulb moment yourself where you think of something none of the others have done yet. Enjoy IFBC and then forge your path to blogging success and happiness!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lolli & Pops - A girl in a candy store

I rarely step into a mall. I'm not a shopper. My money goes to dining out before it goes to shoes and clothes. I have something I need, I'm a focused shopper on a mission - find and get out! I was in Arden Fair Mall a few weeks ago and stumbled across Lolli & Pops, the second location of this chain of candy stores. 

About a week ago I got an invitation to come in and taste my way through the store. Who could resist such an offer?

The first Lolli & Pops opened at the Roseville Galleria several years ago. Arden is the 24th store with expectations for there to be a total of 50 by year's end. The stores themselves are stylish and inviting. Roseville has stained wood shelves, giving it a darker look. Arden has bright, painted shelves, making the store seem more cheerful, open, and inviting.

My friend and I were greeted by Gabriel Romo, Assistant Candy Purveyor. It soon became clear that the use of "purveyor" was appropriate. Gabe was very knowledgable about everything in the store and enthusiastic! He has an infectious spirit and I'm sure is a treasured employee.

Gabe took us section by section through the store. Whenever we wanted to try something, he got us a sample. That wasn't just for us. Lolli & Pops wants people to try things. Just ask. If he opened a package of cookies, he offered it to any customer that was near us to try as well.

We started at the front at the Harry Potter shelves and moved down the row. There are old, classic favorite candies such as Pop Rocks and Goo Goo Clusters as well as new artisan candies and gourmet chocolate bars. No matter what level of candy eater you are, you'll find something. 

One section that was particularly of note was the specialty diet section. This is where they had such things as paleo chocolate and chocolate made with stevia. I bought one of each. The paleo was good and the stevia did well with dark chocolate. I have to wonder how it would do with milk chocolate. There was also vegan, gluten-free, and sugar free candies in this area as well as specialty honey.

There are quite a few specialty items. These are giant rice cereal squares, but what makes them different is that they are more marshmallow than cereal. It's funny how you see it and think, "why had I never thought to change the ratio of marshmallow to rice crispies?" This is also something I ended up taking home because I had to try it. It was so huge that I gave half to my coworker. We both enjoyed it. There is also a cotton candy made specially for L&P that is made with cane sugar and natural flavorings. 

The Sour Tower
Lolli & Pops has its own line of branded candies as well. You'll find L&P branded truffles in gift boxes with assortments such as Salted Caramels, Ice Cream Shoppe, and Holiday Favorites. They also have specialty bark and candy bars. I tried their Jalapeno Peanut bar. Spicy, but with ground peanuts. I personally would have preferred larger peanut bits. 

The bulk candy area is quite extensive with a variety of chocolate treats and gummie candies. What's noticeable is that the flavor in the gummies is strong and the texture is exceptional. These gummies don't stick to your teeth. Instead, they are soft and don't pull at your tooth enamel like some chewy candies do. I even tried the jalapeno gummy. Be careful, it's hot! They go through a confectioner who uses cane sugar and natural flavorings. 

Gabe showing us a foreign candy
The area I was particularly interested in was the foreign section where there were candies from Europe, Asia, and Mexico. There were many British candies I remembered well such as Rowntree Fruit Gums and Cadbury Flake bars. Flakes, by the way, are best eaten in a soft serve ice cream cone. In fact, I need to go back and get one and then head over to Dairy Queen.

Anyway, one important thing to know is that often there are the foreign and then the American versions of these candies. American Cadbury, made by Hershey's, uses a different formula in the United States than in Britain. Europe and America have different standards as to the amount of dairy and cocoa butter are used. Same holds true for Asian candies; the American formula is different. I could go into a whole discussion on this, but we all know our American food standards are often different than foreign.

Thirsty? There's a cold case up front with artisan sodas. I'm not exactly sure what would inspire a person to name, let alone taste, a soda called Dog Drool. Gabe sampled out more familiar things like the root beers and a cream soda. 

Finally, up front we sampled some macarons that are flown in from the east coast and the truffle case. The case is a bit bare in the summer as the manufacturer refuses to compromise the quality by shipping in the hot summer months. As for the macarons, I would say to stick to Ginger Elizabeth. While I liked the unusual flavors, they did not hold up well to travel and time. 

The Lolli & Pops motto is "Purveyors of Sweetness". Whether you are young or old; like chocolates, sours, or gummies; American or Foreign, they have a sweet for you.

Disclosure: I was invited for this tasting visit and given a discount on my purchases.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Yianni's - For Greek, Head to Carmichael

There's never been a lot of quality Greek food in Sacramento. We took a hit when the Greek Village Inn closed a couple of years ago. Opa Opa is fine, but it's fast casual style and sometimes you want to be served at a sit down setting. That's why I was thrilled to be introduced to Yianni's in Carmichael.

Yianni's is located on Fair Oaks Blvd, just north of Marconi. It's one of those restaurants you drive by for years and notice, but don't go if you haven't been referred there. In fact, one of my friends even said that for a long time he would drive by and not see any cars, so he thought it wasn't any good. Later he learned that's because most of the cars park behind the building and the main entrance is on the side, not the front of the building.

Inside is a cozy restaurant and bar. The bar looks like a neighborhood, Cheers bar. My friends said they had a separate room to themselves when they came as a large family for Father's Day. This time we were next to the bar as the Giants game played above our heads.

The menu is quite extensive. It focuses on Greek, but there are other non-Greek items as well, such as Chicken Florentine and Shrimp Scampi. They even have one of the best French Onion Soups in the region.

We started with their Halloumi cheese and a four dip platter for our appetizers. Halloumi is known as squeaky cheese because, like cheese curds, it can kind of squeak across your teeth as you bite into it. It has a high melting point, so it is often grilled. I've had halloumi before and never been a big fan, but this was the bet I've ever had - I'd order it again. It was covered in seasoned olive oil and served with some Greek salad veggies of onions and peppers. 

The dip platter included a fire feta, hummus, skordalia, and tzatziki. Skordalia was new for me. It was a very garlicy spread made with a potato base. Served with the dips were sliced cucumbers and fresh, hot, pita! The pita was soft and superb!

My BFF and her son ordered the highly recommended French Onion Soup. Boy was it good! The broth was rich and the cheese was generous. 

At the top you see my order of the Mixed Grill plate. I figured I was here to see how well they do Greek, so might as well get the combo plate. I got a skewer of chicken souvlaki, two dolmades, two lamb chops, spanakopita, and pastitso. The lamb chops were nicely seasoned and perfectly cooked. The dolmades were good, as was the spanakopita. Chicken is always the one I never have expectations of and the skewer was overcooked and dry. I like pastitso, but I always find it to be a bit on the dull side. I wish I could find one that would really excite me. In the end, though, I enjoyed the meal and the fact that I had enough for lunch the next day. 

My BFF chose the Chicken Florentine. The large chicken breast with generously stuffed with spinach and cheese and then covered with a rich sauce.

Her son ordered a steak, which may seem boring, but we were definitely impressed by the size of it!

Two had the Shrimp Scampi and what was most impressive was the jumbo shrimp in the dish. I can't even remember the last time I saw such large shrimp on a restaurant entree. 

We all split the desserts. We had to order the baklava, of course. Instead of square slice from a pan, we got this large rolled version. Plenty of ground walnuts filled it and the whole thing was dense with honey. The other dessert was the special of a half peach baked in a wrapped phyllo with walnuts and honey and served with ice cream.

Service here was very attentive in a friendly manner. We were often asked if we needed drink refills and they definitely exuded the "neighborhood" restaurant vibe.

Yianni's has become a new favorite of my BFF's family and I'll certainly be enthusiastic if I get to go with them again. 

At the Fork - documentary thoughts

Last night I went to a special screening of At the Fork, a food documentary about the welfare of animals raised to be on our dinner tables. First off, it was not a preachy, go-vegan film. So I hope you omnivores will keep reading.

This documentary follows the exploration of farming system in regards to raising chicken, beef, and pork. It shows the corporate, large operations as well as the small, independent producers. It does a good job giving a balanced look without telling you what to think. It allows you to draw your own conclusions, so here are mine.

I've always tried to make a conscious effort to eat meat from happy animals, animals that were raised in a humane way with access to sunshine and grass. I invite you to read my post about Sinclair Family Farms and Taramasso Ranch on how they raise happy livestock and chickens. 

I buy my eggs at the farmers market from farms that have pasture raised chickens. Not only does my conscious feel better, but the eggs taste better.

But the film made me reflect on a couple of things. First is my love for chicken wings. I'll normally go to Wingstop and get an order of 10 wings, but that means anywhere from 2-5 chickens supplied those 10 little wings. Or how about when you go to the store and buy a 10 pack of chicken thighs? That represents 5 chickens.

Needless to say, I will be stifling my wing cravings and when I go to the store for chicken, I'll be buying a single whole chicken instead and butcher it up into pieces at home. 

The same thoughts go with meats. Yes, it costs more, but I'd rather eat an animal that had a happy life up to the last day than one that has been confined in a pen, on concrete, never experiencing fresh air. That means buying from a butcher that gets their meats from such farms.

Finally, while harder to do, I'd rather eat at restaurants where I trust they hold the same values I do. Obviously a drive through the few fast food chains I frequent won't fulfill this goal, but many of Sacramento's restaurants do. A lot of this is thanks to our living in the best farm-to-fork region in the country.

I highly recommend this film and don't be surprised if you don't see it on the roster for next year's Sacramento Food Film Festival.