I got a somewhat unusual Christmas present from my best friend's husband. Some dead ducks. Rob is a hunter and so he gave me four frozen ducks and a goose for Christmas. 

Now coincidentally I had been already contemplating my weekend cooking project. I was in the mood for pasta and ragu and had planned on making a pork ragu. Change of plans — duck ragu. I went home, left two of the ducks out to thaw, and threw the rest in the freezer. 

The recipe below is a combination of things from a few recipes I researched. Keep in mind that I had two wild ducks versus domestically raised ones, so they were smaller. I also had hoped to shred the meat, but ended up having to dice it. I did the stovetop steps in my cast iron skillet, but after deglazing the pan I transferred everything over to my slow cooker. The coffee adds depth of flavor. Overall though, an excellent meal in which I kept wanting to eat more but had to stop or else hit that "I feel sick" point from overeating!

Duck ragu 
- this recipe includes curing the duck overnight

2 ducks or 4 duck breasts
1/2 c kosher salt
1 T fresh thyme
1/2 t ground black pepper
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced

1 T olive oil
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 1/2 c dry red wine
2 14oz cans of tomatoes, chopped
1 t thyme
1 t rosemary
1 bay leaf
1/2 c of dark, brewed coffee

Day before:  If using whole ducks, cut off the breasts and the legs and set aside. Use the rest of the carcasses for stock.  In a small bowl, mix the salt, pepper, thyme, and garlic. Use the salt mixture to coat the breasts and legs all over. Set on a plate, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Next day: Remove the duck from the refrigerator and rinse off the salt mixture. Dry with paper towels and then set aside until the duck reaches room temperature. Use the time to chop your veggies.

Heat a large pan to high and add olive oil. (Note: Because I was keeping the duck skin on, I found it unnecessary to add oil — it's fatty enough.) Take the duck pieces and sear them in the hot pan on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the duck and set aside. If there is excessive oil in the pan, remove it, leaving enough to saute the veggies.

Toss in the carrots, celery, and onion. Stir and cook until the veggies are tender. Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom and sides. Turn the heat down to low. Add in tomatoes, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf. Return the duck to the pan and simmer everything for 2-6 hours.

Before serving, remove the duck pieces and shred or dice, then return the duck to the sauce. Remove the bay leaf and throw in the coffee. Stir until blended.

Serve with a hearty pasta and good Parmesan cheese. I used campanelle because I couldn't find a good, fresh pappardelle.



Even though Yang's Noodles has had great reviews for some time, my first experience with them was in a roundabout way. Chef Don Dickonson works there and he wanted to bring some of the offal dishes he had learned there to Have an Offal Day last year. The two dishes he brought were a Chinese beef tendon dish and another with pork stomach. Of Offal Day 3, these were among the most popular and unique dishes served.

But Yang's isn't exactly nearby to me and so it's never been convenient for me. Last week I asked my foodie Chinese friend where she wanted to go expecting her to pick one of the newly opened restaurants. Instead, she picked Yang's Noodles, a place and my other Chinese friends go to often. 

It was actually funny because I arrived first and said "hello" to owner Yang. He remembered me from offal day and we had a quick chat. Finally my friend arrived and he was surprised we were together as he recognized her as one of his regulars.


Turn's out Rui's desire for Yang's Noodles was because a Lamb Clay Pot had just been added to the menu and she had a craving for it. We ordered that, the beef roll, and the seasoned, shredded potato.

Rui's craving stems from the cold weather. Her clay pot dish is something she associates with winter like we do with stews. It's really what I'd consider a soup filled with thin slices of lamb and sour cabbage. The sour tang of the dish made me think that it would be a favorite among Filipinos who also love that sour flavor in savory dishes. 

Yang brought out something extra for us. A dipping sauce. Rui took the slices of lamb out of the soup, dipped them in the sauce, and then ate them  - separately from the soup. She said it was like getting two dishes from one. 




The Chinese Beef Roll was a bit of surprise for me because it looked like a Western dish. It resembled a crepe filled with the thin slices of beef, cucumbers, and a leafy green. I really enjoyed it and we put the sauce on the beef roll as well. There was the soft, tender crepe with crunch from the cucumber sticks and the saltiness of the beef.



The seasoned, shredded potato was also a surprise only because my Western expectations were in contrast from the Chinese reality. I was picturing in my mind a hot, shredded potato cake but what we got was a bowl of cold shredded potatoes. It was lightly spiced and vinagery; it was a nice, cold contrast to our other dishes. 

Yang's is located on Stockton Blvd, about 1/2 mile south of Fruitridge Rd. 


Oftentimes restaurant managers are so busy running their restaurant that you don't get to have time for a good conversation. But when you get the chance, it can be very informative. Such was the case this week when I went to check out Seasons 52's new winter menu.


all to ourselves!

After a bit of holiday shopping at Arden Fair Mall my BFF and I stopped in for dinner. I had met Managing Partner Andrew Byers before and discussed that the dining room lighting was not really conducive to good food pictures and so this night he and his Service Manager, Patrick Volner, set us up to dine in the Sonoma Room, one of the two private dining rooms they use for group bookings. We had the whole dining room to ourselves and we loved it.  Should  you need to book a private room, both the Sonoma and Napa rooms come fully set with A/V capability should you need media.

The last time I wrote at length about Seasons 52 was when they first opened in 2013. At that time the menu items had a 475 calorie limit which was accomplished by using whole ingredients and healthier cooking techniques such as grilling and steaming. This might have inadvertently created an assumption that it was a diet restaurant instead of a healthier fine dining one.

Almost a year ago they decided to allow for higher calorie items. "We wanted to offer some items for people who were not concerned about calories and wanted to indulge a little bit more," said Byers. "We wanted to make sure that we had something for everyone and not just guests looking for a healthy eating place. The majority of the menu is still under 475 calories and the items that are over are not over by much. We still pay strict attention to how we prepare those items and not to over indulge in the recipe making."


highly recommend the Brussels sprouts

A good example would be something like the Lobster Pappardelle on the winter menu. While it's over 700 calories, that's considerably lower than a 1000+ version you might find at a competitor restaurant because Seasons is taking steps to create an indulgent dish, but on the healthier side with less fat. 

The menu keeps changing as well. Normally Nantucket bay scallops and Dungeness crab would have been added by now, but due to prolonged closures of their respective fisheries, these items are on hold until available. 

Sacramento is luckier than other Seasons 52 locations because we are in such a great climate area where we have seasonal produce all year long. I did have to ask why the Nantucket scallops then. Byers explained that sometimes they do like to ship in the best quality items that will draw customers in that are familiar with them. In the case of the Nantucket scallops, one of the few items flown in to Sacramento, their reputation is so good that they are prized by scallop fans.

We are also blessed by being in wine country. The Sacramento Seasons is the only location that has wine on tap, direct from the winery. As Volner explained, this is how the wine is intended to be tasted, without having been exposed to air. There are two wines on tap at a time. Currently they were a Matchbook Chardonnay and a Crusher Petit Syrah, which my BFF enjoyed immensely.



We started with an amuse bouche tasting of the Butternut Squash Soup. It was creamy with a distinct caramel flavor.



My BFF chose the Beef Short Ribs which come with cheddar grits and horseradish crema. It was wonderfully succulent and was made even better by their excellent caramelized Brussels sprouts side dish. It paired well with the Petit Syrah.  



I chose the New York Strip Steak. This is always on the menu, but how they prepare it (sides, topping) changes with the seasons. Currently it has soy garlic marinade, charcoal roasted vegetables, Yukon mash, and a 15-year aged balsamic drizzle. Byers explained that often a restaurant will say X ounce steak only for you to trim off an ounce or two in fat and gristle. This NY Strip was 13 ounces of meat because they trim it down to a 13 ounce size. It was perfectly cooked to medium rare and the accompaniments meant that I didn't need to use any salt or pepper.

During the course of the meal we had been served by Bryan. When I asked how long Bryan had been with Seasons he surprised me with his answer — since it opened and he transferred from the Seasons in Miami! Turns out it is very easy to transfer among Darden restaurants and Bryan had been in the mood for a change. He was happy to sing the praises of the Seasons group, saying that he's worked at several restaurants but stays and loves Seasons because the management is so good. He mentioned that they take care to hire quality staff with great personalities and that is what makes service so great for guests.



Finally it was time for the Mini Indulgences, an assortment of mini parfaits. Guests can choose one or more and the small size is meant to allow them a way to indulge their sweet tooth without an excess of calories. I questioned why, if they were upping some calorie counts now, they didn't have a few full size desserts. Byers said, "People have enjoyed getting to choose their own dessert as opposed to having to get one large dessert and share with others. We find that it allows people to get exactly what they want and the possibility of sampling more than one dessert, not having to choose just one thing."

If you are in the Arden area and looking for fine dining, then check out Seasons 52.
This Tuesday is Giving Tuesday where charities all over the world ask for donations. The idea is that many people will give a charity gift in the name of a friend or relative in place of a Christmas gift.


This year I'm asking for support of a new charity I just learned about. We all know about the Syrian refugee crisis. If you've read my bio, you know that I grew up in Saudi Arabia. There are many wonderful, generous, friendly, peaceful Muslims in this world and it is unfair to generalize all of them.  

In fact, when I was a child we were driving our Suburban back from Europe and passed through Syria. We pulled over in the dark to camp for the night. Then a Syrian came up to us and invited us to stay at his home. Turns out we had inadvertently parked by a dump. He shuffled his family around to offer us their bedrooms and they fed us and were very generous to us. It's a story that we still recount to others as I'm doing now.

It saddens me to think that their home is probably bombed to smithereens and that in all probability, that family is decimated by the killings over there. They could very well be refugees themselves. 

There is a new charity that connects you directly to Syrian refugees living in refugee camps in Lebanon. It is called Humanwire. Because it is completely internet based, they are able to contribute 100% of your donation. 

You can support with single donations, but because I know a lot of family friends from our years in Arabia, I've started a campaign to support the family above. Omar (3) is pictured with his uncle, Asad Hamad (28) on October 26, 2015 in Beirut, Lebanon. The family of seven is originally from Hasakah, Syria near the border of Turkey and fluent in Arabic and Kurdish. They left their homeland in August, 2012 when ISIS invaded and began controlling their neighborhood in Al Qameshli where Asad also worked as a concierge.

After they fled, they paid to rent an apartment for $300/month though, after a year, were not able to make ends meet due to the lack of opportunities. Only one family member has found occasional work in construction earning a salary of $5/day. 

He assumed it would be safe to return to Syria sooner. Now it is too late to receive assistance from the UN as the UNHCR is no longer registering refugees in Lebanon. Despite having no shelter, Asad says his three greatest needs are 1) food and milk for his sister’s children, 2) clothing and 3) the desire to cease pleading with people on the streets.

When asked if he would like to return home if it becomes safe, Asad said “Of course. This is what we are praying for every single day. Moving back to our home….if it still exists.”

I've set a goal of $1000.00. Please consider joining the campaign and making a donation for Asad's family here.  



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PREFER LOCAL?




Followers of me and my blog know that my local charity of choice is the Food Literacy Center. They do a terrific job of educating low income elementary school children on nutrition and the importance of proper eating. Children come out of their classes excited to eat vegetables! Each year Amber Stott's program expands a little more and the hope is someday it will be statewide. 


Please consider donating to her group here: donation page 

Long time, no see. That's because I was doing a bit of traveling this month. I had gone off to the World Food Championships held in Celebration, Florida. This is the same place where our own Pangaea Cafe, winners of the Sacramento Burger Battle, were off to compete against the best in the nation...and the world.

In actuality, I was at the blogger component, a conference called Food Fight Write. I was among about 40 other bloggers from across the United States and even one from Myanmar, thus contributing to the World component. The real goal of Food Fight Write (FFW) was to bring in bloggers to promote the World Food Championships (WFC) and "food sport" or competitions.

This was the fourth year for the WFC. Prior to this they had been held in Las Vegas. The creators of the WFC had the idea to create the equivalent of the Olympics or the Superbowl — for food. After all, every year there are regional cook-offs at events or State fairs for everything from chili, to barbecue, to desserts. The idea was to have a final arena for these regional winners to compete and claim the ultimate title of World's Best.



The competition categories are: dessert, pasta, recipe, chili, barbecue, burgers, sandwiches, bacon, seafood, and steak. Dishes are judged based on the EAT methodology of Execution, Appearance, and Taste. This year the competitors included 17 countries and 40 States.

Each category has two stages of cook-off. The first stage sets everyone to prepare two dishes — their signature and a "structured" dish that has create their own spin on the same basic dish.  The top 10 then go on to compete in the finals where they must use a specific ingredient . The winner wins $10,000.  The winner of each category then goes to a final competition where they compete for the $100,000 grand prize and title of Best Dish.



For this endeavor the competitions took place in two places. In downtown Celebration, where I spent my time, there were 50 cooking stations set up down their main street. Every station was equipped with brand new Kenmore Pro Series appliances that included: range, microwave, toaster oven, gas grill, food processor, standing mixer, blender, pots and pans. Every few stations shared a refrigerator.

The other location was at the Westgate Resorts where the barbecue and burger competitions took place. I believe the reason is that they had more than 50 competitors and also that they had a range of barbecues available and there was more concern for fire danger.

I should mention that Pangaea just BARELY missed the top 10 by like fractions. Good job though! VERY close to cracking the top 10.


Our pantry selections
Meanwhile I had the lovely honor of competing as well. We actually were the first to use the Kenmore kitchens in an "all in fun" cooking competition. It was designed to  make us see what it's like to participate in a cooking competition with the timing, judging, etc. We had to use filet mignon from Kansas City Steaks as well as one of six sauces from Saucy Mama. I knew everyone would be cooking, so I chose to do a steak tartare. Let's just say at least I didn't come in last place.

My overall impression is that someday the WFC will be a huge deal. Right now it's still in growing pains. They've chosen to stay in Celebration for the next five or so years. While I understand that it's easy to keep coming back to the same place logistics-wise, downtown Celebration is small and I just can't see tens of thousands of people crowding and attending it there. 

Each year there is sure to be more sponsors. Last year Kenmore wasn't one, this year they are. Also, celebrities will help as well as the TV coverage that takes place by some of the food networks. 

Meanwhile, Sacramento should try to send more competitors in more categories besides burgers. I hope to see that grow as well. 


I am not interested in eating insects. Oh, I know they are the next big food thing, but count me out on that one. It gives me the heeby jeebies. Yet I inadvertently ate some the other night.

I was at the Fruit to Root party, put on by the Food Literacy Center,  that preceded the Dan Barber speech at the Central Library Galleria. A dozen of Sacramento's chefs were all presenting bites a la Wasted, Barber's New York pop-up restaurant that serves only dishes made from parts that we normally throw away. This list includes offal from animals as well as things like carrot tops, peels, and seeds that are normally tossed from plants. 

Fox40's Bethany Crouch trying the arepa

There were some pretty impressive bites, including the arepa that was made with meal worm flour mixed with maize flour, thus the insects. At least I couldn't see them. All joking aside, all of them were creative and delicious. (Scroll to the bottom to see some of the dishes).

Of course the star of the evening was Dan Barber, James Beard Award winning chef and the author of The Third Plate. Now in all honesty, I knew I wouldn't be able to read that book, so I opted for the audiobook, which he reads. He apologized for his boring voice, but actually, it's quite enjoyable as an audiobook because it's like he's telling you stories of his trips and discussions with people. It's more personal.



What I love about the book is that he shares his insights in what is wrong with the farm to fork movement, his journey to his conclusions, and the way it wakes you up to a new way of thinking about where our food comes from. There are many topics/chapters in the book that all relate to the overall message of how we need to change how we look at farming and food. 

Barber was also gracious enough to say that Sacramento has an important part to play as we are the Farm to Fork Capital.

Making me wonder...

Barber talked about the importance that chefs can play in educating and changing the way we eat. He also explained how, when he made his changes to serving dishes with rotational crops and lesser known ingredients, he switched to a prix fixe menu. Prix fixe menus mean that you eat what the chef decides instead of choosing off a menu. So, in his case, you were eating offal and rotation risotto (risotto made with other grains such as barley and millet) whether you wanted to or not.

I've also been watching Chef's Table on Netflix. There's actually a great episode with Barber, but the one I'm thinking about now is the episode with New Zealand chef Ben Shewry. In it he talks about how every Tuesday is their experimental night. Guests know it and they pay for a prix fixe menu of a meal where anything goes. It could be good, or some dishes can fail.

So all this makes me wonder... what if a restaurant here took the same approach with a creative menu using waste? Have a night where everything is helping to educate people and getting used to eating in a way that is better for farming and the environment.

Thing is, Sacramento isn't exactly a prix fixe town. The only restaurant that solely works on a prix fixe basis is The Kitchen.  All other restaurants that have prix fixe menus also allow off-menu ordering. My cynical thinking is that if people have a choice, they'll opt for their familiar favorites over trying something adventurous, so I'm concerned it will only work by limiting to prix fixe menu only.  But then will there be enough interest/orders/sales?

I'd love Sacramento to prove me wrong. I'd love us to be like Barber said, a leader in the movement to TRUE sustainable farm to fork dining. Can we make it happen?


Braised lamb neck

Whole grain risotto, smoked eggplant, goat milk feta

Winter squash guacamole

Crackers of sprouted buckweat, bruised apple butter, chicken innards mousse


Tuesday night I was lucky enough to be gifted with tickets to see food writer Michael Pollan. Anyone who is into the food movement knows he is the author of The Omnivores Dilemma, a groundbreaking book on the impact of food and the American diet. 

During his talk Pollan discussed nutritionism. This is where Americans have learned to look at food in terms of nutritional components instead of as just food.  For instance, calories, proteins, probiotics, etc. instead of beef, broccoli, and beans. And that we categorize them into good and evil - gluten, carbs are bad; omega 3s are good. In the late 70s is when we started to piece apart nutritional components trying to find the magic good ones and nasty bad ones that we need to eat or avoid.

The other landmark book on food has been last year's The Third Plate, written by Dan Barber who will happen to be here next Tuesday, exactly one week after Pollan. 


While all the hoopla was going on with the Tower Bridge Dinner downtown, I had a lovely evening on a picturesque bridge on the Delta. The Pear Bridge Dinner was put on by the California Pear Advisory Board on a small wooden bridge in Walnut Grove. 

The bridge used was one built in 1951 to connect to Dead Horse Island. The local farmers used to take their old, worn out workhorses to the island to live out their final days free and easy. 

Before I show pictures, I had some thoughts about this dinner and the month long farm to fork celebration. It occurred to me, as I sat among the local delta farmers and pear growers, that there needed to be more bridge dinners like this. 



The Tower Bridge Dinner has become such a show piece with tables gobbled up by sponsors and VIPs and only a handful available to the public, only to be bought up in mere seconds. Here I was for an intimate dinner with farmers and I thought, what if each county or farm community put on its own bridge dinner? That way the people who really should be celebrating, the farmers, could enjoy this sort of harvest celebration together. It would also make more tickets available to pubic in different areas.  Have one in El Dorado County, Placer County, one on the historic covered bridge in Nevada County, with the almond growers down in Ripon and one with the rice farmers in Woodland. What if, on the same night as the Tower Bridge Dinner, there were a dozen other bridge dinners throughout the region? 


I think such an idea would better embrace the farm-to-fork spirit and give more people the opportunity to participate. There are smaller farms that can't afford to be a part of the Farm to Fork Festival or donate money or product to some of the large events. But if there was a dinner in their own community shared with their neighbor farmers on a smaller scale, it would be easier for them to participate.

On to the dinner...

I'm honored to be asked to be a part of Food 101, a fun series of events put on by Lucca Restaurant and their sister business, Lucky Dog Ranch. Over the next few weeks they will be holding a series of "classes" with different topics and speakers. Check out the schedule below.  What's great is that the events all include food! 

As for mine, feel free to comment if there are some topics or ideas you might like me to cover in my session.


First one is this Saturday with Burgerjunkies!

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School is back in session and Lucca Restaurant is hosting a multi-date event entitled “Food 101.” The event is a five-class course featuring five different speakers, each with a distinct realm of expertise in the culinary world who will share their knowledge during a casual lunch at Lucca. Classes begin on Saturday, September 26, and are taught every other week. A broad spectrum of topics will be covered, such as: Burgers, Food Photography, Food Industry Trends, Wine, and Innovative Culinary Techniques. Each speaker will work in collaboration with Chef Ian MacBride to create dishes for the lunch that accompany the discussion and enhance the learning experience. All classes will take place in a casual setting at Lucca Restaurant, 1615 J Street, Sacramento, CA.

Event Line-Up:

Saturday 9/26/15 (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) Rodney ‘@BurgerJunkies’ Blackwell -- the founder of the Sacramento Burger Battle and creator of the blog, "Burger Junkies." He has built a lifestyle traveling around the world, experiencing & rating hundreds of burgers. His topics may include: the best burger preparation techniques, home recipes, what’s new in the burger scene and even Instagram tips.



Saturday 10/10/15 (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) Debbie Cunningham – a contributing photographer for Sacramento Magazine & Edible Sacramento who specializes in food & restaurant photography.  She has worked with countless top restaurants and been published in numerous other venues. Her topics may include:  how to take the best food pictures, composition lighting and editing -- all ranging from using a professional camera to a mobile phone.





Saturday 10/24/15 (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) Catherine ‘@Ms_Munchie’ Enfield – the creator of the Sacramento Food Film Festival; Have an Offal Day; her blog, Munchie Musings; and the owner of SacFoodTrucks.net. Her topics may include: upcoming trends & predictions of the culinary industry and food trucks,  tips for amateur food bloggers, community involvement of local food bloggers.






Saturday 11/7/15 (3 p.m. – 5 p.m.) Mike Dunne –the writer of a weekly wine column for The Sacramento Bee and The Bee’s former food editor, wine columnist and restaurant critic.  His topics may include:  tasting, pairing and writing about wine; as well as touching on observations and predictions of the California wine scene.

Saturday 11/21/15 (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) Hank Shaw – the creator of the blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook; author of the books, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, and Duck, Duck Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Ducks and Geese, both Wild and Domesticated; and an award-winner from both the James Beard Foundation & the International Association of Culinary Professionals. His topics may include: innovative & unique methods of preparing seafood, wild game and sausage.

Event Details:
  • Tickets are $30 for each class
  • Each ticket includes cuisine that enriches the educational experience
  • Classes are limited to 50 seats

Tickets are available for purchase online only. To buy tickets and for more information, visit http://www.food101.brownpapertickets.com

We just got some news that I think is great for Sacramento. One of the best (and my favorite) food bloggers' conferences is coming to Sacramento in July 2016. Next year's theme: Farm to Fork (big surprise). That means about 500 of the nation's top food bloggers (and a few international) will be coming to town.

The International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) is one of the top in the country.  I love it and I've gone to IFBC four times myself. There are many reasons.

First is the content. The sessions are actually helpful and educational. Whether it's about improving search engine optimization (SEO), food photography, or pitching book deals, you will come out having learned something. Second would be the speakers. Over the past few years the speakers have included documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, famed food critic Jonathan Gold, Saveur editor Joel Oseland, and famed food photographer Penny De Los Santos. Finally is the camaraderie with food blogging friends made over the years from across the country.

What does it mean for Sacramento?  500 or so food bloggers in town? Promotion! Promotion of our food scene, farm to fork, and all the wonderful things our area has to offer in terms of agri-tourism.

One thing IFBC does is offers food bloggers a huge conference discount as long as they write three posts devoted to IFBC. While some will be writing about the conference, many will be writing about their visit, the restaurants they ate at, the events they attended. Again, great promotion for Sacramento.

The Friday is always pre-conference activities. This will include tours and so I can picture visits to farms, orchards, breweries, or wineries in the area. Then Friday and Saturday evening events are a showcase of the bounty of the region with samplings of food and drink from purveyors and local restaurants. After that, bloggers will be descending on restaurants around town.

To promote Farm to Fork across the U.S. and attract visitors to come, you can't ask for a better promotional opportunity than for IFBC's hundreds of food bloggers to spread the word.  







You have to have been a coma not to know that there's a new Kings arena being built downtown. It's pretty hard to miss if you happen to be anywhere near the construction. With it comes all the talk and excitement of what the arena will mean to Sacramento, mostly in terms of economics.

My mind has been dwelling on one facet of those economic changes — the state of the Sacramento restaurant scene in terms of restaurants and their staffs.

You may think Sacramento has a fine collection of restaurants as it is. Well hold on tight because we are about to see an explosion of restaurants in the next 18 months. Some are already beating others to the punch. In June there were the openings of the remodeled Paragary's, Iron Horse Tavern, Roxie Deli, Dos Coyotes. In July we got the moved Magpie, Localis, Fish Face, and Metro Kitchen & Drinkery. The midtown Broderick's and the long awaited Empress Tavern just opened up.

Here's the thing. Competition is going to start getting fierce to not only hire all levels of staff for these restaurants, but also to hold onto them. The truth is, Sacramento does not currently have enough staff for all of these restaurants. There are not enough servers, chefs, line cooks, general managers, bartenders, bussers, dishwashers, etc. for the current number of restaurants, let alone the 30+ slated to open in the next 18-24 months.

Even less? QUALITY staff. Already restaurants in town are trying to lure quality servers, GMs, and more.  This has made me really think about what will be happening with restaurant labor over the next few years. 

This post is not meant to take any position on any particular method(s) but to point out some of the issues our local restaurants will be contending with over the next 18-24 months.

High turnover 

I worked for the State of California for 20 years and many of the last ten years were filled with hiring freezes and furloughs as the State tried to save money. Because of the strict hiring freezes, agencies and departments would end up hiring staff from other agencies because they couldn't bring in fresh new blood as new hires from the public. The problem is that when you have this much constant turnover of staff, work doesn't get done because it never gets learned. Before a hire has time to learn the new job, maybe even improve upon it and leave a legacy for new hires in the future, they were already being enticed away to other positions and promotions. The labor force was constantly moving.

Now imagine that in the restaurant industry. In Sacramento there are only so many restaurant staff currently available. We're not talking fast food staff, we are talking about seated, service restaurants from small cafes to fine dining establishments. Restaurant work is hard and low pay. Quality staff are going to be sought out, enticed, and hired away from competing restaurants. Chefs, GMs, and servers are constantly moving.

Recruit elsewhere

The best solution to look elsewhere and the most obvious is the Bay Area. What does Sacramento have that the Bay Area doesn't? Lower cost of living. It's time to start heavy recruitment of quality staff from San Francisco and vicinity. Local restaurant leaders should (and are) join forces to start an active advertising campaign and recruitment effort in the Bay Area and maybe even Southern California as well.  In order to get new hires to make the move, give them an incentive to encourage them to recruit their fellow restaurant coworkers to join them in the move. 

UPPING THE COMPETITION GAME


In what must be the most anticipated restaurant opening in a decade, Empress Tavern is finally ready to open. After months and months of delays and waiting, we finally get to see what took so long. And boy is it worth it. 


Chef's Table
It may be named Empress Tavern, after the old Empress vaudeville theater it sits under (now the Crest), but pretty much everyone in town drops the "Tavern" and just calls it Empress. And it is a regal restaurant. You will see every dollar spent and every day spent waiting when you go down those stairs.



Prime rib bites
On Saturday I was one of the lucky ones to attend the VIP soft opening event. This is obviously not a review, but just my first impressions.

The exit to street level was where the emergency exits were, cut into the little inset to the right of the Crest box office and alongside the Mediterranean Cafe's patio. Now the glass doors are replaced with curved wooden doors akin to those that often open into wine caverns in Napa or France. They set the mood for what you will find inside.


I often went to movies in the downstairs Crest theaters, so I remember the configuration well. Two smaller theaters sat side by side and the floors were considerably sloped for seating that afforded good views over others' heads. Now you will find the host stand at the top of the stairs, descend the stairs to the landing where you can make a grand entrance - see everyone and be seen by everyone. You will take in a transformation that is almost unbelievable. Arched brickwork to look like wine caverns and underground cellars. It's pretty amazing.


When I saw Michael Thiemann later in the evening I had to ask about the bricks. I could not believe they would basically build a building underneath another. I thought it might have just been thin slice brick veneers, but Thiemann assured me that they had a team of brick masons in here and every brick in there is real. Anyone who remembers Greek history and the importance of the arch will be in awe.

Inside the bar occupies the center with 360 degree access. I liked that many of the tables have leaves on them to make them either square or circle in shape. The benches are similar to Mother in that they also act as storage bins. On the far wall are the most impressive tables. There are several arched alcoves with longer tables for parties of 6-8. Someone joked that they should place bar doors on them so it would look like prison cells.  At the farthest corner is the Chef's Table, long and beautiful.

I wanted to do a follow-up article to the one I did in January (It's not worth it to drive Lyft and Uber in Sacramento) because this week Uber has been celebrating its One Millionth Ride in Sacramento. All week long they've been doing special things for Uber customers. On Tuesday there was Chando's deliveries, Wednesday a chance to win a trip to Hawaii, and Friday a chance to win a cruise. Yay. Great. But what about the drivers? Zip. Nothing.

What Uber SHOULD be doing is having two celebrations. One for the customers, but another for the drivers!  We are the ones doing all the work for miserable pay. Better yet, pay us more!

My prior post goes into all the reasons it sucks to be a driver now. I've actually stopped driving. I'm not interested in making money for greedy Uber and losing money myself. 

The Kum-ba-ya of Uber is gone

I find it interesting that at first it seemed the whole idea of ride sharing was that people could sign up and drive Uber on their spare time and make some money. A kumbaya, sense of community, communal idea. And at first the money was good. 

Now the only way to make money driving is to go full-time. I truly think that for part-time drivers they are losing money, not making it. It's the working of full-time+ hours that helps the drivers to average out their dollars/hour earnings. 

So think about it. Uber has become as taxi as any taxi company. Full-timers are sticking with it, but part-timers are giving up. New drivers sign up, become quickly disillusioned and quit. So much for kumbaya.

So this is why you should take pity and tip your Uber driver

If you have seen my numerous posts over the years of Cochon's events, then you know they are among my favorite foodie events ever. These are paleo, meat eating fests where there are pounds of flesh up for consumption. Now I suppose that doesn't sound super attractive, but let me tell you, these events are worth the price.


This is the first Heritage BBQ in San Francisco and it basically sounds like a combination of Cochon and Heritage Fire.  Like Cochon which features 5 chefs cooking 5 pigs and Heritage Fire which features roasting every kind of beast over open flame, Heritage Fire mixes the two: 5 chefs, 5 pigs, lots of barbecue styles from around the world. 

The event takes place on Sunday, September 13th at the Magnolia Brewery location in the Dogpatch neighborhood. This year’s competing chefs include Dennis Lee of Smokestack/Namu Gaji, Geoff Davis of The Dock, Michael Rafidi of RN74, Nicolai Lipscomb of The Battery, and John Madriaga of Spruce.

The BBQ styles represented will be Hibachi, Korean BBQ, Asador, Braai from Africa, Char Siu, Caja China, Churrasco, Barbacoa, as well as regional American BBQ styles from Texas to Kansas City.


Heritage Fire
The all-inclusive stand up tasting event features 1,400+ pounds of heritage pig, “pop-up” culinary experiences, premium wines, artisan cheeses, sustainable seafood, hand-crafted spirits, fine cocktails, and a very impressive selection of whiskies, ryes and bourbon. The stunning lineup of sponsors behind this celebration of heritage species include Williams-Sonoma’s local butcher demo, WilsonArt’s “Perfect Manhattan Experience” featuring Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Breckenridge Bourbon, Hirsch and Luxardo cherries, Magnolia Brewing Co, Common Cider, Creekstone Farms, Krave Jerky, Creminelli Fine Meats, California Olive Ranch and La Brea Bakery. A portion of the proceeds always benefit the local culinary school while building opportunities for local food producers. All tickets include endless drinks and tons of food and are limited to only 250 tickets per event.


Tickets for general admission start at $100, and VIP tickets for early admission are $200. To purchase tickets, visit the website http://cochon555.com/2015-tour/sanfranciscobbq/.

Where:                  Magnolia Brewery 
                             2505 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107


Disclosure: I was given a free pass for this post.

Click to add a blog post for Hidden Sichuan on Zomato

Hidden Sichuan has been getting good reviews lately and so I headed out with my Chinese friends again to get their judgment. I'll be referring to my 2013 review of Sichuan Spice House in Orangevale because we had many of the same dishes to compare and I was with the same Chinese friends. 


Hidden Sichuan is located in a shopping complex at Hwy 99 and Bond Rd. behind the In n Out Burger.  It's nicely decorated with a wallpaper mural depicting ancient China along one wall and nice shelving and art on the others.  There were tables and booths and everything was quite comfortable.

The menu was quite large. This time there were only three of us, so we ordered only four dishes. In the end we were pretty happy with three of the four but with noticeable differences from the same items we had at Sichuan Spice House. If you like, open the review link above so you can compare the pictures of the items as well.