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

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.

Sacramento might be on a poke binge right now with the opening of Fish Face. (See my post: Fish Face) I love the options that they offer, being able to make different combinations of poke each time you visit. Then I recently discovered that Costco has ready-made poke in four varieties available for grab n go! I tried two last week and they were great and about the same price as Fish Face's.

Thing is, I make poke a lot myself. It's easy and super healthy. There are only a few clean, whole ingredients and it's low in calories while high in nutrients. 

While I often make my poke with raw fish, I have a quick version that I often take to work. I thought it was no big deal, but my friend Suzanne asked me to post it anyway, so here it is.

The key ingredient to make it "safe" to take to work and not worry about spoilage or contamination is to buy cold cured salmon or lox style salmon. Here's my secret  - I go to Ikea and buy their frozen lox.  Go to their grocery section and in the freezer section you will find single portion, individually vacuum sealed pieces of salmon in packages of four. 

For the seasoning, I prefer ponzu sauce over soy sauce. Ponzu has citrus added to make it a bit fruity. I recently found a chili ponzu (pictured) that has some spice to it. Add that with the takarashi, which is a hot pepper powder, and it gives it a nice kick.

So my bowl consists of:

1 package of Ikea lox
1 avocado
1 sheet of nori (seaweed)
Ponzu sauce

Cut up the avocado and salmon and toss in a bowl. Tear up the nori into small pieces and add to bowl. Add Ponzu sauce and takarashi to taste. Toss and enjoy.