Five years ago Portland joined the major food festival game with Feast Portland. It's very similar to the Food and Wine shows across the country: Aspen Food & Wine, Los Angeles Food & Wine, Pebble Beach Food & Wine. It's their big celebration of all the great food and beverages of Portland and Oregon. 

The last four years I couldn't go because it happens in September, the same time as Farm to Fork month here in Sacramento and sometimes the same time as the International Food Bloggers Conference. This year I was excited to be able to attend. After all, next to Sacramento, Portland is my second home, where I went to college, where I've visited off and on since I was a toddler. 

Feast PDX spans a number of days and includes the standard Grand Tasting Tents as well as more intimate, limited seating dinners and classes. I would have loved to attend the dinner done with Chris Cosentino or the Twisted Filipino dinners, but tickets to those type events are the first to go. 

with Ben Ford
On Thursday Sacramentans might have been feasting on 15 burgers at the Sacramento Burger Battle, but up north I was busy tasting 15 different sandwiches in Feast's Sandwich Invitational. While most chefs were local, there are a couple celebrity chefs that are invited as well, such as Tom Douglas from Seattle, and Ben Ford from Los Angeles. 

Like Burger Battle, there is a People's Choice winner and a Judge's Panel winner. I really liked and voted for the Indian influenced one below. It was original, flavorful, was hot and crunchy, and was the People's Choice winner - Tom McCarty of Bollywood Theater. The judges selected Kim Jong Grillin's duck club sandwich. 

On Friday and Saturday afternoons it was time for the Grand Tasting Tent at Pioneer Courthouse Square. I have great memories of Pioneer Square because it was finished and opened in 1984, when I was at nearby Lewis & Clark College. It's a fantastic venue that has many different levels and created in such a way that it has built in amphitheater seating. Located smack in the middle of downtown, it's also the central downtown hub of the Trimet transportation system. 

The Grand Tasting Tent is the showcase for Oregon products, with a few outsiders thrown in. For instance, I saw our own California Olive Oil represented. Oregon has always had great wine, coffee, and beer crafters. They are also known for being very health conscious, so not surprising there were many healthy food companies with booths.

Here are a few that caught my eye. 

I've visited Bob's Red Mill twice in the past. They are always at the forefront for providing ingredients and products for all kinds of dietary restrictions. On Saturday they were showcasing their muesli: regular, paleo, and gluten free. 

Speaking of paleo, Honey Mama's had their paleo chocolate for tasting. Cacao-Nectar Bars are naturally free from soy, eggs, dairy, gluten and grains. Their bars have a nice, soft texture with a deep flavor from a blend of cacao, coconut oil, and honey. 

I was also impressed with Kite Hill. They make vegan 'dairy' products including ricotta and cream cheeses! I'm hoping to learn more about them. 

Oregon is well known for being the berry state. It's climate is perfect for blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. There are berry farms all through the Willamette Valley and a blueberry one just down from my dad's old house. This was a ceviche that featured berries. 

Now that I've been once, I know to get on it with buying tickets for some of the feature events in the future. In the meantime, check out some of the bites from Saturday's Grand Tasting in my Instagram video below.

September is a special month in Sacramento. Not only is it Farm to Fork month, but it's also Food Literacy month! It's fantastic that they both serve similar purposes - to educate about where your food comes from.

Many know that the Food Literacy Center is my local charity of choice. Their mission is to inspire kids to eat their vegetables. They teach low-income elementary children cooking and nutrition to improve our health, environment and economy.

From September 8 to 25 it is Farm to Fork Restaurant Weeks with over 40 regional restaurants participating.  Food Literacy Center gets 10% of the Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Weeks menu and menu items sold. Last year they received over $14,000! 

I was privileged to try out the dish at Ella.

A video posted by catherine enfield (@munchiemusings) on

As it should, the dish is sourced from farms in the region. The lamb is from Emigh Lamb in Dixon.  I love Emigh lamb because it is all grass fed and raised without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. It is flavorful without being gamey, which some people object to. Azolla Farms of Pleasant Grove supplied the peppers which added a lovely sweetness. Dwelly Farms, of Oakley, supplied the beans. 

Please go out and not only support the restaurants, but especially Food Literacy Center!

Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Weeks presented by Raley's is produced by California Restaurant Association Sacramento Chapter to benefit Food Literacy Center.

courtesy of Feast PDX

I love Portland not just because of the food, but because I've been part Oregonian all my life and went to college in Portland. This year I'm very excited to attend Feast Portland. Most major cities have their big, annual food and beverage event and for Portland it is Feast, which happens in September. 

Feast takes place September 15th – 18th, 2016. A few remaining tickets can be found here.

This year marks the 5th year of Feast, just one more than our own Farm to Fork Festival. While we have very different cities and therefore very different festivals, I was curious to find out more about Feast since it has gained more national attention than our Farm to Fork Festival. I sent a few questions off to one of the founders, Carrie Welch, and was so thrilled how much time she took to thoroughly answer my questions. I figured I'd just cut and paste the whole interview.

What was the original inspiration for Feast? Has it accomplished what you originally intended or did it grow to something different?
The original inspiration was a conversation in a coffee shop in Downtown Portland in 2011. I'd just moved to Portland from New York City with my wife Jannie. We knew no one, had no family here. We'd come on vacation a couple of years prior and fell in love with the city. Just the right size, nice people, incredible food and drink.
A few friends mentioned Mike Thelin (now my co-founder) and suggested we should meet. The food world is so small and we knew many of the same people. We met for coffee and hit it off right away. I asked Mike when the festival was. He said which one? I said the BIG one, the defining one that everyone goes to. He said - We should talk.
Mike had many of the events we have at Feast Portland sketched out in his mind, and had some sponsors and partners already interested. Chefs, wineries, breweries, the whole city really, was ready for Feast. We were the ones who said "Let's do it!."
Feast is everything we intended it to be and so much more. We knew right out of the gate in year one that we had surpasses our own expectations and those of most who attended and participated. It was the most terrifying experience of my life - walking into the events Mike and I had envisioned for the first time. And so exhilarating when it was a success!
Feast has grown into something different and there was one thing I could not have anticipated. There is a feeling every year now, it starts about a week or two before the event, mostly on social media, but you overhear conversations around town too, where everyone in Portland starts getting excited for the festival. Truly excited. I think it speaks to the exceptional community we have in this city where everyone supports each other and all boats really do rise. I have never experienced a collective excitement the way we do for Feast and it makes me proud of what we've all built together, because we could never have done this without everyone in Portland, the entire state of Oregon and all of the chef and guests who come in from out of town every year.

I see you have many years with the Food Network. Is that the primary avenue for reaching out to celebrity chefs? Your contacts from then? 
You would think! The answer is not really. Such irony, I know! Food Network has played an important role in Feast as I had an amazing 10 year career there where I was trained to do pretty much anything. I had great mentors who let me try new things like food festivals, philanthropic projects and so much more. I learned what hard work really is from working with people like Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray. I am beyond grateful for my time there, but Feast is a different sort of food festival. The chefs we carefully research and approach are more of the up and comers. They might have been on TV or not - we try to pick those we're excited about and we think our audience will want to come see. We always try to top ourselves and think differently about what a food and drink festival can be and should be, every year. 

courtesy of Feast PDX

How big was the first year?  Was Bon Appetit a sponsor from the start? How big a role do they have? 
For a festival's first year, ours was huge! Of course it's going to feel that way to us, but I don't think any festival has taken over Portland the way ours did that year and continues to every year. Bon Appetit has been with us from Day One and they remain a key partner in Feast. Their editorial team has supported us and how we're approaching this event from the get go and they are integral in the programming of many of our events. We look at chefs and invite them together in some cases. They are very hands on and we appreciate their perspective because it's their job to know what's coming up in the world of food and beverage, so they are important partners in terms of staying that one step ahead.

We often get it here, so I wonder your response to the question of elitism of the event. I see everything is sold out, so I can't review the pricing anymore, but I know your ticket prices are high. I, of course, understand it's for charity and there are costs involved, but is there any thought to lower price points, like in the $20 range?
We're actually not totally sold out yet! We try to make Feast as approachable as humanly possible, while also providing high quality events where there is something for everyone. I know, not everyone can afford at $150 dinner ticket, that's definitely understandable. If you can, and going to a once in a lifetime chef collaboration is something you want to do, we have that option for you. But if not, we have Drink Tank panels that are $45 if that's more your speed.

One of our events that is still available is the Friday 9/16 Grand Tasting. It's $60 for four hours (1-5pm) of sampling the best artisans, wineries, breweries and more in Pioneer Courthouse Square. A few of our Drink Tank panels ($45) are also still available. Because our nighttime events are about having fun and celebrating food and drink in large scale, outdoor venues, we also provide these intimate panels for those who might want to have a more in-depth, focused discussion around a particular topic. I'm excited about the Wine vs. Beer panel (which still has tickets available) as Marissa Ross and Christian DeBenedetti are two of the most fun, knowledgeable wine and beer experts in the country right now.

What aspects of the festival seem to be more popular or sell out first?  Tastings or more intimate events, like the dinners? Do celebrity chefs from other cities help those events be faster sellers?
Our Dinner Series events are usually the first to sell out. This year our Smoked! event sold out the day we put tickets on sale, which was exciting. We added a series of Fun-Size events - not too big, not too small - and almost all of those sold out in the first week. I think the traveling chefs do provide incentive as most people want to attend the dinners or events that have a chef they may not see in Portland again soon, or that seem like a killer pairing. Our Night Market and Brunch Village events have been fast sellers too and I think that's a combination of the chefs and the theme. 

Do you feel the hands-on classes are worth the effort and will continue on?  SF Chefs/Eat Drink SF has drastically cut back on seminars over the years.
We love the Hands On Classes and they will continue at Feast. They sell out very quickly as they're a unique, intimate option our attendees really enjoy. We always get a lot of positive feedback on our classes, and they're supported by people from in town and from out of town. This year we've moved to more contextual locations which I think is an added benefit for festival-goers as you get to see Smith Tea's factory, the Multnomah Whisky Library and other cool spots while you're learning something new.

Much thanks to Carrie!
This is not really a review since I went to a media opening event at El Rey. I wanted to post for those going to the arena in the next couple of months. After all, El Rey wins for best timed opening to coincide with the arena (within two blocks).

El Rey and the soon to open Malt & Mash are directly across 7th Street from the arena. They occupy a space that once was an unlucky spot for restaurants. But that was before talk of an arena. Now you would be hard pressed to get any closer to the arena without actually being in a new space being constructed attached to the arena itself.

El Rey is primarily a bar that has some decent Mexican eats. It's going for the pre-event/post-event crowds going to the arena, whether it be for games, concerts, or Disney on Ice. Seriously, though, it's going to be a popular hangout specifically for those reasons. Plus, there's two bars, front and back, and lots of TVs on the wall.

The menu has quite a nice variety of tacos, including carnita, duck, ahi, rockfish, veggie, and more. I really liked the rockfish, but thought the duck needed some umph. It was lacking in any flavor snap.

The ceviche is made with rockfish.

The queso fundido certainly is pretty, but you need to eat it fast. Although it's a mixture of four cheeses, it's stretchy vs. dipping. If you don't get to it while nice and hot you will end up cutting it with a knife. 

I burned myself on the blistered peppers. Sometimes it's Russian Roulette, but it pretty much keeps you from eating any more when you get burned on the very first one. My mouth was on fire and I knew better than to drink water after!

The elote corn looked fabulous, but alas I never saw it come out for tasting. All these pictures were from the photo foods - set up for people to take pictures of.

There are, of course, plenty of cocktails mixed with plenty of tequila.

El Rey will not be one of those restaurants where you say, "Let's go to El Rey for dinner!" Instead it will be more likely, "Let's meet at El Rey before the concert to grab some drinks and tacos!"

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 in three years they've never put us back on their Heatmap list.

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.

September 2016: added Mimosa House, HighwaterThe Hotel BarEl Rey

queso fundido
Winning the award for "Best Opening Date and Location in Tandem with the New Arena" is El Rey. Once upon a time the location they occupy at 7th & K was considered a dead zone for any restaurant that opened there. No more. It's perfectly situated across the street from the new arena and opens with perfect timing for the Golden 1 Center's opening date of October 4th. Expect great Mexican bites including a tacos (duck, ahi, rockfish, carnitas, veggie, and more!), queso fundido, elote, and a large array of cocktails. Lots of screens to watch the games and two bars. 

courtesy of Highwater
The solitary building that once housed The Pour House has changed hands. Now it is Highwater, the newest location from the owner's of Dad's Kitchen. It's serving up "American fare with southern influences"

Located inside the Marriott at the corner of 15th & L, the Hotel Bar is what takes the place of the Three Fires Lounge. The concept is a fun one - vintage decor and showing classic movies paired with themed foods. Ms. Munchie always loves pairing movies and food (Sacramento Food Film Festival after all), so I'm excited to see what is coming up and whether you can actually watch the movie or if it will be too busy and noisy to do so.

The newest location of The Mimosa House is located in the River Park area. Focusing primarily on breakfast/brunch and a long list of mimosas, this location also serves lunch and dinner fare.

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)

Anticipating: Some are already in soft open or just opened. Those will be in October's list.

Malt & Mash
Sienna Roseville
Wildwood Kitchen & Bar
Station 16
Mesa Mercado

Boiling Crab Downtown
The Patriot
Tiki Bar
Fish Face at Milagro
Selland's on Broadway
Kru's new location