Level 1 Sommelier Seminar

I did it! I passed my Level 1 Sommelier exam. Here’s my experience.

First off, I’m not in the hospitality industry. I’ve never worked in a restaurant (not even a Burger King), a bar, or anything even close to that. The last retail job I had was at Barnes & Noble in college between semesters. So why did I decide to do this? It’s something I’ve always found interesting, and wanted to expand my knowledge of wine and service. You don’t have to work in a restaurant to attend the seminar and take the exam. I met people who worked at wineries, as sales reps, and an executive chef.

Here’s what happened. I decided to take the class in Laguna Beach even though I live in Sacramento. Seminars are given in the Bay Area and San Francisco. I chose to go the Laguna Beach where I could fly for cheap and stay with friends. The seminar was at the very swanky Montage Resort and Hotel. I heard a rumor that there was a discount for those of us taking the exam, but this was never confirmed.

When I walked in, I found a spot in the middle of the room at the end of a table, where I had room for my bag, which contained my laptop. Yes, the bag was huge. No, I don’t plan on carrying a smaller one. The room was set up seminar style, with long tables making rows. There were four people to a table, with about 100 people in attendance. Some woked for the Montage and a handful of attendees were taking the Certified test right after we were done with Level 1.

After turning in the exam, we quietly left the room and grabbed a cocktail at the upstairs lounge! Then we all returned and entered the room, grabbed a glass of bubbles and sat back down. They then started calling the names of the people who had passed, giving out pins and certificate of successful completion. They wait until the very end to announce those with the highest score. No mention is made if you didn’t pass.

If you’re taking Level 1 and freaking out – don’t. Here’s what I learned.

  1. The instructors are absolutely amazing, the Masters teaching the seminar were Brian McClintick, one of the Master Sommelier candidates featured in the movie Somm, Peter Neptune, also featured in the film and owner of the Neptune School of Wine, Tim Gaiser, and Thomas Burke. They were extremely approachable and I anticipate running into them again… hopefully!
  2. The second you receive your registration confirmation, open the workbook. These slides are what they’ll be going over during the seminar. Be aware of the contents while you…
  3. …read The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil and Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly. Highlight and take notes.
  4. Flash cards, flash cards, flash cards. I used the workbook as basis for my flashcards.
  5. The material is covered at a break neck speed. If you are going into this with little to no experience, you won’t pass. You also won’t learn much. This is a survey course. The Masters run through an incredible amount of slides and don’t spend a whole lot of time on any one of them to go into them in depth. You are expected to have this knowledge going in.
  6. Talk to your fellow students. Network, chat, and keep in touch. If you are planning on taking the Certified exam, it will be advantageous to have them as study buddies.
  7. Know that you don’t know everything. You’re not supposed to….
  8. There are blind tastings. They are prepping you for the Certified Exam, so you will be doing tastings (at 8 in the morning on the second day!) and standing up to talk about elements of the wine using the Court’s tasting grid. Don’t worry if you screw up the tasting and say it’s a Pinot Noir when it’s a Cab Sauv. It’s not a big deal. You’ll be helped down the road.
  9. Eat breakfast. There is no breakfast served, so be sure to have something. There is a quick break for lunch, but be prepared for two long (fun) days.
  10. Questions include things like: What is the soil in Mosel? Where are the Apennines? Which bank will you find Margaux? Which grape has the most tannin? Which of these is a First Growth?
  11. It’s a multiple choice exam. Use the process of elimination if you have nothing else. If you narrow it down to two, you have a fifty-fifty change of getting it right.

What’s next for me? In anticipation of taking the Certified exam at some time, I’ll be taking service and tasting workshops at the Napa Valley Wine Academy (where I’ll get to see Tim Gaiser again!), go through some of the WSET (Wine Spirits Education Trust) track (choosing to do this because it’s guided study), and finally a bartending class (I found one on Groupon). I’m hoping that with all these, plus lots of tasting practice, I’ll be able to make it through the Certified exam! (You need to take it within three years of passing Level 1, or else you have to retake the Intro seminar and exam.)

Good luck to us all!



Sac Beer Week, No. 2

Ahhhh… beer. So my second day of experiencing Sac Beer Week took me to Rocklin and a visit to Out of Bounds Brewery. A tad off that grid? Yes, but who cares?! It’s Beer Week!

My good friend and colleague appreciates this place, and when I saw that Cousins Maine Lobster truck was going to be there, the deal was completely sealed.

OOB Cousins

Lobstah rolls fah dayyyys! Not just lobster rolls, but an amazing clam chowder, lobster tacos, quesadillas, and more. But one of my favorite items turned out to be the lobster tots. Yes, you read that right. LOBSTER TOTS. Sorry I didn’t have time to snap a photo before they disappeared into thin air. Honestly, I have no idea where they went.

OOB glasses

This was a delicious grapefruit IPA and their chocolate cherry milk stout. I also had the brobdingnagian “the Brob” oaked strong ale, and their vanilla porter. I immensely enjoyed them all. In fact, I am discovering a change in my palate from light pilsners to dark and stormy brews.

The other great thing about this place is that it has a wonderful space in the back where you can play ping pong, foosball, or corn hole.

So, next up will be New Glory on Wednesday… and the same food truck! I will try to remember to get some photos of it this time. (FYI, New Glory is usually closed Wednesday, but is open for Beer Week. Thursday night trivia is also a blast.)

Sac Beer Week, No. 1

I love a good beer. And I love good food. So what happens when you put an entire week and a half together of both? My head exploding, that’s what.

We in Sacramento seem to enjoy these themed weeks: Restaurant Week, Dine Downtown, Beer Week. I love them all!

The first unofficial stop I made was Friday night at Revolution Wines, but no beer was consumed, so I’ll skip that one.

The first official stop was BarWest’s patio for some Lagunitas. Now, if you know me, you’ll know how much this place IS NOT my scene; its nickname is “BroWest,” and I wouldn’t be caught dead there after dark. However, when they tell me they’re going to donate a dollar from every sale of Lagunitas to the Front Street Animal Shelter, and there will be some doggies on the patio… well, I have to go. Unfortunately I missed the pups, but I still got some drinks and my first food of the day (so what if it was 4:30?!): chili cheese tater tots.


Stop number 2: Der Biergarten. I was in the mood for some pretzels and this is THE spot for one. Sorry I don’t have a photo; I was too excited to stuff my face with one to remember to snap a pic. Guess you’ll just have to go there yourselves!

On the docket was a delicious stout, followed by a Weihenstephaner. Pictured here in the middle, like a tall tower of goodness, is their signature mix of grapefruit lager with cider on top. Kind of like a Maraschino cherry on top, but without the formaldehyde.

Biergarten Beer Week 2016

To close out the night… The Rind. It was either this or Broderick. The latter had a half hour wait, while The Rind miraculously had a table for four just sitting there! After some perusal of the menu, I settled on their beer flight with accompanying cheeses.

Rind Beer Week 2016

As always, The Rind didn’t disappoint. The three beers were delicious and expertly paired with the cheese. For the life of me, I can’t remember what they were, other than the first one was like eating coconut cheese, the second one was a creamy Brie-ish number, and the third was a smoked cheddar. Beer and cheese make awesome bedfellows!

The Rind cheeses

Stay tuned for more Beer Week adventures! I’m heading to Rocklin to check out Out of Bounds Brewery and Cousins Maine Lobster food truck, followed by more fun later this week!

A Sacramento girl in Chicago

Chicago is home to culture, a rich history, and some truly amazing food, as I would come to learn.

It had been many years since my last visit, which included a whirlwind day, yes DAY, of three museums and the Sears Tower (now called Willis). Thankfully this visit was much more leisurely and filled with some phenomenal food.

My travel day began at 5:30am with what should have been about a half hour drive from Crockett, where I had spent the night, to the Oakland airpot. Instead, it took me over an hour. Harried and stressed that I wouldn’t make my flight, I basically ran to the gate without coffee, food, or Dramamine. Bad idea.But I made it to the gate and boarded with a few minutes to spare, hoping I could purchase some kind of sustenance on the flight.

Though always aware of where one is, I’d never been forced to make use of the “barf bag.” Well, I am a barf bag virgin no more. So not on my bucket list, but there it is. The flight attendant was a dear, and he checked on me a few times to make sure I was okay after hearing me puke in the lavatory.

After my Exorcist experience in the bathroom, I had been able to eat just a couple bites of an Otis Spunkmeyer banana nut muffin that I’d bought on the plane and a Kind bar, so when I finally arrived in Chicago, I was famished. Famished, but also exhausted. So instead of going out for a fancy multi-course extravaganza, I opted for a quiet and quick meal at The Windsor, which was near to the hotel. Their small plates menu was quite impressive. My culinary adventures in Chicago got kicked off with crab toast, spaetzel mac and cheese, and smoked trout dip. I apologize for the lack of photos. I had barely enough energy to lift the fork to my mouth.

The next morning was a late breakfast at the famous Lou Mitchell’s, where they greet you with a donut hole, drop you off at your seat with a mini-box of Milk Duds, and leave you with a small scoop of vanilla soft serve. Rumor, or Lou’s lore rather, has it that these sweet traditions are mired in a culture of deep hospitality with a dash of mid-century chivalry… apparently, Lou loved the women!


After much debate, I settled on the broccoli and cheese omelet that arrived in its own adorable serving skillet with wooden trivet. Now, before I continue, they tout their omelets as being “fluffy” … and fluffy they are. It’s actually quite impressive. I swear they must inject air into them. I’ve never experienced an omelet this cloudy. I mean, you could’ve tossed it into the sky and replaced any cumulus cloud. From their fresh-brewed coffee and wide selection of teas, to their variety of pancakes, omelets, and baked goods, you will NOT be disappointed with Lou Mitchell’s.

Fluffiest of omelets!

Fluffiest of omelets!

As for the sightseeing that day, I took a swiftly moving elevator up 103 floors and gazed down at all the little people (literally). Did you know that from the top of Willis Tower you can see into three states? The best part was walking out onto the Sky Ledge, which is an enclosed box that juts out about four feet from the building, allowing you to feel like you’re floating above it all.

So far up!

So far up!

Something I was unaware of was how into popcorn this city is. A friend of mine who is a former Chicago denizen recommended a post-vertigo stop at Garrett’s. On her suggestion, a bag of “Garrett style,” not to be confused with animal style, was ordered. What’s Garret style you ask? It’s a mixture of cheese and caramel corns, although I’m unsure if there is a specific and required ratio of the two. I’m not a big connoisseur of popcorn, so I don’t know how Garrett’s stacks up. I mean, my exposure is limited to Orville Redenbacher’s microwaved in a brown paper lunch bag (how my dad used to do it in the 80s), and Cape Cod from the grocery store. But, despite my lack of popcorn education, I can say that Garrett’s is saturated in flavor and retains its crunch. I’ve had flavored popcorn with a texture of watered down crackers that had a crown-breaking core. I also didn’t feel like I was ingesting a large amount of dyes and chemically manipulated powders trying to mimic cheese.


As for dinner that night, I was lucky enough to get together with a close friend and her husband. We took a short cab ride to the gayborhoood of Boys’ Town (I most definitely want to return) and a unique spot called Home Bistro. HB had clearly been a small bar in a previous life where performances had occurred. We were seated in the front window of the restaurant where the stage was. It turned out to be a fabulous spot; you have a view of the entire restaurant, plus an open window to the goings on outside on the street.

It’s BYOB, and we were prepared with four bottles of wine, three of which, we made quick work of! Their menu is just about the perfect size, with a selection of shareable starters, substantially portioned salads, and just the right amount of fish and meat dishes.

We started off with sautéed garlic and escargot. Now, if you know me, you know I’m not a big fan of escargot. In fact, some of you may be familiar with my requirements of food: It can’t be pre-reproductive (no veal or lamb), it can’t look the way it did when it was alive (exception: oysters, of course), and it can’t leave a trail of slime after it. In fact, I think a “no slime” rule is a good thing for food!  However, I am pretty much always game to try one bite. And I tend to be more lax on the vegetarian/pescetarian aspect when I’m on vacation or trying new places.

So, back to the food. I had some of the garlic from the escargot, but none of the escargot itself. Its appearance was rather off-putting. It kind of looked like someone had hacked off chunks of the dark part of a geoduck. But, luckily, there was an HB Cesar for me to try, which was delightfully anchovy-ish and not dripping in dressing. The lettuce was cool and crunchy, just the way a Cesar salad should be, with a small handful of garlic croutons to finish the salad.

For my entree, I chose rainbow trout. Wow, is all I have to say. Cooked to perfection, with a crispy skin and perfectly flaky, it lay on a bed of horseradish creme fraiche and fingerling potatoes, with picked red cabbage, a delightfully delicate bacon gastrique, and topped with a fried egg. Put it all together and the one perfect bite is absolutely sublime.


Also at the table that night was the Spicy Lamb Ramen, Braised Pork Cheek Chili Verde, and Pan Roasted Duck Breast. All were very pleased with their selections and we left full and happy. However, we still needed dessert. So, we returned to The Windsor for their famous 3-shot bourbon adult milkshake. This thing is surely filled with something criminal. Creamy, cold, with a bit of caramel and the nice flavor of some bourbon. I might mix up the bourbon with something like kahlua or Bailey’s, but since I don’t drink much bourbon, I have no idea what that would do to it.

Sunday was “culture day.” After a quick, rather underwhelming room service breakfast of lox and bagel, and fried eggs with bacon, we were off to Millennium Park to gaze at “The Bean,” Chicago’s famous sculpture.

Across the street is the Art Institute of Chicago. Known for being its own character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, this museum is filled with collections that span years, places, movements, and civilizations. Their new Modern Wing houses contemporary art, including a film exhibition, which was, unfortunately, closed at the time. To see everything, plan on spending an entire day, from open to close, pretty much. I speed-walked through the European Art to make it through to the final thing I wanted to see, and ended up making the complete loop back through to the Impressionists. In fact, I saw a Rosetti, which was very cool, as I’d never seen one. I believe it was one of two that were made of that particular image.

Dinner that night didn’t come as a recommendation, but just happened because I had spotted a sign that boasted “Oyster bar”on the route to the train station. Naturally, I had to check it out. The best part is that they have half off bottles of wine up to $100 and 25 percent for the more expensive bottles on Sundays, plus an impressive amount of happy hour selections for $7.


After putting the bartender through his paces trying to find a non-domestic wine I liked, I settled on something that I believe was French. For food, the small plates options did not disappoint. Lobster bisque, mini lobster rolls, and a small selection of the day’s oysters filled me up. But, since it was still early and I knew I’d be hungry soon, we stuck around, sipped wine, and let the “first course” settle a bit. I’d had a hankering for crab legs, so a pound and a half of cracked crab legs were soon on their way! Holy moly, these things were good… and I forget how much easier (and less messy, though not as much fun) it is to have them cracked for you. Accompaniments were green beans and sautéed mushrooms with truffle butter. After everything else, those sides were not given nearly enough love, but they were most definitely delights in and of themselves. Definitely go to Devon!


Monday started off with a rather disappointing lunch at the hotel – unfortunately, I was very not impressed by the food at the hotel. The garden salad and portobello with goat cheese panini were in dire need of some flavor. However, there was no time for an hours long lunch, as the Shedd Aquarium was calling!

This is one of the best aquariums in the world with rescue, rehabilitation, and education at the forefront of their activities. We were able to take in the Aquatic Show, a 4D experience of “Ancient Monsters” (if you happen to attend this show, sit on the edge of your seat… literally. You get poked in the back), and all the animals that call the aquarium their home… minus the penguins and sea otters, unfortunately, who were out for drinks or something. The Aquatic show featured dolphins and a well-trained seal!

Instead of taking a car to Navy Pier, we saw a water taxi stand and opted for that. It was great fun to see the city from the water, an angle you don’t usually get. Plus the sun was starting to go down, so the light cut through the buildings at interesting angles.

The midway at Navy Pier was closed for construction… in fact, pretty much everywhere we stopped had some portion of the building or facade under construction, the hotel included. At any rate, we walked around the interior and stopped at the bar in Harry Carrey’s, but a sudden change of plans meant I would be denied the soft pretzel sticks I was craving in order to get in front of the crowds at The Purple Pig.

The Purple Pig doesn’t take reservations, so the best thing to do is stop there early, put in your name, and wait for their phone call notification that your table is ready. We had tried to get in on Saturday, but the wait at 6:45 for a table for four was a whopping three hours.

Thankfully it wasn’t that bad Sunday at 6:30, though there was still a wait. They do know what they’re doing though, by giving people bar service outside on the patio while you wait. The Purple Pig is all Mediterranean-style food, and that includes their wine. Everything is from Italy, France, Greece, Crete… you get the picture. Food is served family style and meant to share. It resembles tapas, but without the feeling of never being full that I get when I eat tapas! The plates principale are brawny enough to be a small entree, and the starters are meant to stand on their own, without playing side fiddle to the larger pates. With a name with the word “pig” in it, you’d expect there to be lots of pork, right? And there is. But that’s not all they’re known for. They have a burrata cheese cannnoli, which I so wanted to try, but lacked the stomach room. Their bone marrow “schmear” and rabbit roulade are also popular dishes.

After much deliberation between the roasted broccoli and charred cauliflower, the latter won out. You’d think cauliflower would be boring, right? Well, you’d be wrong. I so want to try to recreate this. It seems pretty simple, with just a few ingredients of cauliflower (duh), parsley, sliced cornichons, olive oil, toasted bread crumbs, and lemon (I think). The key is getting these things blackened and crispy without scorching them beyond recognition, which is probably what I would end up doing.


With 25 cheeses on the menu, we beseeched the server to select three for us. She chose Perlagrigia from Italy, which is a rich and nutty medium to hard cheese, a super stinky (and I use this in the best possible way) Polkton Corner from Indianapolis, and Blue Bonnet from Massachusetts, whose rind turns completely blue. These are served with crackers and a chutney.


Having never heard of it, I was curious about the Prosciutto di san Daniele and how it varied from Prosciutto de Parma. There was also a duck version, which I found intriguing, but not enough to order it. So what’s the difference? It’s subtle, but the flavor to me seemed a tad richer and more complex. I’m not sure if that’s generally how it varies, but it seemed to me to be that way.


The two “mains” on the table were pork shoulder and red snapper. The pork shoulder was the most tender I’d ever seen, cuttable with a spoon. Seriously. It was served with a spoon. It sat atop a small portion of mashed potatoes, with nary a chunk in sight, and the perfect amount of au jus gravy. If I thought it would have agreed with me, I would have eaten the entire dang thing.


The snapper was also expertly cooked. The varied and different flavors combined to make it a delight for the taste buds. The most interesting aspect of this dish were the carbonated grapes. Don’t ask me exactly what that means. But when I took a little part of everything on the dish, the flavors combined into something out of this world, while the texture of the fish with the crunch and coolness of the grapes was a great sensory feel.


After all this, we needed dessert, naturally. When we saw what sounded like donut holes (Loukoumades), we were in. I mean, come on… Fancy shmancy donuts FTW, people. These were done in the style of Greek donut holes. I mean, you really can’t go wrong with deep fried balls of batter, right? Drizzled with honey and dusted with a bit of cinnamon, these little balls of heaven arrived hot and filled with crack (I’m convinced!).


They bring out the dishes as they are ready, allowing for a leisurely, memorable dining experience.

The server was an expert in selecting wines based on what very few specifications we gave her, which was good, since my knowledge of wines of that region are rather limited. They also do pours, full glasses, or bottles, allowing for more variety and better pairing. Each wine we had was delicious and paired well with whatever it was we were eating.

Tuesday, on the way out of town, we stopped at Giordano’s for a slice of stuffed pizza. This was my first experience, and I have to say, when the menu says a “Small” will feed 2 people, they must think we all eat like Joey Chestnut, because I could barely finish one slice. And, unfortunately, this could not get on a plane and travel back to Sacramento with us.

If you’ve never experienced stuffed pizza, you are missing out. I want to try to recreate this at home. I’m thinking that first, you need a high-walled dish that will make the crust brown and crunchy without burning it. Then, line the dish with one of the crusts, put whatever you want on it, starting with pepperoni and then load it with about fifteen tons of cheese, put the other crust on top, top it with a layer of sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan, try to get the two doughs to like each other by smooshing them together, and bake it. I think it may best be served with a steak knife.


I have to say, Chicago is a pretty cool city. Easy to get around on public transportation, but with lots of taxis, plus Uber and Lyft, and more than enough fabulous eats for the hungriest of visitors.


Tuli–>Trick Pony (independent)–>Trick Pony (Broderick)–>Localis (Broderick). Let me just say that I miss Tuli with a vengeance. I also had high hopes for Localis, especially after hearing what some of my foodie friends thought about it. So, I enlisted a major foodie friend (I think he’s my Sac foodie BFF) and we double-dated it. 

Localis opened just a few weeks ago, so I’m willing to give it some leeway here, but I’m going to also be brutally honest when I tell you about my experience this time.
Upon entering, they haven’t changed the interior much at all, and it feels like a familiar friend. The chefs are bustling behind the counter and a few folks are seated at the bar. Upon perusing the menu, I noticed there were no pizzas and I hope they do use it. Supposedly it’s one of the best pizza ovens in Sacramento and the draw for Trick Pony’s initial owner, who met Tuli co-owner and chef Adam Pechal when they both appeared as contestants on The Taste. But moving on. I had no issues making a reservation, and for a 6:30 time slot on a Saturday, we were one of the first parties. After being seated, the server told us about some specials, which weren’t on the menu. Then he told us about the chef’s tasting menu, which consists of 5-6 courses, which the chef chooses, with amuse bouches. Excuse me? I think you mean palate cleansers, as you can only have one amuse bouche at the begninng of a meal. But, whatever. Unfortunately, I had neither the time, nor the $77 to spend on the food and $40 on the wine pairing that day. Our server did say that it could be modified to fit a dietary restriction. In my case, no land meat or octopus. 

So, the four of us came up with a game plan and made our order. But when we tried to order one of the “not on the menu” dishes, the server actually said, “but that’s not on the menu.” Perplexed, a reply of, “I know, it’s one of the specials you mentioned earlier.” To which he said, “That’s on the tasting menu.” Well, crap. Now two of the four had to figure out what to order instead and try to get exited about that. 

But, we were resilient and had a delicious bottle of wine in front of us. The first thing to arrive was the “Bacon and Eggs.” We were told this was delicious and a “must order” item. Fried polenta creates a crunchy bed for the egg, whic was pretty much al yolk. There wasn’t much “bacon” in this, but over all, this was pretty decent. I liked the pea shoots and pesto.


Next came the “Nigiri” of albacore with shoyu, crunchy black rice, and… puffed rice. Yes, like the kind you got in that huge bag on the bottom of the shelf in the cereal aisle when you were a kid. However, that did lend a nice textural variation, so I’m not going to bag on that too much. The fish was good, and the pickled cucumbers (there were two different kinds) were nice.


For the entree, I decided to order the small plate of “Corn and Rice” hearing that this, too, is a must have. This was laughable. I was expecting something a little more robust than this. But it was okay. It sure as heck wasn’t $12 okay, but it was decent. But I felt like I’d just eaten air. In fact, I kind of did, considering a third of the dish was foam. I know, you’re probably thinking that I didn’t order enough. Well, at most places, two small plates are usually enough. And when you look at the cost of them, a combined $24 worth of food should be plenty. 

The other three dishes were “Surf and Turf” times two, and the “Steak and Potatoes.” Here they are: 

The Surf and Turf was (slightly overcooked) halibut with black lentils, and the “turf” of this dish was crumbled chorizo, which I had a hard time actually finding to pick out when I tasted this. 

Meanwhile, the Steak and Potatoes was probaby the best thing, according to my friend, since I didn’t try it.   Although the portion was so tiny, this should have been a $15 small plate.

Now on to dessert. It was a hot day and when we read there was a watermelon and mint dessert, it sounded amazing. Well, it wasn’t. This provided the second laughable point in the evening. The blueberries were pickled. Yes, pickled. I like almost anything pickled, but these were just plain wrong. And the watermelon consisted of those three tiny cubes, barely bigger than the blueberries. The panna cotta was maybe a quater of a cup, and the gelato was about a teaspoon size. At $10 I felt like I’d been scammed.


All that being said, I would like to give this place another shot, especially since other friends have had good experiences, although they weren’t there as some joeblow off the street, but chefs and other folks Localis clearly wants to impress. 

So, in closing, here are my thoughts. Way, way over priced for what you get. They may have changed this since I was there a couple weeks ago… At least, I’m hoping. Don’t go there hungry. I ended up having to eat a couple hours later. The battle cry of the night was “foam is not food.” The ambience is still lovely on the patio, and I suspect service and experience are different when you sit at the bar, as is the case at many restaurants. The food wasn’t as great as I was expecting, but again, sometimes it can take a while to work out the kinks. The service was slow, but non-intrusive. My two biggest complaints were that the server was very unclear when talking about the menu, and it took over 20 minutes to get our check after we requested it. 

Bottom line: It’s overpriced, under portioned, and the flavors are just slightly off for me. I left feeling a bit ripped off. But again, I will give it another shot another day down the road.





Sac Brew Bike

When I first heard bout the brew bike, I thought it sounded kind of dumb. I mean, if I wanted to do a pub crawl bike ride, I could do that any day on my own bike with my fiends. But I kept seeing it around town, lights flashing, music booming, filled with people laughing and looking like they were having a grand time. So when it was suggested to some friends at a birthday party, they agreed. So we decided to go for it… and it was a total gas!  

We picked the three hour ride that began at 6:00pm. With our paty of six was a birthday party that filled out the remainder of the seats (15 seats total, with a rear seat that does not cycle and seats three). Meeting at the “headquarters” on 19th between O and P, we quickly selected seats and I plugged in my iPhone to deejay, starting us off with some Taylor Swift. As we started pedaling down 19th, the sing-along to TSwift began and I kind of felt like I was in Spin class! 

Our first stop was The Federalist. I love this place! The owners re-purposed shipping containers into something quite lovely! Their tile pizza oven never stops cooking. The menu also includes brunch options. Bocce ball goes on along the side, and there is plenty of seating under the shipping container ceiling. Ceiing fans keep you cool, and you can also watch the game while you sip your Mason jar of beer.

Next up was Der Biergarten, also made from shipping containers, although there, you sit outside on picnic style benches under large sun umbrellas sporting the names of various international beers. Done up in authentic(ish) German biergarten style (if you’ve never been to a Biergarten in Germany, it’ll suffice), so bring your pup here and enjoy a beautiful day! Cornhole is the main attraction here… no, it’s the pretzel. Yes, definitely the pretzel. You’ll be missing out on something amazing if you miss the pretzel. It’s a thing of beauty. 

The final stop was Tank House. This place boasts BBQ, including what they call Dirty Tots. This is from the imagination of some mad foodie genius. Crunchy on the outside, perfect-in-the-middle tater tots are topped with pulled pork, cheese, and gravy. Be sure to not have a cholesterol test scheduled that day. 

The final step is making it back to a spot that’s convenient for the driver to take the bikes back to their sleeping place for the night. 

Things to know: Seats are adjustable. Be sure to fully engage the cotter pin and buckle in. There is storage for your purses and bags. If you want to deejay, sit closest to the driver. Yes, there is a sober driver who steers and brakes the behemoth of a bike. At each stop you have about 40-45 minutes. You still have to purchase your beer at each stop. There is usually a small discount. There is no drinking on the bike itself and it’s a good idea to have some food in your stomach, because you won’t have a lot of time at the stops to have a full meal. Water and Go Girl (they’re a sponsor) are available. Tips for the driver are appreciated. Your sit bones will be sore the next day!

Overall, I think it’s worth it! Lots of fun meeting new people, hanging with your friends, and doing somethig different. 

In addition to Sac Brew Bike is Off the Chain, which, from what I can gather, is a fully chartered, motorized bike that caters to your desires and itinerary… I’m anxious to try that one next!


Lou’s Sushi

As if Sacramento needed another sushi joint… but we need Lou’s. We need Lou’s like a drunk needs a forty. This place is spectacular and after just one visit, has become my favorite place for sushi. It’s neighborly, friendly, and comfortable. Lacking in distractions in the form of televisions, guests are encouraged to actually talk to each other! Gasp!

Lou’s has taken over the corner of P and 28th previously occupied by Una Mas. Is that chain still around? At any rate, it is tiny, but with high ceilings and some cool industrial art adorning the walls with changing LED lights behind said art, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

Starting off with miso soup is always a good idea, right? And this would be no exception. It was unlike any miso I’d had at a sushi joint. Packed with miso, seaweed, and tofu, it wasn’t your average, run-of-the-mill, watery miso you’d get at a lesser place.

I had the very good fortune of landing here on a Tuesday, which is all day happy hour. Yes, you read that right. Rolls, drinks, and all kinds of goodness await you at 8:30 on a Tuesday night. I was the lucky recipient of the BTS: Grilled albacore in a ponzu sauce and a healthy sprinkling of jalapeno peppers. And no, I have no idea why it’s called the BTS since none of the ingredients actually start with a “B,” “T”, or “S.” But who cares. This thing is delicious.


As for the roll, I tried the Midtown. Panko crusted fried spicy tuna and avocado, with sriracha, sweet sauce and some scallions. I mean, seriously, can you go wrong with those ingredients? Well, I’m sure you could, but Lou’s didn’t. The tuna was quite spicy, but not over powering. However, more delicate [insert: wimpy] palates may prefer a less capsaicin-laced roll.


May I suggest the Roy-G-Biv, which is a nerd’s way of saying “Rainbow Roll.” Not a nerd, you say? It’s the colors of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. There. Now you can’t say I only ever talk about food. Or the classic California Roll. This isn’t a boring California Roll, however. Lou’s uses real crab, not that weird, fake, stick-meat you commonly find occupying the space real crab should be.

As a standard practice, I always order agedashi tofu. Somewhere along the way, I decided this was going to be my litmus test for good sushi which is totally ridiculous, since it’s neither raw, nor fish. In case you’re unfamiliar with agedashi, it’s pretty much just fried tofu. Can’t screw that up, right? Well, you’d be surprised. The way it’s served can vary with each restaurant. Lou’s places the tofu in a warm soy broth and tops it with freshly grated ginger and daikon radish. The key to good agedashi, IMHO, is how crunchy it is, and when you bite into it, how much grease gushes forth to dribble down your chin, causing a path of third degree burns. Just wait until it cools down, you say? Well, that’s boring and I’m a “risk taker.” I’m happy to report, Lou’s was just how I like it. The broth wan’t too salty, nor was there too much ginger, another problem that can afflict agedashi.


Also on the table (at a different time… I love sushi, but even my tummy has limits!) were the Markimoto: spicy tuna with asparagus and albacore, sprinkled with ponzu sauce and scallions.


Also were mushroom egg rolls, perfect for anyone who doesn’t want a greasy pork eggroll.


Their nigiri is also the best of the best. I enjoy having a piece of salmon or tuna after rolls, and almost had two orders of their salmon that night. It was buttery, smooth, and flavorful. Wherever they get their fish, I want a piece of that action! Oo, I also want to try their seafood nachos, which I hear are spectacular.

Lest you think the name Lou was chosen by a Japanese guy who idolized Lou Reed and landed on that name while trying to find an American name, Lou looks like he’d be more at home in a pizza joint in Brooklyn, but make no mistake, this guy knows what he’s doing. He even has a great sushi chef with the most un-decidedly non-Asian name of Igor (no, it’s pronounced Eye-gore – name that movie), who is also a huge San Jose Sharks fan.

I absolutely LOVE Lou’s and am willing to wait the 30-45 minutes it may take to get a table or sit at the bar at peak hours. What Lou’s doesn’t have is other Japanese cuisine, like soup or teriyaki, which is fine by me. They do sushi and they do it better than anyone. They also happily do take out. I got enough for my family of out of towners and it was perfect.

Overall impression: 4.5/5
Price: $$/$$$$$

Lou’s Sushi
2801 P Street

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LouSushi
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lousushi
Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/lous-sushi-sacramento

Oh, Mother!

This isn’t your mom’s vegetarian food… oh wait, actually, it is. Mother at 10th and K makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about vegetarian and vegan food. In a former life, the space was occupied by Blimpie. I find that moderately hilarious.

The space has been revamped with a hip interior covered in chalkboards with tables laid with mismatched silverware and repurposed wine bottles for water, fresh lavender-infused lemonade or kombucha on tap. If Mother were a person, she’d be a hipster lesbian in flannel, chapstick, and Chucks, with a VW beetle and homemade cheese, which was somehow made to be vegan. And I mean that as compliment. Headed by Mike Thiemann, the former chef at one of my absolute favorites, Ella, this is seriously good food, regardless of your personal level of crunchiness.


After agonizing over the menu, we decided to do the Chef’s Sampler, which consists of 10 total dishes: eight savory and two sweet.


Starting at the top left is cheesy roasted potatoes with shaved truffles. Next to that is roasted cauliflower and broccoli with harissa. Then comes their watanabe salad: avocado with hearts of palm. Below that is chili verde. Below the chili verde are mushroom hot wings. To the immediate left is their housemade foccacia with roasted garlic puree and chickory slaw. Then comes huaruche. Finally, in the middle is roasted asparagus with chimichurri.

Okay, the cheesy potatoes were splendid. I love truffles and the amount of shaved truffle was just perfect. It wasn’t overwhelming, and they didn’t skimp on the truffle. I really enjoyed the roasted cauliflower, as well. The harissa really livened up the roasted cauliflower, while the broccoli added a wonderful crunch to the experience. Of these, the avocado and heart of palm were my least favorite. It’s a delightful idea, and gorgeous to gaze upon. It includes Miner’s lettuce and red onion, and is served with a lemon vinaigrette that was far too not lemony for my citrus crazed taste. A little bit of salt and pepper may have livened this up a bit. The chili verde… roasted potato, pinto beans, hominy, smoked pickled peppers and a touch of mozzarella. I’m not a big fan of this kind of dish, and would probably not order it, but I’m so very glad I experienced it with this Chef’s Choice spread! Okay, but I have to rush past to get to the mushroom hotwings. Wonderfully crunchy, with a texture that will make wonder why you ever ate real wings in the first place, these were at the top of my fave list. Served in the classic style with a ranch-style dressing, carrots, and celery, I’d want these for my Super Bowl party! Now to the foccacia. Holy heck this was delish! I can’t even begin to express how much I loved this bread. It had the perfect amount of crunch, the mushrooms were cooked perfectly, and the chicory salad was to die for.

I need a break. Whew. Okay.

Next is the huarache with green chiles, mushrooms, black eye peas, and buffalo cheese. If you’ve never experienced huarache, you must! It’s like a savory polenta cake topped with all sorts of goodness. And finally… the roasted asparagus with chimichurri. The heat on this was a nice addition. The asparagus was a bit overdone for my taste, but I like it almost raw.

And finally… dessert!

IMG_1510 IMG_1509

Carrot cake with toasted quinoa, candied almonds and fromage blanc. On the right is the signature brown butter cookie with sea salt. Both of these were delicious. The sea salt is just such a nice complement to the brown butter. The carrot cake also had coriander, hence the cilantro… they’re all about the life cycle of a plant, apparently, which I loved.

Honestly, while making this post, I looked over the menu and declared that I can hardly wait to return. There were items like their nut burger, spaghetti, and chicken fried mushroom po-boy… oh! and fried okra, that will make me return to Mother as quickly as I can!

Bottom line: Get your butt to Mother!

Price: $$/$$$$
Ambience: 2/5 (It’s not super fancy, but it’s quite comfortable)
Service: 4.5/5 (They’re super friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful)

1023 K Street
(916) 594-9812
Open until 11 on the weekend, 10 otherwise. Closed Sunday. Dinner only Saturday. Lunch only Monday.


Blackbird, Redux

After an abrupt and unceremonious closure last Fall, Blackbird reopened last Wednesday, February 26th, with the slightly altered, and more apropos name of Blackbird Kitchen + Beer Gallery. When I heard they were closing, the only emotion I could say I felt was utter, total, and immense despair. Despondent, [sarcasm: on] I found myself trying my best to enjoy dishes at other establishments, like Ella and Magpie. Tough, I know. [Sarcasm: off.] So when I read that they were reopening, I was happy. No, ecstatic! No, fricking elated! Yes, one of my favorite cold bars was coming back! And come back they have… maybe not with a vengeance, but they have returned.

On a rainy evening, I was greeting with rockstar parking across the street and two lovely men opening Blackbird’s doors for me. I’d heard there were some slight changes to the interior, but nothing too dramatic to make you think you’ve stepped into the wrong restaurant. Along the side wall now sit long, low benches, instead of the high tops that existed there before. Bar seating has been significantly increased with this simple alteration. Also different were the seats in the far back. Inhabiting that space are large, irregularly cut wooden bar height tops.

Seated in the balcony at one of two tables overlooking the space, you truly get a “bird’s eye” view of the place. Seating has also been increased up here, with benches along the back wall. I was presented with more menus than I can count: beer, food, wine, and drinks. Not quite as expansive and obnoxious as The Cheesecake Factory, with the beer selections outstripping the food choices. Yowza! I am not as much of a beer drinker as I am a wine fan, so I was pleased to see the wide variety of beer, particularly local ones, and a selection of ciders; I was sure to find something of interest, and I found many things!


This is two-sided!

Perusing the menu, I had a hard time figuring out what to order. There are still some of the old favorites like fish tacos and Arctic char, with some new beef additions, including a vegan dish of wild mushrooms and toasted oats. Oysters are still on the menu, but only one kind. I don’t know if this will be a rotating selection, or if they’ll always have kumamotos. I am hoping for more in the future.

Tonight started with some sparkling wine. They have four on the menu, three available by the glass. One of the two we wanted wasn’t deemed cold enough, so an alternative was brought up. Instead of the Chandon, we received a Varichon & Clerc blanc de blanc, which was fine by me.


For food, first up was Captain’s Chowder, a popular holdover from the original menu. Populated with potatoes, pollock, calamari rings, mussels, and clams, this chowder is rife with variety. However, don’t expect it to be overflowing. The broth is delightful, with a slightly smoky flavor given by the clams, which are house-smoked. It’s not too thick, nor too thin, in my opinion. I prefer a brothy soup, so this suited me just fine. My system generally has a hard time with soups like this, but you’ll be happy to know, I had no problems with what I ate. Just an FYI, in case anyone else has, um, issues like I do.


From the raw portion of the menu was the also aforementioned Arctic char. I can’t remember how it was served before, but now it’s sliced ever so thin, and placed on a cream cheese sauce that’s lightly dusted with “everything bagel dust.” The char is topped with black roe. The flavors on this were good, and the textures interesting. I particularly enjoyed the bagel dust for its interesting crunch.


Next was seared Hawaiian butterfish. Butterfish is also known as waloo/walu. It was served with a pillar of daikon with sprouts, some bok choy in a shallow lake of kombu lily broth. I kind of wanted a spoon for the broth! Can you tell I’m a fan of broths and soups?! The butterfish had a nice, slightly crunchy exterior, and was just enough raw in the middle.


After all this, I was still feeling a little munchy. So instead of dessert, I decided to try the grilled Caesar salad. I’d been craving a Caesar for a while, for utter unknown reasons, and this, unfortunately, did nothing to curb my craving. Why? Because it’s not a traditional Caesar. The trimmed head of lettuce itself is slapped on a grill for a little bit, so it gets a really interesting flavor from the grilling. This also means it’s not cold, so you miss that crunch and temperature. It had a too small dollop of dressing off to the side, and barely any cheese. In lieu of anchovies, Blackbird used fried night smelt. I’m not a big fan of whole fish and refuse to eat them. I tried a piece, but the breading was awkward and they’re just  too big for me.


This soft open wasn’t without its kinks. But then again, soft opens never are. I didn’t see any familiar faces from before, not that I was expecting to. The servers need a bit more training on the menu and booze, and I’d like to see more desserts and maybe a pizza or two. But I do like their new bar menu that features nachos, tempura, fish tacos, and a burger. I miss the fries, though, and the other seafood items, since I am pescetarian. I don’t know about a happy hour, but I hope they’ll do one! I also was very irritated when my bill came and I was charged for an amount I saw nowhere on the menu. Turns out, they don’t list the price of a pint, the most common size to order, but include three other sizes.

Overall, Blackbird’s new menu and feel reflect their move away from seafood, towards a more robust feel that can stand up to the beer. I have a feeling this will continue to evolve and change until they can truly hit their stride. But, because Carina is such an innovator, who knows where that will be? I, for one, look forward to seeing how Blackbird 2.0 comes into its own.

Dad’s Kitchen

Oh, Dad. How I’m so very sorry I never met you until now. Dad’s Kitchen is an amazing, fun, homey place to drink yourself into beer heaven. I had no idea just how extensive their beer selection was until I saw it for myself. Unfortunately, this post has absolutely nothing to do about beer, but I’m sure I’ll partake in their beer at some point, and post a glowingly drunken review. But today, I’m going to posting a glowingly fat review.

With the closure of two of my brunch staples, Restaurant Thir13en, and the eclectic Bows & Arrows, I lost two of my favorite brunch spots in one fell swoop. However, now that I’ve experienced Dad’s, I will most certainly end up there with friends and family.

Receiving a text at 8:30 am on a Saturday may seem criminal to some, but I was awake, and since it was from a very close friend of mine, I decided to take a break from Words With Friends and see what she wanted. And what she wanted to grab brunch there. Awesome! I thought. I’d never been there and had been wanting to give it a go. So, off I went.

Located off busy Freeport Blvd, which is also 21st, in case you’re wondering, parking can be tricky. But try your luck along the residential streets nearby if you can’t get one of the coveted spots in the parking lot directly in front. Oh, speaking of which, there’s a Pilates/spinning/barre/who-knows-what-else studio right next door if you feel the need to work off some of your indulgence at Dad’s, Subway (or not), Freeport Bakery, or Marie’s Doughnuts, all of which, are within twenty steps. Dangerous days, we’re in, people!


Dad’s has an awesome back patio, which is enclosed and armed with heat lamps for cooler weather and fans in the warmth. I do suppose it also expertly keeps away pesky flies, mosquitoes and other sorts of flying rodentia. A roll-up door separates the bar from the patio, considerably opening up the place.


One of the coolest things about Dad’s is that they use grass-fed beef, local produce, free range, organic… pretty much everything a hipster could ask for. This can, however, cause a bit of confusion when the hamburger comes out a wee bit pink in the middle. Apparently this is caused by the fact that the beef is grass-fed and something about the oxidation. I don’t know the veracity of this explanation, but I’m going with it. If any of my dozen readers know the answer, please elucidate!

At any rate, here’s what was on the table that morning!

Coffee (with creamer served out of baby bottles… not quite sure what they’re saying about us who use creamer!) that was really great (I had two cups, and was still able to go to bed that night, miraculously), a mimosa, and a bloody mary(which was spicy, and a generally good bloody) were the beverages, and here are the meals… well, after the photos of the bevs…!




Meatless Marvel: A breakfast sando with hard fried eggs, avocado, tomato, and spinach, stuck to sliced sourdough bread with cheddar cheese and a pepper plant sauce, and served with their signature “breakfast tater,” which is diced potato somehow combined with garlic and/or onion, and fashioned into a large tater tot-looking thing.

Dad’s Gone South of the Border: two eggs, any style (although this was fried), atop their housemade meat or veggie chili (appropriately called “Dad’s Damn Good Chili”), home fries and cheddar, all weighing down on a poor ol’ tostada shell.

Dad’s Burger: This was apparently featured on the Food Network episode of “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.” And OH-EM-GEE. If I was eating meat, this would most definitey be something I’d be ordering! It’s a 12 oz. patty of aforementioned grass fed beef, that’s encrusted with bacon, and topped with bleu cheese, along with the usual accoutrements of tomato, lettuce, and red onion with an allepo chilip spread. Another cool thing about Dad’s? They’ve got gluten-free breads provided by Pushkin’s, located at 29th and S, although they hadn’t gotten their shipment quite yet when we were there.

Vegetarian omelette: This is a pretty standard omelette, with mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes, with jack cheese and served with homefries and one of their homemade biscuits. I had this. It wasn’t any kind of fireworks-immediately-write-home-to-mom kind of omelette, but it was yummy, cooked well, and just perfect for what I wanted. The homefries are about what you’d expect: cubes of potato with onion, bell peppers, and seasoning. I was a little disappointed in the biscuit; it was rather dry and flat. But, honestly, I didn’t care!

Bottom line, Dad’s is a fun, easy, comfortable place, with affordable food, a great waitstaff, and enough beer to keep a beer-aholic satisfied for quite some time!

Bottom line, if you’re a beer-fan, a food fan, or just a fan of comfy food, come on over to Dad’s! Next up, Mother… then Orphan. Haha.

Food: 4/5
Ambience: 2/5 (it’s a casual place!)
Cost: $$/$$$$$ (affordable, everyday kind of place!)

Dad’s Kitchen
2968 Freeport Blvd.
Sacramento, CA  95818