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.


Hock Farm Craft & Provisions

I was a fan of Spataro. I loved their happy hour and spent many an hour there with various friends. In fact, it was a spot that saw me meet new friends, say good bye to some, and introduce others. It was a place where I spent birthday parties, had impromptu knitting parties, and enjoyed drinks, dishes, and time with friends. In retrospect, it was kind of an important place for me. So when I heard they were closing, I was, of course, disappointed. However, when I visited Hock Farm Craft & Provisions, I said, “Spa-what-ar-o?”

Thanks to Cowtown Eats, I discovered Hock Farm was opening and taking reservations only for Thursday through Saturday, ahead of their grand opening. Perfect, I thought. I’m taking a special someone to see Billy Elliot at the Sacramento Community Center Theater on Saturday and it would be a perfect spot to enjoy a pre-show dinner.

Though still owned by the Paragary Restaurant Group, the entire look and feel of the restaurant has changed. The interior has had a much better facelift than Joan Rivers, and reflects the brand of Hock Farm. It is open, airy, with lots of windows. Community tables dot the center of the space, with two “chef’s tables” sitting perpendicular to the kitchen window. Where the private room of Spataro was now resides Hock Farm’s bar. I really love the new interior. It’s homey, warm, welcoming, and just generally a pleasant space.

The bar area

The entrance and bar area

The dining room

The dining room

Okay, so how’s the food? Oh-Em-Gee. That’s all I have to say.

First up, from the Bites menu:
Dressed egg. This is basically a super delicious, gourmet version of your classic deviled egg. With capers and mayo, with a perfect spot of anchovy, this was divine. I am a huge fan of deviled eggs – one of the reasons I could never be vegan! These had a wonderful side of picked golden beets, which were a nice palate cleanser and a wonderful counterpoint to the egg “stuffing.” The anchovies really made this. The filling wasn’t too heavy, like some deviled eggs can be. It was relatively light – whipped, even – and expertly seasoned.


Second, was smoked salmon croquettes. Holy hell these were tasty. With a bit of dilled creme fraiche and some chives, this was insanely yummy. Instead of the usual reaction of “where the hell is the fish,” this had clear, obvious, and visible pieces of salmon. The croquettes were perfect spheres of crunchy goodness. They weren’t greasy, but had just enough crunch to give them the textural desire of a croquette.


Next came three items off the Small Plate menu.
Of course I have to get the Macaroni and Cheese. This is made with bleu, cheddar, and parmesan cheeses, with some pieces of crispy prosciutto and sage breadcrumbs. I have had mac and cheese at several local restaurants and this does rank in the top. However, I still rank Restaurant Thir13en’s just a bit higher. The reason is because this was prepared more in the style of a pasta dish and not a casserole; I prefer the casserole. The cheese sauce was a bit runny for me and I wanted more breadcrumbs. There were a few pieces of prosciutto, which felt as though they were suddenly remembered and tossed on top, and I also felt like the breadcrumbs were tossed on immediately prior to serving, instead of baking in. This may not be a big deal to some people, but to me, it was a detracting factor. I also wish there was more of a bite. But, keep in mind, I like my mac and cheese to be baked, casserole style, and with lots of sharp, bitey, stinky cheese, which most definitely isn’t everyone’s taste. However, that being said, it was still tasty. The decision to use orchiette instead of a different kind of pasta is always a good idea with a runnier sauce, since the shape of the pasta lends itself to scooping up yummy sauce.


Second up was kampachi. Kampachi is a kind of yellow jack or amber jack and reminiscent of Tai, or red snapper, but much softer.  It is a white fish, with a mild flavor. Hock Farm prepares theirs raw (best choice), with avocado, thinly sliced red radish, a piece of celery heart, a Marcona almond, smoked sea salt, and lemon infused olive oil. All components came together for a wonderfully rich mouth feel and flavor party. The kampachi is pretty mild, but provides a gentle fishy taste, along with a firm texture. I loved the spicy feeling the radish lended, while the almond was a fabulous textural and flavor addition. The smoked sea salt was really fabulous, giving each bite a wonderfully unexpected dimension. The avocado gave unselfishly of itself. The fat content made the mouthfeel rich and sensuous, while the flavor tied all the others together. The only thing I would say about this was that you need just a little bit of avocado to accomplish this. The amount in each bite of kampachi was a bit much. Just cut it into a third and give that a try.


The final selection was Gulf Shrimp. This was served on a bed with creamy Arbuckle grits, and Tasso ham. Slightly spicy, which expertly cut through the cream of the grits, with aesthetically pleasing spirally cut shrimp, this had a delicious smoky flavor. It made me think of chipotle Tabasco sauce. By this time, I was quite full, but not to the point of hailing a wheelbarrow.


Indeed, I just enough room left for dessert. And the two-scoop gelato was it! They always have vanilla and chocolate, with a rotating third flavor. If you can get their strawberry, do it! They get their gelato from a place in Berkeley; I was sad to discover it wasn’t someplace local, so I could go there whenever I had a hankering for delicious gelato! The chocolate had little bits of chips and the strawberry was super fresh and refreshing. Put the two together and you get chocolate covered strawberries! So awesome. But if you choose this combo, get more strawberry than chocolate on your spoon! The finishing touch is a house made sugar-encrusted shortbread cookie. Is it bad that I wanted an entire sheet of these?!


I get the feeling that there are several employees of Spataro who work at Hock Farm and are accustomed to the rush that sometimes accompanies making it to a show on time, so this will still be a great place to visit pre-show.

The bar area that Spataro had separate from their restaurant space will be used by the same guy who owns BarWest. It will be a high end, high-cover charge night club, separate from Hock Farm. Hock Farm has their own happy hour, which includes a selection of artisan cocktails and about half a dozen bites.

All in all, I was extremely pleased with my experience at Hock Farm and I’m looking forward to going back and trying out some of their Large Plates!

The only “negative” I would say is that the food came out in really quick succession. However, it is because our server knew we were going to  see a show, and she thought it started earlier than it actually did. This was a nice surprise, which showed she was aware of a time constraint without anyone telling her, and if we had needed it to arrive as quickly as it did, we would have had no problem making it on time to the show.

Overall, I am so excited to go again and experience more of the menu!

Overall: 4/5

Ambience: 4/5. It was a lot noisier than Spataro, but I absolutely love the new decor.

Price: $$.5/$$$$. Each appetizer was only $5, while the small plates ran no higher than $14 for scallops. Entrees went up to $23 for the salmon and asparagus dish. Bottles of wine are also priced where you’d expect. Overall, I was very pleased with the value. Portions were generous without being overwhelming.

Service 4/5

1415 L Street
Sacramento, CA  95814


Restaurant hours
Monday-Thursday: 11am-9pm
Friday: 11am-10pm
Saturday: 5pm-10pm

Bar hours
Monday-Thursday: 11am-close
Friday: 11am-close
Saturday: 4pm-close


The new facade

The new facade

he dining room
Towards the kitchen

Towards the kitchen

Ceiling treatment

Ceiling treatment

Taste Restaurant

It’s always hard to say goodbye to friends, and even more so when they’re new friends.

It was a warm Sunday afternoon during an Indian summer that we were enjoying the patio at 58 and Holding. Next to us sat a couple reading the newspaper and soaking in the last rays of this unusually warm October day. “Excuse me, what are you drinking,” the woman asked, and with that began a friendship! New to town, Jeb and Lea accepted my list of favorite area restaurants, we exchanged information and promised to meet at one of the restaurants in a couple weeks. Since then, we have bonded over wine, food, politics, and a love for discussion… and food. Did I mention wine?

So, needless to say, we were sad when they decided to move out of state, feeling like we hadn’t had nearly enough time to go to all the restaurants and wineries this area has to offer.

Luckily, we were able to get together one of their last weekends in town for a quick trip to Amador. This excursion involved a stop at Vino Noceto – just in time for their Frivolo release! – and Amador Cellars, where we were able to experience the bottling process with our own bottle of Zinfandel. Though close to closing time, they were kind enough to let us stay to sip on a bottle of wine, nosh on the complimentary goodies they offer, chat with the wine maker, and give lots of belly rubs to the two winery doggies.

Dinner that night was the highly anticipated Taste Restaurant. Located along the main street of the tiny town of Plymouth, it is across Highway 49  from the right turn you take on Plymouth Shenandoah Valley Road to get to the wineries. I know several people who have enjoyed their food, plus they are a frequent participant in Sacramento area restaurant events.

We were early for our reservation, but had to check out the Christmas tree located across the street in the square in all its finery!


It was warm and cozy in the restaurant, a nice respite from the cold outside. This is scene at the front of the restaurant, with the bar on the right and tables to the left. We were seated in the back room, a cozy, romantically lit room with seating for no more than 40, if memory serves me correct.


I was ecstatic to discover they have both vegetarian and vegan menus, plus a gluten free one, if you need that.

IMG_7030 IMG_7031

First off, Mushroom Cigars.


Oyster mushrooms, crimini, and shiitakes wrapped up with herbs and goat cheese in phyllo dough. This was voted “Best Appetizer” by editors of Sacramento magazine… and I can see why. They were absolutely delicious. The sauce was a wonderful complement to the super umami-ness of the mushrooms, while the clover greens added a nice refreshing touch.

These were followed up with argula & persimmon salad for Jeb and Lea, which also included a healthy dose of Grimaud Farms smoked duck breast.


The sweet potato gnocchi was really yummy. This is a modern twist on the classic sage, browned butter gnocchi. This version includes house made duck and fennel sausage, pear, and winter greens. The vegetarian version just has the sausage left off.

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Roasted Grimaud Farms Guinea Hen. Winter squash gratin, crispy pork belly, Del Rio arugula, cranberry gastrique. This was certainly a healthy portion and Lea enjoyed this very much.


Pacific Swordfish. This was quite tasty, but not quite as good as I was expecting. I would say the best part of this was the flageolet beans! Broccoli romansesco added texture, while the blood orange gastrique served to tie it all together.


I ended up with a vegetarianized version of the Steak. Instead of steak, they substituted grilled squash. Otherwise, the dish stayed relatively the same, with the exception of the addition of sauteed pumpkin with shallots and crispy leeks for me. Creekstone Farms New York Steak is the meat eater version. I can’t speak to the tastiness of this guy, either, but I do know it was very much enjoyed! The rare steak sits atop a mix of red French pumpkin puree and sage risotto. The black garlic demi glace ties everything together, while the house cured bacon adds that wonderful… well, come on now. I guess you never really need a justification for adding bacon, right?


Dessert entailed Trio of Crème Brulee and two dessert wines. The featured flavors this evening were orange, persimmon, and vanilla bean. They were deliciously creamy and rich, with just the right amount of their respective flavor to really make this a wonderful dessert. The dessert wines were an orange muscat and… I can’t remember what the other one was. Oops.


The other dessert on the table was their “allergan free” selection. This was tropical green tea genoa cake, with a dollop of passion fruit sorbet on a bed of chocolate crumbs, chocolate mousse, a chocolate tuille, and finally, it is all tied up together in a nice passionfruit gel bow.


Overall, this wasn’t quite up to what I was expecting, but it did have a lot to live up to! Let’s just put it this way, I was much more disappointed by Episode I than this dining experience! The service was great, and the ambience was very intimate. Low lighting enhanced the dark wood of the dining room we were in, and there wasn’t an abundance of ambient noise – I like it when I don’t have to yell or read lips. It’s pretty much the opposite of the modernist decorations of some spots. I will definitely be back!

Overall: 3.5/5
Price: $$$$/$$$$$
Service: 4.5/5
Food: 3.5/5
Ambience: 3.5/5

Taste Restaurant
9402 Main Street
Plymouth, CA  95669
Phone: 209.245.DINE (3463)


The Red Rabbit Kitchen + Bar

In a building with several other restaurants, you really have to distinguish yourself from the other guys. Red Rabbit is the newest kid on the block along J Street between 27th and 28th Streets. A veritable stripmall of restaurants and night life, with spots like Harlow’s, Blue Cue, and Bar West, The Red Rabbit Kitchen + Bar fits right in. Located in the spot vacated by Red Lotus, the new owners haven’t had to make very many changes to update the look or feel of the place. If you didn’t make it to Red Lotus, the main focal point of the entire restaurant is its huge semi-circle bar, where the bartenders of Red Rabbit mix up hand crafted libations to clamoring guests. They’ve also removed the low tables to the right of the bar and replaced them with hi-tops. The space also boasts a fabulous patio out back with a bar to serve folks out there.

On this particular visit, it was a snap decision to go there. We had made plans to attend their grand opening the week before, but that fell through and I was anxious to give it a go.

When we arrived at about 7:45 (this was a Friday night), the wait was only about 20 minutes, which made my grumbling stomach delighted to hear. We decided to grab a drink and sit at the bar. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot of room there; apparently everyone else had the exact same idea. It took a while to get anyone’s attention, and when we finally did get to order a drink, we were being seated. This, however, was no big deal for me. They were extremely busy and I think the bartenders were still getting used to some of the drink recipes (I saw mine stealing glances to his cheat sheet). They’ve separated the drinks into four categories: Bright and Tart, Juicy, Bitter, and Rich. The two drinks at the table tonight were the Army Navy: gin, lemon, and orgeat. The other was the Chappelle Cocktail: gin, sweet vermouth, falernum, pineapple, and lime. They fit very well into their respective categories of bright and tart, and juicy.

For appetizers, the Portobello Frites and Vegetarian Spring Rolls. The frites weren’t quite what I was expecting. They were crunchy and not too oily, but there was an excess of flour. It almost tasted mealy. I would have preferred a panko crust. I also thought that the portobellos kind of got lost in the dish… like a five year old in her mom’s dress. Maybe shiitakes would be better? But that might also be a little too meaty. What the breading did do was add a really pleasant textural contrast. They were perfectly seasoned and served atop an arugula base, which was really yummy.

The spring rolls were a tad bland on their own, so the ponzu sauce was just what the doctor ordered. It was a little light on the quantity, so I definitely would have liked more of it.

For the main dishes: Beer and Onion Soup Cheese Melt with fries, and The Ramen. The melt is a sandwich, so don’t think it’s some kind of soup and sandwich combo, even though the description on the menu says, “beer braised onion soup.” This is a portable version of onion soup. Carmelized onions and melted gruyere cheese are between two slices of toasted sourdough. Unfortunately, this was a bit of a disappointment. The onions completely overpowered any other flavors that may have been present and there was a deficiency of cheese. The french fries that accompanied the sandwich were only slightly better than In ‘n Out’s in their crispy factor.

The Ramen was very good. With vegan noodles made from Sacramento’s “Pasta” Dave Brochier, they were excellent. He is the main reason I ordered this! The first time I met him, he crafted a fabulous dish just for me and I fell in love with his pasta. The Ramen also included a good amount of shrimp and shiitake mushrooms, green onions, and just the right amount of ginger. The portion size was generous, the broth really tasty and savory, though a teeny bit on the salty side, although I’ve never complained about that in a dish! I definitely liked this the best of the four dishes I’d tried.

Overall, there is room for improvement, but I will definitely be back to see how it progresses. Expect more blog posts about Red Rabbit from me!

The most expensive thing on the menu is $18 and from what I understand, it’s enough to make a couple meals. The idea is to be a comfortable, affordable spot for locals to frequently enjoy without breaking the bank.

2718 J Street

The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

The Press Bistro

Let me just begin by saying I really do like this place. It’s comfortable, casual, and never disappoints. The food is fresh, sustainably sourced, and always delicious.

Located across the street from Paesano’s, with Zocalo for its next door neighbor, The Press is in the space previously occupied by Dragonfly. I’d never been to Dragonfly, but I had heard the spot was a difficult one… I don’t see The Press going anywhere anytime soon. The menu is well designed, the prices aren’t outrageous, the ambience is pleasant, and most importantly, the service and food are superb.

On this night, we had had the challenging task of figuring out a place to eat on a Saturday night, thanks to The Broiler debacle, and arrived around 8:45. The place was definitely packed, with a wait of about 45 minutes for a table. But we weren’t fazed. One of the genius things The Press has is seating at its bar, and the surrounding area. There’s a large community table that seats about 16, plus tables lining the window. A large party had just left the community table, leaving several spots available. This is a great place to sit and enjoy your meal… and who knows, you might end up meeting some new people, which is exactly what happened! After enjoying some time with our dates, and slyly eyeing what the others were ordering, we finally met the fabulous and uniquely named duo of Langston and Hirondina. Langston is named after the poet Langston Hughes, while Hirondina is named after a songbird native to Africa. So don’t be wary of community tables; they can be the source of some unexpected fun!

Not only is the food fabulous, but the mixologists have created some artisan cocktails that you would be hard “pressed” (haha. okay. sorry) to find anywhere else.

The Press menu is crafted so that you can enjoy a selection of tapas or appetizers, which include salads, soups, and items like crispy calamari, and gnocchi. They also serve their pasta in large or small sizes, in addition to full size entrees. This makes it perfect to mix up your meal and try a variety of dishes. Go for some tapas, a small pasta, and an entree. Or maybe two appetizers, and two small pastas… or one tapas and an entree! Mix it up, have some fun, and warn your taste buds they’re in for a treat!

The Press menu

I definitely like their tapas menu which are 1 for $4 or 3 for $10. There are 9-10 things from which to choose… tonight was goat cheese stuffed piquillo peppers, crab and parmesan arancini, and roasted beets with goat cheese. They’re the perfect size to share between two people and serve as a fabulous appetizer. They also have other delectable dainties like bacon and onion crostini, marinated olives, and fried meatballs with a garlic yogurt sauce.

The other thing I like about The Press is their ridiculously affordable house wine. An entire 1 liter carafe of their house white is only $18 and is really quite tasty. I’m not as big of a fan of their red, but I definitely do like the white.

As for our entree, this was a no-brainer… pan seared scallops with mushrooms, sun choke puree, and truffle butter. A limited time dish specifically for Valentine’s Day, I’m definitely hoping this becomes a regular on the menu! The scallops were cooked to perfection, crunchy on the outside, thanks to the searing, and sweet and delicate in the middle. The mushrooms were crimini, shiitakes, and oysters… a trifecta of deliciousness! The meaty texture and flavor of the shiitakes, the medium firmness of the criminis, and the unique flavor and texture of the oyster mushrooms combined to make a perfect, umami-ful complement to the scallops. Pulling it all together was a sun choke puree that I could have eaten on toast! The black truffle butter with a hint of fennel, chives and leeks, brought the entire dish to an inhumane level. Okay, that may be hyperbole, but I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. I judge a restaurant on its scallops and The Press passes with flying colors! The only criticism I have is that I wanted some thick bread, like focaccia, to sop up the sauce!

But we were missing one! So we got a lone scallop delivered to us. In’t it cute?

You can't escape my evil clutches!

The whole family… dish complete!

The complete family of four.

For dessert, meyer lemon pie with whipped cream. This did not disappoint. It was tart, yet sweet. The whipped cream added a nice smoothness and neutrality to cut through any residual tartness you may feel on your tongue. I judge pies and pizzas based on the crust… this was one of the best crusts I’ve had. To drink with this, we had two drinks:  a Domaine Fontanel Rivesaltes Ambre and a Ben Rye ’07. The former was all caramel and burnt sugar. The latter, in one word, delicious. It was all apricot and reminded me of a fruit roll up. Made from the Italian varietal called the zibbibo, it is similar to a muscato, so is quite sweet and a wonderful aperitif. I loved this. Obviously.

Langston and Hirondina ordered the other dessert we were eyeing, winter citrus creme brulee, and were kind enough to let us try it. This was really awesome. It had the traditional crunchy top, but the custard had the flavor of a lemon cake, with the smooth texture of pudding, yet was firm enough to stand up to the crunch. There was a dance of burnt orange and sugar flavors. The vanilla custard was taken to a different level with the delightful zing of citrus to make this no ordinary creme brulee! I kind of think that the acidity of the citrus cut through the fat of the creme brulee, kind of like how a sauvignon blanc does that with higher fat dishes.

Bottom line, I love this place. Be sure to sit outside when the weather gets nice. Oh, I should add that once when I was there, Mayor Kevin Johnson and Michelle Rhee were also having dinner! I guess they know the good places, too! The owner/chef wanders the dining room, making sure everyone is enjoying their meals, but he is also in the trenches cooking and delivering food to tables!

They don’t have a happy hour right now, nor are they open for lunch, and are closed Mondays. Reservations aren’t available online, but they generally do take them over the phone.
They also have a special 3-course dinner on Sunday for $25 a person, 5-9. I’m hoping to try this some day soon!

Overall: 4/5
Price: $$/$$$$
Ambience: 4/5 (can be a bit loud)
Food: 4.5/5
1809 Capital Ave


The Press Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon

Magpie Cafe

The yellow-billed magpie, native to this part of California, is from a family of birds purported to be one of the most intelligent animals… smart and lovely, what a fabulous combination! Magpie Caterers also combines two wonderful qualities: a casual, comfortable environment, with simply delicious food.

Located in the mixed use building at 15th and R Streets, its cuisine is American, local, seasonal, and fresh. The menu changes daily, but doesn’t deviate so much that you’ll never see your favorites again.

Menu from 2.2.12

If you are there for lunch, the menu is posted on this pillar. All you need to do is belly on up to the case, make your order, and have a seat! They’ll give you a number and bring your meal to you.

The Case

For dinner, take a seat wherever you’d like. One of the servers will present you with menus and take excellent care of you during your stay.

Green salad with winter squash vinaigrette. Greens, fennel, watermelon radish, and toasted pepita. I enjoyed this salad, but there was a bit too much dressing for my taste. I’d rather have too little than too much and ask for more. However, the toasted pepita was a great textural addition, while the fennel and radish added just enough flavor variation to keep it from being a standard issue baby greens salad.

Wild mushroom and runner bean ragout. Hedge hog mushrooms, cannellini beans, tiny potatoes, winter squash, herbs and marsala sauce. I was expecting this to come with bread, rice, or some other kind of accompaniment that would sop up the very delicious sauce. But then I rethought that and figured the added starch might have been just a bit much.

Chicken with Meyer lemon. Crispy pan-seared breast and confit leg with an heirloom bean and meyer lemon sauce. It’s great that they created this dish so diners can try this organic chicken two ways and experience the differences that preparation and flavor can have on a dish. The sweet meyer lemon pulls together the two styles, while the cannellini beans, neutral in flavor, serve as a nice base and textural variation.

These are something that you absolutely must have when you go to Magpie. Carrot cake cookies! They are rather large, so you might want to split this with someone… or not! The cookies are soft, moist, and perfectly carrot-y, while the filling is a delicious glop of cream cheese frosting goodness. I’ll take this over almost any slice of carrot cake from any bakery.

Overall, I have always enjoyed my meals at Magpie. They serve excellent food without being pretentious or snobby. It’s comfortable, cozy, and the perfect place for a weekday meal with friends.

They open at 7:30am Monday through Friday and serve breakfast until it’s gone! They also do happy hour from 3-6 Monday-Friday with discounts on select glasses of wine, beer, and appetizers.

As their name indicates, they are a catering company as well.

When it’s nice outside, enjoy the patio right outside its front doors. With the varied businesses in the building, there is always good people watching!

Bottom line: Another of my Sacramento favorites!

Overall: 4/5
Food: 4/5
Price: $$/5

1409 R Street
Phone: 916-452-7594

Magpie Caterers Market and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuli Bistro – Brunch

Located on the corner of 21st and S, Tuli Bistro has established itself as a neighborhood “go-to” spot… a place where denizens regularly visit. Many of the employees have been there a while, so you’re almost always guaranteed to see a familiar face. The menu changes daily, and features seasonal, local fare. One of the great things about Tuli is their open kitchen style. Grab a seat at the bar and watch them create your meal from start to finish. This bar seats about a dozen or so, with two other high top tables available for parties of two. The “dining room” is more like a sun room. It remains comfortable year-round though, thanks to the heat lamps that warm it in the winter and ceiling fans for the summer months. Heavy coverings roll open to fully secure the open space between the roof and the railing. It works great to keep out both the rain and hot sun. When the weather is nice, it’s a fabulous place to enjoy a glass of wine and sit outside, without actually sitting outside.

The inside bar

Outside dining room

Tuli is the elder sibling of Restaurant Thir13en, so you’ll see some familiar sounding dishes on the menu if you’ve ever been to 13. They are equally delicious, but very different dining experiences, with Tuli being the more casual place you might regular, and Thir13en being a little fancier and reserved for a special night.

I’ve eaten dinner and brunch several times at Tuli over the years, and it never ceases to impress. The waitstaff is well trained and attentive, presentation is fabulous, and if you ever receive anything that isn’t up to snuff, they will gladly return it from whence it came and make sure you are the happiest you could be with your order.

One of the best things about Tuli’s Sunday brunch? Bottomless mimosas! At $9 a pop with the purchase of an entrée, this is one of the best deals in Sacramento. Before you say, holy cow, how is that a deal? these mimosas aren’t made with Cook’s and Sunny D… Nope! These mimosas consist of Odwalla orange juice and a delicious cava.

Bottomless mimosas FTW!

Brunch menu

I had it on good advice to get the trout benedict. This was amazing. I’m a sucker for a light, lemon-y Hollandaise sauce and this did not disappoint. With thick cut brioche serving as the base, the poached eggs, with a sprinkling of chives and paprika, perched atop a large and long filet of expertly cooked trout. This was all brought together by the aforementioned Hollandaise sauce, of which there was, delightfully, no shortage. Accompanying the benedict was a side of home fries. If you happen to get this, do be cautious of bones. It’s difficult to completely debone a fish like this, so just be on the lookout!

Trout Benedict

The other dish was cheesy grits. Not only were they cheesy, but had a kick like a small mule, so beware, all you non-iron clad stomach sufferers. You might want to have the Prilosec on hand! I also am a sucker for cheesy grits, or grits of just about any hue. These were sticky and thick… just the way I like ‘em! The cheese wasn’t over powering and added just the right amount of savory. Included were two eggs, any style. I went with scrambled. Perhaps next time I’ll get them poached or over medium. Sauteed onions, roasted red peppers, shrimp, tomatoes, and hot links (I got these on the side) completed the dish. This was also extremely filling, but luckily reheats very well, which was good because I ate these grits for a couple of (glorious) days!

Cheesy Grits

Overall, Tuli is an excellent place to go for a great, comfortable meal. They serve lunch and dinner, and brunch on Sundays. It’s pretty affordable, but if it is out of your price range, they do participate in Sacramento Dine Downtown Week if you’d like to take advantage of that.

Adam also does catering for parties of any size, so keep that in mind when you’re looking for someone to feed your group!

Bottom line, Tuli is one of my favorites… a fabulous place to go when I just feel like going out.

Overall: 4.5/5

Price: $$$/5

Ambience: 4.5/5

Note: They do not take reservations. Open seating at the bar. Lunch served Mon-Fri. Sunday brunch only from 9:30-2:00. Dinner 7 days (starts at 5:00 on Sat and Sun).

1031 S Street (on the corner of 21st and S, across from Rite Aid)


Tuli Bistro on Urbanspoon

The Firehouse Restaurant

I have fond memories of the Firehouse. It was the first really nice place I went to after moving to Sacramento. I’ve enjoyed family dinners, and dinner with some great people (non-relatives, not that my family isn’t great!). It was where a complete stranger bought me a bottle of 1995 Merryvale Profile as a birthday gift. On this occasion, which wasn’t a real occasion, other than to experience some fabulous food, I enjoyed the January Chef’s Tasting Menu with paired wines.

Located on Second Street, between K and L, it’s easy to get to and has valet parking available for a relatively small amount. Otherwise there is metered parking along the street that is monitored until six, I believe.

If you’ve never been to the Firehouse, it has a very unique decor. It is heavy and dark, with super-sized prints decorating the walls. I liken it to the salon of a wealthy Victorian nobleman… but never fear, there are no heads, furs, or shotguns next to these prints. It’s velvet, mahogany, deep red and just the type of place to go for an amazing meal, service, and wine. The booths against the wall are half moon-shaped, and set comfortably apart, so you can easily enjoy your meal without having to worry about your neighbor pulling a Samwise Gamgee and eavesdropping. These are also very cushy, which is good, since you’ll want to settle in and enjoy this dining experience!

Place setting

First came an amuse bouche of warm carrot and coconut soup garnished with parsley. It was sweet and perfect to prepare the mind and stomach!

Amuse bouche

Next up (not on the Tasting Menu) were half dozen oysters and sparkling wine, which was a delicious Brut from Argentina. My complaint with these was that they were a bit too large. In this case, bigger is definitely NOT better.

Oysters and sparkling wine

First course: Parsnip-apple bisque with calvados syrup and prosciutto-apple fritter paired with a 2007 Pio Cesare Moscato d’Asti. If you’ve never had this kind of wine, be sure to at some point. It is refreshing, light, and pairs excellently with intensely rich flavors. Its effervescence and acidity cut through the richness (insert: fat)  of this bisque and brought umami to the fore.

Parsnip-Apple Bisque

Second course: Layer “cake” beet salad with roasted beets and chevre-shallot mousseline, candied pecans, watercress and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette. Paired with a 2010 Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara D.O.P. I loved this salad. The flavors and textures melded and mixed together perfectly, with the sweetness of the beets counterpointed by the tart pomegranate, and the crunchy pecans balanced by the creamy chevre. The wine, a tart sparkling red, worked surprisingly well. I’d never had a sparkling red like this, and I’m not sure I’d have it again, but it was excellent here.

"layer cake" beet salad

“Layer,” because…

Next came a palate-cleansing intermission of pomegranate sorbet. The serving size was a bit much and made me feel like I was already at dessert. It also cooled off my mouth a bit too much. But then again, who cares, it was delicious!

Pomegranate sorbet

Third Course: Duck with huckleberries. Pan roasted duck breast with toasted coriander and fennel seed, yam gratinee with tarragon beurre rouge. Paired with a 2009 Bonneau Sangiacomo vineyard Pinot Noir from Carneros. Artfully presented, it was… well… ducky. But not the way I remembered duck. It wasn’t at all gamey, but was rich and fatty. It came complete with skin and fat, from which I completely stayed away, but I tried some of the meat, and the accoutrements were quite nice. This was probably my least favorite of the courses. The paired wine was a lovely deep red ruby, that started out complex, but ended up a wee bland at the end. However, it was one of those American wines that stands up well on its own. I would have liked to enjoy a glass of this by itself.

Duck with huckleberries

Fourth course: Chargrilled filet mignon with wild mushroom demi-glace, bacon leek bread pudding and brussel sprouts. Paired with a 2008 Edge Cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Filet mignon

My version was made with a gigantic and ridiculously delicious scallop. This was also fabulous. Since I’m such a big fan of mushrooms, I loved the demi-glacé and the brussel sprouts were also an excellent addition, giving it just a bit of crunch with the mushrooms. But what took the proverbial cake was the bacon-leek “bread pudding” that served as the foundation for this building of gastronomic delight. Perfect chunks of bacon (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself!) were suspended in pillowy soft, savory bread. I ended up eating this for lunch the next day… and it was STILL delightful. If you go to the Firehouse and this is on the menu, I highly recommend it. The filet wasn’t quite as good, but the last time I had a bite of filet was at The Kitchen, so this may be a slightly unfair comparison! The paired wine was kind of meh; I think it was too young. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that they’d include a 2008 on this menu. I’d lay down a bottle like this for at least a couple more years.

Scallop with mushroom demi glacé

Final course: Tres leches de chocolate. Chocolate three-milks’ cake with butter pecan crust, port fruit compote and a vanilla anglaise. Paired with a 1927 sherry from Pedro Ximenez Solera from Montilla-Moriles. This was one of the thickest, most flavorful sherries I’d ever tasted. The legs on this were longer than Cindy Crawford’s! It was viscous, and had the color of motor oil (a good thing!) and had an intense, but not unpleasant, black licorice flavor. With the dessert, it was brown sugar on my face. This cake was extremely rich, and for someone who isn’t the biggest chocolate fan, a bit much, even with the anglaise. However, if you are a choco-holic, this is most definitely the dessert for you! I had about half of it and called it a night.

Tres leches de chocolate

To end the meal, as if you can stuff any more into your belly (no images of Mr. Creosote, please!), a pistachio orange blondie cookie. I very much enjoyed this little bit of crunchy neutrality as I cried “Uncle” for the evening.

Sweet ending

The Firehouse is a perfect locale to mark an Anniversary, get engaged, or to celebrate just about anything. They have a lovely courtyard area that also serves as a wedding/reception venue and is a great place for lunch during the warmer months. Mario Ortiz, the wine director/sommelier, who I thought was retiring, but whose name is still on the menu, would be happy to show you the downstairs wine cellar and talk about wine until the cows come home. This is a restaurant with impeccable service, presentation, attention to detail, and a desire to make your meal a memorable one. They also have various events, such as special winemaker dinners and wine tastings. While it is not exactly cheap to eat there, they do participate in Sacramento Dine Downtown Week and they just started a weekly lunch deal that looks pretty killer. If you are on Facebook or Twitter, they communicate specials and events quite frequently.

Overall: 4.5 stars
Price: $$$$.5/5
Ambience: 5/5 (if you like old-world charm)
Food: 4.75/5!/FirehouseOldSac

Firehouse on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Thir13en

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know that I am not completely impartial to this restaurant. Chef Adam Pechal is a friend of mine. And I’m sure he thanks his lucky stars every day for it. Now onto my evening.)

Restaurant Thir13en, heretofore to be known as simply 13, occupies the area formerly used by Chanterelle in the Sterling Hotel. Being a fan of Tuli and wishing Adam nothing but success, I was very excited to check out his new venture. Going there on a mild summer evening is, in fact, one of the best ways to spend a few hours with close friends, sipping on a glass of wine or a signature cocktail, and leisurely chewing some cheesy comestibles (random Monty Python reference. If you get it, score 5 for no embarrassment, 3 for slight embarrassment… crap, I keep leading you down the garden path, Mrs. Bueller. Wow. I’ll stop.) So when I noticed that they were participating in Sacramento Dine Downtown Week, I was eager to introduce our friends Jeb and Lea, who are new to Sacramento. If you are unfamiliar with Dine Downtown, it is a week (actually ten days, I think) where participating restaurants offer a prix fixe menu of three courses for $30. Many also do wine pairing for an additional $15.

13 has a very cozy feel, with dark woods, a relatively low ceiling, and soft lighting. It is intimate, comfortable, private, yet not isolated. There is also an upstairs dining room that is a new acquisition for the restaurant. Situated off the main foyer of the hotel, it was a hair salon in its previous life. I’d guess they can probably seat about 40, 50 at the most. In order to reach it, you have to go back out the front door, up the stairs and into the hotel through a side stair way. This dining room is enclosed by glass and accessed by two heavy glass doors. On this night there were no available seats; I’m sure Dine Downtown brought out a lot of patrons. This is where we were seated. Immediately, I noticed the noise level. It was nearly impossible for me to hear the other people at our table and it took time to adjust my ears and brain enough to carry on a conversation. Also, the restroom is back out the glass doors, up the stairs, to the left down the hallway, and on the right. There is only one. However, you can also take the elevator back downstairs to use the restrooms in that dining room.

upstairs dining room

upstairs bar area

If you’ve ever been to Tuli, you know they don’t have the ability to serve oysters. Well, 13 does! So here’s our dozen of yummy kumamoto oysters. Instead of the traditional mignonette sauce, 13 serves their oysters with spicy dijonaise and pear prosecco granita. These were not included on the Dine Downtown menu 🙂

Oysters all around!

The first course: 12 Hour Beeler Ranch pork belly with apple “3” ways, parsnips, and bulls blood. This was paired with a chardonnay. Obviously I didn’t order this, so I can’t speak for its flavor or texture. Needless to say, it was a hit with the person who ordered it.

My first course was a beet salad with pistachio-crusted goat cheese, arugula, blood oranges, fennel, tossed with a golden balsamic vinaigrette and paired with a sauvignon blanc. The goat cheese was fabulous. I loved the crunchy texture of the pistachios as a counterpoint to the smooth goat cheese. Calling this a “beet” salad was a bit of a misnomer, however, as it was mostly arugula. I really enjoyed this. It was perfectly dressed and the crouton was also a great addition to add a little bit more crunch to the overall dish.

The second course was a sous vide and seared Passmore Ranch sturgeon perched atop a Tasso-braised rainbow chard, surrounded by a pillow of buttermilk parsnip puree and sunk in a lake of sauce almondine. If you’re wondering what the heck “sous vide” means, check this out: It was paired with an Orvieto, which is both a growing region in pretty much the middle of Italy, and what they call the wine from that area. It’s a dryer, less sweet wine, and not as heavy or buttery as a lot of chardonnays these days. I enjoyed this dish, but thought it was a tad heavy on the almonds. The puree was smooth, buttery, and was the “glue” that tied in all the flavors. The sturgeon was perfectly prepared.

The meat dish was a sirloin steak from Lucky Dog Ranch, also sous vide and then skillet seared with Oregon blue cheese, butter, a wild mushroom ragout, and whiskey demi and sous vide potatoes. I did have a small bite of this and was good, although Jeb found it to be a tad on the tough side. The flavors, however, were wonderful and it was cooked to exact specifications. This was paired with a Twisted Rivers syrah.

The full vegetarian of our group was given an orecchiette pasta with various veggies. This was perhaps the funniest order ever. When we asked what the vegetarian option was, the server had no idea, since apparently, they hadn’t had anyone request one. After he had found out for us, we were told it was “pasta with vegetables.” What kind of vegetables? “Whatever you see on the menu will probably be in there.” It turned out to be quite tasty, however, and a very large portion that was good enough for another meal. The reason for the caption? The menu said exactly that.

The vegetarian or vegetarian option

Dessert was a deliciously smooth, creamy, and utterly yummy panna cotta with a wedge of strawberry, orange glaze winter citrus, and almond biscotti, paired with a moscato d’asti that was light and refreshing.

panna cotta ftw

The other dessert was a chocolate bread pudding with whiskey sauce and salty caramel ice cream. It was quite a large serving that managed to not be too heavy. The ice cream was a lovely complement.

Chocolate bread pudding

While this was for the Dine Downtown week, however there are plenty of other delicious things to try if any of these dishes aren’t on the menu. The Mac and Cheese is one of my favorite (and I’ve had a lot of mac and cheese!), the scallops are just the perfect mix of sweet and savory, and the Passmore fish is always a good bet. And someone told me the burger was the best he’d ever had.

On this occasion, the service at first, was incredibly slow and the server a little short and brusque. But I know he was incredibly busy, and it got much better as the evening progressed.

So, to recap, request a downstairs seat when you make your reservation (they are on Open Table), order pretty much ANYTHING, and settle in for a fantastic night of food, cocktails, and friends.

Out of five stars:
4.5 stars overall
3.75 for value
3.75 for service
4.5 for food

Thir13en on Urbanspoon


Ah, Selland’s Family of Restaurants, you never fail me, nor cease to tantalize my tastebuds with tasty treats! “Don’t practice your alliteration on me!” (random Monty Python reference!) Ella, the “middle child” of the Selland’s family of restaurants (The Kitchen being the marriage proposal-anniversary celebrating kind of place and Selland’s Market Cafe being the “every day” haunt), it is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Sacramento. When I decided to take off the Friday before New Year’s and give myself a four day weekend, Ella was on my mind as a spot I wanted to visit for a leisurely lunch, particularly after following Selland’s on Twitter and Facebook and hearing about all their delicious lunch specials!

The first time I went to Ella was probably about six or seven years ago, fairly soon after they’d opened. My virgin visit came on the heels of my first trip to The Kitchen. After that amazing experience, I was dying to try out Ella. Since then, it has been on my list of top five places to take out of town guests.

It’s located off of 12th and K, along the light rail route, though I’m not sure where the closest stop is. Valet parking is available for $5 right outside the front door on K. If you’re like me, and never have cash, Ella will conveniently add on the valet cost to your bill. If you’re more “independent,” there’s a parking garage on 12th between K and L, which they will validate.

I don’t know what the building was before Ella took up residence, but it is beautifully decorated with comfortable chairs and an open floor plan. The kitchen is also within plain site, so you can watch them all you want. Unfortunately, I did not remember to take a photo of the wine cellar, but it’s glass enclosed and visible from the dining room so you can dream of what lies within… actually, you are welcome to explore it! The last time I was there, I wandered through the rows of cabernet sauvignon and meritages that made me drool and wish I had a sugar daddy (or mama!) to help me work my way through them!

Upon walking into the restaurant, you are immediately greeted by a member of the staff. They are welcoming, warm, and there to take your jacket, or give you a stool upon which to place your purse, laptop, or briefcase. (I love this!) You know that you will be well taken care of and treated as if you are the only person there.

Ella has amazing oysters and typically there are three varieties which are listed on a blackboard near the bar. Honestly, this is all I see when I first walk through the doors and everything else kind of fades away 🙂

But if you were wondering what you might see to the right of the oyster bar, this is it.

The dining room is open, and decorated with a modern, yet comfortable feel. The tables are a lovely, warm wood, the chairs cushy. Colorful, recycled shutters outline the bar area, and accent the spaces around the entire restaurant.

Half dozen oysters is never enough, but room for lunch must be left! On today’s oyster menu: Kumomotos from Washington, Kusshis from British Columbia, and Shigokus, also from Washington. I learned that the “terroir” of oysters is much like wine… sandy versus rocky will produce different flavors. These are all delicate, light, flavorful, and simply fabulous. I could probably eat my weight in oysters! Of course, I’d have to declare bankruptcy shortly thereafter! They don’t restrict you to multiples of six, and you can mix and match all you want.

On the lunch menu was their papardelle. It’s something I’ve had before and absolutely love. It is quite popular, and rightly so! This is house made papardelle with a poached egg, crunchy, crispy bits of prosciutto (I totally forgot to tell them to leave if off, but somehow dealt with it ;-p ), and a preserved lemon sauce. Mixing the two together creates a hollandaise sauce, of sorts. The serving size is perfect and just exactly what my tummy wanted!

Briana had the grilled three cheese sandwich, made with cheddar, gruyere and parmesan on thickly cut brioche and included a mixed green salad and an amazing winter root vegetable soup garnished with chives. It tasted mostly of butternut squash, but was wonderfully complex, buttery, savory and nothing short of delicious!

The centerpoint of the dining room is this amazing three tiered construction that houses the glasses, plates, cutlery, and various other items.

There was no dessert this afternoon; my belly was much too full!

If you’re thinking of heading to Ella for lunch someday, they do a weekly special that typically consists of a salad, an entree, and a soda or iced tea… all for just $15! Don’t feel like you’re getting short shrifted or that the only reason they’re running the special is to get rid of stuff! They’ve done dishes that include a cioppino style sauce with clams, mussels, salmon, walu and shrimp with papardelle. I was lucky enough to get some of that and it was delicious even after heating it up seven hours later!

The bar is also a great place to hang out. They make their own tonic, so do yourself a favor and order a gin and tonic! Happy hour is from 3-6.

The service, the ambience, the food… everything comes together perfectly! What can I say? Ella is a great place to go on a date, to celebrate a special event, or to go just “because.” Think of it as champagne… great on a date, to celebrate a special event, or just for the heck of it! Make a generic Friday night into a special one!

Bottom line: I give it 4.5/5 stars. I have been there a bunch and have never been disappointed! Price is mid-range, meaning you can order things on the lower side, or you can go crazy!

Be sure to follow them on Twitter and Facebook.!/SellandFamily

Ella Dining Room and Bar on Urbanspoon