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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?!

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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

916.440.8888

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

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

Website: http://www.paragarys.com/sacramento-restaurants/hock-farm/about/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HockFarm

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!

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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.

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

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First off, Mushroom Cigars.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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)

Website: http://restauranttaste.com/pages/home.cgi

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.

https://www.facebook.com/SacRabbit
http://theredrabbit.net/

2718 J Street
916.706.2275
hello@theredrabbit.net

The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar 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

http://www.firehouseoldsac.com/
https://www.facebook.com/TheFirehouseRestaurant
https://twitter.com/#!/FirehouseOldSac

Firehouse on Urbanspoon