Beyond the stars

SN&R's food reviewers dish on some of their favorite things—and a few unfortunate ones—that happened in the 2014 Sacto scene

We came, we ate, we judged. We wrote reviews and we awarded stars. Some Sacramento-area eateries received many kudos, others less. One day this summer, we got together as a team and each sampled a dozen cookies for SN&R’s annual Best Of Sacramento issue. Yes, it was rough to bear that responsibility, but in the end, someone has to ensure that Sacramentans don’t eat chalky or overly salty cookies.

If you read our reviews this past year, you’d know that we do like to eat lots of different things: Bread from Village Bakery, a freekeh-topped kale salad from Mother and a chef’s selection of sushi from Yui Marlu were among our best bites. In fact, we’re always dining out, and our reviews alone don’t tell the whole story of everything we ate and loved in 2014. Here, we reminisce about some of our favorites of the year—and some of our biggest regrets.

Loves and losses

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. In the “best” department was the arrival of Puur Chocolat on the sweets scene. Seriously, get the milk-chocolate caramel crunch “crack bar” immediately.

Muchas gracias to Lola’s Lounge for upping the culinary cred of Elk Grove with their farm-fresh take on Spanish-culture cuisines. I never knew I could love bacalao—dried, salted cod reconstituted with oil and mashed potato.

Local spirits were high with the one-year anniversary of Bike Dog Brewing Company and its bourbon milk stout. Gold River Distillery was the first alcohol distillery to open in Sacramento since Prohibition, producing Wheel House gin. And Corti Brothers debuted a 7-year-old wine-enhanced “Exquisite Whiskey” that’s cost-effective and unique.

The first Specialty Coffee Week in October was a buzzing success, especially because Robert Masullo put his pastry prowess on display with three breakfast pop-ups.

In the “worst” department was the absurd number of restaurants that saw openings delayed multiple times by city bureaucracy. Bacon & Butter, Federalist and South were among those that lost money and business due to inefficient city regulations.

We also saw the sad closing of The Cultured & the Cured, a wonderful cheese and charcuterie shop in East Sacramento.

The departure of Chef Pajo Bruich to San Francisco is clearly that city’s gain and our short-sighted loss. We couldn’t manage to keep him here, but his boundless talent is now finding new appreciation.

Looking forward to 2015: I can’t wait for Empress!

Finer fare

“Best,” obviously, is a subjective term and as a reviewer it’s one I both adore and fear, but lo, certain things in the culinary scene stood out for me in 2014.

Gin drinkers take note of the name Darjeeling Gin. I discovered this gin when a friend invited me to California Distilled Spirits, Ed Arnold’s new distillery in Auburn. This gin gets its name from its delicate infusion of Darjeeling tea, and the result is smooth and delicate.

I’ve also become addicted to the pickles at Preservation & Co. whose dilly beans now garnish my nightly gin martini.

I’m willingly giving myself diabetes at The Parlor Ice Cream Puffs, a devilish place that stuffs excellent ice cream into doughnuts. The ice cream flavors such as Earl Grey and sea salt caramel are terribly addicting.

Sugar cane seems to be the next trendy ingredient at the farmers markets. Affordable, easy to use and a bit exotic, it’s an easy way to enliven your cocktail bar or skewer shrimp that’s meant for the grill.

This year, the Sacramento Kings Food Program announced that Michael Tuohy will lead the new arena’s culinary future. As someone who previously didn’t give a sod about basketball, this development certainly gets me excited.

Pastry tends to get the shaft in this town, so let’s take the time to give a shout out to Jane Anderson at Ella Dining Room & Bar. Her artistry, palate and deft skill leave me to assume she’s shed the mortal coil of pastry chef and ascended to pastry wizard.

Lastly, I’ve been camping out at Sampino’s Towne Foods. It’s not new, but I insist you all rediscover it. Food is priced well and outstanding. A recent hot pastrami with aioli floated me off of my seat with delight.

Best buys

For me, it was the year of peasant food. Fine, I’ll just admit it: It’s more like I’m always on the lookout for good cheap eats, because it’s just too darn expensive to always eat like a snooty foodie.

Whatever the case, one of my favorite discoveries this year was the tasty but inexpensive KP International food court. There were many cheap and delicious pizzas eaten at Il Pizzaiolo, which opened this year in Rocklin—and also placed in the top 10 in SN&R’s pizza issue (see: “The pizza issue,” by Janelle Bitker and Nick Miller, Feature Story, December 4).

Chando’s Tacos got love from Nate Silver’s America’s Best Burrito bracket, which was a huge deal—even if in reality the tacos are way more amazing than the burritos.

In booze news, Oak Park Brewery launched in November with a full menu of gastropub fare in addition to its much-anticipated beers. Red Rabbit bartender Ian Young, in partnership with Dutch & Dewey Distillery, is in the process of creating a new line of jenever. And Block Butcher Bar is trying to turn us all into whiskey snobs by stocking the best selection in town, including some crazy-expensive but world-renowned Pappy Van Winkle selections.

However, I’ll probably always remember 2014 as the year Sactown stepped up its doughnut game. Even though Midtown favorite Doughbot closed (sad for many vegans, especially), a bunch of other Asian-owned doughnut places in the burbs—such as Baker’s Donuts, Sweet Dozen and The Parlor Ice Cream Puffs—stepped it up with cronuts (overhyped, in my opinion) and ice-cream doughnuts (underhyped, in my opinion).

Lastly, a handful of new Asian dessert places serving shaved ice (Vampire Penguin, Snowbee Tea Station, the Tapioca Express on the corner of Stockton Boulevard and Florin Road) and boba (Cool Tea Bar, Elk Grove’s Moo Moo) helped me indulge my sweet tooth more than ever in 2014.