Eating Europe

Our writer eats his way through Paris and Rome

I don't fashion myself a foodie, even though I happen to review restaurants and write a food column in SN&R. Rather, I've always held a somewhat utilitarian view of food: I enjoy living cheaply while eating reasonably well.

But I was forced to splurge on food during a recent two-week honeymoon in Paris and Rome. We chose restaurants based on proximity to where we happened to be instead of Yelp reviews or price. In doing so, I think we got a pretty good idea of how the Sacramento restaurant scene stacks up to a few of the culinary giants in Europe.

French cuisine is highly influential throughout the world, and that includes Sacramento to an extent. That's because food's ingrained in the culture there. UNESCO put the “gastronomic meal of the French” on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. In Paris, it seemed like just about everyone spent his or her free time eating and socializing at a brasserie, bistro, cafe or restaurant.

We tried plenty of different types of meals, but some of the standout dishes included foie gras and escargot. Foie gras—now banned in California—tasted like a meat-flavored butter on my copious delicious baguettes; and the escargot was also buttery, yet soft, sweet and salty. Nevertheless, Sacramento's produce is much better than the French's. One dish I tried called pot-au-feu was a beef stew with cabbage, onion and carrots. The vegetables were soggy and plain. Perhaps there wasn't a large selection of good veggies because of cold winter weather. Or maybe French chefs are just more comfortable with pork and butter.

French fruit is also expensive compared to what we can buy in the Sacramento Valley. So, eventually, I turned to drinking lots of wine instead, since many grocery stores sell regional wines for 5 euros or less, and some are quite good—better than anything I've tried in Napa. Beer, on the other hand, is probably just about on par with Sacramento—with lots of European beers in bottles and on tap in restaurants and grocery stores. Nothing I couldn't get here.

Rome is more low-key with better produce, and its chefs seemed to have great technique as well. But there are a lot of tourist traps that serve bad, overpriced food. Most pizza here is good, and pairs well with cheap wine (again, many bottles for 5 euros or less). Also, the handmade pastas we ordered were amazing, and the two most popular Roman dishes we tried seemed more like gourmet mac ’n’ cheese than what's available here: cacio e pepe (pasta, Romano cheese, pepper), and pasta carbonara (bacon, egg yolk, cheese, pepper). The beer selection in Rome really sucks, though.

By the end of the trip, I was not very happy to be coming home, but I was looking forward to the larger variety of foods I'm used to eating in Sacramento: tacos, salads, sushi.

To be clear, I'm not going to be happy with a local baguette, pastry or pasta dish for a long while. But at least I can find a vegetarian taco and a Trappist ale from Belgium all in one easy stroll down a street in Midtown.