Incredible edibles

SN&R's food critics relive Sacramento's tastiest moments in 2013

Sacramento experienced an incredible year in food. Farm-to-fork events, global eats and new eateries overflowed with deliciousness. New restaurants came to town, while others departed. Some dining spots changed owners, others changed chefs. Grocery stores and frozen-yogurt shops and bakeries planted new roots. Some local restaurants and chefs were even featured on TV. Here’s what you missed, in case you were at home watching Top Chef reruns whilst crying into your bowl of instant ramen.

Trends and triumphs

Sacramento was slammed with events this year, many of them stemming from the city’s pledge to become the Farm-to-Fork Capital. The Farm-to-Fork Festival began with a cattle drive that started in West Sacramento and ended at the Capitol Mall after crossing the Tower Bridge, where an elegant dinner would later take place. Another facet of farm-to-fork is nose-to-tail. Carnivores came out in droves to attend Have an Offal Day (organized by Catherine Enfield and benefiting the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Farm-to-Fork Capitol of America campaign) to eat brains, gizzards and duck testicles.

For those looking for more advenure, local author—and 2013 James Beard Foundation Award winner for best Individual Food Blog—Hank Shaw saw the release of his much-anticipated new cookbook, Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild. Speaking of accolades, Adam Pechal was invited to compete on ABC’s cooking show, The Taste, which debuted in January (Pechal made it through episode six before being sent home). And Ettore’s European Bakery & Restaurant took the championship belt at the second annual Sacramento Burger Battle in September.

In other meat-related news, Tank House BBQ and Bar has been blanketing Midtown with the sweet smell of smoke and meat. Just down the street, LowBrau continues to serve some of the best sausages in town, with its chef Michael Tuohy, who is crushing it with his new menu additions. It’s good to have the former Grange Restaurant & Bar chef back in the capital after his short stint at Napa’s Dean & Deluca.

This year, Sacramento finally joined the trend in appreciating artisan cheese and charcuterie with three new venues: cheese shop The Cultured & The Cured in East Sac, cheese eatery The Rind and the forthcoming Block Butcher Bar (a side

project of LowBrau), the latter both in Midtown. To go with all that cheese and meat, Preservation and Co. moved into a new spot on 19th Street where it will be able to create even more of its addictive bloody mary mix and pickles that have made so many foodies swoon.

Finally, the California Food Literacy Center reached out to more schoolchildren than ever and declared the sweet potato the vegetable of the year, encouraging kids and adults to eat sweet potatoes mashed, fried, baked and even served on pizza. If you’re looking for a place to do some year-end giving or pad your tax return, this is the place to do it.


Our favorite things

For a medium-sized city, Sacramento has incredibly global restaurants. This year, SN&R food critics and I enjoyed favorites that included Chinese, Peruvian, Korean and local flavors. While “farm to fork” got a lot of the press coverage, many new places opened to expand our horizons and bellies.

Of our favorite meals, Carpe Vino in Auburn was the standout. We don’t review a ton of fancy-schmancy places, but this “Cirque du Soleil of food” proved worth every penny. The sculptural, exquisite dishes and impeccable service make this a must-visit spot.

Asian restaurants are plentiful in the region, and several notable ones got high marks from SN&R reviewers. Yang’s Noodles serves Taiwanese food, such as the northern Chinese specialty, the burritolike niu rou jian bing (sliced beef rolls). Yang’s homemade noodles are particularly good—chewy, alkaline and addictive. The Cantonese-style Lotus 8 in Folsom renewed our faith in strip-mall Chinese restaurants. It has a bright and contemporary interior, attentive service, and knockout frying skills from the kitchen. The silky fried tofu with pepper and the fried milk are both revelations of flavor and texture.

Korean food—the popular kid in the food world this year—is well-represented in Sacramento. Korea House is one of the best examples, and it really excels with banchan, the complimentary condiments that come with every good Korean meal. The restaurant’s kimchi radish is pickled perfectly with the right amount of crunch, sourness and spice.

Quasi-Asian, with its strong Chinese influences, Peruvian cuisine is also hot these days. La Huaca in Roseville garnered four-and-a-half stars for its paean to Peru. It highlights native ingredients, such as potatoes; smoky, Scotch-like pisco; and chilies, like aji amarillo in the restaurant’s well-executed offerings. The national dish, ceviche, is exemplified in the hearty mixto version, with a variety of seafood.

Lowbrow favorites like The Hotdogger in Davis and Jimboy’s Tacos also held their own, while newcomer Mighty Tavern in Fair Oaks drew crowds for its house-made charcuterie and well-cooked burgers to go with a good selection of craft brews.


Roll call

Sacramento’s food scene is constantly evolving, and it certainly improved with a number of new restaurants this year, despite a few minor setbacks.

In Flavortown news, Guy Fieri’s Tex Wasabi’s restaurant on Arden Way closed for just about a day before it was transformed into a Johnny Garlic’s. Speaking of chains, Arden Fair mall gained a Seasons 52, owned by Darden Restaurants, the same company that owns and operates Red Lobster and Olive Garden. The Westfield Galleria at Roseville got some awesome new snack shops when Beard Papa’s Fresh’n Natural Cream Puffs and Lolli and Pops both held grand openings in September.

Downtown’s Blackbird Kitchen & Bar closed in September, but a revamped version of the eatery is scheduled to reopen sometime in the upcoming few months. Old Sacramento’s Absinthe Bistro & Lounge closed in October after being open for just a few weeks, and was also supposed to reopen in November, according to its website, but it doesn’t look like that’s happened yet, so stay tuned.

Cielito Lindo Mexican Gastronomy opened in East Sac, and just a few minutes eastward, grocery store The Fresh Market—with salad and olive bars, a bakery, deli, local goods, beer and wine—opened on Fair Oaks Boulevard, as did another one in Elk Grove.

Pastry chef Edward Martinez left Enotria Restaurant Wine Bar to join celebrity chef Tyler Florence’s El Paseo restaurant in Mill Valley. And, in one of the strangest and saddest stories this year, Roseville’s Sammy’s Rockin’ Island Bar & Grill closed in early November, and co-owner Steve Pease’s body was found floating off the Mendocino coast several weeks later.

Ramen & Rice and Hokkaido Noodle House both changed owners, while newcomer Kansai Ramen & Sushi House popped up on 65th Street. Ramen fanatic and Ramen Burger creator Keizo Shimamoto named Shoki Ramen House one of the top five ramen joints in the United States.

A lot also changed in the world of Vietnamese food this year: Vegetarian eatery Bodhi Bowl in Little Saigon held a grand opening in January this year, after a soft opening in December 2012. Pho Aroma opened just down the street from there on Stockton Boulevard, and serves up a great bowl of noodle soup. Pho Saigon Bay added a new a location on Howe Avenue near the mall (and close to SN&R headquarters, huzzah). New pho eateries popped up in the burbs, too: Pho No. 1 in Fair Oaks, and Pho 54 and Pho Viet in Citrus Heights.

In the world of sweets, franchised fro-yo chain Yogurtland opened three spots in the Sacramento area this year. Andy’s Candy Apothecary—winner of the Downtown Sacramento Foundation’s Calling All Dreamers Business Competition—just opened last week.

We could go on (Papa Dale’s Drivin’ Diner began serving food at Midtown’s newly opened Starlite Lounge, but recently departed; the number of food trucks is still increasing), but you probably get the point by now: Sacramento is starting to become a foodie destination.