Modesto, CA: Downtown Sampler
One of the excellent traditions that has evolved in the last few years in Modesto is the twice-annual Downtown Sampler. Coordinated by the Downtown Improvement District, the Sampler provides an opportunity graze & sample at a whole lot of downtown eateries. The current edition had 33 venues. Most of these are found on or within a block of J Street, between 9th and 17th streets, so it's an eminently walkable event. We parked at 15th and started with the trendy (and pricy) Fifteen-O-Five, where they were sampling smoked salmon crepes--nice but not special. The best thing in Fifteen-O-Five is the light fixtures in the bar, which are a treat.
I had an excellent seafood/sausage soup at the not-quite-open Oceana on 13th St., and concluded that it holds a lot of promise & I'll be back. After the first four stops, where my dairy-allergic wife found nothing edible, she was getting a little desperate. At this point we entered Papachino's our Lebanese-Greek sidwalk cafe, where Jack was sampling Greek salad (cheese, of course), and zorbas, a concoction of his that includes pita, ground lamb, and cheese--sort of a Greek quesadilla. All very tasty, but Elise was getting very discouraged. I mentioned this to Jack an his response was "Sit down and wait a few minutes"--and he bgrought her out a nice plate of pita, baba gnnaoujh, and falafel. This in the middle of a hectic event feeding 2500 "samplers"! This kind of considerate attention is typical of Jack, and it's part of what makes Papacino's a place you want to go.
Deva, on J at 12th, had an excellent dessert for us--boysenberry cobbler. We wound up the evening with coffe and found one of the very frequent shuttles back the 6 blocks to where we had parked our car.
In addition to being a chance to graze, the Samplers are also a social occasion. 2500 tickets were available (the event generally sells out). That's enough to generate crowd-excitement without being overwhelming. People are in a good mood and there is a lot of spontaneous conversation.
All in all, a fun evening, and I found a couple of new places to go back to. The community owes a vote of thanks to Nancy Young and the DID for putting this on.