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Jul 20, 2012 08:49 AM

Sacramento and Surroundings

I'm on a quick trip to Sacramento (from Connecticut). After perusing these boards for some recommendations and ideas and consulting with my host we have been trying to hit the "best of" for some good eats.

Lunch on Wednesday was at La Provence in Roseville. It's a beautiful setting...if I lived here I would definitely inquire about using the space for a private event. The food was good. Not great. We started with the pissaladiere saumon which would have been amazing if the salmon hadn't been quite so salty. To add insult to injury, the dough was also salty. Two of the three of us couldn't finish our first piece. (And I quibble with calling it a pissalidiere when it was really more of a flatbread pizza but, whatever...) The waitress did ask how we liked it (after she had said earlier it was her favorite item on the menu) and we told the truth. To their credit, the restaurant removed the item from our bill. Much more to my liking was the grilled vegetable sandwich - a truly delicious cold lunch on a hot day - which I would definitely order again. We also enjoyed the turkey club and the croque madame although we wouldn't go racing back to have either again.

Thursday we had a terrific lunch at the High Hand Cafe in Loomis. First, the concept is great. The restaurant sits in a giant greenhouse at the High Hand Nursery. Attached/surrounding buildings include interesting artsy shops. We enjoyed a well-spent hour or so browsing the shops after lunch. The food itself was perfect for the setting. Lots of interesting sandwiches and salads along with a selection of wood-fired pizzas. Hits at our table included the tri-tip sandwich, the chicken salad sandwich, and the orange-glazed salmon salad. No dessert as we were saving ourselves for dinner...

at Biba's...where we dined Thursday night. We started at the bar and enjoyed cocktails (lemon drop martini was excellent) and took advantage of the happy hour pricing to enjoy calamari fritti as an appetizer. We moved into the dining room and were greeted by Giuseppe, who may very well have provided the best table service I've ever experienced. He was a real character - but in a good way. The Italian accent was real, the knowledge of food was impressive (he shared stories with us about his annual 100 jars of tomato sauce marathon as well as his recipe for a meat-based ragout), and his suggestions for our meal were incredibly helpful. We began with salads - one of us ordered the mozzarella/tomato combination (but thought maybe a little more tomato would have helped the tomato to mozz ratio) - and one of us had the bean/mint/parmesan/pine nut salad - a combination that was beyond divine. Since it was Thursday, we had to try Biba's famous lasagna and, although it was delicious and we're glad we had such a quintessential Sacramento experience, I'm not sure either of us would bother to order it again, unless we were really in the mood for lasagna. In comparison, the second entree was the real winner: duck breast with honeyed grilled figs served with a summer vegetable medley. The duck was delicious and the figs were eye-openingly amazing. For dessert we shared the zabaglione with fresh fruit - another excellent choice - and one that we don't find often on menus these days. It was the perfect end to the meal - airy and creamy and mixed with fresh berries. To top things off, Giuseppe brought us a taste of the mango gelato - and we enjoyed every bite.

Still on our list (and I'll write them up): Ella for sure and either Hawks, Spetaro, or something all of you suggest...and we need to make a run to Denios and Jimboys tacos.

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  1. Great reviews. Thanks a lot.

    Jimboys at Denios is only Fri, Sat and Sunday and only open till late afternoon so beware. And it is not at Denios it is across the street at the now shuttered, Auctiontown (Jimboys has it's own entrance so they are not affected)

    1. Sacramento and surroundings continues to bring great culinary surprises...and the biggest surprise of all was today's lunch which, originally, I didn't think I would be writing about at all!

      My hosts here in the Sac area have a business connection to William Jessup University. As a result, I was invited to join them for a sneak peek at the soon-to-be-opened campus restaurant run by Bon Appetit Management Company ( I can't believe I'm going to say this about what is, essentially, a college dining hall, but take my word for it when I tell you that if I lived in this area I would be lunching regularly at this place as soon as it is open to the public (on or about September 1st).

      Located in the former Herman Miller chair factory designed by Frank Gehry, the interior space has been transformed by Taylor Teeter and Reeve Knight into a contemporary but comfortable space complete with private dining rooms and a circular lounge-like seating area in the center. Even the dish return conveyor belt, tucked around a corner and not visible from the main dining area, is such an interesting and aesthetically pleasing design that it's worth a look.

      I started the meal with a cold watermelon-tomato gazpacho. Flavored with cilantro and packing a punch it was a refreshing start on a hot day. The salad bar, in keeping with Bon App's farm-to-fork, sustainable, healthy approach to food service, offered a variety of fresh vegetables and vegan options. I sampled a lentil curry, a quinoa salad, and a warm sauteed chard and onion dish, all of which were delicious and worthy of a "real" restaurant menu. After sampling the salads we chose from two pizzas being made in the wood-burning oven: a margerita pizza and a salami and carmelized onion. Reviews of both at our table were quite positive. Hot entrees being offered today were a spicy thai chicken stir fry (at the "fire and ice" station), baja fish tacos, a rotisserie chicken and herb-roasted potato option, and "sliders" and fries (which looked more like potato wedges than fries). Between us we tried everything except the fries... No one was disappointed and everyone went back for seconds (and sometimes thirds). Along the way we helped ourselves to drinks (iced tea, orange water, and watermelon agua fresca were available alongside the soda bar) and we finished with dessert (options included mini-cupcakes, tarts, cookies, and a delicious fruit compote).

      Local foodies would be smart to keep this on their radar and head to campus as soon as possible (once it opens to the public). I was utterly amazed that college dining could be this good (and commented to the 15-year-old in our group that she will be sorely disappointed when she goes to college someday if she expects this same level of food quality!).

      Ironically, our original plan was to eat a light lunch, thinking (a) it wouldn't be that good and (b) we would need room for dinner. Instead, we tried a little of almost everything!

      And then it was time for dinner...

      at Ella Dining Room & Bar in downtown Sacramento.

      And it was another great meal. (I think the airline is going to charge me a fee on the return flight for "extra baggage" at the rate I'm going!


      We started with the classic Ella gin and tonic and I can honestly say it was probably the best gin and tonic I've ever had. Someone had mentioned to us earlier in the week that they make the drink from scratch and, although I'm still not exactly sure what that means, it was worth every sip and I'm glad we paid attention.

      From there it was on to appetizers: the heirloom tomato bisque and the country pork pate. The soup was sublime. Creamy texture, perfectly blended, with cotija cheese, lime and cilantro, it was light and airy and delicious. The pate was truly a "country" style - almost chunky, reminiscent of a rillete - and served with a strong mustard, leafy greens, and toasted baguette. It reminded me of many summer afternoons in France.

      For entrees we ordered the tagliatelle pasta with poached egg, savoy cabbage, mushrooms, and lemon butter sauce, and the grilled tri tip served with wedge potatoes, blistered tomatoes, and chimichurri. Both were outstanding. The pasta - made at Ella - was wondeful and the tri tip was grilled to perfection.

      We shared dessert...(after the day we had, can you blame us?)...the most incredible "black forest" cake I've ever tasted. I would say it was an updated version of the classic, with gianduja cherry mousse atop a lighter than air chocolate cake. And I admit that as soon as we polished off the first we seriously considered ordering a second.

      In the end, only the thought of tomorrow's dinner plans helped us hold back.

      Who knew Sacramento was such a food mecca???

      More tomorrow....

      2 Replies
      1. re: hungrykids

        My work cafeteria is Bon Appetit and it rocks the freakin' house on a consistent basis. I imagine ours is subsidized as the food is healthy cheap and delicious! I will have to check out the lcoation you mention.

        nevermind, just noticed it's a campus. Reading for comprehension and all!

        They do service a few college campuses -- lucky students!!

        1. re: luxuria

          apparently it will be open to the public (and i think they said it would open on or about september 1st) so you probably can go check it out. it's worth it if onlyl to see the amazing architecture and design (on top of the great food, which you're already getting at work).

      2. On Saturday morning we made an early run to Denios before the temperature became unbearable. It was a ton of fun and I have to say I'm surprised there isn't more chatter on the Sacramento board about it since, apparently, it's the largest farmer's market in California. I was impressed with the variety of fruits, vegetables, and various other items for sale, as well as the prices, which were significantly better than what I pay back in Connecticut. We sampled many items and ended up buying some incredible white peaches, nectarines, and a watermelon along with some cactus fruit for my hosts' children. If we had planned on doing any cooking during my visit we also would have been happy to purchase any number of other items, including the tomatillos, various types of beans (pole, wax, green and I'm not sure what else), the cauliflower, tomatoes, and the cucumbers.

        Afterwards, in a nod to the "junk food tour of Sacramento" mentioned in a different thread, we looked for the Jimboys Tacos rumored to be across the street from Denios. No luck - either in person or using a google search on my phone, so instead we stopped at one of the Jimboys in Rocklin. It a taco from a fast food chain. I came, I saw, I ate at Jimboys. Not sure I need to repeat the experience in the future!

        But I would gladly return for a second trip to Hawks in Granite Bay, where we thoroughly enjoyed our Chef's Grand Tasting! I tried to write down everything we had - and I tried to take photos of everything - but several times we were so caught up in wanting to eat that we forgot one or the other of those tasks! So, to the best of my recollection (and with the help of some notes and some photos), here was our incredible meal.

        The meal started with an amuse-bouche, but not just any old amuse-bouche (see photo). This one allowed us to sample four items: the corn chowder, a salmon belly, steak tartare, and what was described as green bean beignets (but which I would argue might have been more aptly named green bean tempura). The corn chowder was creamy and delicious and, if the temperature hadn't been topping 100 that day I might have been delighted to have an entire bowl. The salmon belly and the steak tartare were also delightful. The green beans, frankly, were a little greasy. Maybe it was just the ones on our plate or maybe that's the way they serve them...but the lemon aioli dipping sauce was a nice touch.

        Official first course: octopus with compressed melon. This was the first of my "oops I forgot to take a photo" moments. The octopus was about the size of a long finger, surrounded by a light crust. The server explained that the compressed melon (which looked like little orange dice) were made by placing melon and cider vinegar in the cryovac. I loved the combination of the vinegar with the melon. It was refreshing and different and delicious. The octopus was good...not outstanding...but the dish as a whole worked for me.

        Next up: seared ahi tuna served in cucumber water (see photo) with cucumber, squash, and radish. Another delicious treat. The cucumber water was poured into the bowl at the table. The tuna was perfect.

        After the tuna came one of our favorites of the night: sauteed halibut served over a corn pudding with uni butter. Again, I'm afraid to say, I forgot to snap a photo. The halibut - a piece about three inches square - was perfectly cooked. It rested on a bed of the sweetest, creamiest corn pudding and the uni butter. The dish literally melted in our mouths.

        The following course brought us some texture - which was a pleasant change from the halibut dish. We were served duck confit with quinoa with roasted peaches (see photo). The chef got the sear on the skin just right. The quinoa salad was delicious. And the roasted peaches were the perfect compliment. See those little buds on top of each peach cube? They were a little spicy bite. At our request, the server went into the kitchen to ask what they were (since he didn't know) - fennel flowers! I've looked online at photos of fennel flowers and I think these may have been fennel flower buds. Regardless of what you call them, they were a fun addition to the dish.

        The next course was the beef duo and on this evening it was a short rib served over creamed corn and a filet served with a potato rosti (see photo - although in this case I don't think the photo does the food justice). The short rib was so tender you could have cut it with a spoon. And although this was the third time we were served corn in one evening, it was so good I couldn't possibly complain. The filet was cooked equally well and the potato was the most gourmet version of a tater tot I've ever had. I realize that may not sound like a compliment but, believe me, it was.

        On to the cheese course which, on this evening, was a St. Andre cheese, served with nuts, spicy microgreens, and pine syrup (see photo). The pine syrup was something new for me. It tasted similar, imho, to maple syrup. The combination of the ingredients on the plate could not have been better.

        And, then, finally, it was dessert, which was described as a brown butter panna cotta and which was served with ice cream (there was some word added to the description that I can't recall) and a bit of chocolate sauce and berries (see photo). Not surprisingly, it was divine. And all I can say is that despite the number of courses that preceded this one, we could easily - and happily - have eaten a portion twice the size of what we were served!!!

        This was a perfect meal from start to finish. I enjoyed every bite. I would repeat the experience in a heartbeat and, hopefully, I'll be back in the Greater Sacramento area again someday so that I'll be able to do so.

        Thanks to all the CHers who posted previously about Sacramento and surroundings. Many of our choices this week were based on your threads and I appreciated all of the suggestions.

        7 Replies
        1. re: hungrykids

          Yum, Hawks is my favorite (in the Sac area). I've been wanting to do the tasting menu for a while now, so it was nice to hear about it. Glad you guys had a great time.

          Also, not sure what the deal is about Jimboy's but I think the one at Denio's was supposed to be better than the others. I've only been to a few of the other ones and I would describe them as not terrible but definitely not worth a visit for someone from out of town.

          1. re: hungrykids

            The Jimboys at the Auction is still there across the street. Not sure how you could have missed it really. And they are about ten million times better than any other Jimboys outlet. Not sure why, (Well I am sure why but that is another subject) so....

            1. re: bennyboy1

              There was a detour because they were paving the road, so maybe we went in/out a different way than usual? Also, although you had written it here, I didn't remember at the time that we had to look for the auction.

              Oh well...I guess I have a good reason to come back another time (in addition to another wonderful visit with friends)!

              1. re: hungrykids

                Yeah, I was there yesterday just to make sure. Still there and still yummy. BTW< the hot sauce is in a bottle and different that the packages at the outlets. Also that grill is used ONLY to grill tacos and the method for grilling is a bit different. Oh and the ones at Denio's are greasy as hell too and that makes them way better (not healthier but better).

                1. re: bennyboy1

                  lol - thanks for the detective work and the explanation of the difference between the Denios Jimboys and all the others. i guess i'm going to have to make plans for a future visit just to confirm your analysis!

            2. re: hungrykids

              Wow. I was just about to reply that you're better off skipping Hawks, as I had the very worst meal I've ever been served in my life there...glad your experience was better! And thanks for the Ella review, too...been wanting to check it out.