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Chenin Blanc Tasters at Revolution PicmonkeyClose inspections before the first sips

TASTE News Service May 23, 2014 - Chenin Blanc may be considered the signature grape of Clarksburg.

Though trendier varieties account for more vineyard acreage in the Clarksburg region, this area just southwest of Sacramento is believed to be one of the few areas in the world capable of producing great Chenin Blanc. Grown in other parts of the world, too—most notably in France's Loire Valley and in South Africa, where it was first planted in 1655 and is also known as “Steen,” this white wine variety is versatile and can be made into sparkling wine, both dry and off-dry table wine styles and even late-harvest dessert wines.

On Tuesday, Chenin fans in the know visited Revolution, an urban winery near the corner of 29th and S Streets in Sacramento, where they had opportunity to sample an array of Chenin Blanc wines. All were grown in the Clarksburg area, though some were actually vinified by wineries in other parts of the state. While Revolution Wines also makes other varieties, its overall production is small. Their 2013 Chenin Blanc (about 300 cases produced) scored quite a coup recently when it was chosen as one of the 10 best West Coast wines to enjoy with oysters. The annual competition, sponsored by Taylor Shellfish in Washington, is usually dominated by leaner versions of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with an occasional Pinot Grigio or Semillon in the mix. A frequent winner in past years has been a Chenin Blanc made from Clarksburg fruit by the Sonoma's Dry Creek Vineyard. This year Dry Creek was not among the top ten, but Revolution's entry was. It was poured at the Sacramento tasting, as were Chenin Blancs made in various styles from other producers. A few of them blended with the white Rhône grape Viognier showed a more aromatic side to their personalites.

Slow Food rep and David Baker PicmonkeyCharity Kenyon of Slow Food and David Baker share concerns about sustainability

One of the sponsors of this tasting was GRAS, an acronym for “Green Restaurant Alliance Sacramento,” whose mission includes educating both the public and the restaurant community about sustainable practices for the restaurant industry. David Baker, who heads the wine program for Selland's Market and Café, is also the director and a co-founder of GRAS and has the ambitious goal of returning all the community's restaurant waste to the land via composting.


Editor's note: Want to learn more about this wine region? In the Central Valley sections of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory you will find links to the websites of Clarksburg and Delta wineries, as well as links to hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in the Sacramento area. The Directory has recently added a section for craft beer purveyors, too.

Thursday, 05 December 2013 00:25

Repeal and My Great Godfather


Sunny Jim Rolph PicmonkeyJames Rolphby Dan Clarke


Sacramento, CA December 6, 2013 - I had a beer yesterday afternoon. That in itself isn't unusual, but communing with a dead politician might be.

“Sunny Jim” Rolph died in 1934 during his third year as Governor of California. Prior to his election to statewide office he spent nearly 19 years as Mayor of San Francisco. It was during that time that he became my Dad's godfather. Rolph lived at 21st and Guerrero Streets in San Francisco, my paternal grandparents' house was at 23rd and Guerrero. How well they were acquainted, I don't know.

My grandfather had a good job, but wasn't in Rolph's league, as the hard working Mayor had already become a millionaire—mostly from the shipping business—before starting his political career. Maybe he was godfather to all babies born to voters in the Mission District, an Irish enclave in those days. For all his business success though, he billed himself as “Mayor of all the people” and was regarded by most San Franciscans as one of their own.

As Governor of California, Rolph publicly condoned a pre-trial lynching of two men accused of the kidnapping and murder of the son of a San Jose businessman. It sullied his reputation forever and I won't celebrate that, but I have heard and read enough about his earlier life to know that he had his good points, too. A successful businessman at the time of the city's earthquake and fire, he was reported to have been a tireless worker to help displaced fellow citizens and to contribute to the rebuilding of San Francisco. After his election as mayor in 1911 he led efforts to make the 1915 Pan Pacific Expostion—in effect, a world's fair—a reality. It is said that on the way to City Hall his limo tended to stop for citizens at street corners to offer a lift if they were going his way. Kind gestures to fellow San Franciscans or canny PR? Who knows, but I'm inclined to believe he was basically a good-hearted guy.

Gary Sleppy and Sunny Jim PicmonkeyGary Sleppy, proprietor of The Shack, salutes Gov. Rolph James Rolph was also a man who enjoyed a good time. Or so it would seem. His “Sunny Jim” persona came from a popular song adopted as his campaign anthem, “There are smiles that make you happy.”  By 1917 he had purchased a shipyard in Humboldt County and celebrated the "largest 4-masted wooden ship ever built on the West Coast" by throwing a party that lasted two days and two nights on a chartered 12-car train. The costs ran to $25,000--this at a time when the Mayor's salary was $6,000 per annum. Though first elected on a platform that promised to clean up the notorious Barbary Coast neighborhood, not too much changed in that regard during his long tenure as Mayor of San Francisco. In the words of writer Daniel Steven Crafts, Rolph's administration “was characterized by the not so unlikely combination of populism and debauchery.” In his latter years as Mayor, the married “Sunny Jim” was dogged by rumors of an affair with a movie star named Anita Page. Crafts writes that Rolph brought along San Francisco's most notorious madam as his escort to one of the city's Policemen's Balls. If that isn't laudable behavior, it certainly is colorful.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution (The Volstead Act), which forbade the production, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages went into effect in 1919. Its restriction on the liberty of American citizens was bad policy from the beginning, but even if you allowed for “good intentions,” its “unintended consequences” caused terrible damage for the nation. To his credit, I believe, Dad's godfather wasn't much of a fan of Prohibition and apparently tended to ignore it as much as possible in his personal life, as well as in his official capacities as Mayor and, later, Governor. These days I often have a beer at The Shack, located on the corner of 52nd and Folsom in Sacramento. Upon the repeal of Prohibition—eighty years ago yesterday—Governor James Rolph enjoyed a glass of Ruhstaller's Gilt Edge, his first legal post-Prohibition beer, at that same spot, then known as “Docs.”

On that anniversary I raised a glass in toast to you ,“Sunny Jim,” and to your godson.

Sunday, 13 October 2013 02:04

Celebrating a Decade at Serrano

Bruce Canepa with 21 Duesenberg PicmonkeyBruce Canepa with first Duesenberg

by Dan Clarke

Sunday was the Niello Concours at Serrano. The Serrano Country Club setting doesn't have an ocean view, but references were made to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, nonetheless. If this 10th year tradition in the El Dorado Hills area just east of Sacramento doesn't quite have the panache of Pebble, it's still a damned fine car show. The event honored Rolls Royce, as it did in its inaugural edition a decade ago. Also celebrated at this October 6th gathering were the 50 year anniversaries of Lamborghini and the Porsche 911.

This year's Grand Marshall was Bruce Canepa, famed for his racing career and, more recently, for his high-end automobile restoration business in the Santa Cruz area. It was his Scotts Valley shop that restored the entry judged 2013's Best of Show, a 1921 Duesenberg A Bender Coupe. The car was purchased new by current owner James Castle, Jr's grandfather. And it was the first production Duesenberg ever built. How's that for provenance?

XK140 Jim Perell PicmonkeyJim Perell with his heirloom JaguarI walk through the gate and see so many gorgeous vehicles it's hard to know where to start. There are some very valuable automobiles here on the lawn, but nothing is roped off. Though everything is very accessible, common sense tells me that it would be very bad form to touch these cars or drip one's drink over somebody's gleaming bodywork. I soon discover that many of the owners are in the vicinity of their cars and are friendly and happy to talk about their entries.

First to catch my eye is a 1956 Jaguar XK140. It's a convertible or drop head coupe in British parlance. It is unrestored and is entered in the Preservation Class. I ask a dapper fellow standing nearby if he is the owner. Jim Perall says he is. Turns out he is the second owner of this car. Jim remembers he was about seven or eight years old the day he and his Dad drove this Jaguar home from a Southern California dealership. Except for the new leather in the cockpit, everything else is as original as they day it was purchased. Apparently, it still runs well. We share some conversation and I learn a lot about his car. Later Jim will be seen, microphone in hand, chatting with car owners as they wait to drive their winning entries up to the reviewing stand to receive their awards.

Auburn Boattail Speedster PicmonkeySupercharged Auburn Boattail Speedster

Wandering among all this elegant machinery I meet a couple of other owners. They seem to be enjoying the day as much as I am. Everybody has his favorites, but none of the entries could really be faulted.

Some evoke good memories, like a red '62 Impala convertible—the fabled Chevy 409—and the '65 Sunbeam Tiger, a British sports car fitted with an American V8 engine, à la the AC Cobra. Others are from a time long before mine, but almost make me wish I were even older so that I might have experienced them when they were on the road—the 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster, for instance.

Bentley 1948 PicmonkeySaoutchik Bentley -- such elegance!Many are far removed from any world I ever experienced, such as the 1948 Saoutchik Bodied Bentley Mark VI (in periwinkle blue). Some newer vehicles like the 2013 McLaren MP4-12C are exotic by any definition. It looks like it should only be driven an astronaut. Driving home I admit to a little jealousy (what car guy wouldn't want to possess any of these beauties?), but console myself in the thought that I don't have spend the money to maintain such a classic or worry about that inevitable fender-bender if I chose to drive it. The Niello Concours at Serrano was a beautiful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The 2014 edition is on my calendar.

Editor's note: Photos for this article were shot with an iphone. At the Facebook page of this event we found a link to really wonderful pictures shot by Tyler Visger. It's beautiful work and is worth checking out http://tylervisger.com/2013-niello-concours-at-serrano/

Friday, 11 October 2013 16:32

Pumpkins Two Ways

by Dan Clarke

Sometimes we discourage publicists from sending products we just don't think sound very interesting. However, in the case of the two interpretations of seasonal beer that arrived recently, we were intrigued.

Two accomplished brewers collaborated on the project not to produce one beer, but to come at the pumpkin-theme from different perspectives: Shaun Sullivan, the brewmaster at San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery and his friend Dick Cantwell of Elysian Brewing in Seattle. Both beers are available in cans labeled “HE SAID,” but sporting different colors and stories of the beers inside them.

Each of these beers contains 8.2% alcohol by volume. Their “recipes,” as included in the information accompanying our two samples, follow:


 HE SAID Tripel can Picmonkey

HE SAID Belgian-Style Tripel

“The story starts in 2010 when Dick Cantwell walked into our San Francisco pub. We'd heard about his little pumpkin fest and wanted to get together to brew a pumpkin beer like no other.: a Belgian-style Tripel brewed with pumpkin, galangal and tarragon. In a dark colored can.

Malts: 2-Row, Aromatic, Belgian Candi Sugar

Special Ingredients: Pumpkin Puree, Pumpkin Juice

Hops: German Northern Brewer, US Golding, Sterling

Spices: Galangal, Tarragon

Yeast: Trappist Ale Yeast”


HE SAID Porter can Picmonkey


HE SAID Baltic-Style Porter

“The story starts in 1999 when Shaun O'Sullivan walked into my Seattle pub. He'd heard about my massive pumpkin fest and wanted to get together and brew a pumpkin beer like no other: a Baltic-style Porter brewed with pumpkin , caraway and cinnamon. In a light colored can.

Malts: 2-Row, Carafa II, Cara-Vienne, Dark Munich, Carafa III

Special Ingredients: Pumpkin Puree, Pumpkin Juice

Hops: German Northern Brewer, Sturian Golding

Spices: Vietnamese Cinnamon, Caraway Seed

Yeast: German Lager Yeast”


The pumpkin beers are being marketed together--two 12-ounce cans of each interpretation in a four-pack. Since they're distributed just during this autumn, tasting and reporting wasn't to be put off. The project seemed like fun and I thought we'd invoke the principle of a jury, rather than just one reviewer, for whatever coverage we might do. With just one can of each beer, we weren't really outfitted for a party, but I decided to convene an ad-hoc tasting panel. The staff and customers at The Shack in Sacramento are among the area's most knowledgeable. And my car knows the way there.


Five people tasted with me. They included one customer and four of the staff (one from the kitchen, three from front of the house). It wasn't a competition, but when you have two different interpretations of the same subject it's only natural that folks would take a “which one's better?” approach. Following are some of the comments:


Sean Montgomery:  (re the Tripel) “Really good because it actually tastes like pumpkin and not just cinnamon and allspice like most pumpkin beer.” (re. the Porter) “Just doesn't work. It's a little medicinal for me. A little cigarette ashy.”Jen Witek PicmonkeyJen Witek


Jen Witek:  (re the Tripel) “Excellent. Absolutely fabulous.” (re. the Porter) “O.K., but I much prefer the other.”

Christopher Fairman Oct 09 2013 PicmonkeyChristopher Fairman

Chris Delgado:  “They were both easy drinking.”


Christopher Fairman:  (re the Tripel) “This really tastes like a pumpkin pie (with whipped cream). I would drink this.” (re the Porter) “It's revolting.”


Dan Clarke:  (re. the Tripel) “Nose seems a little like mentholated cough drops, then more like pumpkin as I get used to it. Taste exhibits much more pumpkin quality.” (re. the Porter) “Not bad taste, but doesn't seem very 'pumpkiney'.”


Charlie Ellis PicmonkeyCharlie EllisCharlie Ellis:  (re. the Tripel) “It tastes like fall, but better because it has alcohol. I taste a little black olive.” (re. the Porter) “Had a little 'ashy' aftertaste. Thought it tasted of cardamom. I'd like to mix something with it (use as an ingredient in creating a dish).”


Editor's note: In addition to links to the websites of thousands of Lodging, Dining and Winery options, Taste California Travel's Resource Directory has links to the website of The Shack, as well as the sites of most of all the other beer centric establishments throughout California.


Saturday, 08 June 2013 22:49

Tasting in Classic Circumstances

by Dan Clarke

Sometimes I have to work on the weekends. Sometimes this is not such a bad thing.

Editing a publication that covers both wines and cars, I couldn't pass up Wine, Tunes & Classics. The wineries of Lake County had put together this event, which was to be held at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento. The museum is open year-round and has a fine permanent collection of cars. They also feature rotating exhibits and on this day they were to be celebrating the opening of Elegance in Motion: Cars of the Golden Age. Lake County wineries would be pouring. There would be some food and a live band, too. I had not visited a vineyard or winery in Lake County in a couple of years and it had been even longer since I'd been to the museum. It was time.Cad V16 nose iewCadillac elegance on a massive scale.

Entering the museum I hear music coming from an adjacent room. The band isn't playing the music of the age of elegance defined by the automobiles featured, but it s playing music I remember—tunes from the 50s and 60s. Happy music.

Winery pouring tables are arrayed against the walls of the main hall around the centerpiece exhibit, the roped-off display of these gorgeous cars that were joining the museum's ongoing collection through October 13th. When I get to the rope I am nose-to-nose with a Cadillac. It is a blue four-door convertible, a 1939 model, I think. It seems as big as a float in the Rose Parade. Years earlier when I acquired a pre-owned Coupe de Ville with a 500-cubic inch V8 engine, I thought I was really styling. This blue beauty is a V16 and way cooler.

Pierce Arrow front PicmonkeyArcher on radiator cap and headlamps springing from fenders are distinctive Pierce Arrow features.Inside the ropes there are other examples of this Golden Age of motoring, many whose names might be unfamiliar these days: Stutz, Deusenberg, Hispano-Suiza, Cord, Auburn, La Salle, Pierce Arrow, Packard—they might not be in motion, but they are undeniably elegant.

Driving down to this event I was thinking about Lake County. My first awareness of the wines was probably the Kendall Jackson Chardonnay that made such a spectacular debut 30 years ago. In those days the winery was in Lakeport. K-J has since become hugely successful, moved to Sonoma County and now sources grapes from all over the state. A few years later I was attending a dinner at the Buena Vista . Their Sauvignon Blanc was wonderful. Winemaker Jill Davis said that the grapes came not from the winery's own estate in Sonoma, but from Lake County. The wine had a purer expression of fruit than I had ever experienced with this variety. So I began paying more attention to Lake County.

When compared to the wine experience in neighboring Napa and Sonoma, Lake County has always been sort of a stepchild. It doesn't have the cachet of these regions, but important things are going on there. If those bent on making a lifestyle statements aren't developing vineyards and wineries in Lake County, savvy professionals in the wine business are.

I thought of Lake County people I had met over the years. I knew that some, like the late Bob Romougiere, wouldn't be in attendance. Orville and Karen McGoon had sold their Guenoc property a few years ago and presumably were living in happy retirement. The Holdenreids of Wildhurst Winery were among the first Lake County vintners I had met years ago. Might they be here? How about Jerry Brassfield and Kaj Ahlmann? They own neighboring properties (Brassfield Estates and Six Sigma) and Don Neal, another writer, and I had enjoyed an overhead tour of their vineyards in Jerry's helicopter a few years ago. As it turns out, many of the people in my Lake County memories aren't at this tasting. But most are still alive, at least, and still in the wine business. If I won't be renewing old acquaintances, I'll enjoy making new ones.

I see a name I recognize, if not a face. The sign says Rosa d'Oro Vineyards and I remember that they had sent wine samples for review a few years ago. The recollection is less than vivid, but I'm pretty sure that I liked their wines. I meet owner Nick Buttitta, who is pouring several of his wines, one of which is a Barbera, a variety that appeals to both of us. After some talk about farming and food-friendly wines, we realize that we'll both be at the upcoming Barbera Festival in Amador County and decide to continue our conversation there.

Jed Steele is likely the longest-serving and best-known Lake County winemaker. One of the bottles on the table under the sign reading Steele Wines is a Zinfandel labeled “Writer's Block.” Of course I want to know more, but Jed isn't here and the women pouring, while very attractive, are considerably less knowledgeable than he is. The wine is tasty, but since it takes me two weeks to begin this article, a sip of Writer's Block doesn't appear to be an antidote for the condition.

At the Alienor table I meet owners Bonnie and David Weiss. David explains that they are involved primarily in the grape farming part of the operation. They are pouring a nice Sauvignon Blanc and their 2008 Grand Vin, an excellent proprietary blend, which seems very right bankish to me. Bonnie seems pleased that I have noticed and says that it is mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc and that a St. Emilion style is the intention of the winemaker.Tasters at Obsidian Ridge tableTasters get perspective from Clark Smith of Diamond Ridge.

In the two to three hours available to me I try to hit every one of the 19 winery tables. This would be difficult enough to accomplish, even without the distractions of the band and all those beautiful cars. As I appear in front of one table, the pourer and I do double takes, both thinking something like, “Don't I know you?” We share similar handles, his a first name and mine a surname. Clark Smith is a triple-threat performer in the wine game—a winemaker, an adjunct professor and an author (his Postmodern Winemaking is being published this summer) . We talk about the Diamond Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Franc and the composition of the 2008 “Aspects” he is pouring and the advantages of Lake County vineyards. He's damned knowledgeable about the winemaking process and often looks at issues in ways that fascinate me, yet seem to be just slightly beyond my ability to fully understand. Sometimes I feel that if I have one more glass of wine, I'll get it. On the other hand, maybe one less would clear the path to my enlightenment.

At another table I make the acquaintance of Bill Brunetti, and though he doesn't seem to have any direct connection to the winery for which he is pouring, he really knows about vineyards and wineries in the area and knows most of the people I mention having met from earlier visits. Turns out he is a Member of the Board of the Lake County Wine Grape Commission.

Couple Tasting by DeusenbergEven if it's not Jay and Daisy, the Deusenberg sets a Gatsbyesque toneBullion Creek Vineyards is another operation unfamiliar to me, but at their table I meet proprietor Richard Brand. He and his wife Gail grow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the north side of Mount St. Helena in the Middletown area. He pours me a taste of their estate-bottled Cab and we spend some time discussing grape growing. Since his property is in the southern part of the county and not too far from Guenoc, I ask if he knew Orville and Karen, the former owners. He did and says to the best of his knowledge they are fully retired and living in Hawaii. Richard concurs when I say they were nice people. He tells me that in addition to their public involvement in ways civic and philanthropic, Orville contributed anonymously to many families in the area when they were in need.

Part of me thinks it would be just fine to stick around. The winery folks are convivial people and the tasters are becoming ever more so as the afternoon moves into evening. The band still sounds good. The finger food served to pair with some of the wines has been excellent and there may yet be some more of it. A few of the docents from the museum are here and could answer my questions about the cars. But timing an exit can be tricky business. I decide to leave on a high note and know that I'll return to both the California Automobile Museum and to the wine country of Lake County.

Friday, 22 February 2013 13:13

Sacramento Hosts Annual Autorama

by Dan Clarke

President of the Capitol City Auto Club Thunderbolts, Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian talked his fellow members into sponsoring a car show in November of 1950. Twenty-two entries were displayed at a downtown Chevrolet dealership and 500 spectators paid 74-cents each to attend (apparently, a price of 75 cents or more would have subjected the sponsors to a federal amusement tax). While the Thunderbolts car club backed out of involvement after a couple of years, Bagdasarian decided to go it alone, using the name “Autorama” for the first time in 1953 (that year Hollywood was experimenting with “Cinerama,” a revolutionary process that had the country abuzz with anticipation). Ownership and management of the show eventually passed to others, but every year the Sacramento Autorama, now held at Cal Expo, continues to display dazzling hot rods and custom cars.

While interest in modifying cars is pretty much world-wide these days, the phenomenon has its roots in California's car culture. A few of the cars entered in this February's show that we found interesting included:


Autorama Oldie RoadsterFord Roadster, an oldie.

40 Caddie Sophia Picmonkey"Sophia," a sleek 1940 Cadillac Coupe


















60 Dodge Dart Picmonkey1960 Dodge Dart awarded the H.A. Bagdasarian trophy as World's Most Beautiful Custom

Candy Apple Red MercMercury from the '49-'51 era. Candy Apple Red and Lake Pipes--Wow!

Region: Central Valley     City: Sacramento     Contact: www.sacramentofrenchfilmfestival.org

Children have a new place to play and explore since the Sacramento Children's Museum (SCM) opened in August 2011. Located in Rancho Cordova, a Sacramento suburb, SCM's 7,000-square foot space includes a main exhibit area that showcases permanent and temporary exhibits, a special area for babies and toddlers, a creative art studio, a party room and a resource center.Sacramento Childrens Museum Logo Picmonkey

"This announcement symbolizes the beginning of a new and exciting asset for the community," said Alan Godlove, President of the SCM Board of Directors. Godlove went on to say that SCM is "a place where imaginations can roam, confidence can grow, and families can experience the power of play in a safe and welcoming environment."

SCM features various exhibit areas to encourage children's imaginations and prompt them to test, tinker, laugh, and wonder. Special shows, programs, and speakers will complement the exhibits. Although the Museum will appeal to visitors of all ages, it is designed primarily for children from birth to age eight and their families.

Museum components include:

Waterways promote wet activities such as building boats, creating whirlpools, and experimenting with water flow.

My Neighborhood has a produce stand so that children can learn the value of local produce and healthy eating. There's also a small house where children can "cook" and play dress up. This exhibit will rotate throughout the year (a mercado with Latin American food, a Russian market with Russian products, etc.) so that we can serve as a platform for cultural awareness of the incredible diversity of the Sacramento region.

World Market will help build cultural awareness and celebrate families and traditions as it relates to each individual family and child.

Raceways demonstrate the basic principles of objects in motion, such as why people don't fall out of a rollercoaster when riding upside down.

Airways include balls and scarves that swoosh through over 100 feet of large, clear tubing as children discover how objects move through the multiple pathways.

Studio of the Arts provides opportunities for self-expression and creativity, using a variety of materials.

Baby Bloomers offers safe exploration activities designed specifically for babies and toddlers.

Resource Center is a source of parenting and child development information for parents, childcare providers, and other caregivers.

Party Room is an area that can be rented for birthday and holiday celebrations.

The idea for a children's museum in Sacramento began with Kathleen Palley, a local mother and teacher, who saw a need for inspiring learning through interactivity. She started SCM, a non-profit corporation, and soon received support from local businesses, educators, librarians, professionals, children's advocates, and other family oriented organizations throughout the region. The Junior League of Sacramento, the City of Rancho Cordova and Roebbelen Construction are the three Founding Partners of the Children's Museum.

"A children's museum is about the future. When a community makes the commitment to create a children's museum, they are opening their hands to hold and care for their future. Those future leaders, artists, dreamers, scientists, farmers, parents, and explorers who are today's children," said Palley, SCM Founder.

Carl Sagan, the famed American astronomer and strong proponent of the children's museum movement, once said: "These exhibits do not replace instruction in school or at home, but they awaken and excite. A great science museum inspires a child to read a book, or take a course, or return to the museum again to engage in a process of discovery—and, most important, to learn the method of scientific discovery." (The Demon Haunted World-Science as a Candle in the Dark, 1996)

More information is available at www.sackids.org

(TravMedia.com sources contributed to this article.)

Friday, 10 August 2012 01:05

Memories on Fulton

by Dan Clarke


Cars used to be exciting. But that was a long time ago.

Automobiles have evolved since I first began noticing them. If reliability is the standard by which you judge, then the modern products are much better. They're reliable. They get better gas mileage. They might last for 200,000 miles—maybe longer. And, if truth be told, most of them are faster than cars that seemed pretty quick when I first started driving.

All that said, there isn't much produced these days that stirs the blood. You hardly ever see a convertible and all sedans tend to resemble the ubiquitous Toyota Camry (a solid and reliable vehicle, well worth its price, but essentially a soul-less conveyance). It wasn't always thus.P8042103 PicmonkeyNot a Toyota.

Reportedly, my first words,“car keys,” were spoken as the family was about to drive away from my grandmother's house in San Mateo. It's likely the car keys referenced were for the ignition of my father's blue 1947 Dodge, purchased shortly after the war when new cars were still in short supply. Later, we moved to Sacramento and my father traded in the Dodge on a '51 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 from Foulks Motors. It was another four-door sedan, uninspiring pale green in color. But it was a powerful-for-the-time V-8. And the automatic transmission had a passing gear, so that if you really stomped on the accelerator you'd get a surge of power that might be critical in overtaking a slower car on a two-lane highway. After a couple of Volkswagens purchased in the mid-50s, Dad returned to Detroit Iron in the form of a 1959 Chevy Bel Air. Once again, it was a stodgy four-door, but it was an unusual and attractive rose color and did have a lively 283-cubic inch V-8.

As an eighteen-year-old college student with a job and moving out on his own, I accepted my father's offer to tag along when I went to slightly seedy area to check out a '53 Ford Victoria, which was about to become my own first car. Wow, a two-door hardtop, with automatic transmission and a flat-head V-8. It had a sporty black roof over body of teal green and seemed in good shape for a 10-year-old car. For my $325 I was about to start living large.

50 Ford Conv Picmonkey1950 Ford Convertible.Hearing that California Automobile Museum was to sponsor its fourth annual Sacramento CarCruise, which would mean a parade up Fulton Avenue followed by an informal car show, I began to reminisce. Fulton Avenue was a major commercial street in the post-war suburbs of my youth. I grew up in the neighborhood and have many memories.

By the time I arrive, the Highway Patrol has actually closed a half-mile stretch of this busy, four-lane road. Participating cars are already parked along the sides of the road and in lots in front of businesses and offices.

It is an all-comers event which draws proud owners of cars of no narrow definition. There are antiques, low-riders, hot rods, classics, customs and muscle cars. It is an everyman's—and everywoman's—activity.

The first car I see is a '50 Ford, a classic body design in its most Volvo 544 PicmonkeyThe 544--more function than flash.exciting convertible form. Though my '53 was a sleeker and more modern body style, they are kin. Across the street is a white Volvo 544, a bulbous design for the late 1950's and early '60s. It resembled a '46 Ford, only smaller. I'd owned a white 444, the earlier model which was nearly identical except for a split windshield. After a couple of years of good service, I traded that Volvo in on a red Triumph TR-4 at Von Housen Motors, located in those days on Fulton Ave about a couple of miles to the south.

The event organizers have hired a live band to play music of the '50s and '60s. They sound pretty good, especially since none of the musicians was alive when the tunes they are playing were popular.

Ah yes, memories are coming back. Just across from the street from the Von Housen's dealership was the Gilded Cage, a bar where a young man could hear jazz musicians of the day like Vince Guaraldi, Les McCann and Bola Sete. Less than 100 yards to the north was a Lincoln-Mercury dealer where my Dad and I had gone to see the new Lincoln Continental Mark II. Not that we could afford it, of course. We were just window shopping. The car cost $10,000—a lot of money in 1956 when you could have a new Cadillac for something less than $6,000.

There are some young people oohing and aahing over the cars of their parents' and grandparents' eras, and it is good to see them, but most of the CarCruise crowd seems considerably older. And there are a lot of smiles on their faces.

56 Nash Ambassador PicmonkeyThe Ambassador comes equipped with a bed.A 1956 Nash Ambassador with the original white, grey and pink color scheme draws considerable attention. Even sporting trendy colors of that era, a Nash would never have been on any boy's wish list in the 1950's. Not even nerds would not want to be seen in one. However, a Nash had one practical application. For years, these cars had front seats that could recline all the way so that they'd be flat and flush with the back seat, thereby making a serviceable bed. The cruise night Ambassador has the passenger side folded down to demonstrate this feature. A fellow about 25 years old stares at it for a moment, then turns to his girlfriend and says, “Hey, this would be good at the drive in.” I scan the faces around us to see if there is any concurrence from the grey-hair crowd. There is no response at the moment; perhaps I'd been the only one to hear him. But I'd like to believe that before the evening is over, a grandmother will look in the window of that Nash, smile a wistful smile and remember that yes, it was good at a drive in.58 Impala PicmonkeyImpala looks stock, but for the wheels.

There is a gorgeous 1958 Impala just like the ones I gawked at in the showroom of the Lew Williams dealership at the corner of Fulton and El Camino. There is a '59 on display, also. While it shares the same oddly-horizontal fins of our family sedan of that vintage, being a convertible, it is way cooler.

A brown '70 or '71 Coupe de Ville is parked, top down, in front of the now-defunct Buggy Whip restaurant. Many years ago I had climbed into a brown '52 or '53 Cadillac sedan in front of the Coral Reef, a popular Polynesian place which used to occupy the now-vacant lot half a block away. The restaurant's owner was one of my father's more prosperous friends and we were on the way to the Memorial Auditorium to watch Gorgeous George wrestle. A luxurious ride, sports (of a sort) and flamboyant showmanship—it all contributed to a heady and memorable night for a nine-year-old.

Crossing back to the east side of Fulton I see a cluster of Studebakers, these of the “Orphan” category, apparently Car Museum-speak for companies no longer in existence. There is a 1915, which is about a decade younger than that manufacturer's Phaeton that my grandfather bought when the family moved “down the Peninsula” from San Francisco. There is a low-mileage example of the 1963 Avanti, a Raymond Loewy-designed car that combined high performance with really great looks. It's sad that this landmark automobile wasn't enough to save a manufacturer on its way out of existence.

Chrysler 300E MB 220SE PicmonkeyChrysler 300E and Mercedes Benz 220SE.Twenty-five yards to the north are a 1959 Chrysler 300 E and a 1960 Mercedes Benz 220 SE, both gorgeous convertibles. It's possible that either could have been parked in this same spot when they were new and I was working as a busboy at Scheidel's, a German restaurant whose former parking lot they were now occupying.

I spy a '55 Buick. It's a handsome sedan and I compliment the apparent owner, a man about my age, on its appearance. He tells me it's a Century—the Buick model with the lighter body, but the bigger engine of the Super and Roadmaster models. I smile and remember that's exactly the reason I really was interested in a '55 Buick Century convertible (white body and top, with red and white leather upholstery, as I recall). Test drove it and almost bought it, but not quite (probably called for a little more money than I had at age 19 or 20). It isn't the first time this Saturday night I say to myself, “wish I had that car now.”

Almost back to Town & Country Village where my own car is parked, I notice Chevy Camaros across the street. Well, one last stop to look at some things a bit more modern while I make the transition to 2012, I decide.

Among these beautifully maintained Camaros is a handsome example of the 1969 vintage in a metallic silver-gray that catches my eye. Or maybe it is the tall blonde woman who is standing next to it. It turns out she is the owner and she tells me all about her pride and joy, even pulling out a photo album to show pictures of various stages of its restoration. In this fine Camaro, the woman has a tangible reminder of some of her own great memories and I appreciate her sharing them with me.

Getting into my own car I remember when my boyhood pal Alan returned from the South with a new red and black Camaro. It was the debut year for this GM challenger to the well established Ford Mustang. But it was better looking than the Mustang and had gobs of power. And it had an 8-track stereo. How cool were we?

Everybody who sees cars such as those at the 2012 CarCruise, sees them through his own prism. Memories will differ, but most will be happy recollections. I'll look forward to the 2013 edition of this event, but in the meantime I'll return to the museum on Sacramento's Front Street. Further information can be had at the website www.calautomuseum.org.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:17

An Afternoon at The Shack

by Dan Clarke

The sign out front reads “100 beers.” I've never made it an issue to demand a count. To me it doesn't matter as The Shack easily has the best selection of beers in town. It also has the most knowledgeable clientele.

It's an unpretentious establishment, but not as down-market as the name might imply. Under an earlier ownership, it was known as “the Sub Shack,” so the current identity is an evolution. Friends who attended nearby Kit Carson Junior High in the 1950's remember hanging out at this same spot, though their drinks were likely root beers. Doc's Hot Dogs, as the place was known in those days, already had a long history in East Sacramento. It's reputed when Prohibition was repealed in 1933, California Governor “Sunny Jim” Rolph had his first legal glass of beer at Doc's.

Gary Sleppy at Shack Patio SMALL P3240129Gary Sleppy of The Shack

The patio has a beer garden atmosphere, though in a decidedly family and pet-friendly style. The servers are an agile lot, often stepping over and around kids and dogs. Younger children are offered pails of chalk and invited to indulge their artistic instincts on the concrete. Owner Gary Sleppy, a culinary school graduate, provides water bowls for his four-legged visitors and actually bakes dog biscuits for them. Really. I've seen him do it.

Having some history as a wine and food writer, doesn't confer expertise in all beverages. I once sold specialty beers and imports to restaurants, but that world is much more complex now. When I drop in to The Shack I usually learn something. Sometimes from the boss and his staff. Sometimes from the servers or other customers.

A few days ago I asked Gary if he would help me taste some beers. He and a few late-afternoon customers were seated on the patio. Of course I knew Gary and I also recognized Sean Montgomery, a home brewer, but wasn't familiar with any of the others at the big table.

The beers are from Deschutes Brewery. My experience with them isn't extensive, but it does go back a while--about 15 years ago I enjoyed a couple of pints and a burger at their brewpub in Bend, Oregon. Since that time, the operation has grown and has enough distribution in California that all of my just-convened tasting panel are familiar with their products.

Two of the beers are new--or at least recent--releases, Hop in the Dark and Twilight Summer Ale. Two others, a Hop Henge and a Stoic, had been plucked from the office wine rack and added to the canvas carrier I would take down to The Shack.


Twilight Summer Ale 12 oz Bottle SMALL Twilight Summer Ale

Approaching our samples in a lighter-to-heavier sequence, we first pour tastes of Twilight Summer Ale. Its main label indicated contents are at 5% Alcohol by Volume (ABV). It also reads, “Down goes another brewing dogma. Select malts and a heavy dose of bold Amarillo hops deliver full-on flavor and crafted nuance in a spry summer style. Enjoy chilled as the days linger.” The neck label adds, “Grills on. Shoes off. Summer has its own rules. As luck would have it, it also has its own beer. Enjoy.” If these words are more hyperbolic than substantive, so be it. Anyway, the verbiage pales compared to the balderdash written on many wine labels. No harm done and, and always, the proof will be in the tasting.

The Shack's proprietor Gary Sleppy pronounces the Twilight Ale “delicious and aromatic.” I second that opinion, reverting to winespeak by suggesting that it is “subtlely floral, like a Riesling or Gewürztraminer.” Eben Weisberg, Northern California manager for the Colorado brewery Oskar Blues, declares it “right on point for a summer beer. Not too much flavor, but not lacking either.” He adds that it has a “soft mouth feel.” Sean Montgomery calls it, “A wonderful summer beer. It's light . . .it's 'sessionable'. ”


Hop Henge

After a splendid start we move on to the Hop Henge I had grabbed before leaving the office. The tasters are silent for a couple of moments and I notice wrinkled noses on some faces. Gary says it has “a really weird malt profile. It's not my favorite.” Sean believes there is “a strong malt profile.” I look to the label and find that it is 8.5% ABV and “best by 4/25/12.” Well, we've missed its sell-by date by nearly a month and I not sure about the storage conditions. How much might these factors have affected the product? Well, we don't know for sure. Eben explains—mostly for my benefit, I suspect—that hops “can get lost. They don't age well. (Hop-based) beers are best fresh.” Since several of the tasters agreed earlier that they have enjoyed every different beer that they'd tasted from the brewery, we figure our Hop Henge experience is an aberration and that the product has likely suffered due to age or questionable storage conditions.


Hop in the Dark

Hop In The Dark 2010 SMALLNext we open Hop in the Dark. If not a brand-new release, it is very recent and we anticipate none of the issues that may have adversely affected the Hop Henge. This Hop in the Dark prompts Gary to comment, “Hops. I get Cascade--100%.” Sean notices coffee-like qualities.

Cary Smith, who sells wine and beer for Wine Warehouse, says there is a clear presence of not just hops, but Cascadian hops, and continues to opine on the “two-parted representation of an IPA” in which “the hops take the forefront, followed by a malty, coffee-like (aspect).” She adds that Hop in the Dark “drinks like a port.” I'm not sure about this last comment, but if it means that this is something rich and worthy of being slowly savored, then I am in agreement. I ask her to clarify the Cascadian hops comment. What is the overriding characteristic that makes them distinguishable from other hops? After just a moment's hesitation she replies that Cascadian hops smell like marijuana. I put my nose back into the glass, then take a sip. Oh, yeah. Does it ever. It brings back pleasant memories, the most recent of which is a visit to a hop farm and dryer in Washington just a year earlier. At that time I had assumed that all varieties of hops had this almost overpowering aroma.

Whatever the properties of this beer, it has inspired Gary to begin thinking of food. The ability to really dial in the pairing of foods with wines or beers, even among professionals, is rarer than you might imagine. Gary is one of those guys who “gets it” and it's fun to play this game with him. The Hop in the Dark has inspired him to suggest grilled flank steak with tomatillos . . . and maybe served with a chimichurri sauce, all of which sounds good to me.

Sean and Cary at Shack Table P1012003Sean pours while Cary checks the nose. 


Another bottle that had been sitting in the office for a while was labeled “Stoic.” No wrinkled noses after we open this one—only smiles.

“Belgian yeast,” observes one taster. “A Belgian-style quad ale—stunning depth and complexity,” comments another. Someone chimes in with “pomegranate.” “Brett?” is offered by somebody else. The comments are coming quickly and from all around the table. I'm having trouble getting accurate attributions for the opinions of my fellow panelists while giving this pour my own due consideration.

Gary gives his benediction (“Even though it's big, it has a delicate nature.”) and ruminates about another pairing; Thresher shark topped with ratatouille might work, and a variation on the theme involving spinach and goat cheese with shark or maybe monkfish placed on top seems to have even more potential.

Someone poses the general question, “If you could have just one beer on a desert island, what would it be.” I begin mulling over some fairly mundane possibilities, but Sean has no hesitation. “The Magic Ghost,” he says. For him, it's the Holy Grail. The Ghost is made sporadically and in small quantities by Fantôme Brewery, which apparently is a one-man operation in Belgium. Sean has tasted it, but for all practical purposes, it's just unavailable.

But what's it like, I ask? He replies that it's brewed “on a green tea base. It's very tart, very carbonated,” concluding “it absolutely has no flaw.” The look on Sean's face as he describes this ephemeral product tells me that if I ever come across it, I should be prepared to pay any price to sample its charms.


And One More Try of the TwilightGreen Curry Mussels SMALL at The Shack photoPlump mussels in green curry sauce.

Two days later I discover one more bottle of the Twilight Summer Ale in my refrigerator and decide to try it in more private and contemplative circumstances. My notes indicate it “has a beautiful golden/amber color and a fruity, floral nose.” There is a long finish, which I find “a pleasant, lingering sensation.” It isn't long before I'm thinking what food I'd like the next time I encounter a bottle of Twilight. Cheeses with nutty flavor (but not added nuts) sounds good—maybe a good dry Swiss cheese would do. The beer is from Oregon, not Belgium, but mussels come to mind. I love mussels and usually prefer simple, traditional preparations, but in this case it's mussels in a green curry sauce that I want. Ryan, chef at The Shack, introduced me to his version on a recent Tuesday night. Yep, that might well be the perfect pairing.


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