What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

Monday, 08 April 2019 13:19

From Chains to Farm-to-Fork

By Dan Clarke

Sacramentans are outgrowing their inferiority complex.

Ella dining room interior PicmonkeyUrban and airy feeling at Ella

TASTE News Service May 4, 2015 - Local, seasonal, sustainable: These may be culinary buzzwords in many places, but Sacramento restaurateurs have been cooking by these principles for decades. Surrounded by unparalleled agricultural bounty, Sacramento's restaurants showcase the region's best products, from juicy tomatoes to lush old-vine Zinfandel, sweet peaches to crisp corn, nutty almonds to succulent lamb. That cornucopia inspires Sacramento's talented chefs year-round, and the city's dining scene—especially in the convenient, central downtown and Midtown areas—has boomed in recent years. The city's fresh, new dining venues and its longtime favorite haunts alike offer top-notch, inventive fare and high style, together with the welcoming vibe that characterizes this friendly city.

Downtown

In the neighborhood that surrounds the State Capitol, power-lunch places are now jointed by happening hot spots like Ella Dining Room and Bar, a venture from Randall Selland and family (the powers behind high-end stalwart The Kitchen). Ella's refined, luxe style (its signature is hundreds of wooden shutters, sourced from Europe) was created by an Amsterdam design team, and its distinctive look has been featured in magazines worldwide. The perfectly crafted small-plates fare and upscale cocktails (like a refreshing gin with house-made tonic) are just as sophisticated as the airy interior. Grange, situated in the showpiece Citizen Hotel, serves ever-changing, strictly local menus at breakfast, lunch, and dinner including well-priced nightly prix-fixe specials. The warmly lit, mod interior is framed by dramatic high windows and carved from the Citizen's renovated historic quarters. New to Sacramento in January 2014, Mother is now the can't-miss place to dine in the area. The restaurant offers a full, locally-sourced vegetarian and vegan menu.

Zocalo sidewalk dining PicmonkeySidewalk dining at ZocaloMidtown

Sacramento's hippest neighborhood draws nightly crowds not just to its art galleries and boutiques, but its hot restaurants as well. Gems abound in this dining-rich neighborhood, but two local favorites are Mulvaney's Building and Loan and The Waterboy, both of which reflect the personalities of their chef-owners with fresh, seasonal cooking. Patrick Mulvaney's intimate restaurant, which features a central display kitchen, is located in a historic brick firehouse and showcases local producers like Bledsoe Pork and Riverdog Farms on its compact but inviting menu. Rick Mahan's airy Waterboy is a favorite of locals, thanks to Mahan's local sourcing and impeccable but often adventurous California-Mediterranean cooking; the menu changes often, but he's as well known for dishes like steak tartare and sweetbreads as for a luscious, perfect burger. Local favorite Shady Lady, a speakeasy-style bar-restaurant pouring just-so traditional cocktails and serving small plates inspired by classic American fare, is the anchor for the vibrant, revitalized R Street Corridor, now packed with fun restaurants and bars that draw young crowds. Nearby Hook & Ladder highlights handcrafted cocktails and local craft beer along with its farm-fresh California cuisine. More top Midtown destinations include the longtime favorite Biba, featuring seasonally driven, meticulous Northern Italian specialties from cookbook author and TV personality Biba Caggiano; popular wine bar 58 Degrees & Holding Co., and bustling, beautifully decorated Mexican spot Zocalo. When it's time for dessert, tempt your sweet-tooth at Ginger Elizabeth. This downtown chocolatier and sweet shop, specializes in chocolates and macaroons, and many of the boutique's offerings are made with locally-sourced ingredients.

Old Sacramento and Other Areas

Squash BisqueFirehouse Squash BisqueDowntown and Midtown Sacramento may be replete with great food, but Sacramento's other neighborhoods are equally mouthwatering. Historic Old Sacramento is home to the ultra-refined The Firehouse, famed for its deep wine cellar, high-end fare from award-winning chef Deneb Williams, and special-occasion-worthy tasting menus. Another perfect pick for a big night out is The Kitchen in Arden-Arcade, where the spectacular multicourse dinners are a show in and of themselves. Plan your visit a few weeks in advance! Craving a waterfront table? Try Pearl on the River, which overlooks the romantic Sacramento River and features impeccable service and a changing “live menu” concept of locally sourced ingredients. All these, and many more, combine to make Sacramento and its diverse restaurant scene a delicious destination.

 

Editor’s Note: To meet some of the people responsible for creating Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork identity, see article by Dan Clarke. If you’re planning on visiting Sacramento visit Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory first. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area Wineries and Craft Beer Purveyors.

Farm to Fork 2013 Gala Dinner Night PicmonkeyOver-the-water dinner setting

by Dan Clarke

Sacramento has declared itself the leader in a category which has no universal definition, no absolute standards. However, a persuasive case can be made that this city in the most agriculturally productive state in the U.S. deserves the title “America's Farm-to-Fork Capital.” Sacramento is surrounded by farmland. Chefs in Sacramento have ready access to raw ingredients that their brethren in bigger and more glamorous locations could only dream about.

In the past Sacramento suffered the reputation of being a cultural and culinary backwater. Local radio personalities called the city “Sacra-Tomato” (and this was not meant as a compliment). Chain restaurants predominated and residents looking for a good meal would often drive to San Francisco, rather than patronize local options.

Times change, though. As Sacramento shed its inferiority complex, it began to realize that things weren't really so bad. In fact, for those who enjoyed their food, things were pretty special.

Josh Nelson at Sellands Mkt PicmonkeyJosh Nelson got it started“Josh Nelson approached us in late summer of 2012, announcing that we should be 'the Farm to Fork Capital of America',” recalled Mike Testa, who's in charge of business development for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau. In a matter of hours the Mayor had been contacted and soon agreement had been reached to promote the concept with “four really special events” to involve the community. Confessing to some apprehension, Testa remembers thinking, “If the locals don't buy in, then the rest of the world won't.”

Nelson is proud of his home town and is a good spokesman for it. He's part of a team that operates two fine dining restaurants in Sacramento, The Kitchen and Ella, and two wine market and deli operations. While he's quick to point out that his father, Randall Selland, is the chef in the family, Nelson has grown up in the restaurant business. “We always shopped small family farms for The Kitchen,” he recalled. “Since 1991 we've done this—not to be a 'locavore,' but to source the best product. We have a bounty of local crops. We have great product in the area.”Farm-to-Fork Festival 2013 Capitol Mall PicmonkeyEvent on Mall drew 25,000

Years ago Los Angeles Laker coach Phil Jackson dismissed Sacramento as “a cow town.” The city puckishly embraced that identity last September with a cattle drive up Capitol Mall, the first of their four Farm-to-Fork Week events. Ostensibly celebrating the availability of high quality proteins in the area, it was a natural made-for-media opportunity and created national news.

A second occasion, a tasting on the Capitol lawn dubbed “Legends of Wine,” honored Darrell Corti and David Berkeley, locals with international reputations. The Convention and Visitor's Bureau considers itself a regional marketer and, especially for the purposes of defining itself as the Farm-to-Fork Capital, includes much of the surrounding area as parts of the whole. Yolo County, just across the Sacramento River to the west, is home to the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and lots of farm acreage.

In another gathering that was both symbolic and attention grabbing, authorities closed the Tower Bridge for a gala dinner with diners seated on the span that links the City of Sacramento and all that land to the west providing so much goodness for the table. Six hundred tickets to the $175 a plate meal went on sale in July of 2013 and sold out in a matter of hours.

The fourth and final event was the Festival on Capitol Mall and it surely was proof that locals were intrigued. The event was free and open to the public, who could meet growers, see cooking demonstrations and buy food if they liked. “We'd hoped for 10,000 people,” explained Mike Testa. “We got 25,000. The crowd was educated, engaged and eager to celebrate the Farm-to-Fork concept.”

Jim Mills in Produce Express Whse PicmonkeyJim MillsAs a former chef, Produce Express' Sales Manager Jim Mills has close ties to the area's restaurant community. “We have over 1200 accounts in the Sacramento Valley,” he commented. “These range from taquerias to the area's finest restaurants.” Mills has been pivotal in creating a liaison between specialty growers and an appreciative corps of area chefs.

One of those chefs is Patrick Mulvaney, whose Mulvaney's B&L has been in the forefront of Sacramento restaurants sourcing high-quality ingredients from nearby farms. A native of Long Island, Mulvaney worked as waiter in New York restaurants after taking a degree in English at Union College. Realizing that if he were to reach his goal of owning a restaurant, he'd need to understand how a kitchen worked, Patrick headed off to Ireland. There he apprenticed to a man who'd been Executive Chef for the P & O Cruise Line. On his return to the States, Mulvaney gained experience in the kitchens of several New York restaurants before working his way west. Eventually Mulvaney achieved a second degree in Food Science and Technology at UC Davis and later worked in the Napa Valley with the famed teaching chef, Madeleine Kammen. By this time, says Mulvaney, he had fallen in love with California and with the access to the fresh ingredients he found there. The menu at his midtown Sacramento restaurant changes daily and the chef is acutely aware of the ever-developing bounty available to him. “I moved here in 1994. It's now 2014,” he commented. “Has the percentage of iceberg lettuce to mixed baby salad greens changed in that time?”Patrick Mulvaney late May 2014 PicmonkeyPatrick Mulvaney champions local products

Earlier this year Mulvaney was invited to create a dinner for the Beard House in New York City. Named for the late chef and cookbook author, the James Beard Foundation operates a restaurant that features notable chefs who bring their own culinary styles for one-night appearances. On March 13th, he and his Mulvaney's B&L kitchen crew presented a dinner there billed as A Promise of Spring: Savoring Sacramento. “It was a seven course meal,” explained Mulvaney. “Everything but the water, bread and Irish whiskey (served with dessert) came from California and most of that from within 50 miles of Sacramento. On a cold, rainy night in New York we were giving them food they wouldn't see for months—things like green garlic, asparagus from the delta and fava beans grown at Sac High's garden. It was a proud day for California, a proud day for Sacramento.”

Special events such as cattle drives and dinners on bridges capture public attention for a while, but the goal is to create an ongoing reputation for Sacramento as America's Farm-to-Fork Capital. “The model we looked at for success was Austin, Texas, which bills itself as “The Live Music Capitol of the World,” said Mike Testa. “This year we'll spend over half-a-million dollars on this issue, though some of that we hope will be offset (by participating businesses). Year two must be more than just the four special events,” he stressed. To that end, the Convention and Visitors Bureau has hired two full-time employees, Nicole Rogers and Kari Miskit, to develop the concept. “Nicole's job is to find the next steps to move this forward. Kari's is to make sure the story's being told,” said Testa.

This September, Farm-to-Fork Week will actually expand to two weeks. No cattle will be seen on downtown streets this year, but the Capitol Mall will again be the site of an expanded food festival open to the public (Latest updates on this September's events can be found at farmtofork.com).

Farm-to-Fork is undoubtedly a clever marketing concept, but underlying the hoopla of Sacramento's branding campaign there's plenty of substance. Jim Mills of Produce Express admits there's “a little bit of smoke and mirrors,” but emphasizes there is also “a whole lot of sincerity.” Patrick Mulvaney says “My goal is just to promote the wonderful work of the farmers. In an earlier era, the rock-stars were the chefs. Now we think that in the future the stars will be the farmers. As we begin to embrace our agricultural heritage and interact with the farmers, it lifts the spirit of the whole region.”

Editor's note: If you're planning on visiting this part of California's heartland, check out the Central Valley listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area craft beer purveyors and to nearby wineries.

Copyright © 2005 - 2019. Taste California Travel. All rights reserved. | Phoenix Website Design by CitrusKiwi