Wednesday, April 28, 2010

California Road Trip Dining Sacramento: Magpie Cafe, Ravenous and One Speed

Should you find yourself traveling through the central state heading north or south along the I-5 or 99 freeways, here are a few restaurants with easy access from both freeways with excellent food. I would gladly frequent any of these places were they in LA.  

Magpie Caterers & Market Cafe
1409 R Street
Suite 102

Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 452-7594
Monday-Saturday 7:30AM-9PM

Magpie Cafe is located just a few blocks east of the 5 as you head through downtown Sacramento.

Magpie is located in the newly restored Perfection Bakery Building, near the railroad tracks and not far from Capitol Park.  The interior retains the industrial feel of the old bakery building, lofty ceilings, brick walls, exposed beams.  They have added huge windows for quality people watching and to tempt passers-by with both table and counter service.

Owners Janel Inouye and Ed Roehr, with backgrounds in catering and Italian cooking, offer food that focuses on seasonal ingredients, particular those native to Central and Northern California.

Appetizers.  I am always tempted by charcuterie, and was excited they offer cured meats with no nitrates.  Nitrates aggravate my migraines, as evidenced by the great Turkey Dog/Migraine Era of 2009.

Also exciting is their list of sides. Spending 2010 with a preoccupation on eating more healthfully with vegetables front and center in my diet I now scour every menu I come across for vegetable sides. Brussels sprouts, winter greens, asparagus...

I visited Magpie in mid-March, basically still winter. And the day's menu was stacked with comfort foods.

C ordered the penne with asparagus, mint and aged jack cheese. It was really delicious, a little more comforting that one might predict from the descriptor, but delicious and generous with the asparagus.

I ordered two sides. Creamy polenta squares above. Served with roasted red bell peppers, really wonderful, warm and substantial.They look crispier in the picture than they really are, even the outer top layer had a beautiful give to it. This would make great car food, easily eaten by hand.

Cavolo nero was the winter green of the day, cooked with balsamic vinegar and something fairly sweet. These had a lovely sweet and savory taste to them, and the bowl was huge. Great side to share.

N ordered Magpie's mac n' cheese, covered deep in crunchy roasted breadcrumbs and gorgeous thick toothsome chunks of bacon.  I can picture spoon feeding this to my husband while he drives. No, I do not cut his meat for him.

7600 Greenhaven Drive
Suite 23

SacramentoCA 95831
(916) 399-9309
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday 11:30-2PM
Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday 5-9PM

You will find Ravenous in a suburban neighborhood called Greenhaven, south of downtown. One block west of the 5, exit on Pocket Road.

Ravenous is super easy to find off the 5 freeway. Located in an unlikely little mini-mall and open for lunch and dinners.  We ate early on my last visit and it was packed. Every table taken by the time we left, and all but two of the bar seats occupied. The price is right. Click on the link and check out their menu.

Quoth the raven, nevermore.

Ravenous is a beautiful little cafe, art nouveau inspired with a lot of love and attention to detail.  The above beautiful mirror sits behind a bar serving solely beer and wine.  


Above is the separate nightly specials menu.  I like having the specials written down, I take my time ordering and having all my choices concretely in front of my face helps me make the best choice.

Mom insisted we share this appetizer off the regular menu. Grilled Haloumi cheese, arugula, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar on baguette.  An order includes four of these haloumi and baguette beauties, and oh my were they delicious.  Arugula, thickly sweet balsamic, drizzled olive oil. I admit to being kind of full before my entree even arrived.

Focaccia style bread basket.

Tempted by the lamb but just having eaten lamb for Easter dinner, so I forced myself to try the duck from the main menu.  The description of this is not on their website and my images of the main menu are illegible, but trust me it was great. Almost a crunchy crust on the outside of the breast and a basil aoili dripped over the veggies.

Mom, being an unrepentant red meat lover, ordered the rib eye. And I will be damned if that delicate creature didn't all but clear her plate. I think she took home a paltry 2 oz of that giant piece of beef to nibble at lunch the next day. She has a hollow limb where she stores her food for winter. Because she certainly doesn't store it on her ass. Sorry, Mom. Just saying.

The food at Ravenous is wonderful, rich and hearty.  Not a place to get food to go.  But if you happen to be ravenous while driving south of  downtown Sacramento, stop in for a leisurely and well deserved meal. I don't want to forget to mention that Ravenous offers mussels cooked three ways: with ginger, tomato & basil, paprika, sherry and cream, and also sauteed with shallots, parsley and white wine.  All 12.95.

4818 Folsom Boulevard
SacramentoCA 95819
(916) 706-1748
Tuesday-Friday 11:30-10PM
Saturday and Sunday 9AM-10pm

One Speed is located in east Sacramento just east of the 99 freeway and a couple blocks north of the 50.  

One Speed is a casual cafe with a nice bar in an older Sacramento neighborhood, next door to a small hardware store and across the street from a likely little dive bar. You know the kind of neighborhood. It might remind you a little of Mayberry.

We convinced everyone to meet us for Sunday brunch before we left town. Check out the link for their more travel worthy lunch options.

There were so many delicious items on the menu it was hard to choose.  One Speed is the more casual cafe of Chef Rick Mahan, owner and chef of my favorite downtown Sacramento restaurant, The Waterboy. The focus at One Speed is on local ingredients and artisan pizza.

More menu items for your perusal. Nothing I saw at brunch could really be eaten on the road, but lots of lunch items could, and certainly one of their pizzas with hand tossed thin crust would be a wonderful departure from fast food or gas station foraging.

My obsession with side plates knows no bounds.

Both D and I ordered poached eggs with corned beef hash, and it was like no corned beef hash I have ever had. The baby potatoes were roasted and the corned beef cut into long sliver-chunks, mixed with julienned bells peppers and onions, topped with a little sage butter sauce. I broke open my eggs and let the yolk soak through the potatoes and corned beef.

Sue had French toast and bacon.  I stole bites from her plate when she was looking away and she didn't even slap my hands.

Mom ate gnocci carbonara. Applewood smoked bacon, parmesan cheese, sauteed spinach and sage.  This was incredible.  Definitely a destination dish.

I love eating in Sacramento. My people know good food, and there is nothing lacking in the Sacramento culinary scene.  Another thing I always notice about dining in Sac is the quality of wine lists even at the simplest cafes.  I assume proximity to both the Napa & Sonoma wine regions as well the lovely Sangiovese-heavy Amador county wine country influences this.  Eating and drinking in Sac always makes me a happy girl, if sometimes a little overfed.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Metablogging: Dinner at Petrossian with kABC

321 N. Robertson Ave
Los Angeles, CA

Hot on the heels of this LA Times article, monikering food bloggers and photo snapping foodies as "food paparazzi" and not flatteringly so, a local kABC reporter contacted my friend and food blogging peer Linden of about a follow up piece.  

Apparently producers at kABC saw a chance to further explore the now common dynamic of people shooting their food while dining, fine and otherwise.  The spot would give Linden, food blogger about town, the opportunity to rebut the unflattering and ill written article, as well as offer his own spin on food blogging.

Linden contacted his friend Felicia and me to be his dining companions for the shoot, in addition to A his lovely other half.  We pm'd via both Facebook and Twitter, discussing where we should take both our food dollars and the ensuing media exposure. All three of us were in 100% agreement on Petrossian.  The food is delicious and photogenic, the lighting is soft and amenable to great snaps, and more importantly Chef Ben Bailly is openly welcoming, generous and grateful to the food blogging community.  Jo from My Last Bite gushes about his welcoming personality and delicious food. C from Gastronomy enjoys a group dinner and so does the Kung Food Panda, both during DineLA. I hit it here, back in February of this year. Our foursome arranges ourselves at one of the front high and long tables as soon as Aaron the young reporter and his cameraman arrive.  We eat, they film, and the video is shown on the 11 o'clock news.

Chef Bailly started us off with beautiful glasses of hibiscus champagne, 

and we are equipped with mother-of-pearl caviar spoons.  

To be accommodating, I snap away while the camera is rolling.  You can see the light coming from behind the camera is not optimal for great food shots. I delete the majority of these shots and quickly take better pics when the reporter and cameraman are taking little breaks.

Our first course is off the menu. Caviar surprise...the surprise is layered under the caviar.  Chunks of king crab in an apple cider jelly.  The play of the sweet against the salty/fishy caviar was delicious, the jelly kept the dish light.  Both pairs of eaters on either side of the table shared a tin of this and it was still a monstrous portion.  We spooned this onto blinis and toast points, and made Aaron and the cameraman eat with us.

Felicia of The Food Ledger and Linden of Gastronomnom, enjoying themselves.

Second course.  Salmon tartare, caviar, quail egg.  Loved.  Both the plating and the flavor.

I don't really think  you can lose with the classic combination of salmon and caviar. I would come back just for this dish, it's definitely destination-dish worthy.

Linden and Aaron the reporter. I liked Aaron, he was game to sample foods he had never tried before (never had caviar to his recollection).  He was super professional, and his questions were respectful and friendly.  He and the cameraman made me feel extremely at ease despite my initial fears that this piece would further reinforce the negative "food paparazzi" stereotype from the initial LATimes article.

See Chef Bailly plating the next course.  Chef Bailly, like Aaron the reporter, is young.  He is so fresh faced I didn't realize he was the chef until introduced to him.  Also in the dining room that night were Chef Walter Manzke with a couple dining companions.  Petrossian, obviously a place where chefs go when they're not cooking for themselves or behind a stove for someone else.

One glass of Mumm.

Crispy egg over onion soubide (a veloute type soup, in feel anyway), pressed caviar, with chunks of salmon in the soubide. Our friend D ordered this from the DineLA menu on my last trip and wasn't that thrilled with it. To quote, "the sum is no better than its parts".  I really liked this though and would order it again.

I have no clue how he does this, how the egg manages to retain structural integrity as Chef Bailly coats the egg in panko breadcrumbs then fries delicately enough that the white is cooked solid and the yolk is beautifully runny but not raw.

Felicia.  I am loving her blog, The Food Ledger. I like the format, all the pics both in the post and at the end, and just the general sleekness. Makes me consider rethinking the look of FST.

Chef Bailly plates the fish course.

Skate, brown butter foam, crushed potatoes, sherry vinegar gelatin. I am in love with this dish. Again, not from the menu. Chef Bailly knew we were coming in, Linden arranged a 6-course "tasting" menu ahead of time so we didn't even look at the menu.  This was so not a tasting menu. It was 6 courses of full sized dishes.

The sherry vinegar gelatin was intensely flavored. The pop in my mouth was such a crazy concentrated vinegar flavor that I wanted to eat them all separate from the rest of the dish just to get to experience that initial blast over and over.  However, paired with the skate with brown butter foam they gave a luscious and mild flavored dish the perfect amount of zest.

By now, I am absolutely stuffed. Can't eat another thin mint. And Chef Bailly sends out sweetbreads to die for. Lightly breaded, just the right size to really say offal on a bed of spinach with mitake mushrooms. Sadly, I could only stuff one down.  Loved.

Snapitty snap snap.

Dessert trio.  I made myself have a taste of each.

Gianduja parfait, hazelnut biscuit, vanilla mascarpone. Things that make you go, "hmm".  Gianduja is a chocolate containing 30% hazelnut paste, and this was very hazelnutty. It was good but didn't rock my world.

Pistachio crème brulée, macerated strawberry, hibiscus.  This one was the most beautiful. Would it be weird to say that I thought this would be my favorite because my favorite flavor at Yogurtland is pistachio? Would it out me as a frozen yogurt lemming?  This was gorgeous but not my favorite.

This one had everyone going back for seconds and thirds.  Vanilla panna cotta, mangoes, pop rocks. Yes, real 1980's Pop Rocks on top of the gorgeous panna cotta that so thrilled me last time I was at Petrossian.

Below is the clip that aired on Friday night, April 21st sometime between 11 and 11:30PM.  

The only qualification I will make about my own performance is that in an effort not to say the dreaded, "um", or "like", I instead say "and" three times in about 4 seconds.  Le sigh. I was nervous!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ludobites 4.0.1

Ludobites 4.0
Gram & Papa's

227 E 9th St
Los AngelesCA 90015
(213) 624-7272

Tuesday April 13th was a momentous day for my friend K and me.  As we drove through traffic, her from Corona and me just a couple miles away in Echo Park driving through Dodger opening day madness, our good friend C was finally giving birth to her new son.  Welcome Baby C and happy birthday!

K and I love to eat and cook together, kinda in that order. She has been reading my blog posts about Ludobites since last year and this time made it up to see for herself.  I was late (I am always late to Ludobites, whether it's the bus or Dodger traffic, it's a curse) and K had the Brie Napoleon waiting for me when I fell through the front door and made it to the table.

Above, for your perusal, is the rest of the menu. Mains and dessert. 

I am drinking water these days, I am sure it's only temporary. I gotta share with you.  I don't feel much better in the morning when I have water with dinner instead of wine. WTF? Am I getting old? Is it really this painful to wake up without drinking booze the night before? I can't remember because it's been so long since I haven't had at least one nightly glass of wine with my supper. If I am going to feel like I was run over by a Mini Cooper in the morning without drinking wine, I am unsure why I am suddenly and unceremoniously on the wagon.

Brie Chantilly Napoleon, Honey Comb, Frisee Salad, Balsamic

This is what was waiting for me when I got the the table. Thank you, K. What the Hades is a chantilly, I thought this morning writing this post instead of taking the dog for a run.  CDKitchen tells me a chantilly is the name for a sweetened cream flavored with vanilla, which is why I see the term so often applied to desserts. However, it can also be used to describe sauces that have whipped cream folded into them which is how I think it is applied here.  The large blop of brie on my crouton was lighter than plain softened brie. Slightly cooler than room temperature, with a flavor a little milder than whole brie. Frisee salad is a pretty afterthought tastewise, and I adored both the honeycomb and the thick reduced balsamic with my chantilly.  This could easily serve four as the dollop of brie chantilly is very generous, it took me maybe four bites to eat.

K pulls apart a baguette and I eye the lavender/honey butter with longing eyes. This butter is beautiful and a redo from Ludobites before. When Ludo & Krissy put up a permanent Ludobites sign somewhere I hope this butter is a permanent fixture. K says it is like eating a spa...spas often smell of lavender from the front desk to the showers. I say it's a little like eating the spa, but yummier. Spas don't have butter.

Pork Cheek Terrine, Smoked Mayo, Apples, German Butter Ball Potatoes

This is a nice dish.  It's hard from this snap to see the smoked mayo on the other side of the potatoes and apple chunks, but it is pretty generous, and it was delicious with both the potato and pork.  K and I got to watch Ludo make mayo by hand with a whisk at Sur La Table cooking with Marcel V, scroll down toward the bottom of the post for the money shot. I wish I had the guns to make mayo by hand.  The apples and potato were simple here. Apple raw, potato boiled, both undressed.  It was fun to dress all the pieces ourselves choosing between a little pork, a little mayo, a little balsamic. I admit to swiping the plate free of balsamic and licking my fingers, as did K. We are gross like that.

Seared Foie Gras "Pina Colada"

While we ate this dish, Krissy sidled over and asked if what we thought. I thought it was delightful.  The foie filet would have been too big for me to eat alone, so I am glad I was there with K instead of D. And the stuff accompanying the much speculated about "pina colada" was delicious and fun.  The foie was perfection. Let's discuss what the other stuff on the plate was.

Front, middle bottom.  Rum gelatin. The texture reminded me a little of the jelly fish I had at a Korean place recently.  It was simply made by cutting gelatin sheets into thin strips and soaking in rum. Beautiful.  In the middle, in white, a coconut ice cream-like substance. And at the rear the pineapple component, a pineapple creme. It sounds like a totally weird combination.  A couple people on Twitter pm'd me asking about it.  I loved it and here's why;  my favorite foie dish was years ago at Alize, chef Andre Rochat's restaurant at the top of the Palms in Vegas.  Seared foie gras with apricots, I think a classic preparation with foie, the sticky sweet fruit.  Texturally, the apricots and the foie are not dissimilar however I love the pairing of the sweet and savory.  In this "pina colada" the textures are completely different, but still have that savory sweet thing going on. The boozey rum, creamy coconut and pineapple pop play really nicely against the strong flavor of the foie. 

Krissy shared with me that Ludo used to serve this dish at Bastide during his reign there as Chef.  Apparently, SIV was not in love with it and gave it a good lashing with her pen. Welp, SIV, sometimes I agree with you (many times I do not) but here we fervently depart. This is classic Ludo. Frivolous and fun, but grounded in something that made a lot of sense for what is happening in my mouth. I am not the restaurant critic of the LATimes but in food, like in art, I know what I like. And it doesn't have to match the couch or the curtains.

Totally unrelated, a really cool blog post by Candian Foodie about making foie gras torchon. It's anatomically graphic, reader be warned. What's up with the stuffed animal?

Community. I have talked about Ludo's inclusive nature in other posts about his food.  Krissy and Ludo really pay attention to the twtterverse and their following, even bringing them into their home, their kitchen and the front of the house. It is so appreciated.  Last night, Matt from mattatouille (one of my favorite blogs, and the guy who helped me decide what photog equipment was right for me when buying DSLR) was waiting tables. Holly from the Michelin Project and this FST blog post was in the kitchen!  Holly is doing an internship alongside Ludo for the entire two month run at Gram & Papa's.

Rack of Lamb, Fresh Goat Cheese, Smoked Eel, Artichokes, Potato Mousseline, Mint

We were getting kind of full by now, but this lamb was delicious.  All the elements worked together very harmoniously. I nommed on the more well done bits on the outside with the umami yumminess from the roasting and salt and seasonings on the very outside of the flesh, while K carved from the more rare middle area. I dipped my bites first in a little goat cheese, then in the mint sauce and followed each bite with the mousseline. Delcious. The smoked eel was fun on the plate but I missed the connection somehow.

Squid "Carbonara", Pancetta, Poached Egg (64 degrees), Parmesan Snow, Sage

This was my favorite dish of the night, hands down. A perfect dish for someone who wants something rich but is watching their carb intake (which we all agree is a totally unhealthy way to lose weight, mm'kay?). Squid were perfectly cooked ringlets and loops, in a cheesy bath with parm sprinkled throughout, huge chunks of thick pancetta and one beautiful slow poached egg. I definitely want this again and if Ludo ain't serving it at the end of May I am staging a coup du cafe. A coup, I tell you.  Watch K toss the carbonara.

We were seated against the back wall, which one might think would be a bad table. But we had a 100% unfettered view of the front kitchen peppered with lots of conversation from Matt visiting the computer and Krissy visiting the kitchen with several hellos and ca-vas from Ludo. There was culinary royalty in the house, and while I am not mentioning names, their kid was practically sitting in my lap. He was tossing up chunks of bread and catching them in his mouth and I swear one almost landed in my hair. Good thing he was cute. :-D

Dark Chocolate Souffle, Vanilla Black Pepper Ice Cream, Chocolate Cream

And at last, something K had been eyeing since she walked in the door.  Dessert!  I knew she looked at the dessert list before the main menu....I knew it! She does naughty things with dessert.

This souffle is a giant cocoa covered light textured eggy and chocolate ramekin filled tub of deliciousness. So light and beautiful, it practically floated to our table.  I would come back and order this again in a heartbeat if it weren't for the fact that...

when I return I will be asking for a bowl of the black pepper ice cream made with cognac. ZOMG. Scoops has nothing on this ice cream churner.

During dinner, K asked me, what is the deal with Ludobites? Do you just love everything he throws down? Now, you have to know K. She is incredibly inquisitive and sometimes asks what people consider rude questions. Like the time she asked Marcel some very pointed questions about his, a'hem, assistant at that cooking demo. Um, I blushed. But she's fearless and she just wants to know.  I answered her this way.  No, I don't love everything that Ludo makes, but I like it all. I love trying everything on the menu. Whimsy comes out of his kitchen.  You never know what is going to appear on the plate labeled, "Steak au Poivre, Shallots, Polenta Bone Marrow, White Asparagus". I can guarantee you it won't be the same steak au poivre you expect at Church & State or Cafe Stella.  There will be nothing on the menu I have even a thin hope of recreating at home.  And there is community, always someone you know eating there and usually someone you know in the back of the house.  Last, there is anticipation. Ludo & Krissy will close the doors late May only to open them again...who knows when? And by the time late-June comes, everyone will be dying to go again.