Visit California: A Taste of Sacramento's Past and Future
By Jennifer Sweeney
I have lived in Sacramento since 2001 and have seen the city change a lot over the past decade or so, especially in the dining department. The culinary scene here has been getting a lot of attention, especially after Mayor Kevin Johnson declared us America’s Farm to Fork Capital earlier this year. We have at least 12 farmers’ markets in the area throughout the year – in fact, there’s one in front of my office right now. The farm-to-fork idea is prevalent in many local restaurants and you can see many of local chefs buying their meat, fish, produce and cheese at any one of the markets in town.
That idea of buying and eating local is the inspiration behind Local Roots Food Tours. These walking tours are designed to showcase the tastes and flavors of Northern California while providing an art and history lesson about Sacramento’s neighborhoods. Local Roots Food Tours have been around for about two years and they’ve just added a Sunday Brunch and Art tour that sounds fantastic. I was able to participate in their “Gourmet on K” tour this week and came away with a new perspective on one of the downtown’s main drags.
I skipped lunch and headed out at 1:30 with a very empty belly – but that didn’t last for long! Our first stop was the Downtown Sacramento Hyatt. It might be a little unexpected to see a major hotel chain on a local culinary tour, but as Chef Jason Poole walked us through his organic garden on the patio, it was clear that they take eating local seriously. Chef Poole served us a filet of grilled salmon over a quinoa salad, topped with a marinated mushroom, endive and Asian pear salad. I thought we’d be getting a bite, but this was definitely a large appetizer portion! We then got a close look at the urban garden where he grows herbs, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, peas, chard and more for dishes at the hotel’s restaurants.
One down, five to go!
What goes better with California food than California wine? We turned the corner and entered Downtown and Vine, the only tasting room in downtown Sacramento. Opened in December 2012, the idea behind Downtown and Vine is to bring 12 regional wineries to the city. Visitors can try a flight or enjoy a bottle from Amador, El Dorado, Napa, Sonoma, San Joaquin or Sacramento counties, while enjoying small plates made with ingredients from around northern California, including Cowgirl Creamery cheeses (always a personal favorite).
Next stop, Mayahuel, a tequila museum, restaurant, lounge and bar. The owner strives to capture not only the flavors of Mexico, but also the spirit, in his recipes. Here we had a delicious starter – totopos con chile – a smoky and cheesy twist on nachos, the restaurant’s signature crema de chile poblano soup and savory mini-quesadilla. All of this was paired with a sweet and tart mocktail, the asi sabe Mexico (very loosely translated as “that’s Mexico”) which was yummy and refreshing. When I go back, I’m getting it with tequila!
At this point, I’m officially full. But, who can turn down a strawberry éclair from Estelle’s, the delightful patisserie on the corner of 9th and K streets. All of their pastries are made daily on site using local ingredients and produce.
In between all these food stops, our guide shared K Street’s history as one of the city’s most importantthoroughfares. “The Kay” was once home to the most prosperous businesses of the post-Gold Rush era. Montgomery Ward, Hale Brothers and Weinstock and Lubin were the biggest retailers of the time and had flagship stores on The Kay, right at the end of the Central Pacific Railroad. In the roaring 20’s it was a major entertainment district, home to theaters, including the Fox and the (still in business) Crest and Vaudeville, jazz and burlesque clubs. I’ve walked past these buildings a hundred times and never knew the history that lived inside the walls!
Back to the food – two stops to go. I was almost tempted to skip my snack atBlackbird, but who am I kidding? Chef Kevin O’Conner is on the cover of this month’s Sacramento Magazine‘s “Hot Chefs” issue and his restaurant doesn’t disappoint. I’ve eaten here a few times and am always impressed (you must try the seafood chowder) but this visit was straightforward – oysters. The place is known for its raw bar and I was delighted to sample one (which only led me to share a half dozen with a friend a little later on at one of The Kay’s other standouts – Ella Dining Room & Bar) as well as the squid ink risotto croquettes. Chef O’Conner is all about local – he even uses produce from his grandmother’s garden in Blackbird’s kitchen.
Last stop: Ambrosia. And I really was too full to have more than a bite of their classic tiramisu even though it was very tasty.
All in all, it was a history lesson and a culinary delight wrapped into one! The tour reminded me that there’s a very good reason that California and culinary go hand-in-hand and that I can experience the bounty right in my backyard!
View the original post at Visit California HERE!