Here in the Bay Area, San Francisco is considered the epicenter of the food scene, with the neighboring East Bay and South Bay sitting in its shadow. Sacramento, an hour north of San Francisco, often falls below the radar as well. It’s traditionally thought of as California’s capital, but in fact Sacramento encompasses 1.5 million acres of farmland, producing a vast variety of crops. And the restaurant scene in this once-quiet city has been rapidly growing to reflect its own unique freshness and creativity.
Sacramento has been eager to spread the word about their burgeoning culinary landscape, and one of their biggest food and wine events is the Sacramento Farm to Fork Gala Dinner, a feast celebrating Sacramento’s locally grown ingredients and local culinary talent. I was invited by the Sacramento Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to a media preview dinner in downtown San Francisco. Along with several other local bloggers, we had a wonderful evening of food, wine and conversation.
The dinner was held at the offices of EatWith, across from AT&T Ballpark; we enjoyed some million-dollar views during dinner. The table settings were no slouch either, a mix of blooms and edible bounty, from vegetables to crispy lavash that we snacked on before the main meal.
The two chefs cooking for us that evening were Chef Ravin Patel of Selland Family Restaurants and Chef Oliver Ridgeway of Grange Restaurant and Bar. Together they created an eight-course meal showcasing the astonishing bounty of fresh ingredients from Sacramento’s farmland. I was also extremely impressed with how they turned out this entire meal in a fairly smallish non-professional kitchen with grace and style. Below, some highlights from our meal.
Pre-dinner appetizers of baby beets, turnips, and carrots served in a root vegetable “soil” – a clever and very apt representation of Sacramento’s vast crops. Besides vegetables, Sacramento produces everything from sushi rice to caviar to American Kobe beef; it’s truly an agricultural powerhouse.
One of the first courses, rabbit galantine with dill and fennel pollen, radishes, cucumber, sorrel, and puffed grain. The last couple times I’ve had rabbit, I’ve been disappointed, but this galantine was wonderful; I could have had seconds and thirds.
Chicken fried lamb sweetbreads with gyspy pepper barbecue sauce, summer squash, basil, and strawberries. A surprisingly light dish with a lot of summery ingredients.
One of the main dishes, Karlona Farms pheasant with roasted oyster and beech mushrooms, and a chamomile nage. I just really loved the variety of proteins they used, instead of basic chicken and beef. The preparations were delicious as well; the pheasant was not gamy at all, very succulent and very autumnal combined with the mushrooms.
Passmore Ranch trout with heirloom bean succotash, baby tomatoes, eggplant, and salsa verde. A gorgeous encapsulation of modern regional American cuisine.
Alongside all the amazing dishes, we were also treated to some fantastic wine pairings, chosen by the famous Darrell Corti of the Corti Brothers grocery. “Grocery” is a modest term that doesn’t fully encompass the importance of this store; Corti Brothers was one of the first stores in the US to import fine foodstuffs like white truffles, balsamic vinegar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The Cortis were one of the forerunners of the high-end gourmet food shops that are ubiquitous today but unheard of in the 60s and 70s. Darrell Corti is a true encyclopedia of food and wine knowledge, and he shared several stories with our dinner group about the wines he chose (one of them, the Michael David Symphony, became a quick favorite for me). What a honor to hear him speak!
Darrell was one of the guests of honor at the dinner, along with another luminary of the food world – none other than Cecilia Chiang! I could barely believe how lucky I was to have the chance to meet her! And one of the highlights of the evening: she complimented my shoes! (Which are sadly not showing in the photo – maybe they’ll show up on Instagram soon!)
For dessert they served a scrumptious stone fruit cobbler with honey and lavender ice cream, and this absolutely showstopping cucumber namelaka with rye crumble, dill, white chocolate, cucumber ice cream, and topped with strands of pulled sugar. So original and so refreshing.
An action shot of Chef Patel making quenelles of cucumber ice cream for the namelaka dessert. Very impressed with his pastry skills!
Altogether it was one of the best evenings out I’ve had in a while, and my eyes were really opened to Sacramento’s agricultural might and their vibrant restaurant scene. Go up there for the Sacramento Farm to Fork Gala Dinner on September 27 (tickets here), or check out some of the other food events and restaurants. Thanks for a great time, Sacramento!
Disclosure: I was invited to the media dinner for Farm to Fork. All opinions in this post are my own.