Best Upscale Take on a Supermarket Snack Cake: Ding Dong, Mulvaney’s Building & Loan
Remember that classic lunchbox treat of your youth, the Hostess Ding Dong? Chef Patrick Mulvaney does. For this clever dessert, he fills a tiny devil’s-food cake with Valrhona chocolate mousse and covers it with a shiny chocolate glaze. The final touch? A white icing squiggle, borrowed from Ding Dong’s cousin, the Hostess CupCake. I bought a box of Hostess CupCakes and had everybody in the kitchen practice making the icing swirl, says Mulvaney.
1215 19th St., Sacramento; (916) 441-6022
Best Way To Start Your Day:
New Mexico Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes, Tower Cafe
Sure, any old body can make pancakes. But Tower makes ’em better by adding yellow cornmeal to the batter and throwing in a handful of plump, fresh blueberries. The resulting flapjacks are light, airy and bursting with fruity flavor. Rise and shine!
1518 Broadway, Sacramento;(916) 441-0222; towercafe.com
Pollo al Mattone, The Waterboy
Chicken legs, that is. Leave it to chef Rick Mahan to coax maximum flavor out of this most pedestrian of ingredients. Mahan places a deboned chicken leg skin-side down in a skillet and tops it with a brick. The weight forces the poultry into contact with the sizzling-hot pan, resulting in the crispiest skin you can imagine. He serves it up with garlic mashed potatoes and braised chard&emdash;comfort food at its finest.
2000 Capitol Ave., Sacramento; (916) 498-9891; waterboyrestaurant.com
Best Use of Sulfite-Laden Lunchmeat:
Tennessee BBQ’d Bologna, Tex Wasabi’s Rock-n-Roll Sushi-BBQ
When he wasn’t stuffing himself with fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, that renowned epicure Elvis Presley chowed down on, among other delights, barbecued bologna. In this calorie-dense tribute to the King, Tex Wasabi’s serves up a plateful of french fries, topped with quarter-inch-thick slices of slow-smoked bologna and housemade Carolina barbecue sauce. You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog if you can say no to that.
2243 Arden Way, Sacramento; (916) 927-8399; texwasabis.com
Best Way To End a Meal:
Death By Chocolate, Lucca Restaurant & Bar
Every restaurant worth its sea salt offers a flourless chocolate cake these days. But Lucca’s version, served warm in a shallow ceramic dish, is the best of the bunch. Made with Valrhona chocolate, it comes with a luscious chocolate sauce and a swirl of sweet whipped cream.
1615 J St., Sacramento; (916) 669-5300; luccarestaurant.com
Best Reason To Eat Your Vegetables:
Crispy Vegetable Fritto Misto With Spicy Aioli, Mason’s Restaurant
The federal government says we all should eat three to five servings of vegetables a day. Impossible, you say? Mason’s fritto misto&emdash;a massive mound of lightly tempura’d red onion, red and green bell peppers, fennel, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms&emdash;is a tasty way to help you meet your daily requirement. And the zesty aioli dipping sauce helps it all go down.
1116 15th St., Sacramento; (916) 492-1960; theparkdowntown.com
Best Accidental Appetizer:
Warm Goat Cheese and Rosemary French Toast With Roasted Garlic Syrup and Sun-dried Tomatoes, Enotria Restaurant & Wine Bar
This, the most popular of Enotria’s appetizers, came about by accident almost three years ago when the restaurant’s ravenous chef and sous chef whipped up a batch of french toast for a workday snack. Alas, there was no maple syrup in the kitchen, so they improvised and made their own sweet garlic version. That, in turn, gave them an idea: Wouldn’t goat cheese go well with the garlic? And thus a star was born.
1431 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 922-6792; enotria.com
Best Excuse To Go Off Your Diet:
Tempura Cheesecake, InFusion
Cheesecake isn’t fattening enough, right? To rectify that problem, chef Paul Sainoi batters and deep-fries a big slice of the creamy cake till it’s warm and oozy on the inside, crisp and crunchy on the outside, then serves it with a heap of chocolate-caramel sauce. Calling Jenny Craig!
2085 Vine St., El Dorado Hills; (916) 358-3729
Best Culinary Homage to a Former Rapper:
Puff Daddy, Taro’s by Mikuni
What might hip-hop mogul Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy, P. Diddy and just plain old Diddy) say about this cheeky little appetizer, which consists of tempura-fried shrimp and imitation crab topped with special sauce? Would Puffy savor the flava?
1735 Arden Way, Sacramento; (916) 564-2114; mikunisushi.com
Best Use of This Little Piggy:
Pig Trotter, Restaurant 55 Degrees
What’s a pig trotter, you ask? Why, the little porker’s foot, of course. Belgian chef Luc Dendievel takes this lowliest of cuts and elevates it to new heights by braising the meat until it’s meltingly tender, then serving it with black-truffle mashed potatoes, mÃ¢che salad and black-truffle sauce. (Back in 2003, when Dendievel toiled at Manhattan’s Brasserie 360, New York Magazine named this one of the Big Apple’s best dishes.)
555 Capitol Mall, Sacramento; (916) 553-4100; restaurant55.com
Best Riff on Lobster Bisque:
Smoked Salmon Bisque, Arpeggio Wine & Bistro
An inspired take on traditional East Coast-style lobster bisque, this creamy soup is positively swimming with chunks of both smoked and fresh salmon. FYI, chef Jerry Moore (who grew up fishing for salmon on the American River) smokes the fish himself at his East Sac restaurant.
723 56th St., Sacramento; (916) 452-7085
Best Dish for Showing Off Your French Accent:
Coquilles St. Jacques Mditerranennes, La Provence Restaurant & Terrace
Want to impress your date with your worldliness and suavity? Try ordering this quintessentially French scallop dish. (Here, it’s sauted with white wine, cherry tomatoes and garlic and served with risotto.) We’ll even help you pronounce it: koh-KEEL’ san ZHACK’ med-ee-ter-AHN’-ay-EN.
110 Diamond Creek Place, Roseville; (916) 789-2002; laprovenceroseville.com
Best Use of Fungi:
Mushroom Salad, Zinfandel Grille, Gold River
Rumor has it this salad was invented at Chez Panisse, the famed Berkeley bistro that put California cooking on the map. It’s as simple as they come: sliced white mushrooms, grated Jarlsberg cheese, parsley, salt and pepper, tossed with a mouth-puckering lemon vinaigrette. They’ve been serving it at Zinfandel Grille for at least 10 years, back when the place was still under Paragary’s ownership. And they don’t dare take it off the menu. Our customers would have a fit, says chef Matthew Jones.
2220 Gold Springs Court, Gold River; (916) 852-0214; zinfandelgrillegoldriver.com
Snapper, Pan-Seared With Parsley, Lobster and Meyer Lemon, Gianni’s Trattoria
Attention, seafood lovers: Chef Patrick Hocking isn’t content to serve this snapper on its own. Nooooo. After searing the fish and topping it with a sprightly lemon sauce, he’s got to add sauted lobster.
2724 J St., Sacramento; (916) 447-1000
Best Way To Get Your Cheese Fix:
Beignets de Fromage, Slocum House
In New Orleans, a beignet is a deep-fried, doughnutlike confection dusted with powdered sugar. At Slocum House in Fair Oaks, it’s a ball of brie and Stilton rolled in crushed walnuts, fried in oil and served with a Port wine reduction. Fried balls of cheese: Need we say more?
7992 California Ave., Fair Oaks; (916) 961-7211; slocum-house.com