By Janet Lewis and Carol Dabrowiak, photos by Cindy Gibbs
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sacramento was recently named the "Farm to Fork Capital of America." Below, our Hometown Tourists write about one of the many "Farm to Fork" style activities available in Sacramento.
In the dead of winter, I daydream about the Wednesday Farmer’s Market in downtown Sacramento. Every year I look forward with anticipation to when the Market will open in May. Then I look for good reasons to go downtown on a Wednesday morning. Somehow it seems all of my downtown meetings happen on Thursdays instead! But, at least once a year, Cindy, Carol and I make a point of meeting for some downtown Sacramento dining on a Wednesday during the Market season. The past two years, we’ve added the Grange Restaurant’s “Follow The Chef” tour and lunch to our Wednesday Market adventures. Grange is located inside of The Citizen Hotel, a downtown Sacramento hotel located across the street from Caesar Chavez Park.
In June of 2011, Cindy and I did Grange Restaurant’s “Follow The Chef” tour and lunch. I still have the souvenir reusable shopping bag. It gives me good memories of the fresh and seasonal three-course lunch we enjoyed at the Grange that day in June along with 12 other (unintentional) "Hometown Tourists." It was there we met Sarah A. of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau and hatched the idea for the HTT blog!
Celebrating summer, the meal that June day featured locally produced squash blossoms, kernel corn, cherries, two kinds of wine (chardonnay & zinfandel); supporting cast included goat cheese, cabbage salad & biting mustard greens - all totally delicious and refreshing! The chef made mine dairy free and still deliciously prepared. Carol was not able to join us, but that gave us the perfect excuse (if one were needed!) to do “Follow the Chef” again in a slightly different season in 2012.
Just over 1 year later, Cindy, Carol, and I are still enjoying and finding ever more adventures as HTTs! Travel and tourism in Sacramento is alive and well and giving us lots of opportunities to see some really great things.
In September 2012, Cindy, Carol and I took the opportunity to celebrate and have a reunion of sorts with our SCVB mentor, Matthew, at the “Follow the Chef” tour presented by the Grange restaurant. Even though the Grange does this every Wednesday during Market season, it is a new experience each time! As we found on that September day, the cast of visitors and victuals changes constantly with the seasons.
We each arrived via a different travel mode: Cindy walked over, Carol drove in, and I rode light rail. Carol took advantage of the Grange’s valet parking - very convenient, and only $5. A good deal!
Our group of six Follow The Chef guests was smaller this time than last year. But, all the better to enjoy congenial conversation, and, more serendipity! One of our lunch companions turned out to be a contact with the parks department of a nearby city. A great lead for a future HTT adventure!
A bonus from following Chef Oliver around the Market are the samples we received from the vendors: green figs, honey, 3 kinds of grapes --including Muscat. Both the honey and the Muscat later featured as sauce on our dessert! Oliver pointed out that as we approach the autumn equinox, the offerings at mid-September Market are season-spanning; tomatoes to pumpkins; corn, cucumbers, and stone fruits, just to name a few. Such variety and opportunity for creative eating!
Our group ambled about, making purchases from various stalls and tucking our items into our souvenir reusable shopping bags. Now I have a collection! When we got to our table and set the bags onto spare chairs, Carol warned, “Watch out for your bags, don’t mix them up!” Wouldn’t that be a surprise when we got home?
As last year, the wine pours offered a Chardonnay and a Petit Syrah from Bogle Vineyards, one of our local Sacramento wineries.
First course, a salad. The ingredients were from Feeding Crane Farms: spicy stemmed greens and watercress, heirloom tomatoes and Armenian cucumbers, with pine nuts on top and a muscatel vinaigrette.
Oliver came out to see us at each course. By the 2nd course he had a blue apron over his white chef’s outfit!
Main course was salmon, baby pastas, tomato, arugula, watercress, brocolini, and a delightful tomato chip. Carol’s vegetarian version featured a generous portion of “lobster” mushroom . We all found our entrees delicious and filling.
Dessert consisted of beautiful individual pear tarts described by the pastry chef as “tarte porteleau with frangiapani” made of red Bartlett pears, almonds, bourbon caramel and with an amoretto cookie under a pouf of whipped cream.
My non-dairy dessert was 3 seasonal sorbets. They were delicious with the last swallows of the wine! I must have looked longingly at the tarts, though, because the pastry chef brought me out a small dishlet of the poached pears in Bariani honey -- they were fantastic, with a bite-sized popcorn ball on a clear hard candy wafer. Talk about tiny but with a huge wow factor!
All too soon, I found myself heading home (er, back to the office) on light rail with a full shopping bag, a full stomach, and a full heart! Plus a shared vow with my HTT buddies to “Follow The Chef” at the Grange again next year! A true Sacramento attraction!
We knew it was going to be a special lunch. Because when Janet, Cindy and I arrived at the Grange Restaurant and Bar the hostess said, "Wait here for Chef Oliver. He'll join you in a minute."
That was the start of a delicious afternoon. Grange is located across the street from Cesar Chavez Park where they were having the Wednesday Farmer's Market, one of Sacramento's many culinary events. Part of our lunch experience called "Follow the Chef" included a tour of the market with Chef Oliver. Grange is committed to using fresh local ingredients in all its dishes. Chef Oliver shops the market every Wednesday and is on a first name basis with most of the vendors.
At every booth we visited, the chef gave examples of how he would use the seasonal ingredients in his recipes. When we were there we saw an abundance of squash and stone fruit. Chef Oliver explained that the tomato season was winding down and when local tomatoes were gone he would no longer have them for his restaurant. In fact, in the middle of winter if a diner orders a burger and requests a tomato slice for the burger, they are told "No." Did I mention they were committed to fresh and local?
After we strolled thru the market, we were guided back to the restaurant for a three-course gourmet lunch. There were six people in the "Follow the Chef" group that day, and there was a special table set up in the back of the restaurant for our meal. The servers hovered around us, filling our wine glasses. They also noted our dietary restrictions: Janet is lactose intolerant and I'm a vegetarian. No problem.
The courses started to arrive. With each course, Chef Oliver came out to explain the ingredients and the processes used to prepare the dishes. That made everything taste special. We all loved the fusion of flavors and ingredients. We plan to return soon when the market has a different blend of seasonal crops. We all felt inspired to go home and experiment with new recipes. It was a delicious afternoon in downtown Sacramento.