Juli Boggs, no relation.

independent media updated on an irregular basis, largely uncategorized

This is Real? Alt-Wrestling Invades Sacramento

hoodslam

It’s a lot like burlesque for dudes. There are costumes and props and outlandish characters and audience members whistling and yelling. In the back of the room is a live band, but instead of dancers there’s a wrestling ring and sleek, muscular athletes dressed as a mime, a zombie nurse and Ken from Street Fighter. As the audience eggs them on, they hurl themselves from the ring posts with seemingly reckless abandon and narrowly avoid collision with the low-hanging disco ball before slamming into their opponents. Contenders skip out of the ring to a chorus of oh’s and ah’s. They part the crowd like a biblical sea that immediately reconvenes to gain a better view of the melee at their feet.

This is an evening with the underground wrestling association known as Hoodslam, and it’s invaded Sacramento.

The “accidental phenomenon,” as the group describes themselves, has gained notoriety in their hometown of Oakland since the event’s inception in 2010. It began, like all good things, in a neglected warehouse occupied by artists and soon ratcheted up into monthly performances on First Friday at the Oakland Metro Opera House, at times even selling out the 1,000 person crowd. The event has become a Bay Area favorite for its booze-addled brand of performance art paired with nostalgia, an outsider ethos and—oh yeah—wrestling. Now Hoodslam is seeking to build an audience for their events in Sacramento.

 The third Sacramento show is lousy with raunchy overtones and is decidedly not family friendly, full of bad role models and the sort of characters born from a generation of video game nerds who’ve rejected the WWE’s wholesome good vs. evil narrative. The action consists of improvised theatrics, mocked by Hoodslam’s own tagline “This is real.” The athleticism on stage is, however, professional beyond a doubt with performers that are every bit the dueling athletes they portray.

A wrestler under the name Drugs Bunny moves erratically around the ring in pinstripe trousers and a fedora topped with bunny ears, shoving his face in a bag full of “cocaine” to overpower his opponents. After his match, he stands at the bar, his body and hair covered in a fine dust of powdered sugar. Surveying the modest crowd, he recalls how Hoodslam’s first foray into Sacramento was slated to be held in a garage but was halted by the cops before it ever started.

“We were sitting around having a production meeting before the event and the cops came in and shut it all down,” he says. But there were drugs and alcohol and you know, it was a garage, “it just felt illegal” he concedes, shrugging off the incident’s false start.

Since then, Hoodslam has gained a little more traction. The recent match at District 30 was their third event in the city, with future matches planned to take place monthly, possibly in the same location, for the foreseeable future.

“We will be back the third Monday in August! THIRD MONDAY,” the host Broseph Joe Brody yells emphatically from the ring to the crowd. “Which Monday?” he asks, looking for a response. Drunken replies from the audience are split. A few spectators shout “First Monday!” while another suggests the fourth. “You guys aren’t even paying attention!” Brody cries, so he takes a new approach. “We’ll be back every month for at least one more month,” and the crowd unanimously shouts out their approval.

*article as appeared in SN&R 8.17.17 issue.

**photo courtesy of HOODSLAM

Wine Trippin: Your Guide to Wine a World Away From Napa

murphys-bikes-crop

Two dozen motorcycles are parked along the flagstone sidewalk outside the Murphys Historic Hotel, the placid destination of their up-country run. The bikers stretch their arms and greet each other loudly, yelling over the remaining rumbling engines as stragglers ease into place. They arrive with all the grace of a freight train, but their gregarious demeanor dispels any discomfort that the rudeness of the motors might have suggested. Like so many other visitors, they have come here on a mission—they are here to drink wine.

The contrast of a wine-tasting trip in a town like Murphys cannot be overstated when compared to a day in Napa. Located two hours from Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierras, Murphys has gained a reputation as an up-and-coming wine destination, refreshing for its sincerity and affordability—two things Napa has lost over the years. Though Napa remains a vinous paradise to be sure, it is sold to us with a resolute single-mindedness that smacks of marketing ploys. What was once a fairyland of rustic idealism has become a high-stakes endeavor ruled by multinational luxury corporations, where aristocratic gentility has made tasting wine a humorless act.

Elsewhere in California, the wine industry has retained the qualities that once made Napa the scourge of France: experimentation, enthusiasm and dedication to the craft without the heavy weight of reputation.

Luckily for us, Sacramento is within easy daytripping distance of many of these regions. While areas like Amador County and Clarksburg are enjoying their time in the spotlight, many other retreats less obvious to earnest seekers remain—and most spots offer tastings for less than $10. From the lesser-known corners of Yolo county to the central valley hometown of old-vine vintners, your options are more numerous than we could cover here. Regardless, we have a few suggestions.

Lodi for zinfandel 

Reading the literature on Lodi wine means taking in a lot of numbers: The region produces 40 percent of the state’s zinfandel, grows more than 20,000, vineyard-acres of sustainable grapes and holds more than 80 local vintners within 15 minutes of downtown. All you really need to know from this is that Lodi—just 40 minutes south of Sacramento—is a zinfandel town and many wineries will be pouring you their version of an “old vine zin” made from grapes grown at area vineyards such as Soucie, where the gnarled and twisted vines were established in 1916 and have been tended to by the Soucie family for five generations.

Within the confines of Lodi and its just-north ag-burb of Acampo you’ll find wineries that span the gamut of tastes and styles. On one hand, you have spots like m2 Wines, featuring a gorgeously modern tasting room that opens up to the surrounding vineyards, imbuing your visit with a sense of refinement and control. On the other hand, you have mom-and-pop stops like Heritage Oak Winery that offer a friendly and informal tasting experience with a mood more akin to “choose your own adventure.”

When you park outside the farmhouse at Heritage Oak, your tires will kick up dust from the dirt path winding through the vineyard. In the tasting room, the wine list offers a selection of unique single-varietals like carignane that are normally reserved for blending, giving tasters a rare insight into the grapes’ individual profiles. Of course, wine tasting is about the wine, but as it’s also a “day-vacation,” Heritage Oak scores extra points for the hiking trails the family made through its 100-acre property. Visitors are encouraged to explore the paths through vineyards, meadows and riparian woodlands, all the way to the loamy bank of the Mokelumne River, where picnic tables and a rope swing greet kayakers who reach the winery by river.

Wine and cheese in Winters

When you mention Yolo County wine, the south-eastern town of Clarksburg is the appellation that usually comes to mind, but the county’s north-west corner has a very different climate that’s producing favorable results. Located at the foot of the Vaca Mountains, the region around Winters experiences cold breezes from the coastal range and Lake Berryessa, making for a longer, cooler growing season and contributing to a wine scene that is small but well-defined.

Arriving in downtown Winters, you have your choice of four tasting rooms, but their limited hours means you can’t hit them all at once. Whenever you make your trip, plan to visit the Turkovich Family Winery, which also houses the family’s Winters Cheese Co., and yes, your free wine tasting does come with a free cheese flight to match. Besides their street-facing patio outfitted with couches, heat lamps and a wraparound container garden, Turkovich’s tasting bar offers a large collection of very good varietals, including a 2015 stainless-aged albariño that took home the double gold at the 2016 state fair competition.

A wine flight here includes five pours of your choice from the list, rounded out by a selection of sparkling wines, though the majority of these are not from the Winters area. The 2011 Sparkling Reserve is made in Mendoza, Argentina, where head winemaker Luciana Turkovich was born and raised, and where her father, also a career winemaker, still crafts excellent blends. The Sparkling Reserve tastes like honey, fresh baked bread and pears, finishing with notes of walnut—and while it is the most expensive bottle they offer, it still only rings in at $43.

Murphys for all

img_1554

photo by Juli Boggs

Settled as a mining camp in 1848, French and Italian immigrants arriving during the Gold Rush were the first to plant roots in this foothill town, capitalizing on miners’ need for drink. The region’s second wave of viticultural settlers came in the 1970s when winemakers from Napa and Sonoma migrated to the area, capitalizing on what they found to be extremely inexpensive land. Today, the town boasts a population of just over 2,000 people and an astounding 24 tasting rooms.

Most tasting rooms and restaurants are located along the town’s main drag of Main Street, nestled between the occasional art gallery and trinket shop.

An old stone shop, which in 1891 was a custom boot and hat store, now holds a long bar backed by a wall of pressed-tin panels: the elegant setting for Vina Moda’s tasting room. The enthusiastic and welcoming staff serves up noteworthy barbera and grenache, making it a good first stop on your trek along Main Street.

Further down the road, the airy house containing the tasting room for Hovey Winery was the childhood home of Nobel-prize winning scientist Albert Michelson, the first person to accurately measure the speed of light. Hovey naturally offers two blends in the scientist’s honor, the C2 White and C2 Red, though the barbera is most popular, earning double and single gold awards from the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. All of Hovey’s bottles taste best when sipped outside on the lawn.

*Article text as appeared in SN&R on 10.27.16. Cover photo of Murphys Bikers credited to Thepinetree.net

Capital Dance Project: Made in Sacramento

Seven dancers stand at loose attention in a sunlit Midtown studio as their peer and choreographer Karina Hagemeyer experiments with movements in front of the wall-to-wall mirror.

For this piece, dancers will be accompanied by a live taiko drum performance, one of nine planned collaborations for Capital Dance Project’s upcoming show, Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento.

“As angular as it can be. Long attitude,” Hagemeyer prompts as they run through the motions again to a recording of the syncopated drumming.

Early last summer, Sacramento Ballet dancers were left surprised and disappointed when their seasonal summer layoff came earlier than expected due to budget constraints, canceling the popular Beer & Ballet they’d been working on at the time. Left with a program of choreography they’d already created themselves, the dancers chose to reconvene, secure new funding and produce the show on their own, presenting it as Behind the Barre at the Crest Theatre just 21 days later. They called their new, dancer-run collective Capital Dance Project.

“I think that now looking back on it, this was something we had wanted to do for a while—start a summer program to keep dancers in shape and involved and creative,” CDP dancer and organizer Alexandra Cunningham says. “Those events last summer were really just a catalyst.”

Now one year later, CDP is gearing up for its second annual presentation of Behind the Barre, this time with the significant modifier, “Made in Sacramento.” While many of the CDP’s 20 dancers hail from countries around the world, the upcoming performance focuses on the inspiration they all pull from the city they now call home, where a resurgence of innovation has appeared in the wake of increased attention and expectations.

One can hardly talk about the state of Sacramento arts without mentioning Art Hotel. When the multi-artist undertaking debuted in February, Sacramentans seemed caught off guard by the strength of work they hadn’t thought the local art scene could provide. Art Hotel garnered widespread praise and recognition for both the participating artists as well as the larger Sacramento arts community. CDP was one such organization inspired by the impactful sum of its parts, seeing how interdisciplinary collaboration could result in a meaningful project that would have been impossible without a large, collective effort.

“Collaboration is an amazing experience,” Cunningham says. “With dance in particular, where there are no words and we just have body language and music to guide us, it’s always interesting to get different perspectives on how to convey a scene or message.”

To help interpret the upcoming program, CDP paired multiple choreographers with six visual artists previously of Art Hotel, including Shaun Burner, Trent Dean, Raphael Delgado, Franceska Gamez, Waylon Horner and Kevin Zee. The program will also feature live music components by electronic dance music producer Elijah Jenkins, Sacramento Taiko Dan and a classical trio—composer and violinist Andy Tan, cellist Alison Sharkey and pianist I-Hui Chen—performing an original composition created specifically for Behind the Barre.

“As a choreographer collaborating with a visual artist, there is another layer of consideration when making a piece,” CDP dancer and choreographer Stefan Calka says. “You want to leave space for them in the choreography … because it’s not only the dance that is there for the audience to consider, you want to make sure the viewer is seeing everything the piece has to offer.”

Cunningham adds that the challenge of collaboration helps them grow as artists and performers, no matter what their discipline.

“That’s what we’re most excited about, to pick a scene or idea and go in so many different directions that you might not have thought of individually as an artist yourself,” she says.

Though CDP began out of necessity to help dancers make ends meet between seasons, it has already evolved into a creative opportunity for company members to develop their professional skills, connect with the community and present the world of dance to audiences that the Sacramento Ballet has not had much overlap with in the past.

Just this month, the group was chosen as a recipient of Sacramento Republic FC’s Glory Glory Sacramento fund, granting CDP $15,000 to develop its outreach program for at-risk and underserved youth who lack access to the arts.

“As dancers, we’ve felt a real-life transformation through the arts—how it develops imagination and creativity and confidence, teaches you how to work with people and express your voice,” Cunningham says. “[We] want to make sure kids in Sacramento can experience that too.”

So far, CDP has opened its studio to local student groups for two Behind the Barre rehearsals and has reached out to 15 local youth organizations, such as 916 Ink and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Sacramento, in the effort to get 100 kids in seats for each of its upcoming performances.

As its opening night approaches, Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento is breaking the traditional mold of dance by incorporating an interdisciplinary element: Dancers are choreographers and event planners, painters are participants in performance and musicians present both their music as well as themselves, challenging the notion of art as a rigid and solitary pursuit. By including these elements, CDP dancers are strengthening their own creative and professional repertoire as well as those of their collaborators from within the Sacramento arts community.

“Our artists may have come from all over the world, [but] we’ve all spent time in Sacramento and we consider this our home,” Cunningham says. “We’re excited to reinforce that homegrown feel and celebrate the artists who love and want to be here.”

Behind The Barre: Made in Sacramento at 6:30 p.m. Friday, August 26, or Saturday, August 27, at the Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street. Tickets cost $25. Learn more at www.capitaldanceproject.org.

*As run in SN&R 8-25-16

Sacramento Guide to Beer and Bikes

Sacramento has experienced an explosion of craft breweries in the last few years and the city has embracing them in a variety of ways from Brew Bike tours to brewery-focused running clubs. Here are some of our favorite ways to see the scene, including some self-guided bike itineraries for you to follow on your own. Helmets recommended but not required.

For larger images, CLICK HERE

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 11.56.50 AM

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 11.57.00 AM

*This article published in the July/Aug 2015 issue of Edible Sacramento magazine.

Bodegas & The Future of Food

Bodega-Williamsburg

Liquor, cigarettes, bacon, milk, beer. Usually there’s a deli counter serving up hangover-crushing egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches wrapped in oil-soaked paper to go; for all of this and more, the bodegas of the east coast are a one-stop shop. Their west coast cousin the corner store serves a similar purpose, if slightly less accommodating. A deli isn’t usually involved, but it’s still a convenient outpost for late-night toilet paper runs, as well as for stocking up on ice cream, candy bars, and- in Sacramento- surprisingly good beer and wine.

On the recently renovated corner of Broadway and 35th street in Oak Park, the event planning and marketing group Unseen Heroes helms their store DISPLAY: California, a rotating concept shop that changes its stock, purpose, and layout every six to eight weeks. As winter wore down into spring, the concept emerged as DISPLAY: Bodega, combining design-minded products with locally produced food and drinks that one would actually seek out as opposed to the usual corner-store fare for which one must merely settle. The building itself is appropriate to the theme. Built into the triangular space of a wedge-shaped building- think the Flatiron in Manhattan- using the space as a “corner store” seemed fitting. As the shop lacked refrigeration, the stock necessarily focused on shelf-stable products, foregoing wilting produce or questionable milk in favor of strikingly packaged products curated along tall blonde shelves like a gallery or boutique. Gemstone colored jams by INNA shouldered up to square tins of olive oil by Other Brother Co.. From Burly Beverages came flip-top bottles of mouth-puckering shrubs and tonics, and in the corner a temporary bar proffered kombucha on tap, the variety written up on the obligatory chalkboard menu.

Despite the shop’s small and unusual shape, organizers culled out enough square footage for Chef “Syl” Mislang of The Roving Spoon to host a series of pop-up brunches featuring some of the store’s products. For their first round, Other Brother Co.’s California Gunpowder spice blend was tossed with potatoes for crispy, seasoned breakfast tacos. Oakland-produced Baia pasta lent its texture to a tofu and arugula scramble. Most imaginatively, tapioca balls were cooked up with Burly Beverage’s Blood Orange Beet shrub, making a sweet and vinegary “caviar” dolloped alongside silver-dollar sized buckwheat blinis.

While DISPLAY: Bodega was limited in its lifespan to a couple of months, it does give rise to the question: why can’t we have such high quality local offerings in all of our corner stores? We can already widely access local craft beers and wines at our neighborhood markets, so why not Baia pasta in place of SpaghettiO’s, INNA jams in place of Smucker’s, and a hot carafe of locally-roasted coffee in place of the scalding brown mystery water doctored up with powdered creamer? Corner stores we’ve got, but high quality stock is what they lack. That and those cholesterol pumping egg and cheese sandwiches. I wouldn’t mind it if they stocked those too.

*Cover image by Frankie’s Apartment

The Reykjavík Weekender

brennivinIf you’re heading to Iceland this year, you’ll likely want to explore the wild expanses that make the country a scenic-destination, but you would be remiss to pass over Reykjavík without giving it its due attention. Serene, creative, and effortlessly cool, the capital city of just 119,000 people is easily navigated by newcomers, while streets like Laugavegur offer more photogenic coffee shops, cafes and boutiques than the most dedicated connoisseur would have time to patronize. No matter what your intention is for your time in the city though, one activity is a non-negotiable: you must experience the surreal and wonderful world that reveals itself late on every Saturday night.

As part of Iceland’s painful prohibition period, hard liquor was illegal until 1935, and beer was not fully legal until 1989. Perhaps due in part to this, alcohol is still prohibitively expensive with a beer running you a crippling $9-$18 a pint depending on its ABV and mixed drinks similarly high in price. Well aware of this, Icelanders will begin their drinking at home, likely while watching the Eurovision Song Contest with which they are obsessed, until they’re roundly drunk at 1 AM and begin to head downtown. With an enormous array of destinations for every taste from queer 80’s dance-clubs and sleek speakeasies to Irish pubs and even a Big Lewboski themed bar, Saturday night begins in earnest after midnight. This is the hour when bars begin to fill up and cafes that earlier in the day proffered warm soup and coffee offer the late-night fare of DJs, dim lighting, and dancing with drinks in hand. By 3 AM everybody in Reykjavík has become friends. The floors are slick with spilled drinks, locals and tourists alike are dancing uninhibitedly on tables, and crowds sing along to whatever song is playing as if their allegiance to Iceland depended on it. By 5 AM, the worst for ware are asleep in the street, broken glass glints dully in the dim morning light, and new friends part way with promises to meet again for brunch after some rest.

It’s likely that you will meet for brunch the next day unless you happened to imbibe in Iceland’s national distillate, Brennivín. When it legally debuted in 1935 the locally crafted aquavit bore a black label with a skull indicating the danger of drinking, garnering it the nickname “black death.” Today Brennivín’s label carries an outline of the country rather than a skull, though the alcohol’s effect remains potent. Distilled from potato mash and flavored with caraway seeds, the herbal almost gin-like liquor an Icelandic joke in itself about surviving the long dark winter like a true Viking, and is a traditional libation worth your time. The one word you’ll need in the event a drink is offered: skál meaning “cheers.”

*Photo from Trendengle.com

Farmer’s Daughter

farmers daughter cover

Though my family’s farm is in Amador County, I grew up eating more like my Swedish great grandmother Anna did on her farm in North Dakota. Scrambled eggs and cottage cheese, challah bread baked with candied orange peel, a butter and pea pasta dish my mother calls “hay and straw.” It all falls under the umbrella of cuisine we affectionately refer to as “beige meal,” an austerely Scandinavian dairy-farm cuisine I continue to cook for myself today.

Dad was the more inventive cook at home, an important quality when dinner focused on whatever was ripe for the picking on the farm. The way some men specialize in meatballs or hot dogs on the grill, dad’s specialty was taking an ingredient and transforming it into a dozen different dishes. Squash proved nicely versatile, turnips were hard to disguise, and we ate fava beans for so many months on end that the idea of them still makes me sick, but the most important ingredient in dad’s pantry arsenal was dried porcini mushrooms. Fresh, their smell is mild and unremarkable, but dried the smell is somewhere between brewers malt, maple, and a sock drawer.

Dad had learned to gather mushrooms from an old Italian woman who’d been picking them in the area for decades. When he found her foraging on the property one day he asked her to take him along and teach him how. From then on, the first warm days after a good fall rain meant mushroom hunting. Until dad could confidently identify what he’d picked we would bring our baskets to the woman’s house where she would deftly separate the good from the bad, flinging the bad ones over her shoulder and declaring in a heavy accent, “Good! No good! Good!”

Just as dad was the undisputed cook, mom was the baker in the house. Her dough-smeared copy of James Beard’s Beard on Bread sat on a shelf above the oven, rarely referenced as all the recipes were known by heart. While long braids of challah bread fed us through the spring, summer time meant peach cobblers, pies, and jams. November was the start of a fierce baking marathon with mom mixing up a different batch of cookie dough every day for weeks in preparation for December’s “julbord,” another Swedish hold-over from great grandmother Anna. Beginning December 1st and lasting through Epiphany in early January, the julboard was a special table in the dining room laden with cookies, candies and pies that could be nibbled on all day. The chocolate gingerbread molasses cookies, the unstable lemon bars, the lingonberry hand pies that looked just like the mincemeat ones so that you always got the one you didn’t mean to reach for- all the recipes could be found in a notebook from Anna with my mother’s helpful scrawls in the margin advising things like, “add melted butter, beat like hell.”

When I left for college, I took mom’s worn copy of Edward Espe Brown’s Tassajara Cooking with me, which read more like zen koans inspired by vegetables than actual recipes. After college, I moved to Seattle where I mostly lived on bagels and peanut butter, until the Thanksgiving I spent alone in my damp and dark basement apartment, eating from a pan of instant mashed potatoes and a can of pineapple rings, still hungry when they were gone and feeling like something had gone wrong in my life. It wasn’t much longer until I was back in California.

Rediscovering the farm as an adult, I’ve come to love the lifestyle I eschewed as a teenager. These days if I’m taking the truck into town for animal feed or a run to the hardware store, I do it shamelessly in cowboy boots- no matter that we don’t have horses. Instead of browsing the farmers market in Sacramento where I live, I find myself carving out time to make a farm run where the eggs are better, the bread is fresher, and the greens stay crisp in the fridge for a week or longer.

I submit these details as enticements to friends in the city, often coaxing them up to the foothills for a weekend of home-made wine and pasta with porcinis or those fava beans that I hate. I find myself reveling in the frog-din of evening, waking up to rooster crows and the gentler hoots of doves and songbirds I can’t name.

I have even taken up the habit of keeping a vegetable garden wherever I’m living. At my apartment in Sacramento, a 20 square foot patio has just enough sun and space for some containers screwed into the banister and stacked on top of stools. My winter harvest gave me salad greens, cilantro, parsley, chives, and thyme, and when my parents visit they nod approvingly to see that I am “farming.” By summer though, most of my attention is redirected to the family farm as the fruit comes into season, apricots leading to peaches, leading to plums, leading to pears.

In July, the immensity of ripening peaches means frantic activity while we figure out what to do with them. As many pounds as we can hock are delivered to local restaurants, but the bowing bottom crates can prove too much for even the most willing chefs. On those days, we sit around two buckets with a paring knife, tossing the pits in one and the quartered up fruit in the other, a kitchen towel draped over your knee to clean up the juice that runs down your hands, making the knife handle slick. Some of the fruit will go into gallon freezer bags for winter time pies, some of it goes into the wild wine barrels for brandy making out at the distillery, and another portion is put aside for jams.

Work in the canning kitchen could be summed up as hot and tiring, and though mom is able to can anything, it’s a skill I’ve never practiced on my own for fear of killing those I love with botulism. It’s a fear that strikes pretty close to home. In the early 1900’s the family that lived on our property grew sick from a tainted batch of canned green beans. It killed half the family, and the family on the farm next door. Knowing this, the idea of a home-made treat wiping out half the neighborhood has kept my curiosity in traumatized check. Jam seems harmless enough, but I’ve never shared my family’s mania for it. I still prefer to eat my peaches fresh.

These days, my greatest pride comes from sharing the farm with others. To celebrate the spring equinox this season we reached out to many friends to spend the day with us, grazing on grilled spring onions enlivened by the creamy spice of chipotle romesco, a long table crowded with potluck dishes and the cellar steadily relieved of last year’s primativo. The bright, waxing moon washed the stars out of the sky, and the laughter stayed warm and alive around the bonfire until the last guest had gone to bed, the frogs finally unchallenged as they croaked through the night.

 

*As printed in Edible Sacramento magazine‘s May/June 2016 issue.

Photo by Drew Walker, 2016.

Sacramento’s Food Network: The chefs behind the farm-to-fork dining scene

11212155_897490300318196_1710921451129778295_o

On any busy evening at Mulvaney’s B&L the dining room staff plays what they call the Rockaway Game. “Who’s at table 12? Where are they from? Who are they connected to?” Chef Patrick Mulvaney explains. “In Rockaway Beach we say, ‘I was out with Joe yesterday.’ ‘Oh, Joe from 98th?’ ‘No, Joe who has the sister Louise who lives on 104th.’ ”

The NY native who’s built a reputation as one of the most reputable restauranteurs in Sacramento knows the importance of building community, and how Sacramento, in terms of the restaurant-world, is still a very small town. In fact, the pedigree of dozens of successful Sacramento businesses from Bacon & Butter to Hook & Ladder can be traced back to young chefs cutting their teeth in Mulvaney’s kitchen. Expand that to the kitchens of the Paragary Restaurant Group under the eyes of Executive Chef Kurt Spataro, and Randall Selland’s family-owned and operated endeavors at The Kitchen, Selland’s Market Cafe, and Ella, and the world gets even smaller. You can trace Mulvaney himself to the early days at The Kitchen working alongside Selland, just as he rubbed shoulders with Spataro at the beginning of the Paragary empire, when the eponymous restaurant was a single location bubbling with potential on the corner of N st. and 28th in midtown.

Mulvaney sits in a sweatshirt and checkered chef pants at a white-clothed high-top surrounded by the polite and busy quiet of the Mulvaney B&L dining room. Cooks stand around a large counter chopping vegetables in the nearby open kitchen as servers adeptly glide between empty tables preparing to open the restaurant for mid-day business.

“When people ask now in 2015 what I thought about my dreams and whether they came true, I say that the original goal was 24 seats, menu on a chalkboard, 11 wines all available by the glass— and in that sense clearly we were a total and abject failure, right? Cause we do a lot more than that,” Mulvaney explains. “But the second hope was to open a space where people would come, community would come, to discuss the issues of the day- and potentially invite me in to those discussions- and in that sense it’s been wildly successful and a really great vantage point from which to watch the growth of Sacramento over the last ten years,” he says, gesturing to the clean and humming room around him.

A lot of the growth in the Sacramento restaurant scene has come from the ranks of the B&L’s own kitchen, from Adam Schulze now working as the chef de cuisine at Rick Mahan’s midtown restaurant The Waterboy, to Ginger Elizabeth who started her company with little more than a metro rack in the B&L kitchen, waking up at 4 A.M. to make toasted almonds and chocolate bars before she had a shop of her own.

“There was a point when we were out one night at someone’s new restaurant opening, an industry night, and [I was] chatting with the new owner,” Mulvaney describes. “He just looked like he was beat to death, and he was saying, ‘I’m just so tired’ and ‘When’s it gonna end?’…and I said, ‘Hey, you know, look at who’s here. There are all these people, all restauranteurs, and we’re here [to support you]…’ And then I looked again and realized that there were eight different restaurants represented and out of those eight people, six of them [had] worked for me,Mulvaney says, eyes smiling.

There’s pride in local chefs seeing their protégés take on larger responsibilities in the community. “I always knew that I would have my own restaurant and I always assumed that everyone else [wanted that] too…it never occurred to me that there are people that don’t,” Mulvaney says. Executive Chef and Owner Randall Selland who entertained behind the counter of his fine-dining flagship restaurant The Kitchen for 22 years has seen more chefs than he can recount go off to high-level positions around the world as well as here at home. In Sacramento, Selland watched as Chef Billy Ngo left his station at The Kitchen to open lauded contemporary Japanese restaurant Kru, while Michael Thiemann left his post as Executive Chef at Ella to pursue his own bourgeoning ventures with business partner Matt Masera: the gourmet vegetarian favorite Mother, and its soon to open meat-centric sister next door, Empress Tavern.

“It’s just funny when people leave us,” Selland muses. “I get calls from media saying, ‘Oh, tell me about the big blow out fight you had with these people,’ or, you know, they think something happened, and I say, ‘Well, they came and said they had an opportunity and asked us what we thought, and we say, “if you have that great of an opportunity then you should go do it,” ’ ” Selland explains.

Striking out on your own isn’t easy though, as any chef will tell you. It takes drive, passion, “a good business plan,” Selland’s wife and co-owner Nancy Zimmer suggests. But even with those tools, it’s hard to know exactly what to do when you’re calling the shots. Mulvaney takes his role as a mentor for new business owners seriously, remembering his own confusion when opening his first restaurant. “When you own your own place,” Mulvaney says, “you’re standing on the front of the boat looking out at the ocean, and there’re no fucking roadsigns in the ocean. So our job as owners is to help people navigate those things.”

The tight relationship of the dining community in Sacramento has helped many new restauranteurs to navigate those turbulent waters, pulling on the collective knowledge of a business community that can feel a lot like family. “The restaurant community here is very closely knit and very tight,” Mulvaney nods.

Randall Selland began The Kitchen with his wife Nancy Zimmer in 1991, going on to open Selland’s Market Cafe in 2001 and Ella in 2007. As a result, Selland and Zimmer have carefully built up a restaurant empire run by themselves as well as their son Josh Nelson and daughter Tamera Baker who oversee the staff and team at all locations. Selland credits the “family feel” that extends to all of their employees as the cornerstone of their success over the years. “A lot of time people will open multiple units and they lose something along the way, [but] our aim is not to lose anything,” Selland explains, “and we think we’re accomplishing that by what people tell us about our staff at all our restaurants- they say, “Wow, they’re so nice,” [and] I say, ‘Well…they’re just an extension of the family.’ ”

As Sacramento impatiently prepares to rise to the rank of a world-class city, many local chefs are wondering how the dining scene will adapt. Kurt Spataro has been overseeing as many as 14 locations with the Paragary Restaurant Group as a partner and Executive Chef, and has seen the Sacramento scene change from a couple of brick-oven pizza places to a city that’s challenging itself to innovate and grow faster than ever. “This whole farm to fork thing, that in and of itself is cool,” Spataro says, “but the most important aspect to me is the way that it’s sort of created a camaraderie, allowed the chefs to kind of band together. I think we’re still competitive, but there’s also sort of a feeling of brotherhood and we’re sort of all in it together, and we’re representing our city as a group. And there’s pride associated with that.”

Randall Selland is hoping to see the dining scene rise to the occasion that’s being presented as well. “I’ve had calls from a couple of nationally known [Chefs] saying ‘We’ve got your name, we’ve heard about you…tell us what’s going on because all we hear is that we have to come to Sacramento.’ ” Selland says. What the city needs now is to not let up.

Mulvaney can’t help but wonder how the younger generation of restauranteurs will approach the opportunities at hand. “My hope when you asked, ‘Who worked for you and where did they go?’ is that I start to think, ‘How is Billy Zoellin doing with the people who work for him [at Bacon & Butter]? How is Adam Pechal doing with those folks?’ ” Mulvaney says, “And the example that you follow is Paragary’s, right? How Kurt [Spataro] and Randy [Paragary] have held and grown their empire by supporting good people. And now, though I’m not doing it in restaurants that have my name on them, I’m doing it with a community that’s mine. So it’s very important for us that as our community within the community expands, that the people that are doing it have support from those who came before them.”

As Spataro notes though, it’s not always the teacher that does the teaching. Mentoring goes both ways. “A lot of people have come through our restaurants and moved on and done other things and hopefully they’ve taken the best things that I or we have to offer,” he says, “but it goes both ways, you know? [It’s] immeasurable what I’ve learned from these guys, what I continue to learn…it’s funny. As the skill level rises and some of these guys return to your kitchen they’re sort of teaching you, which, I think that’s the way it should be.”

*As appears in Edible Sacramento May/June 2015 issue.

The Millennial’s Guide To Real Estate

Featured image

After a six months search for an apartment in midtown I’d reached the end of my renter’s rope. Whether San Franciscans were flooding our sleepy cultural-hamlet or if I’d just been out of the market for too long, a novella-sized stack of denied applications told me everything I needed to know. Renting sucks and it was time to buy.

I thought that would be the hard part, just deciding to do it, until I found out that house-buying is exactly as competitive as apartment-renting. It’s a war against time, where “war” means hemorrhaging money instead of blood, attracting bondsmen like starving sharks- though honestly my bond guy has proven very reasonable and I’d be happy to make a referral anytime.

It all begins benignly enough with the Open House. This is how I’ve spent my weekends for months now, cruising up and down tree-lined streets like a property predator, e-braking my Honda Civic at a glimpse of any “open house” placard set in a front yard, those white balloons beckoning to passersby like a ruse.

I park the car and step purposefully into the brightness of a stark home that is not my own. Staged furniture stands like a sentinel in every room, goading you to consider where a couch could fit or what would perhaps make a delightful home office. It is important to not be swept away by the crushing flow of hugely expensive possibilities such as knocking out a few walls and installing sky lights. You must quiet your mind of uncountable HGTV reruns and home improvement Pinterest boards, instead turning your vigilant eagle eye to sagging rooflines and peeling paint suggestive of far deeper damage than even your eagle eye can see. You do not want to be the fool that gets stuck with this place. I know because I’ve made mistakes.

It started with a hundred-year-old “charmer” in North Oak Park. After reaching an agreement we set to work arranging for the inspections, and within a week it was determined that the roof, the foundation, and everything betwixt were equally doomed. Even the towering oak tree in the backyard would have to go, its roots wrapped around the deteriorating sewer lines like a wrestler in full-nelson, necessitating specialists and their merciless, “indeterminable” quote for the full price of repair. The house seemed to be standing only by virtue of good weather, the next rain (should there ever be any again) slated to take it down. I walked from the deal and threw my lot in for a handful of other properties, but so far I’ve been shut out. What is a hapless millennial set on home-ownership to do?

While the siege of slum lords and billionaire investment groups threatens the affordability of our livelihood here, I will not allow their rampage to discourage me. Sacramento is my home, and it is here that my home will be found. Also, still looking for leads on an enthusiastic realtor.

*as run in Sacramento News& Review Feb 19 2015

No Pants Required: A Style Guide for The Hip and Lazy

I’ll admit I’ve let some things go over the years. I’m still a gym junkie, yes, but when it comes to personal style, black jeans and ankle boots are about as hip as I get. There’s so much going on in the world, how can I find time to worry about my wardrobe? That said, I did put aside some time this new year to do the thinking for those of you who feel similarly burdened. What resulted is a short list of items combining flexibility with powerful statements in what are otherwise hugely un-versatile pieces.  Read on to see my 2015 Winter/Unemployment style guide as run in the SN&R’s recent Guide to Vice and Laziness.

When you find yourself facing the mirror with several wool scarfs wrapped around your head and a neon ski jacket flapping open over your long since un-funny Christmas sweater, the essential winter fashion question looms heavily: Yes, I am warm, but is this cool? Of course, you can always play it safe, but even well-trod styles hold some risk. The black pea coat, while classic, speaks volumes about our inability to stray from strict fashion norms and thus our creative ineptitude in everything in life. Likewise, leggings under knee-length dresses promise only the inevitability that your dress will end up tucked into the waistband in the back just when you thought everyone was laughing at your jokes. Clearly, the perils are many when striking out into the world of fashion, but SN&R has a few suggestions to get you on your way to bold statements that sacrifice only a fraction of your dignity.

 

Betabrand Dress Pants Sweatpants combine the questionable luxury of sweatpants with the pretend formality of dress pants so that you can maintain your slacker lifestyle in public and not fool anybody. Whether you’re taking bong rips in bed or getting ready for a conference-room Powerpoint presentation, you can rest (or work) assured that you do not need to change your pants. Styling tip: pair with tuxedo t-shirt.

dress sweatpants

Because high heeled shoes are uncomfortable and Crocs aren’t really shoes, the Women’s Cap Toe Wedge by Crocs shouldn’t even be possible, but there they are, glimmering like fashion-forward, office-appropriate moon boots. The winter corollary to the very poorly thought out “high heel flip flop,” these probably feel like walking in 10% Earth gravity or on a trampoline or like the ground is made of unstable sponge cake. Brilliant, dangerous, or dangerously brilliant?

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 12.12.26 AM

A SAZAC kigurumi animal suit (also searchable by “hot unisex adult onesie”) is the Japanese cross between the furry fan’s fursuit and a Snuggie®. Half footsie pajama, half lifestyle declaration, the kigurumi is limited only by your willingness to wear it in public. Typically available in any animal character real or imagined, a kigurumi suit goes effortlessly from weird-whatever-you-do-at-home to is-this-some-kind-of-joke at your favorite restaurant or bar. Recommend to buy in bulk for all your friends.

Kigurumi-Group-Shot

After a hard day of drinking, or whatever it is you do to get yourself through the long dark winter, passing out comfortably literally anywhere is a key priority. That’s why I’m super excited about these wearable Marvel Adult Sleeping Bags by Selk’bag USA, Inc. complete with zip-removable booties and insulated hood with draft protection to protect against rainfall. With a variety of super hero options to pick from, you can sleep soundly knowing that no one is going to fuck with a passed out individual in a Captain America body-shaped bag. Real buyer comment from site: “I settled on Incredible Hulk but would have been pretty happy with any of the styles.”

Selkbag