Tastes as Big as California

Subterranean Sacramento and home cooked meals in Riverside? In this week's Alta newsletter, we explore California's burgeoning food scenes outside of high-profile San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

Whole roasted San Miguel vermilion, an example of a boat-to-table meal.
Whole roasted San Miguel vermilion, an example of a boat-to-table meal.

When I descended the stairs of the subterranean Empress Tavern in downtown Sacramento, I was impressed by the remarkable sophistication of the space. In fact, our whole experience at Empress Tavern was stylish, from the thoughtful cocktails to a hearty menu of locally inspired dishes like peach, prosciutto, and burrata salad and Petaluma free-range fried chicken. My husband and I were delighted to find such a hot spot in the state capital. I have long associated Sacto with politicos, of course, but not so much with fine dining. Obviously, I need to get out more. But as gastronomic hubs like San Francisco and Los Angeles become prohibitively expensive for restaurateurs and up-and-coming chefs open shop throughout California, I have plenty of reasons to go explore.

In his latest article for Alta, food critic Michael Bauer takes us on a culinary tour of Santa Barbara. This Central Coast county is home to over 200 wineries, and local wines pair nicely with the area’s evolving food scene, including 11 culinary destinations recommended by Bauer. Read “Santa Barbara Food Gets Its Own Sideways Moment.”

Bauer discussed California cities with impressive food offerings when he last appeared on the Alta Podcast. He mentioned Sacramento’s burgeoning dining scene, as well as Silicon Valley’s. 

“One of my favorite places is called Maum, which again is a tasting menu…. The chef is Korean, and so he’s doing this kind of Korean-inspired tasting menu. They only do 16 dinners a night, and you all sit at one long table.”

Eater San Diego recently updated its list of “38 Essential San Diego Restaurants.” Among the picks were the outdoor Crack Shack and the upscale French spot Addison Restaurant, where executive chef (and Thomas Keller protégé) William Bradley is known for his “innovative plating,” which includes items like white sturgeon confit with caviar getting theatrically sauced tableside. 

Meanwhile, Riverside is the first California county to take advantage of a recent state law legalizing home restaurants. There, chefs like Meghan McConaghy Chane are serving up home-cooked meals to paying customers.  

At the same time, Silicon Valley food is getting even fancier. Last week, Selby’s opened in Redwood City. Evoking an old-Hollywood grandeur, the high-end spot with a serious wine program is the latest from the team behind San Francisco’s Spruce and the Saratoga. Perhaps Alta’s editors can send Bauer (and his dutiful Alta assistant—hint, hint) there next.   

This article originally appeared in our August 1, 2019 newsletter. 

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
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