Review: Downtown & Vine

This little wine bar occupies a beautiful space in the pedestrian mall area of K street downtown.  This is a welcome addition to the area, a perfect spot to grab a drink before a movie at the IMAX across the way.  There is a parking garage right next door, so if you don’t grab street parking, you still don’t have far to walk (the garage is spendy…for 2 hours, I paid $14).I attended the Yelp Wine tasting event here last night, with a large group of people.  Good mix of wine connoisseurs and relative newbies; we all got great treatment from the staff.  Gregg, the owner, went over his and Kate’s reasons for selecting their business, as well as why they chose the various wine regions they represent in their collection.  

We were given pours of the following:
2008 Iron Horse Classic Brut sparkling wine (Sonoma).  Did you know that Iron Horse is the wine of choice for American Presidents to serve to visiting dignitaries?  No?  Read more about that here…I was very impressed by the wine, by the way.  http://inside-sonoma.com…
2011 Neyers Chardonnay Carneros)
2010 De Loach Pinot Noir (Green Valley)
2010 Dillian Barbera (Plymouth, Amador County)
2008 Michael Mondavi Family Emblem “Oso” Cabernet Sauvignon

They also gave us little bites of bread, cheese and meat to augment the wine tasting experience.  Delicious.

I was torn between the De Loach Pinot and the Dillian Barbera, but in the end, the Barbera won (I love Barberas, what can I say!)  We also got a 15% yelp check-in discount.

The wine bar is not that large, but the owners have done a great job of making it look spacious: light woods, beautiful white armchairs in little groupings, a long bar along the left as you walk into the main room, a glassed-in room towards the back…all make for interesting vignettes and keep your eye moving around the space.

I look forward to visiting this place again!

Downtown & Vine
1200 K St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 228-4518

Review: Glenfiddich Tasting at the Citizen Hotel

Glenfid-DICK.  That’s how you say it.  If nothing else, that pronunciation lesson alone was worth the trip to this event.  However, as with any event hosted by Alex, the Yelp community manager (Sacramento), the Glenfiddich Scotch Tasting at the Citizen Hotel was nothing short of classy and amazing.  The location was the perfect setting…the mezzanine above and surrounding the reception desk of the hotel was oddly intimate.  The plush carpeting and dark walls added to the smoking lounge feel, and the tables were set beautifully with platters of meats and cheeses, and tumblers filled with single drams of the four whiskeys we would taste.  A tall glass of water and a surprising addition of a medicine dropper rounded out each place setting.A medicine dropper?  Yes.  Very necessary.  Because that’s how you add water to whiskey.  With a medicine dropper.  And yes, it is now a part of my whiskey tasting accoutrements, accompanying me on my nights out, discretely couched within its plastic sleeve, ready to be whipped out for a quick addition of the perfect amount of water to my dram of whiskey.

We tasted aged single malt whiskeys, from 12 years up to 21, and as the age progressed, so did the amount of water that got added to my whiskey to make it palatable for my sensitive throat.  Water cuts the burn, y’all!  They were all delicious, but I found myself partial to the 12 year old.  

The Glenfiddich rep, Mitch, was appropriately irreverant and unintelligible, as per his scottish heritage, and exceedingly funny.  After the tutorial, he visited all the tables and answered a few more questions, some of which were influenced heavily by the amount of whiskey imbibed earlier, leading to some amusing conversations around our table.

It was all over much too soon, within an hour, but of course, the party was just getting started for my table mates….I however, was a good girl and went straight home.  

Thanks, Yelp and Alex, for another delicously extravagant experience.

The Citizen Hotel
926 J St
Sacramento, CA 95814

Review: Seasons 52

Arden Fair Mall.  

Alex Lane, Yelp Community Manager (Sacramento), performed a small miracle there yesterday.  

He was able to get a large group of fun people to attend a Yelp Elite event there.  And managed to do it with his usual understated, classy, effortless panache.

Honestly, that was the only reason I ventured into the area; the promise of another fun event hosted by Alex.  And I stayed because I was pleasantly surprised by the casual elegance of the restaurant, Seasons 52, and its welcoming and attentive staff.  From the servers pouring the drinks, to the ones walking around the appetizers, all of them were uniformly polite, sweet, attentive, and genuinely interested in making our experience memorable and enjoyable.  The patio was beautifully decorated and the glass panels strategically placed along the half wall separating the patio from the sidewalk worked perfectly to keep the traffic noise out and the sounds of the party in.  The heat lamps worked almost too well…I had to move away from under a couple because they were getting uncomfortably warm.  Strategic positioning on my part was all that was needed!

The appetizers were so delicious: I tried the stuffed mushrooms, the chipotle shrimp quesadillas (never-ending supply!), and the artichoke pesto flatbread.  

After the event, we moved into the main dining room and had dinner and dessert.  Tierra and Bryan, our servers, were extremely helpful, explaining the vision behind the restaurant, talking about the meals being under 475 calories each, and pouring tastes of their favorite wines for us.  The desserts were the highlight of my dinner: little works of art displayed in shot glasses…I wanted all of them.  

One small but exquisite touch: after we were seated, Tierra asked us if we wanted black or white napkins.  I have NEVER heard of a restaurant doing this, and I’ve been to some phenomenal ones all over the world.  So impressed.  Why?  Because if you are wearing a dark skirt or dress, as I was, the white linen napkins leave a lint residue on your clothes, and to avoid that, they offer black linen napkins.  

Effortless, and classy.

Count on seeing me again, Seasons 52, and with my posse!

Seasons 52

1689 Arden Way, Ste 1065
Sacramento, CA 95815

Review: The Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar

Formerly the Red Lotus, this space is thriving in its current avatar as the Red Rabbit.  I’ve been here for happy hour, a special event (the Sac Social Media event in December 2012), and spent a few hours there tonight with a friend.  Great service on all nights, from the servers to the bartenders.

The restaurant is on a little square, next to Harlow’s and Momo’s, down the street from the Blue Cue, around the corner from the UCD Extension (yes, I have come here after a night class…)  The large windows and the enclosed patio on the sidewalk frame a large open loft/warehouse style space.  The interior has lots of exposed brick, hardwood floors, warm lighting, gorgeous large paintings.   As you walk in, there is booth seating along the wall and high tables off to the right in the bar area along the windows, each seating around 8 people: conducive to happy hour mingling with your neighbors.  The bar itself is enormous, taking up a large footprint of the restaurant, but it is not overwhelming.

There are a few tables in the back and then you can go through the french doors to a private patio where there is an outdoor bar, heated lamps, and additional seating.  Fun in the summer and fall, I’m sure.

On my first visit, upon hearing that I had recently tried whiskey and was a fan, the bartender referred me to the Buck Hunter, a delicious concoction of whiskey, ginger beer, blackberry jam, vanilla bitters and lemon juice.  Two of those about knocked me on my ass.  In a good way.  I’ve tried and love the risotto croquettes, the polenta cakes and the shrimp tacos.  The Ramen (with shrimp) is slurp-worthily delicious!

One of my indicators of a good restaurant is the coffee.  It’s been my general experience that unless a place has an espresso machine, their coffee is subpar to mediocre.  Not the Red Rabbit!  They serve Temple coffee in a french press.  Another delicious win.

Definitely one of my favorite restaurants on the grid.

The Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar
2718 J St
Sacramento, CA 95816
(916) 706-2275

Review: Studio 24

One of my personal goals for the year was to attend an improv.  Dear god why, you ask?  Well, a new actor friend touted it as the best thing for me, given how much I feel the need to be in control of a situation.  And improv is the very antithesis of control.

So, while we were perusing http://sacramento365.com for things to do one weekend, the Improv Night at Studio 24 jumped out of the screen at my friend.  I tried to scroll quickly through and deflect his attention, but once his sights are locked, it is almost impossible to get out of his missile-like focus.

“We are going to this.” he said.
“No, we are not,” said I.
“Yes.  You’ll love it.  It will be good for you,” he said.
“No, HELL no, I won’t, and no, it will not be good for me,” said I.

So we went.  And I was a ball of nerves as we walked into the studio. It helped that my  confident actor friend couldn’t open the front door.  He kept pushing on it, and the secretary finally had to motion him to pull the door open.  (That boosted my self-confidence to no end, let me tell you!)  Once inside, we joined several people milling about in the large waiting area, making idle conversation, until we were directed to go upstairs to the little theatre, where we sat facing a brightly lit stage.

Cody, the main guy, walked us through what to expect: basically, an opening ice-breaker session where we would all HAVE to participate, and then a series of little vignettes that we could volunteer to participate in.  I felt like I had taken a plunge in ice water…I was that nervous.

The ice breaker went well (again, it helped that my actor friend got eliminated well before I did), and then I sat back to enjoy the rest of the two hours.  And it was enjoyable: got to see actors and wannabe actors of all different ages, sizes, and levels of attractiveness get up on the stage, make fools of themselves, show moments of brilliance, bore us silly, make us laugh….

It was a good introduction to improv.  Cody and his staff did a great job of keeping the momentum going, and engaging the audience.  Will I go back?  Maybe, with a group of friends, so we can all look silly together!

Studio 24
2220 K St
Sacramento, CA 95816
(916) 442-8262

Review: Bidwell Street Bistro

While I’ve been to the Bidwell Street Bistro several times over the past few years, I realized recently that every visit was organized by my dining partners.  The location (strip mall spot in the Target parking lot) has probably contributed to my overlooking it as a desired dining destination when I’m planning… However, yesterday, I used the Yelp app on my iPhone to search for restaurants in the Folsom area and the BSB popped up.  I used the “Make a Reservation” button on the business yelp page, which uses the Open Table reservation feature, and quickly had a 7pm slot for two.

The restaurant is owned by Richard Righton, who also owns Relish Burger Bar (http://www.yelp.com/biz/…) and 36 Handles (http://www.yelp.com/biz/…) in El Dorado Hills, both of which are favorites of mine.

As mentioned earlier, the location is off-putting…but once you are inside, it feels like a Parisian bistro.  The large storefront windows, framed by curtains, and the pretty decor work well to keep your mind off the fact that you are indeed, steps away from mundane shopping and oil changes.  You walk in to an intimate entryway with the hostess booth, plush silk panels separating you from the rest of the restaurant (and protecting the diners from the cold drafts that waft in every time the door is opened…very thoughtful).  The main dining area has 2 and 4 person tables set with white tablecoths, a bar area, and a private dining area off to the right.  We were there on a Tuesday night, and the place was busy…a good sign.

Drinks: We started with Raspberry lemon drops followed by the Renwood Cabernet.

Dinner: We had the cheese plate to start, followed by the Dungeness Crab Cakes with baby green beans, mango salsa, basmati rice and a buerre blanc.  The cheese plate was not memorable, but the crab cakes were another story…roasted, not pan fried, they were light and flakey, and perfectly complemented by the beans and rice.  My friend and I ate every last bite on our plates.

Dessert: Can’t go to a Parisian-themed restaurant and not have dessert…it just won’t do!  I had the Profiteroles (three choux pastries filled with vanilla ice cream, topped with sugared sliced almonds, drizzled with chocolate sauce) and my friend had the Mille Feuille (A napolean: layers of puff pastry, sandwiching Meyer lemon curd and strawberries, topped with whipped cream).  Again, these disappeared quickly, accompanied by groans of sublime bliss.

My mark of a good restaurant: can they make a cappuchino that makes me happy?  My cappuchino was perfect, hot espresso with a good head of froth.

My friend and I spent 2.5 hours there and did not feel rushed through our dinner.  The service was impeccable…the BSB is now in my mental rolodex of restaurants to frequent!

Bidwell Street Bistro
1004 E Bidwell St
Folsom, CA 95630
(916) 984-7500

Review: The Shady Lady Saloon

Located on one of my favorite corners in midtown (sounds worse than I intended, I know), The Shady Lady is a favorite place to end the night.  Relaxed atmosphere, large comfortable horseshoe booths, lots of room at the bar, a little stage off to the right as you enter for live music (or grandstanding, if you feel the urge), and my favorite place to hang out: front and center, the luxe red couch with armchairs and coffee table…makes me feel like I’m at home, but on stage, with the warm spotlights on me, the first thing people see when they walk in the doors.  (No, I am not a diva, but I play one at night.)

My girlfriends and I were there late on Saturday night, St. Paddy’s weekend (because, really, he deserves more than a day).  As I walked in the door, the warm lights, the red glow from my favorite above-mentioned seating, the buzz from the crowds, the music from the trio (appropriately, they were singing happy birthday, you know, for me)…all washed over me and surrounded me in this cocoon of welcome.  Instant relaxation.

As though they knew the couch was mine and they were trespassing, the occupants immediately got up and made room for us…somebody bought me a drink, and all was right with the world.  I checked in on yelp, and whaddya know, Johnna was there too!  So I ran over to talk to her and she introduced me to her sweet bartender friend, Brandon who quickly made me another drink: a Seraphim.  Appropriately divine.

We spent a couple hours there, meeting and talking to various people, made some new friends (you know who you are!), watched the bouncers dispose off a few overly demonstrative and inappropriately affectionate clientele (thanks!), and left feeling relaxed and satisfied with the knowledge that we had done everything we could to eke every bit of pleasure out of a beautiful night.

The Shady Lady Saloon
1409 R St
Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 231-9121

Review: Serenity Spa and Soul Yoga

Finally found a spa and yoga studio that is conveniently close to work, isn’t heated yoga, has times that work with my schedule, has a philosophy I like, and envelops me in a feeling of luxurious peace when I enter.

Serenity Spa and Soul Yoga in Roseville.

Luxurious is the word that comes to mind when you walk into Serenity Spa.  From the Chinese espresso wood floors, the plush velvet and silk jewel-toned drapes, the platinum metallic moldings, the soothing-to-the-eyes paints on the 14-foot high ceilings, to the lotus flower shaped lamps that stud the floors and tables throughout the spa, “luxury” and “pampering” are both promised and delivered.

I went in a few weeks ago to redeem my Birthday Ritual spa package http://serenityspaonline… (check in on yelp for $10 off a package over $50!)  It had been a long time since I had pampered myself…not since before my children were born, so easily nine years.  The package consisted of a 30 minute Lavender/Eucalyptus foot treatment and a one-hour Swedish Massage, given to me by Amber, a wonderful redheaded lady with whom I connected instantly, a one-hour Specialized Spa Facial given by Kelly, who was calm and competent, and who was able to quickly accommodate my extremely sensitive face, ending with a spa lunch in the Zen room (see my pics).   The whole experience was incredible, no missteps, and I left the place feeling rejuvenated and at complete peace.  Their practice of ayurvedic principles seem true to the philosophy and I look forward to trying out some of their other packages.

I also bought the 10 sessions for $10 yoga trial package: they offer yoga classes and community (read: free) meditation at Soul Yoga, which is in the next building in the same parking lot.  I attended a meditation and yoga class there last week and was again impressed by the care with which the studio was decorated and furnished.  The studio provided mats and blankets for the practitioners (two stacked mats per person…yoga on these is perfect.)

And the best part?  They are opening a location at the Palladio (Folsom) in October 2013, which makes it even more accessible for me.  Their memberships/options will be transferrable between locations.

Serenity Spa and Soul Yoga
3984 Douglas Blvd
Roseville, CA 95661
(916) 797-8550

Review: Face in a Book

All my life, I have lived near bookstores.  Or it has seemed like it, because I come from a family of avid readers, frequenting bookstores since I was a child in India.  I have an almost atavistic response to books: I use nearly all of my senses in experiencing them (except for taste.  I’ve yet to lick a book.  Give me time.)  The feel of the cover, the rustle of the pages as they are turned, the snap of flipping a page for the first time, the roughness of the edges if they are the torn style, the smooth edges if they are gold-tipped, the smell when you stick your nose right up into the binding, the beauty of the cover and binding… it’s almost spiritual.

When Borders closed up shop a few years ago, I was devastated.  That was my local refuge from the home, from the demanding needs of my then infants, my escape into new worlds and experiences.  Yes, there were books at Target, but that didn’t really count.  There was no sense of the almost-holy when you walked through the aisles.

So when I heard that Face in a Book was opening up in Town Center (El Dorado Hills), a couple miles from my home, I was thrilled.  And I’ve been a frequent visitor ever since.  My children and I go there almost every weekend, and relish the calm, almost sanctuary-like feel of the space.  It is tiny, very tiny, but it still imparts that hallowed feel you get when you are in the presence of so much knowledge just waiting to be ingested.

The owner has done a fantastic job of incorporating herself into the community, hosting local authors for book signings and readings, book clubs, and kid-friendly events.  She also has a frequent buyer program (which I just cashed in) where you get ten dollars off after your tenth book purchase.

Prices are not discounted, so if you know what you want, and are willing to wait for it, I’m sure you will Amazon your purchases.  And I do that, definitely.  I also buy books for my Kindle on Amazon.

But I also buy books for my kids here, since I want them to experience what I did, growing up.  The tangible pleasure of walking into a bookstore, seeing the visual beauty of all the possibilities in front of you, selecting, touching, feeling the weight of a book in your hands, then the joy that comes from purchasing and walking away with something that will give you hours of escape into your imagination.

Amazon can’t do that.

Face in a Book
4359 Town Center Blvd
El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
(916) 941-9401

Review: The Rind

What do you do when you find a place that marries excellent service, delightful ambiance, high quality food and drink, and then wraps it all up in the warm glow of welcome?

You go back.  Again and again.

Which is what I did.  I met my friend, Marina, at The Rind last week for a long overdue catchup session, and had a hard time keeping my mind on the conversation (don’t think she noticed…well, the cat’s out of the bag now…sorry Marina!) because I kept looking around, absorbing the decor, the vibes given off by the other happy (they had to be…) customers, and the friendly faces of the owners and servers.  I loved my time there so much, I dragged my SO back there the next night, who loved it as much as I did, if not more so.

The space is small but beautifully decorated by the owners themselves.  Sara designed the graphics on the wall to the right by the (sole) restroom, she designed the cabinetry behind the bar, the sign was lovingly corked by them (you have to see it…it’s a work of art), and a friend took the photos which they framed and put up on the wall to the left of the bar.  The bar itself?  Another work of art…the idea designed again by Sara.  The tabletops are repurposed as well, and the rustic nature lends itself to the homey, eclectic, and welcoming feel of the place.  Steve pointed out the display shelves against the far wall, self-deprecating as he wished he’d done them differently.  As we told him, they looked perfect.

Lots of serendipitous stories came pouring out of the happy couple as they shared their journey from a year ago to today…proud owners of a delightful nook in midtown.  The people they met that helped them, the struggles that were quickly overcome, the pleasure and joy that they feel in creating a space for people to gather, the plans they have for future events.  Our server, Jason, was very knowledgeable about the menu, and made sure to check in on us frequently.  He shared with us how happy he was to work with Sara and Steve, that he’d been so eager for the place to open, he had haunted the location, going so far as to knock on the window when he saw Sara painting the place one day, and telling her he wanted to be a part of the Rind experience.  You know you are in the presence of a special couple…so authentic and sincere, they are magnets to the rest of us.

The menu is appropriately cheese-fillled.  While I expected to see a wide array of cheeses to taste, and wine to accompany them, I didn’t expect to see the variety available for retail sales, as well as the salads, sandwiches, soups and dessert.  While not a big menu, it is surprisingly satisfying in its variety and depth of choice.

We tried the Diving Board and got a bottle of the cabernet/cabernet franc/merlot blend they carried, Ralbridge Lattice. The cheeses we got were delicious…a four year aged Gouda, the Mobiere (with vegetable ash), a delicious cheese that was coated in coffee and infused with lavender, and a couple others whose names escape me.  Steve and my SO spent a good amount of time getting giddy about beer, and talking about the various beers he wants to bring in over time.  While he has 3 taps, he make them count.

Keeping the menu minimal yet satisfying, adds to the boutique-like nature of The Rind.  They have done well in avoiding the obvious mistake of trying to please everybody.  While they are closed on Mondays, their hours are perfect: 11am through midnight, Thursday through Saturday, 11am through 10pm, Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  The kitchen closes at 9 for prepared foods, but the cheese and wine menu is available until closing (and we experienced that the second night I was there).

As Sara puts it, she wanted to create a space that she could escape to, something that celebrated her passions, and that would give her the ability to share her passions with others.

I think she’s succeeded.

The Rind
1801 L St
Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 441-7463