Travel Gold Country
- Page 10
Restaurants take advantage of local farms, ranches
By Carey Sweet

Gold Country has forever been known for its Gold Rush heritage, as the precious metal Mother Lode region of the late 19th century. These days, it’s being heralded, too, for its evermoresophisticated farm-to-fork cuisine.

With such riches to savor at area restaurants, locals and visitors are staking their claim at tables so frequently that reservations are now recommended at all the top destinations, and even at many of the more casual spots.

Here, farmers and ranchers take advantage of generous climate and geography to produce all kinds of edibles, while creameries and bakeries labor to make the finest delicacies fromscratch.

So ready your appetite, and prepare to strike it delicious.

CIBO FAMIGLIA

Owners Mark and Charlene Pradenas wow with housemade Italian food, a beer and wine bar and an exhibition bakeshop.

Their place is upbeat, boisterous and family friendly, offering a large outdoor patio, music and sports on the big screen, local wines on tap and a silver archcapped open kitchen featuring a dine-in counter.

The menu reads simply at first glance, with staples such as the classic meatballs smothered in tomato sauce and parmesan, or housemade bucatini ladled in spicy pork ragu with bacon, pancetta, pecorino and parmesan.

Yet there’s also more complex magic in plates such as pasticcio pasta tumbled with fennel sausage and spinach then draped in fontina cream (it’s a delicious grown-up take on mac ‘n’ cheese).

You’ve had roast chicken plenty of times, but likely never with a sassy partner of goat cheese brightening sides of asparagus and cherry tomatoes.

King salmon, meanwhile, is adorned with tangy lemon yogurt for a silky zing alongside creamed potato, carrots and peas.

Be sure to order a pizza for the table. The wood oven sends out perfect crusts topped in deliciousness including the Zucchine of local squash, onion sauce, mozzarella, prosciutto and basil.

“We source so many local ingredients,” Mark Pradenas said. “Lettuces from Blue Oak, MJ Farms meats, and we try to use organic as much as possible.”

The restaurant makes its own ricotta, he added, and bakes its own bread, in a mouthwatering selection, including rustic Italian, sourdough baguette, country loaf and focaccia.


1850 RESTAURANT + BREWING COMPANY

Owners Jake and Hanna Wackerman knew their hip pub needed its own craft beers, so two years ago, they began brewing in their home garage. But demand quickly exceeded their 100-gallon per day production, so now they are putting the finishing touches on a new 10-barrel brewery and tasting room near their restaurant. In the meantime, you can quaff the seasonal microbrews on tap at the eatery, alongside boutique California wines and upscale pub food.

The place is famous for its lip smacking fried chicken, drizzled in ginger soy sauce and wasabi buttermilk ranch, as well as highend signatures like a juicy New Zealand rack of lamb glazed in 1850 Honey Stout reduction and sprinkled in Mariposa Farm’s lavender infused pink sea salt.

ELEMENT

After the Hanford House Inn enjoyed a floor-to-ceiling renovation six years ago, the historic property needed a stylish new restaurant to match its new, sophisticated, rustic-modern décor.

Welcome Element, hip and elegant in sleek wood, steel, white walls dotted with eclectic art and a spirit and espresso bar. Focusing on breakfast and brunch, the eatery recently launched a monthly supper (usually on the third Friday), celebrating the local art community.

Regulars and visitors alike make this a busy, colorful favorite for amenities like the pet-friendly patio, casual lounge seating section and relaxed dining room. The wall art is worth lingering over, for creations like a world map made out of dried beans.

But it’s the creative, unusual and delicious food that keeps everyone coming back, with Cal-global recipes showcasing produce from the inn’s garden.

Start the day with the “Benny,” layering rustic sourdough with soppressata, spinach, poached eggs and zingy citrus hollandaise, or churro-style waffles, the deep-fried treats finished with cayenne, spicy hazelnut drizzle, sliced bananas and a bright bit of mint.

For brunch, vegans will enjoy the rice porridge, laced with coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass, fried yams, sesame, soy sauce and scallions, while meat eaters can dig into the hearty lardon and red potato hash, dressed with caramelized onions, cheddar, over-easy egg and sour cream.

Drinks are a step above in their own right, such as Temple Coffee done drip style, or the spicy, chile-salt rimmed Bloody Mary stocked with pickled veggies.

ROSEBUD’S CAFÉ

Fresh means fresh at this quaint cottage café featuring produce and pastured eggs from the Pulskamp family’s own 7-acre farm, Majestic Oak Farm and Gardens, just 15 minutes away.

One seasonal favorite: the chicken, crispy bacon, apple and homemade apple butter sandwich, delivering sweet, salty, creamy and crunchy all in one. Sure, the mood is retro, with teal walls and purple accent tables, yet there are modern menu surprises, such as the mouthwatering signature spuds dressed with sautéed veggies, pico de gallo, spinach and roasted garlic. Dishes lean toward rich — a BLT made with crispy pork belly and heirloom tomatoes — but veggie-heads will be happy as well, feasting on plates including coconut curry risotto tumbled with organic tofu, seasonal veggies, brown rice, sweet soy and cilantro.

CARPE VINO

It’s a daily ritual, as chef/coowner Eric Alexander prepares his ever-changing menu for this posh, 36-seat spot in Old Town Auburn. But one thing remains constant: all recipes are based on ingredients from the Auburn Farmers’ Market. That means goodies including sustainably grown fruits and vegetables, grass-fed and hormone-free meats and all natural breads.

There’s a bit of whimsy here, with nibbles like popcorn tossed in black truffle butter, or the “KFC” wings appetizer glazed with fiery gochujang, kimchi and toasted peanuts. International flavors shine, from grilled octopus with chorizo, grilled chicories, Syrian muhammara red pepper puree and blood orange, to soy braised pork belly paired with black sesame puree, tamarind, Asian pear salad and tsukemono (preserved vegetables).

You can expect complex flavors, such as bluenose bass partnered with Parisian gnocchi, smoked ham, green garlic and pickled trumpet mushroom in a shellfish butter bath, or steamed manila clams with ‘nduja (spicy, spreadable Italian pork salumi), almond milk, green garlic and vermouth. It’s all just part of the flair that Alexander learned while training at the Culinary Institute of American in Hyde Park, NY.

Customers drive from Sacramento and Tahoe, and even fly in from farther afield for elegant dishes like Mishima Wagyu sirloin dramatically plated with Parmesan grits, mushroom gravy, creamy eight minute egg and black garlic. And everyone pauses to admire the 155-year old brick building that had earlier been the ancient, dive bar Union Saloon, but now gleams with reclaimed bowling alley lane wood tabletops, butter-soft leather chairs and brick walls hung with wine bottle racks.

THE CHEF’S TABLE

Owners Erick Johnson and Jon Irwin run a casual but classy spot, in a pub-meets-bistro vibe. The copper trimmed bar boasts two dozen rotating craft brews on tap, counter seating offers views into the open kitchen and the dining room and bar menus are on plain paper since they’re printed daily.

Go for bar bites like pastrami Reuben egg rolls or Korean pork “wings” with coconut sticky rice and candied radish. Dining room meals beckon with sumptuous mains like Southern fried Mary’s chicken with garlic mashed potatoes, decadent bacon gravy and baby carrots; or the grilled filet mignon gussied up with orange glazed pork belly, cream of grilled corn, French beans, Mountain Rose red potato chips, red wine demi glace and nectarines.

And wherever you sit, skinny, crisp beer battered fries are a must, dusted in pesto and shredded Swiss, best nibbled alongside a ravishing roasted jalapeno and blackberry margarita.