BY AMBER K. STOTT / ILLUSTRATIONS: LILY THERENS
The new year in America's Farm-to-Fork Capital brings a host of new local novelties in food. Whether it's restaurant menus or farm crops or a homemade dinner with friends, Sacramento cuisine is constantly evolving. If you're looking for what's new in our area this upcoming year, you'll find that some of the following dishes and ingredients are popping up often—and trending.
GLOBAL STREET FOOD - Global street food has moved off the street and into the restaurant, and has been growing in popularity over the years. It makes sense for a city that's ranked the most diverse in the nation to have menus that reflect a global palate. Mainstream restaurants from Magpie to Selland's Market Café carry the popular Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, or for more options of fillings, such as fish cakes, you can head to one of many of South Sacramento's excellent Vietnamese eateries such as Huong Lan.
While banh mis aren't a new trend, you'll see more menus gravitating away from the safety of traditional "California cuisine" and playing with more global fare. Tacos are another example of widespread street food. They're on the lunch menu at Grange Restaurant & Bar, are a staple on Golden Bear's menu, and are so popular at the burger joint Broderick that customers won't let them rotate off the menu.
Keep your eyes peeled for more and more street foods including gelato, steamed bao and skewered meats.
UTILIZING FOOD "WASTE" - New York chef Dan Barber pioneered the trend of cooking with "garbage" with his WastEd pop-up restaurant in 2015. He converted his high-end New York restaurant menu to contain foods diverted from the waste stream. Pulp from juice became a veggie burger. Slices of perfectly cooked pig ears were featured as a garnish in a salad.
Sacramento food blogger Catherine Enfield was ahead of the curve on this trend with the conception for her event Have an Offal Day, which began in 2013. Now held each August, the event showcases off-cuts of meat such as tongue, kidneys or brains (otherwise known as "offal") that are typically not seen on traditional restaurant menus. Yet, as Enfield points out, for plenty of cultures offal is commonplace: the Filipino balut (a developing duck embryo) is street food which, like a Power Bar, is eaten for energy; and the comforting soup menudo is made with cow's stomach and can be found at many Mexican restaurants in our region.
Today, Sacramento's trendy restaurants are experimenting with offal and full product-utilization on their menus, driven by a more adventurous diner and the cost savings that come from such savvy menus. You'll find bone marrow returning to menus from Empress to Ella. And at Oak Park Brewing Company enjoy the crackers and breads made from spent grain from the brewing process.
QUAIL & QUAIL EGGS - California's state bird is being showcased more frequently on dinner plates across the region. Patrick Mulvaney prepared a hard-boiled quail egg pickled in soy sauce for the Farm-to-Fork Gala Dinner on the Tower Bridge. Grilled, roasted and woodfired, quail can be found on menus at Ella Dining Room and Bar, Carpe Vino, Localis and Paragary's.
OCTOPUS - Octopus is tricky to make at home, so happy tentacles are being raised for this seafood staple popping up on Sacramento menus. Billy Ngo's new Fish Face Poke Bar offers it on the regular menu, and you can often find it at Kru. Aioli, Localis, The Press Bistro and Ella also feature octopus. While you can find it most frequently in Sacramento at Japanese and sushi-style restaurants, you'll have to head all the way to Meadowview to find a Mexican soup featuring the cephalopod at Las Islitas.
PIMIENTO CHEESE - Yes, the glowing orange cheese mixture studded with bits of red pepper that you grew up eating at your grandma's house has also crept into the gourmet restaurant scene. Perhaps it's a nod to nostalgia. Perhaps it's more practical to share than an artisan cheese tray. Maybe it's just an inexpensive way to utilize leftover cheese. Whatever the reason, pimiento cheese is fashionable again. Empress Tavern serves it on crudité, while Carpe Vino makes theirs with goat cheddar and bacon, served like Grandma's, with crackers. While a relatively recent add to the restaurant scene, Darrell Corti has always been a fan of this cheese and carries it at Corti Brothers year-round.