The Kitchen, Sacramento

Kitchen

For those who don’t know, Sacramento is the Farm-to-Fork capital of the United States. The city is blossoming with insanely great, fresh food; it’s the beauty of being so close to so much of CA’s agricultural centers. California is, after all,  the largest agricultural producer in the nation.

Diners in the Sacramento region are treated to a wide variety of fresh produce options throughout the year. No major city in America is more centrally located amid such a vast range of high-quality farms, ranches and vineyards. The Sacramento region contains 1.5 million acres of regional farmland and 8,000 acres of boutique farms, and 70 percent of the region’s land is agricultural, forest or other open space. And our Mediterranean climate produces some of the nation’s most diverse and high-quality crops year-round.

When dining in Sacramento, most of the time restaurants have rotating menus depending on what is in season at that time. And frankly, that’s the way we should be eating. We even have a whole week where we celebrate this foodie phenomenon. The region’s Farm-to-Fork Celebration takes place in September and highlights the area’s culinary scene with daily restaurant specials, farm dinners, street fairs and other exciting events. The festival usually attracts approximately 40,000 people. In short, Farm-to-Fork is more than a slogan in the Sacramento region – it’s a way of life.

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Taken from The Kitchen’s website.

This brings me to the star of this post: The Kitchen, established in 1991.

The Kitchen Restaurant has earned every imaginable local and regional award along with an impressive list of national accolades, including the AAA Five Diamond Award five years running, a nod as a semi-finalist for the James Beard “Outstanding Restaurant” Award, the highest Zagat ratings, and honors from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, as well as inclusion in the Yelp Top 100 and the Open Table Top 100.

Whoah.

The Kitchen was started by the husband and wife team of Chef Randall Selland and Chef Nancy Zimmer, along with their grown children Josh Nelson and Tamera Baker. The family was among the first to emphasize “Farm-to-Fork” dining in the Sacramento region over twenty years ago. They’ve been building relationships and supporting local farmers, growers, ranchers and artisan producers since the inception of the restaurant. The Kitchen has really become a landmark restaurant in Sacramento, selling out nightly for more than twenty years.

And guess who got to eat there. This girl!

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I know my boyfriend gets me, but boy… does he GET ME. We celebrated our anniversary on April 27th, and like exceptional partners do, he let me know how much he understands who I am, what I like, and how to make my happy. By booking dinner reservations at The Kitchen for out anniversary dinner. Baby, I love you.

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This is not like any dinner. Let me repeat… this is NOT like any dinner. Dinner service includes a five-course prix fixe menu, as well as an interactive ‘Intermission’ menu, water, coffee and a ‘Hot Tea’ service. The menu for each evening is based on a monthly seasonal framework, and features the best and freshest ingredients available on a daily basis, as well as some unique creative touches each evening. As Executive Chef of The Kitchen Restaurant, Kelly McCown oversees the entire food program of the long-standing institution. From menu development and ingredient quality control to the hands-on preparation and narration of dinner, McCown’s domain is not only in the kitchen, but also in front of guests, for whom he strives to provide an unforgettable experience. Does he ever.

Kitchen 3

Taken from The Kitchen’s website.

Oh. The place has no rules. Seriously. When we got there, we were encouraged to go into the kitchen and eat cookie dough that was being made into that night’s madeleines (I will get to those beauties later). You could serve food during the middle of the evening if you wanted to. I watched a lady get up from her seat and help plate the artichokes for the second course. Help plate artichokes IN THE MIDDLE OF THE KITCHEN for EVERYONE’S MEALS. Because she wanted to. And she could. WHAT?!

*cue tears of joy, elation, confusion, gulps of uncertainty, fear, and noises from every emotion possible because my brain exploded*

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Take a look at the April 2016 menu. Each dish carefully comes with a name and a backstory to where the dish came from. It’s like reading a book you can eat! Here’s an example of the first course we got to try.

First Course
Immortal Spring
Butter Poached Maine Lobster and Asparagus
Brown Butter Hollandaise, Buckwheat Crepes, Spring Herbs

and Passmore Ranch Caviar

 Chef’s Notes: There is a long-held rumor that if left in the wild, the humble lobster will live forever, therefore holding the key to human immortality if eaten. We’re not quite sure if this is true, but with the arrival of a new spring, we thought we might put this theory to the test. We present our butter-basted lobster paired with tender local asparagus, all wrapped lovingly in warm buckwheat crepes. Served with a luxurious lobster hollandaise and crowned with hand-crafted caviar from Passmore Ranch , we couldn’t think of a better way to start spring than with this dish.

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Even the wine list is something to be revered. There are wines from all over the world, broken into type and region. I honestly can’t find fault with anything I have seen listed. And I adore that the celebrate the Sacramento local breweries doing excellent beer. Staying so true to the Farm-to-Form mantra.

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The Kitchen also boasted an excellent craft beer, sake, and spirits collection, with whiskey from Japan I head never heard of, and a bottle of 75-year-old McCallan which is not only highly rare, but the world’s most expensive whiskey. It was $400 a glass, or I would have tried it.

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Matt and I opted for beer instead :)

Kitchen 4

Taken from The Kitchen’s website.

Now, to the food… if this post wasn’t overwhelming enough.

I have to start by saying I had the best time at dinner. Babe really knows how to spoil me. The one regret I had was not fully paying attention to the head chef saying “remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint”… admittedly by the steak and dessert course, I could only have 2 bites of each. I blame intermission. Here’s my review of the food from this delightful dining experience:

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First Course
Immortal Spring
Butter Poached Maine Lobster and Asparagus
Brown Butter Hollandaise, Buckwheat Crepes, Spring Herbs
and Passmore Ranch Caviar

I had the version without lobster (shellfish allergy). I believe mine had halibut inside the crepe in its place. The dish was definitely tasty. I am not 100% sure what the puree on the bottom was, but it was my favorite aspect. Maybe peas. The shaved asparagus was light and added a little crunch, a much-needed component to the dish. Caviar added a great salt pop. All in all, a winner.

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Second Course
The Lion’s Tooth
Wild Dandelion and Fromage Blanc Gnocchi
Fava Beans, Pickled Ramps, Romesco Sauce and Marcona Almonds

This was Matt’s favorite dish. And one of my favorite two (I couldn’t pick). The craziest thing about this gnocchi was that it had no potato. It was purely made from the cheese and dandelion leaves. Yet it was airy and texture wise like gnocchi. The romesco sauce was pungent in the best way, with bright flavor profiles, great tang, and the balance the dish needed with the other components. And of course, adding the dimension with the buttery beans and pickled ramps rounded out the entire dish.

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Intermission
Walk around. Visit and sample at chef stations. Enjoy our garden patio. Relax by the fire.

The above was the description for intermission… what they should have put was “go and taste 10-15 amsuse-bouche items from some incredible chefs, but wait, don’t get too full”. Because there were an insane amount of options for tasters. I filled my plate with potstickers, Spam and pineapple, cheeses, stuffed peppers, rock island oysters (which you could BBQ), ahi-tuna tacos, sturgeon croquettes, etc the list goes on and on. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I paid for it later one in the 4th and 5th course when everything started to catch up to me. I can’t get into every detail about what I ate, but I will say, the potstickers were the best ones I have ever had. In my life. I went back for thirds…

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 Third Course
Where the Sturgeon Roam
Pan Roasted White Sturgeon
Artichokes, Mint, English Peas, Meyer Lemon and Parmesan Cream

This was my least favorite dish. The artichokes shaved on top were tough and spindly, and added a texture I didn’t appreciate. However, the fish was great, the Parmesan Cream was fabulous (you could hear the head chef whipping it while plates were being dished up), and the peas were a sweet pop I enjoyed. The lemon and mint were there, but I wish there were more of them.

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Fourth Course
The Phoenix
Slow Roasted Beef Tenderloin
Smoked Morel Mushrooms, Gorgonzola Dolce, Polenta and Fiddlehead Ferns

The tenderloin was one of the most tender I have ever eaten. I loved this dish, as it came in a tie for first place along with the gnocchi. The real treat on this plate were those Morel mushrooms. Chef Kelly took the time to give the room a talk on these mushrooms, and why they are so special. These are a prized variety, and the excitement from his lecture built up as plates got passed around and you were waiting on yours. I was anxious to crack into the dish. The Fiddlehead Ferns were also something I had never eaten, and may not eat again. It doesn’t occur to me often to eat a fern, and while most will actually make you sick, these do not. It was a beautiful aspect to the dish to look at, giving the plate some vibrancy. The one thing I couldn’t taste too much of was the Gorgonzola Dolce, but I am not sure I would have wanted more of the pungent cheese flavor. The sauce, fried leeks, and steak combo were rich enough.

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Dessert Course
Seed of the Sun
Apricot and Aprium ‘Pave’
White Chocolate Mousse, Vanilla Sauce and Blueberry ‘Jam’

I wish I hadn’t gotten so full so I could have eaten more than two bites of this. It was refreshing. The crisp cookie on the bottom of the Pave was enough to add the texture you wanted to the bowl. The blueberry jam was exquisite. It was the best thing on the plate. Everything was well balanced here, and with heavy dishes, this was fresh. But not “here’s a bowl of sorbet” fresh; it had a lot of depth, layers, flavor, but didn’t leave you feeling overwhelmed.

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BONUS: Second Dessert
Candied Almond Madelines and Hot Chocolate

Because he can, Chef Kelly made a second dessert. Candied Almond Madelines and hot chocolate. He’s my kind of man. Anyways, maybe because my mom is my mom, but I think she makes better Hot Chocolate. Here’s the recipe. She also does a Mexican Hot Chocolate that’s a variation and to die for. Her version is rich, which thinking back on it, would have been too much for me at the time. But hats off to mom and her liquid chocolate. The madelines, though, were great. GREAT. Light, flavorful, buttery. The almond really came through. They were so good, I asked for a bag to take home. They gave me one, which I ate the next morning with my coffee.

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Coffee and Tea

Hello. Hi there. Stay with me. I know this post is long. And you are probably thinking “why… WHY… is she talking about coffee and tea?” There’s a reason.

See, the coffee was from Temple, roasted just for The Kitchen. I love Temple. It is my favorite coffee place in Sacramento, but if you aren’t from here, you might not get it. That’s fine. But it’s really good coffee.

The star here was the tea. Which was freshly made to order using alive, green, not dried herb and spice. You were given a list of suggested tea blends and could choose one. The chef would then take your lemongrass, mince and mash it up (like the photo above). Grab your ginger and grate it. Pick your mint and slice it. All fresh. On the spot. Served in a little kettle to your table. It is the best tea I have ever had.

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I eventually gave up. At 10:45pm, I threw in the towel. I was stuffed. My boyfriend had to roll me out of there and we went home and passed out in a content fat kid slumber.

But now I am an addict.

I want to go back every week.

I want The Kitchen in my house.

I want to eat everything and all the things again.

I will be back. And if you live in Sacramento, if you visit Sacramento, and you love food, come experience a meal unlike any other. Then tell me what you ate and make me jealous.

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