When Culinary Adventure Club Gets Real

October 4, 2018

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” ~Juilia Child     

Culinary Adventure Club (CAC) was just a silly name I used to get people in the office out for lunch at places most of us hadn’t already been before. The first adventure started with me walking around the office a few minutes before lunch, asking if anyone wanted to join me in a “Culinary Adventure Club.” That day we had 8 takers. We went to Yang’s Noodles on Stockton Boulevard. I had been there a few times and wanted to share the place with my work family. If you haven’t been to Yang’s, GO! They make the noodles fresh, and they have excellent dumplings and a spicy shredded potato dish that is so simple, but so addictive.

The next month I actually made a signup sheet so I could reserve a table. Celestine’s Restaurant had just re-opened and Patrick Celestine accommodated a pretty large group of us, on short notice, in his very intimate place. It was nice to see Patrick and Phoebe back in the restaurant business again. The food is spicy and made with love. The Haitian Pork Griot was deemed legit by our resident Haitian son, Reggie. We had a good time crowded around a small table, and though they were still working out some things, we knew Celestine’s 2.0 was the perfect addition to the East Sacramento dining scene.

The premise of Culinary Adventure Club is to find a place that’s unique, authentic (even if it’s a little out of the way), or new. For our third trip we visited MAS Taco Bar. If every day could be Taco Tuesday, I would be a very happy guy. MAS Taco Bar has a giant selection of unique tacos you can order individually. I was able to try it for the first time with a large group of work friends and I have been back several times since.

Hungry adventurers at MAS Taco bar.

By the fourth month CAC had turned into a regular event with calendar invites and everything. We had a great visit to one of my favorite, quirky little places in Old Sacramento, after the groundbreaking ceremony for the Powerhouse Science Center. The name of the place had changed from Indo Cafe to Bali Kitchen but the couple who run the place, and the unique Indonesian fare, hadn’t changed. They had set up a cozy table for us inside and it felt like we were in a different country, a country with really spicy hot sauce.

One of the hot sauce options at Bali Kitchen.

The fifth, sixth and seventh outings brought us to The Curry Club, Origami Asian Grill and Lalo’s Restaurant. The Curry Club was very busy, and we discovered why, at $10 for all you can eat curry and naan, it was an incredible bargain. We rolled into Origami (12 deep) the day after they officially opened and chefs Scott and Paul, and their crew didn’t miss a beat with delicious, unique options. I have been to Lalo’s Restaurant often. This little hole-in-the-wall place is one of my personal favorite Mexican food establishments and it was nice to be able share it with my Culinary Adventure Club posse.

Origami made us feel at home.

Our most-recent culinary expedition was by far the most adventury. I gave out homework for it. All participants were supposed to watch this episode of Gordon Ramsey’s “24 Hours to Hell and Back”. Last December Sandra Dee’s had a 24 hour visit from Ramsey and crew, the episode which aired in August. In summation, Ramsey, in his usual showy way, tore apart Sandra Dee’s, exposed some dysfunction in the service, some bad shortcuts on the menu and some cleanliness issues in the kitchen. Ramsey and his crew redecorated and cleaned up the place, provided a new Point of Sale system, and rebuilt the menu, Gordon Ramsey-style. After it was all over, Sandra Dee promptly went back to her old menu and ditched the new POS system. She is currently not returning Ramsey’s calls.

Sandra Dee herself was only 15 feet away from us.

Out of the 14 who signed up to attend, only five of us actually went (and two of the five admitted they hadn’t actually watched the show beforehand). This was definitely adventuring without a net. That show scared several brave souls away. Granted, last minute meetings stopped a few members from attending. I honestly couldn’t blame the people who backed out after they watched the show.

Brian gave Sandra Dee’s a 3.5 out of 5.

While it wasn’t the best BBQ/Soul/Creole style food in Sacramento, Sandra Dee’s is still pretty good. I’m honestly glad she’s not serving Ramsey’s pan seared trout on the menu, while the heavily coated and fried snapper was a bit bland and on the dry side, it was honest. The mac and cheese was fine if you are a Velveeta fan, and the rib tips, hush puppies and red beans and rice were well seasoned and tasty (the ribs could have been a bit more tender and smokey). Finally, our server was none other than Dee’s daughter, Tatiana, who gained the notoriety of being one of the rudest restaurant employees in the greater Sacramento area. While she may not have provided incredible service, she was nice to us, we were nice to her, and our visit was on the whole, pleasant.

Reggie is a die-hard adventurer. All-in with the snapper and mac & cheese.

I would go back to Sandra Dee’s. The whole thing did make me wonder if Sandra had ever seen Gordon Ramsey’s show. I do admire her for staying true to who she is, and I hope she continues to keep her walk-in clean.

On to the next adventure… Lit Delhi!