Steppin’ Out

Chipotle Mexican Grill – Placerville

“You know how I feel about tacos. It’s the only food shaped like a smile.”

— Spoken by the character Earl Hickey in “My Name is Earl,” (2006)

 

Chipotle Mexican Grill

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Chipotle had delivered a number of burritos to the folks at the newspaper to try, as an introduction to their soon-to-open restaurant on Missouri Flat Road across from Safeway. Well, last week they had a pre-opening event to train their people and introduce their food to the locals. I got to go twice, once for lunch and once for dinner. Both times I was impressed.

I would say their food is very “middle of the road,” meaning that it ranges from lightly spiced to not too highly spiced, something most people enjoy. Now, for we who eat fire, they have several varieties of Tabasco sauce to add .

To give you a bit of background, the first Chipotle was opened in Denver, Colo. in 1993 by Steve Ells, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. The business has rapidly expanded since then, and is now a publicly traded corporation with more than 1,100 restaurants world-wide. They are all company owned and not franchised.

In 2001 Chipotle released a mission statement called “Food With Integrity,” which highlighted efforts to increase the use of naturally raised meat, organic produce and dairy without added hormones. They still strive to do that at all the restaurants, while also shopping as locally as possible and using products from small, family owned farms whenever possible.

The menu is simple and the food preparation is fast. You start at one end of the counter where you are greeted with a smile by one of the team members. You decide if you want a burrito (wrapped or in a bowl), tacos (three) or a salad and tell the team member what kind of meat (or no meat vegetarian) and what kind of beans (or sautéed peppers and onions) you want.

The meat choices are chicken, steak, carnitas and barbacoa; the bean choices are pinto or vegetarian black. They add your choice to your dish, along with their famous cilantro lime rice, if you wish, passing your food to the next team member who adds cheese or sour cream, your choice of salsa (mild tomato, medium roasted chile-corn or tomatillo-green or the hot tomatillo-red), lettuce and, for an additional cost, guacamole.

To that you can add a drink, chips, salsa and more guacamole if you like.
After paying you take your tray and find a seat at one of the inside or outside tables, or on one of the stools at the counter along the wall, which I like.

Chipotle is also very kid friendly and has four items on the kid’s menu: a small cheese quesadilla, with a side of rice and beans; a small meat and cheese quesadilla, with rice and beans; a single taco with a side of rice; and a unique taco kit, which includes the ingredients for two tacos they can build themselves, on a tray for easy building. All kid’s menu items come with a kid’s chips and a drink (juice, organic milk — plain or chocolate).

What did I try? At lunch I had a burrito in a bowl, made with barbacoa (shredded beef braised with the chipotle adobo), black beans, rice, cheese, the hot salsa and a scoop of guacamole. It, along with a sample of all three salsas and a bag of chips, made for a very good tasting meal. I really liked the spiciness of the barbacoa, their unique, limey chips, the tasty green salsa and the freshly made guacamole.

After working off lunch, for dinner I had a chicken salad. It started with romaine lettuce, grilled chicken (marinated in the chipotle adobo), cheese and salsa (again hot). Instead of beans I chose the fajita mix of sautéed peppers and onions. I added some guacamole and with the chipotle-honey vinegarette it was outstanding. It was a different experience that I really enjoyed. I would choose it over a burrito for a lighter meal. Yes, I had more chips and guacamole, which I shared with a neighbor.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is located in the shopping center with Safeway, at 3987 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville. It is open daily from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and can be reached at 530-748-0094. You can also order online at chipotle.com, or use your iPhone or by fax. The fax number is 530-295-0118.
Take time to stop by and give them a try.

Carniceria y Taqueria Soto – Placerville

“You can tell how long a couple has been married by whether they are on their first, second or third bottle of Tabasco.”

— Bruce Bye

 

Carniceria y Taqueria Soto

Located across from Raley’s in the Western Plaza shopping center, Carniceria y Taqueria Soto is another of the least known, and probably the smallest, restaurants in El Dorado County.

“We originally had the store and meat market (carniceria) and just started making snacks in the kitchen for our customers and then expanded into food to go,” said Vicky Soto, who owns the business with her husband Beto. “Our burritos and tacos became very popular, so about a year ago we decided to expand. We now have quite a menu and following.”

When I dropped in last week just to get information on the restaurant, I spent most of the time wandering the aisles looking at many unique foods and items available. Boy, if you were going to put together a Mexican style dinner, you need to shop here. On top of all the spices, dry and canned goods, drinks, produce (ripe avocados), baked goods and even piñatas they stock, their meat counter has a large variety of freshly sliced meat not found many other places, meats ready for your Mexican dish.

Back to the restaurant, it is a real taqueria in the true sense, and seats less than 10 people. It is really set up for orders to go. They serve a large variety of tacos, sea food regular and super burritos, combination plates and tortas. And, they have Mexican drinks like (h)orchata, jamaica (hibiscus) and pina (pineapple), along with imported and domestic bottled soft drinks.

The meat selection for the tacos includes asada, adobada, carnitas, pollo asado, lengua, buche, chorizo, tripa de res and pescado (fish). The combination plates include: enchiladas, tamales, chile relleno, quesadillas and more. On Saturday and Sunday you can get menudo and birra (beef).

Each day there is a lunch special for only $5.99. Monday it is a chile verde burrito lunch, Tuesday a chile relleno lunch, Wednesday (all day) one of my favorite Mexican dishes, pozole. Thursday’s special is a tamale lunch and Fridays is a two fish taco lunch. Saturday and Sunday is menudo.

Stop by and check out the store and the taqueria. The taqueria is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday. For more information call 530-295-8121.

Oh, one of my first comments to Vicky was how clean the place was. She looked at me and said, “I haven’t even swept today.” And, if you think you recognize Vicky, she worked at Durango’s, just up the street, for eight years.

Natural or Unnatural?

“High-tech tomatoes; mysterious milk; super squash. Are we supposed to eat this stuff? Or is it going to eat us?”

— Annita Manning

 

 

Natural or unnatural?

I often get odd questions from people who I enjoy looking up. One, which a number of people have asked me is, “What is ‘natural,’ and what does it mean?”
The confusion hit me several months ago when I picked up a jar of peanut butter at the store. The label was very old-fashioned looking and said “natural.” Thinking it was just peanuts and salt, like the ones labeled “Old-Fashioned,” I discovered it contained quite a list of ingredients, in fact the same ingredients that were on the regular jar of processed peanut butter. The only difference, the price was higher for the “natural” peanut butter.

Most people have a common-sense definition of what “natural” is or should be. For example, “natural” to a lot of people simply means being able to pronounce all the ingredients and not needing a chemistry textbook to understand them. Good luck on that one. The simple dictionary definition is “something not manmade or artificial.”

Many people have written about the subject and come up with many ideas which show how really hard it is to define, and also point out that all things “natural” are not necessarily good. Fleas are natural, flea collars are unnatural; nudity is natural, clothes are unnatural; being bitten by a snake and dying is natural and civilization, indoor plumbing and cars are all obviously unnatural.

Back to the subject at hand, the Federal Trade Commission is the watchdog for bogus environmental claims. The FTC’s guidance does not address “natural” marketing claims specifically. However, it does include a section that states: “… every express and material implied claim that the general assertion conveys to reasonable consumers about an objective quality, feature or attribute of a product or service must be substantiated.”

Since most of us that read that say, “What?” It is obviously up to the consumer to make the final decision.

When it comes to food labeling, there is not much help. It is only applied to meat, fish and poultry products. In that case, “natural” labels can only be used if they do not contain “artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or synthetic ingredients” (whatever that may mean). Thus, in most cases the “natural” label has no official definition and can be used without any government approval.

So, what do you do? If you want to feed your family foods with the least artificial ingredients, educate yourself — read and ask questions, and, by the way, as my son told me 20 years ago, the Internet has more misinformation than information.

Then pick brands that not only list, but discuss their ingredients. Then, stick to those brands if you like them. And remember, just because it is in the “natural” food section of the grocery store does not mean it should not be scrutinized.

D’Agostini’s Delights Bakery and Café – Mt. Aukum

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.”

— Epicurus

 

 

 

D’Agostini’s Delights Bakery and Café
Last weekend, on my way back from trying some wines in Amador County during the “Big Crush” event, I stopped by D’Agostini’s Delights Bakery and Café in Mt. Aukum. As I said a few years ago when I first wrote about it, it is a place you might easily miss if you weren’t looking for it.

It is located at 8031 Mt. Aukum Road in Mt. Aukum, just south of the intersection of Mt. Aukum and Omo Ranch roads and is owned by Nikki D’Agostini, whose family has lived in the Mt. Aukum area for generations.

D’Agostini is a delightful young lady with a lifetime of experience in the baking business, a genuine and wonderful smile and, as you will notice when you see her, piercingly beautiful blue eyes. When I arrived I spotted her getting ready to deliver a couple of wedding cakes she had made and, unfortunately, only had a couple of minutes to spend with me.

She opened this bakery and restaurant in April of 2007 and has been serving breakfast and lunch, Wednesday through Sunday ever since to local residents, owners and employees of the many local wineries and visitors to the area.

As you walk into the restaurant the first thing that you notice is that the place is spotlessly clean. “We are clean freaks,” said D’Agostini, “so the place is always this way.” Then something else catches you, the delicious aroma from the freshly baked goods in the display case: huge cinnamon rolls (everyone’s favorite), cookies and muffins, among other delights. And in the refrigerated case, savory breakfast croissants, lemon squares, tarts, cheesecakes, cakes and more, including a wonderful looking chocolate Kahlua Frangilica cake, which she said was the local favorite. And, if that isn’t enough, her speciality is wedding, birthday and special event cakes, custom-made for you.

As I did last time I asked D’Agostini what was her number one breakfast dish. First she said, “Eggs Benedict,” pausing a minute and then adding, “and also the country fried steak, with homemade gravy, eggs and potatoes.” For lunch, the burgers and paninis seemed to top the list, especially the house burger, which is a grilled chuck Angus burger topped with melted bleu cheese on a toasted bun with garlic ailoi.

Looking over her large menu I noticed that she has vegetarian dishes at both breakfast and lunch, which she told me are quite popular. And, since they are a family restaurant, they also have a variety of kid’s dishes on the menu.

She is very particular about the restaurant and the food and makes sure that her restaurant has good, consistent food and is a place she would eat. Everything is fresh and she even picks up the vegetables herself. And don’t forget, she serves old-fashioned milkshakes, floats, sodas, coffee and coffee drinks, along with great local wines and beer to accompany the meal.

D’Agostini’s Delights is open Wednesday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. and noon on Sunday. You can even call ahead to order food, pastries and cakes to go, and, don’t forget about her custom-made wedding and other special event cakes. For more information call 530-620-0777 or visit dagostinisdelights.com.