May 25 2017

Umai Bar and Grill – Soft Opening Preview

My friend Anna (hair stylist/salon owner extraordinaire) started posting on Facebook about a new restaurant in Elk Grove months ago. She also mentioned that her sister and husband were partners in the restaurant. Like, like, like – I followed their page and updates from Anna for months and I knew it was going to be awesome. 

Umai Bar and Grill Elk Grove

Anna shared that friends and family were invited to a soft opening before the grand opening on May 31, so they could work out the kinks. There were no kinks to be worked out – the food, service and decor was on point. Kristen was already planning on going to the grand opening, so convincing her to try it out early was easy. We jumped in the car and headed out for lunch. 

Umai Bar and Grill - Elk Grove

Umai Bar and Grill - Elk Grove

Umai Bar and Grill - Elk Grove

Foo dogs (guardian lions) flank the entrance. Foo dogs placed inside or outside a building are meant to protect your home or workplace from negative energy. It is said these guardian lions will stop anyone with malicious intensions from entering.

The metal logo behind the hostess station was a really cool feature. They had already received lots of beautiful floral arrangements from well wishers. 

Umai Bar and Grill - Elk Grove

The graphic designer in me really liked the logo and structure of the menu. Leather cover, thick pages… it’s the little details that make a big difference. 

Umai Bar and Grill - Elk Grove

Andy (Anna’s brother-in-law and one of the restaurant founders) came over to the table to say, “hi”. Kristen knows him from his other restaurants in Elk Grove. I would say – small world, but not really… Kristen knows everyone in Elk Grove, ha-ha – it’s true. I later looked on the Umai website to read the “About Us” page to see how the restaurant came about. 

“Feng, Andy, and Shan came together and decided to make something bigger than themselves. They wanted to make Elk Grove a better community by becoming a part of Elk Grove history. By that, they established a place where the people can come together to enjoy each others company along with great food, drinks and entertainment. They present to you Umai Bar and Grill, a little fancy place for family and friends in this growing city called Elk Grove.”

Elk Grove is growing and it’s nice to be able to support local independent restaurants. The city is full of chain restaurant options, but there are some true local gems and I have no doubt this will become one of those.

Umai Bar and Grill - Elk Grove

The raw edged table in front of the temperature controlled wine wall was my favorite part of the decor. I also had my eye on the light fixture hanging above. I’m still on the search for a new dining room fixture and I’m drawn to metal, wood and Edison bulbs. 

We were seated on the backside of the booths, so natural light for iPhone food photos was at a minimum… the below shots do not do the food justice, you will have to trust me that each dish was more vibrant/beautiful in person. 

Umai Bar and Grill - Elk Grove

We ordered the Ika-Geso as a starter. Crispy squid tentacles served with a kimchee ponzu sauce. Putting seasoning on the lemon was genius… stealing that idea for sure. I can’t wait to try the Crispy Calamari next time. Calamari is a favorite of Dan’s and something we often share while dining out.

Umai Bar and Grill - Poke Salad

The Poke Salad came in a bowl, but my photo was too dark, so I opted to share the portion I plated. I would like this salad to appear on my doorstop every day from here on out. We’ve been experiencing some warmer weather and this would be perfect for those days. The Poke Salad ingredients consist of tuna, wakame (edible seaweed), onions, cucumbers, avocados and cilantro marinated in a spicy ponzu sauce.

Umai Bar and Grill - Elk Grove

I was tasked with picking a roll. I went with the Albacore Galore – avocado, crab mix and tempura shrimp topped w/grilled albacore, arare (rice cracker), spicy cream and teriyaki. We pretty much stared at each other after our first bite and kept saying OMG, OMG, OMG… Yes, the grilled tuna was that good.

Umai has an extensive drink menu and I’m sure the bar area will be packed post grand opening. Our server mentioned that they are still working on their website and social media presence on Instagram. I’m looking forward to future posts that share their creations. 

Umai Bar and Grill - Elk Grove

We did not want to go back to the office after our overindulgent lunch. Naps sounded much better. I did bring home two to-go containers and have already made my way into those for dinner. I see many more visits to Umai in my future. Who wants to check it out?


Umai Bar and Grill
8973 Grant Line Rd. 100
Elk Grove, CA 95624
(916) 686-6833



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May 21 2017

2017 Sacramento Grilled Cheese Festival

I started seeing friends on Facebook “Interested” in The Sacramento Grilled Cheese Festival almost a year before the actual event – which was held on April 8-9 in Southside Park off 6th Street in Sacramento. Being a huge fan of the grilled cheese, I of course clicked on the Facebook event to learn more.

Enjoy cheesy deliciousness created by many of Sacramento’s great restaurants…A festival for grilled cheese lovers… why yes, that’s me! They had several ticket options, including a VIP option for the 8th that was for 21+ featuring specialty grilled cheese sandwich quarters paired with 4 oz. craft beer pours, hand selected to match. SO.MUCH.YES – Sign me up!

I had talked about going with friends and never got around to purchasing tickets and then the price went up and there were less than 10 tickets left before selling out. Whoops… my girlfriend Kristen and I scored the last two tickets and ended up paying $50/ticket. The smart early birds got theirs for $35. Part of the ticket price went to support the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America – a cause I was happy to support in honor of my late husband Ace.

I managed to get a horrible cold the week leading up to the festival. I’m talking 2 bottles of Robitussin and three boxes of Kleenex kind of horrible, but I didn’t let that stop me from attending. It rained most of the morning and I was worried we’d be stuck running from tent to tent. I wore layers and ended up taking off both jackets by the end of the day. The weather Gods were on our side and the clouds parted enough to let the sun shine through.

Kristen scored an amazing parking spot just outside the park. The line to get into the festival was already 100+ people deep and we even arrived early. They were checking IDs, scanning tickets and only letting in small groups at a time. We got the lovely added benefit of being harassed by an anti-dairy industry protester screaming at festival goers while we waited. Sigh. I’m all for people that choose to believe in something enough to speak their mind about it, but when you are an a-hole to people that just want to enjoy THEIR CHOICE, it really does defeat the purpose and diminish the message you are trying to spread. 

We were given food/drink tickets, a wooden token for voting for our favorite, a 4 oz. glass for beer and cider and a plastic plate upon entering.

Sacramento Grilled Cheese Festival

2017 Sacramento Grilled Cheese Festival

There were 10 booths to visit and Kristen suggested starting at the opposite end to the entrance – that turned out to be a great idea, especially since we got to start with a dessert grilled cheese and cider.

2017 Sacramento Grilled Cheese Festival

Land Park Sandwich created Mimi’s Sweet Tooth – Cream cheese and Nutella on sourdough drizzled in chocolate with powdered sugar, which paired amazingly well with Hemly Cider Co.’s local 5% estate grown pear cider.

Next up was Hoppy Brewing Company which had a sourdough, brie, apple, onion combo with good flavor, but it was a little dry and the cheese wasn’t melted enough. 

Ink’s Triple Grilled Cheese – Cheddar, pepper jack and American cheese and bacon on parmesan bread was paired with Three Mile Brewing Co.’s Honey Blonde Ale. I enjoyed it and really appreciated the gooey cheese and bacon combo.

The Rind and Bike Dog Brewing Co. was up next. The Donut Grilled Cheese – Exsqueeze me? Did they say Donut Grilled Cheese? Why yes, yes they did. The Rind featured Marie’s Donuts – a raised-glazed donut turned INSIDE OUT and then grilled with Point Reyes Toma Cheese, a jalapeno-parsnip spread and Fuji apple slices… paired with Bike Dog Brewing Co.’s Milk Stout Beer. OMG – this was a freakin’ amazing pairing and got me super excited for the day and all of the others left to try. 

Pushkin’s Bakery and 2 Towns Cider was our next booth. Pushkin’s Bakery featured their Vegan Adult Grilled Cheese Sandwich – which I blogged about in my Brunch at Pushkin’s Restaurant post. Cashew pepper jack cheese, tomato and arugula served on gluten free focaccia bread. Like I said in my post, I was so surprised by the flavor, I loved it! – wouldn’t classify it as “Grilled Cheese” but for sure an awesome cheese sandwich. I chose to pair it will 2 Towns Ciderhouse Bright Cider (hard apple cider) and Kristen paired hers with their Hop & Stalk – Imperial Hopped Cider. We were both happy with our choices and they had stickers and really interacted with festival goers – thumbs up to that!

Oak Park Brewing was up next – they had two choice pairings. I went with the smoked gouda, bacon jam and Granny Smith apples on sourdough paired with Steamphunk Saison and ZOMG – this was in my top 3. I loved it! Kristen went with the other pairing so we could taste both.

Sharp cheddar, American cheese, parmesan cheese skirt, on sourdough topped with Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam Brie bechamel sauce paired with Citra IPA. Wow… so creamy and delicious – both pairings were top choices.

The GrilledCheezGuy & Yolo Brewing Company were up next. The GrilledCheezGuy is a catering, pop-up, and soon-to-be sandwich shop started at the Oakland Art Murmur in 2009. I am not absolutely sure what kinds of cheeses were used, I forgot to ask and there wasn’t any signage…thinking one had to have been Gruyere. I was honestly too mind blown from the most amazing part of the sandwich – Kelly’s Habanero Pepper Jelly used on the OUTSIDE of the bread – this was also in my top 3 favorites and ended up getting my final token vote. Teamed with Yolo Brewing Co.’s Nutty Brown Ale style beer… Yes and Yum.

Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen and Track 7 were up next. We had already been waiting in line for 30 minutes when Drewski’s crew started counting from the front – they stopped with four people in front of us and said that they had run out and didn’t have any more pulled pork left. That was such a huge disappointment/bummer. They still served up a classic grilled cheese, but I would have loved to try the original pairing. Track 7’s Hoppy Palm  – American Pale Ale was the pairing choice.

I waited in the Bravo’s Soup & Sandwich Shoppe/River City Brewing Co. line while Kristen waited over at the Sonoma Coast Shuckers and Lagunitas booth. It was the longest line of the day and Bravo’s was moving fast enough for us to switch places. It was GAME ON and we were winning!

Bravo’s served up Santa Maria rubbed Tri-tip, smoked gouda, cheddar, provolone and pepper jack on a jalapeño crusted bun. Super “Team Moist” and the smoked flavor of the meat combined with the cheeses and jalapeño infused puff bun was incredible. I found out later that Bravos and River City Brewing Company took the People’s Choice award. 

Sonoma Coast Shuckers and Lagunitas did not disappoint. Sonoma Coast offered up two choices – Lobster Grilled Cheese paired with IPA or Rockefeller Grilled Cheese paired with Czech Style Pils or Aunt Sally Sour. One of the lobster beer pairing selections was crossed out, I think it was Davey Murray’s Best Scotch Ale, would have loved to try that one. We both chose the Lobster Grilled Cheese and I went with the Aunt Sally Sour and Kristen went with the IPA.

We recently chatted with the owner of The Rind at another event and he said that they learned a lot being that it was the first festival and they plan to change some things for next year. Lots of booths ran out of food on the first and second days. I guess we were lucky in that we only experienced it with the last two booths and I’ve had Drewski’s from their food truck many times, which included their pulled pork.

All in all it was a lot of fun – trying to juggle the glasses and plates with jackets/purses, etc. was a bit of a struggle, but man… grilled cheese at every stop sure made up for it.

I told Kristen that I wasn’t going to finish each of the 4 oz. pours due to being sick and already jacked up on cough syrup… then after finishing the last drop of the 5th pour,  I remembered saying that. Ha-ha. The fresh air, melting cheese, beer and cider magically made my cough disappear for a few hours and I welcomed it. I felt horrible the next day, but really enjoyed myself at the festival.

I didn’t attend Sunday’s general admission – all age family part of the two-day festival, but that sold out too. The website has a newsletter link where you can sign up for alerts for the second annual. They claim they will be back and better for 2018 – woohoo!


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May 17 2017

Fire Pit Friday at Abundance Vineyards

I was invited to attend the last Fire Pit Friday of the season at Abundance Vineyards in Lodi, CA back in March. My girlfriend Wendy introduced my girlfriend Kristen to Fire Pit Fridays and she was hooked. I tagged along with their crew and will definitely be attending next season. With the higher temps, they have live music – sans fire pits, known as their Summer Music Series (1-2 Saturdays a month) with added food trucks. I’m looking forward to going to a few of those as well. The next one is this Saturday and features a local band, The Earth Tones, a blend of soul, pop, blues, R&B and reggae. The Street Eats food truck will be on-site and just like with Fire Pit Fridays, Abundance Vineyards wine is available for purchase by the glass or bottle. Wine club members are free, general admission is $10. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. with no reserved seating.

Abundance Vineyards

According to their website, Abundance Vineyards is a family winery with deep roots in the Lodi region that can be traced back to the planting of Carginane and Old Vine Zinfandel grapevines by two brothers in the 1960s. Check out their story here.

Abundance Vineyards

Google maps sent me on a bit of an adventure because of an accident on 99. I really was blown away as I drove by winery after winery with fields of grapes as far as my eyes could see. I always think of Napa when I want to go wine tasting, that is changing after Wendy has shown me the light. 

Abundance Vineyards

The girls had already laid claim to this awesome fire pit. It’s bring your own eats and non-club members pay a $5 entry fee with wine available to purchase by the glass or bottle. Club members attend for free. 

Abundance Vineyards

I really love Moscato and wanted to give the 2014 Moscato, Lake County a try. I liked the orange blossom, pear and citrus fruity flavors and felt it was very reasonable at $15/bottle. 

Abundance Vineyards Fire Pit Fridays

Wendy and fam enjoyed the 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel – $25/bottle. Kristen went with sparkling wine, trying several different flavors.

Abundance Vineyards Fire Pit

Live music was provided by The Box, a local Lodi band. Lead singer David Atencio was great with the crowd. He made his way over to us and played a little “Name That Tune” – It took us a while, but we did guess right with Otis Redding’s – “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay”.

Abundance Vineyards - Little Square Box

They played a little bit of everything from Jack Johnson to the Dukes of Hazard theme song. One thing they shared with the crowd – David’s god-daughter convinced him to write a song (“Good Day,” a song about Lodi ) – so he did and sent it into Good Day Sacramento and they used it as their theme song. It was fun to sing along to all of their songs and others got up and danced. We were too busy enjoying our wine, conversation and snacks.

I went with my “go to” antipasto kabobs. This time around it was cheese tortellini, black and green olives, spinach, salami and pepperoni. We had all kinds of good eats – jalapeño poppers, 7-layer dip, chips, cheese and crackers, parmesan crisps and lemon bars. We know how to roll. 

It was a fun evening with great friends. So relaxing and I was able to bring the fire pit home with me via a smokey purse and clothes. Ha-ha. Already looking forward to my next adventure in Lodi, Woodbridge and surrounding areas. 

Thanks Wendy and Kristen for including me!


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