Monday, December 20, 2010

New and old in Old Sacramento

It's a fresh-scrubbed winter day and I'm scuffing my feet through mounds of vivid yellow leaves in Sacramento's Crocker Park and wishing I'd brought my niece's little girls with me. They love this kind of day. I hadn't been to the neighborhood around Old Sacramento (or Old Sac, as locals dub it) for ages when my pal Lucy invited me to tour the new Crocker Art Museum expansion. That is enough to pull me out of the winter doldrums and into the brisk air.

" The new 3-story addition to the oldest Museum in the West is dazzling!" says the writer on Of course, I don't take their word for it--I have to check it out myself. Turns out, they're pretty much right on. The Crocker holds more than 14,000 original pieces of art, everything from drawings, paintings, and sculpture to ceramics, including an amazing exhibit there now—The Vase and Beyond: the Sindey Swidler Collection of the Contemporary Vessel, thru April 10,2011. I've known and loved the museum for years for its famed collections of California art, and I never miss a chance to gaze at the amazing, massive California landscapes like Thomas Hill's Great Canyon of the Sierra, Yosemite, 1871.

And I've always loved the original, jewel-like museum building itself— an exquisite and grand Italianate mansion. But it always felt cramped and a bit dark to me, the kind of place where art is a thing of the dusty past.

Now, the new expansion (opened in October), gives this museum more air, light, and the space to really showcase its incredible collections, many of which have been unseen by the public since their acquisitions. The gleaming 125,000-square-foot Teel Family Pavilion, is a classic, contemporary design. Whether it, indeed complements the historic structures is in the eye of the beholder; indisputably, it more than triples the museum's former size and makes it a better visitor destination.

This month, besides the ceramic exhibit, there's a Classical Concert on Dec. 19 (3 PM), and a Kwanzaa Family Festival on Dec. 26 (12-4). There's a ton of stuff for kids and familes, including studio art classes (wisely divided by age groupings). Don't miss Drop, Yak, Splat! A museum adventure for families each Second Saturday at 1 PM and Third Sunday at 11 AM.

If you have time for a casual bite, and have the kids along, try the fine new Crocker Cafe, run by Bobbin and Patrick Mulvaney, proprietors of Mulvaney’s B&L, Next Door, and Culinary Specialists Catering. Today, I want a more formal, white table cloth experience, so I meet my pal Lucy at The Firehouse, just a short walk away in Old Sac. I start with a cup of the creamy and rich heirloom squash-crab bisque, enlivened by a tiny crabcake in the center, then opt for the chicken Marsala in a heady, wine-infused demi-glace. Lucy has the sea scallops, with pancetta and a watercress pear salad. Both winners. As I look at the whorls of sauce draped across my entree, I can't help thinking that, in the right hands, even lunch can be an artistic experience.

Details: Crocker Art Museum, 916/ 808-7000; The Firehouse, 112 Second St. Old Sac., book at 916/442-4772. For more lodging and dining info, check out the Sacramento Discover Gold site.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fresh snow at Lake Tahoe ski areas

Adding to an already heavy snowpack, North Lake Tahoe got two feet of new snow in the last 24 hours. That makes more than 14 feet of snow falling at the ski resorts’ higher elevations since late October, with more snow on the way.

“It started dumping heavily last night,” said Tourism Director Andy Chapman of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “This morning we woke up to blue skies and a ton of fresh powder, perfect conditions for skiing and riding.”

Most North Lake Tahoe ski resorts have opened, including Alpine Meadows, Boreal Mountain Resort, Donner Ski Ranch, Homewood Mountain Resort, Mt. Rose – Ski Tahoe, Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort, Royal Gorge Cross Country, Soda Springs, Spooner Lake Cross Country, Squaw Valley
USA, Sugar Bowl, Tahoe Cross Country, Tahoe Donner Cross Country and Tahoe Donner Downhill.

Diamond Peak Ski Resort opens Thursday, December 16, and Granlibakken Lodge opens for skiing Friday, December 17. Granlibakken’s sledding hill is open.
Details: To find deals on skiing, lodging and activities, along with special events, is available at; hit 'Cool Deals'.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dining, drinking in downtown Napa

Just got back from a fab trip to Napa--the town at the south end of the Napa Valley. One day, I tasted wines at six or seven stops (I kinda forget the exact number)! No worries-they were within walking distance from each other, clustered in downtown Napa. So no designated driver was needed (but I did need a nap after all that vino)!

And P.S.--the wine was very good, even though most of the wineries were tiny ones I'd never heard of. But isn't that the fun of wine tasting--discovering new labels before your friends? Like Gustavo Thrace, at 1021 McKinstry St., has an absolutely yummy Cab and a unique Bordeaux blend that I couldn't put down. At the same location on McKinstry is the Toolbox Wine Company, making fun drinkable, everyday wines from a company run by three young gals (see above). And their mission is to 'build houses and good will, one bottle at a time', so a portion of the profits goes to Habitat for Humanity (hence the Toolbox logo and the wine holding toolbelt).

Around the corner, at 714 First St. is the bright and cheery tasting room of Mason Cellars, where Megan Mason poured the best Savignon Blanc I ever put in my mouth (its their specialty); try the Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc for a really aromatic experience. Mason's Three Pears Pinot Grigio is super tasty, too, with a fresh, peachy/pear and apple nose.

We wandered down to Trahan Winery at 974 Franklin St. where their lively chocolate lab greeted us with a wag or ten, before settling back into his unique doggy bed (made of wine barrel staves). Young Chuck Custodio (winemaker/owner) left the corporate world to study winemaking, commuting from San Francisco to the Napa Valley, driving four hours per day to learn the trade--he did that for four years. It’s in his blood--the Trahans, on his mother’s side, were grape growers and winemakers way back when in France. I really liked his 2007 Trahan Chardonnay – Carneros.

Perhaps the most sophisticated of the bunch is John Anthony Vineyard, also a boutique winery with a tasting room at 1440 First St. (adjacent to the AVIA Hotel). Their wines are pricier than most of the other, but they are elegantly made. I fell in love with the rich mouth feel and complex flavors of their 2006 Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon. This upscale tasting lounge is the only one open late (until 2 AM) and you can relax here after dinner with a full glass of wine if you like, rather than just a taste.

Details: All these and a few other wineries--including Ceja Vineyards, and several at the Oxbow Market, are small independents, part of the 13-member Buzz Downtown Napa Tasting Room Association. For information on how to devise your own walking tour, go to the Napa Downtown Association site to For a lovely place to stay, handy to all the wineries and fine dining, check out AVIA Hotel, ,1450 First St. I found it both luxurious and surprisingly affordable (but more on that in a later post).
COPYRIGHT Lora Finnegan 2008-2009

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