Kitchen Confidential

Psst, can you keep a secret? Well, we can’t, especially ones this delicious. When it comes to eating out, there are few pleasures as satisfying (not to mention impressive) as ordering an amazing dish that’s not on the menu. It’s a privilege typically reserved for regulars and insiders—and now you. We tracked down 20 under-the-radar restaurant gems—from a peanut butter, jelly and sriracha burger to a gourmet Ding Dong—that are for your eyes (and taste buds) only. Hungry? Scroll down to start your covert culinary mission.
Photo courtesy of Paragary Restaurant Group

Photo courtesy of Paragary Restaurant Group

Calzone 1983


Walk into any grocery store today and you’re bound to find logs upon logs of goat cheese. But in 1983, when Randy Paragary opened his namesake bistro in midtown, the now-ubiquitous cheese was a rare sight indeed.

Due to its lack of local abundance, Paragary bought his Laura Chenel’s goat cheese from a San Francisco-based food distributor. After all, it was a key ingredient in the Calzone 1983, a personal favorite of the restaurateur. “Thirty-five years ago, goat cheese was really unusual. [I liked that] it had a different kind of texture, a chalky texture, and a stronger flavor than mozzarella,” he says. “I learned about it going to Chez Panisse, which was the holy [grail] of cuisine, so that’s where I got the idea.”

Paragary’s version of the Neapolitan dish—which remained on the menu for over 30 years until the restaurant went through a major renovation and relaunch in 2015—features house-made pizza dough folded over goat cheese, mozzarella, thyme, sliced prosciutto, garlic and artichoke hearts. After the calzone is baked in the kitchen’s wood-fired oven, it’s brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and parsley, and sliced into perfect fourths tableside. The dish is still ordered about a dozen times a week by those in the know, so the kitchen always has the ingredients on hand to make it.

The restaurateur says there’s no stopping the orders once one goes out. “It’s contagious,” Paragary says with a chuckle. “I might go have one right now.” $13.50. 1401 28th St. 916-457-5737.

Photo by Rachel Valley

Photo by Rachel Valley

PBJ Burger

The Chef’s Table

Back in 2013, Jon Irwin, co-owner of The Chef’s Table in Rocklin, remembers when one of his cooks showed him an unusual burger that he had fashioned for his own lunch. In place of traditional toppings, he embellished the creation with peanut butter, grape jelly, bacon and, um, sriracha.

“I looked at him sideways and said, ‘WTF?’ ” Irwin recalls. “And he said, ‘Dude, it’s really good. You’ve got to try it.’ ” It was love at first bite: The restaurateur turned from a doubter to a believer, and a week later, the PBJ Burger was on the menu.

While Irwin isn’t sure when the dish was removed from the permanent lineup (it still makes a brief cameo appearance on the menu every four months or so), he says that word about its sweet-spicy goodness is spreading at such a fast pace that the burger—which layers a SunFed Ranch organic beef patty with grape jelly, cheddar cheese, creamy Skippy peanut butter, applewood-smoked bacon and a squirt of sriracha—doesn’t need the menu’s help.

“It’s a bunch of ingredients that should not work together,” he says. “But once people try it, they fall in love with it and can’t stop talking about it.” $16. 6843 Lonetree Blvd. Rocklin. 916-771-5656.

Photo courtesy of Milestone Restaurant

Photo courtesy of Milestone Restaurant

The Toast

Milestone Restaurant

“I’m a peasant food guy,” says Nick Dedier, chef-owner of the comfort-food-focused Milestone Restaurant in the El Dorado Hills Town Center. “Good French peasant food is one of my favorite things. Any spreadable meat on toast really speaks [to me].”

So when a friend came into his eatery about a year after it opened in 2015 requesting liver, Dedier improvised and sent out chopped chicken liver with sherry and sautéed mushrooms on toast. His guest loved it. The next day, the friend returned and asked what else he could do.

Dedier had bone marrow on the menu at that time, and he always keeps foie gras on hand. “So I whipped them up and put it on toast,” he said. That was a big hit too.

He has since finessed the latter, which is now known to Milestone regulars simply as “The Toast”—foie gras and bone marrow blended together, spread on a thick slice of toasted brioche, and topped with caramelized onions and smoked sea salt before getting lightly torched. He gets at least three orders a week from diners.

“[The Toast] is super easy and rich. Like, rich,” Dedier says. “It’s something I get to have fun with.”

On the lighter end of the secret-menu spectrum, he offers that he also has “a killer egg salad sandwich that nobody knows about,” made with two slices of sourdough cradling a mixture of eggs, mustard, shallots and a blend of herbs including dill, tarragon, basil, chives and parsley. “It’s one of my favorite things on the planet,” he says. $9. 4359 Town Center Blvd. El Dorado Hills. 916-934-0790.

Photo courtesy of The Monk's Cellar

Photo courtesy of The Monk’s Cellar


The Monk’s Cellar

Modeled after a European pub, The Monk’s Cellar brewery and eatery opened in 2014 with a menu boasting Belgian moules frites, cottage pie and a Flemish beef-and-beer stew called carbonnade (pronounced carbon-NOD), the latter of which used a particular Monk’s Cellar Belgian-style brew called Abbey Ale—a wintry beer that co-owner Paul Gould likens to the popular Chimay Red.

But while the first two items are still menu mainstays at the Roseville restaurant, the carbonnade was dropped from the menu in 2016 when one of its main ingredients, the Abbey Ale, was relegated to part-time status during a beer lineup revamp.

Gould says the team attempted to recreate the stew using other beers, but nothing else complemented the dish quite like the Abbey: “Its richness and dark fruit flavors are a great match for the savory flavors of the [stew’s] ingredients,” which include generous chunks of beef, bacon and onions.

Now, each year between late November and late March, the Abbey Ale returns, and with it the carbonnade, but only for those who know to ask for a bowlful. So, yes, raise your glass and warm your belly—this is the winter of our deep content. $16. 240 Vernon St. Roseville. 916-786-6665.

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Beef Wellington

The Firehouse

When Lloyd Harvego bought The Firehouse in 1999, the Old Sacramento establishment had already been open for nearly 40 years, so he doesn’t know exactly when the Beef Wellington first appeared on the menu, but he does know that around 2004 or so, the item was cut to make way for more contemporary dishes.

But some regulars weren’t taking no for an answer. And they still don’t, so the old-school dish has remained an off-the-menu staple ever since.

Chef Jay Veregge, director of culinary operations for the Harvego Restaurant Group, says the entrée is a “classic and it will never go out of style,” and he’s happy to keep accommodating those who crave it.

The dish, which requires at least a day’s notice, features puff pastry spread with mushroom duxelles—a paste made of finely chopped and sautéed mushrooms, shallots and herbs—that envelops a prosciutto-wrapped filet mignon (traditionally beef Wellington is made with foie gras or pâté in place of the prosciutto, which The Firehouse can also do on request for an additional charge). The Wellington is then baked at 450 degrees until the pastry is golden and flaky. The medium-rare steak rests hidden inside. “It’s that kind of surprise package that people really enjoy,” says Veregge.

And now you can too. $44. 1112 2nd St. 916-442-4772.

Photo by Kiaran Locy

Photo by Kiaran Locy

Daddy Chicken

Hawks Restaurant & Hawks Public House

The popular fried chicken at Michael Fagnoni and Molly Hawks’ Granite Bay and Sacramento restaurants is hardly a secret. The husband-wife chef team has been serving the Southern staple at Sunday suppers at Hawks in Granite Bay since shortly after it opened in 2007. And when East Sacramento’s Hawks Public House launched at the end of 2015, it wasn’t long before fried chicken Mondays were implemented. But what most folks don’t know is that you can get fried chicken any day of the week at both restaurants—if you’re a kid, or bring a kid with you.

The secret (read: unprinted) kids’ menu, which is available every day, features the apostrophe-free Daddy Chicken—pieces of Mary’s Free Range Chicken that have been brined overnight in a saltwater bath and smothered in buttermilk and flour before being deep fried—with a side of French fries and ketchup or ranch dressing. The dish was affectionately titled by Hawks and Fagnoni’s oldest daughter Lucy when she was a toddler (now 9, Lucy has gotten her younger siblings, Lauren, 6, and Hudson, 2, hooked on the fried favorite), and the moniker has caught on.

“We always joke about doing a fried chicken restaurant and calling it Daddy Chicken,” Hawks says. “It might just happen someday.” Hawks Public House: $8. 1525 Alhambra Blvd. Hawks Restaurant: $12. 5530 Douglas Blvd. Granite Bay.

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Honey-Roasted BBQ Pork with Green Beans

Frank Fat’s

When Frank Fat opened his legendary Capitol haunt in 1939, his restaurant’s offerings featured future classics like its famous honey walnut prawns and banana cream pie, but also dishes that reflected the foods that Chinese immigrants moving to California were cooking in the early 20th century.

One such dish was the honey-roasted barbecue pork with green beans, an original menu item that didn’t survive the restaurant makeover in 1984, but is still available to those who know to ask for it.

Frank’s grandson Kevin Fat, who serves as vice president of the Fat Family Restaurant Group, says the entrée—which pairs the sweet and savory honey-roasted barbecue pork with wok-fried legumes in a garlicky sauce—is one of his personal favorites. “It’s a delicious dish that I can eat all the time,” he says.

He’s not its only loyalist. Gov. Jerry Brown has also been known to regularly order the classic dish, along with Fat’s erstwhile egg foo young (a deep-fried omelet with sprouts, peas and carrots smothered in gravy). And Kevin raves about yet another under-the-radar immigrant plate from the very first menu: the char siu don, a mix of scrambled eggs, Chinese barbecue pork, peas and onions.

Sometimes you can’t improve on the original. $16. 806 L St. 916-442-7092.

Photo courtesy of The Waterboy

Photo courtesy of The Waterboy

Fish Sticks

The Waterboy

Rick Mahan, the chef-owner of The Waterboy in midtown, first put fish sticks on the menu about 10 years ago on a lark, and since then they’ve come off and gone back on about once a year for a month or so at a time, or “whenever I feel like it,” he says.

But Waterboy regulars know they don’t need to wait.

One such regular is Scott Smith, the general manager at Biba Restaurant and a longtime friend of Mahan’s. Smith says he scoffed when he first spotted the humble-sounding appetizer soon after it made its debut, given the Waterboy’s sophisticated menu filled with elevated fare like oysters on the half shell and veal sweetbreads. Happily, his server talked him into ordering it and he’s never looked back, declaring the delicate finger food “unbelievably tasty.”

For the dish, Mahan uses hand-cut 3.5-inch pieces of halibut (or cod, depending on what’s available) and dredges them in flour and egg before coating them with house-milled panko bread crumbs and frying them.

The recipe has even been memorialized in a 2011 volume of Canal House Cooking—a celebrated cookbook-magazine hybrid—after co-author Melissa Hamilton was wowed by the fish sticks on a visit when it happened to be on the menu.

As for Smith, since turning him into a convert, Mahan sends the dish to his table every time he comes in. It’s “our little table greeting,” says the chef. And now, of course, it can be yours too. $12. 2000 Capitol Ave. 916-498-9891.

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Spaghetti Puttanesca con Tuna

Biba Restaurant

During his time as speaker of the California State Assembly in the ’80s and ’90s, Willie Brown was one of Biba Caggiano’s most loyal diners. “He was generally here one or two lunches a week minimum, and at least one or two dinners a week,” says Biba Restaurant’s GM Scott Smith. “He sat at table 41 or 42 by the windows.”

One day about 25 years ago, Brown ordered a special called Spaghetti Puttanesca con Tuna. He was hooked. So for years to come, the famously dapper Dem continued to request it, and does so to this day.

The simple dish comprises spaghetti noodles (it can also be made with other pastas like penne or linguine), San Marzano tomato sauce, anchovies, minced garlic, capers, diced black olives and white tuna packed in oil. “The spaghetti and tuna [combination] isn’t widespread, but most people who try it really like it,” says Smith.

He remembers one time when Brown ordered the dish, but the kitchen had run out of tuna. When word reached Caggiano, she quickly dispatched a staffer to Corti Brothers, which carries the jarred Ortiz white tuna she favors (“People use StarKist tuna—it’s not the same,” says Smith) and instructed the team to keep it in stock.

And while Brown’s visits to the capital city have decreased in recent years, the 83-year-old former Mayor of San Francisco still pops in a few times a year, and the kitchen is always prepared. $18.50. 2801 Capitol Ave. 916-455-2422.

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

The Hillary Special

Palermo Ristorante Italiano

During the late ’90s and early aughts, when Giovanni Toccagino owned Palermo Ristorante Italiano in Palo Alto, he had plenty of repeat customers, but only one was the daughter of a sitting U.S. president. And Chelsea Clinton, then an undergrad at Stanford, not only brought her friends on a regular basis, but she also brought her dad and, more frequently, her mom.

“[Hillary] came in many times,” says Toccagino of the future Secretary of State. “One time I told her, ‘The next time you come, I’ll make a dish for you with your name on it.’ ”

True to his word, the next time the Clintons came to the restaurant—for Chelsea’s graduation dinner, no less; the first daughter herself called to make the reservation—Toccagino remembered that Hillary had ordered fish in the past, so he whipped up an eye-grabbing plate for the then-New York senator: grilled swordfish and prawns topped with sautéed Roma tomatoes, artichoke hearts and green olives. Served with sautéed spinach, he called it “The Hillary Special” and added it to his restaurant’s offerings.

The entrée didn’t make the menu when Toccagino moved his eatery to Elk Grove in 2005 to be closer to his children, but with a couple days’ notice, you can still order the dish, no matter your political persuasion. $30.95. 9632 Emerald Oaks Dr. Elk Grove. 916-686-1582

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Dream Puff

Ettore’s Bakery & Café

Three years ago, Ettore Ravazzolo—Sacramento’s patron saint of desserts and owner of Ettore’s Bakery & Café with his wife Meggan—needed a new treat that he could make for fundraisers.

Wanting something original, Ravazzolo, along with fellow pastry chef Pasqual Baudrey, developed the Dream Puff—a creative riff on the classic cream puff. Typically, a cream puff is made with a pâte à choux pastry, which has a crispy shell and soft interior, and is filled with custard and dusted with powdered sugar.

For his Dream Puff, Ravazzolo wraps a puff pastry around the pâte à choux—a double puff, if you will—which creates a crumbly and buttery outer layer over the delicate, airy puff inside. Then, the new pastry-in-a-pastry is filled to order with a cloud of freshly whipped cream and sprinkled with sugar crystals.

“It’s a unique pastry,” says the Swiss-born baker extraordinaire. “Everybody who has tried it loves the texture, the flavor and [especially] the fresh whipped cream.”

In fact, guests who try the puffs at events have been known to stash them in their purses. Others will come into the bakery asking for them. Alas, the dessert isn’t typically available on-site because they have a short shelf life, thanks to the scratch-made whipped cream that doesn’t keep as long as custard, although Ettore’s may add the puffs to its pastry case later this year. You can, however, order them by the dozen (with 48 hours’ notice) now. Ravazzolo recommends consuming them within two hours of pickup for maximum freshness. Somehow, we suspect that won’t be a problem. $15 per dozen. 2376 Fair Oaks Blvd. or 390 N. Sunrise Ave. Roseville.

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Exhibit Mexico

Tequila Museo Mayahuel

Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2016, restaurateur Ernesto Delgado—owner of downtown’s Tequila Museo Mayahuel and La Cosecha, and Carmichael’s Mesa Mercado—attended Foro Mundial de la Gastronomía Mexicana, an event in Mexico City celebrating the heritage of Mexican cuisine. Delgado returned stateside inspired.

“I wanted to come up with some kind of dish that showcased Mayahuel and at the same time showcased Mexico, from the origination of its cuisine to the complexity of the sauces,” he says.

So Delgado developed Exhibit México—three chicken enchiladas that are each smothered in a different sauce, including mole poblano, made from upwards of 30 components like chocolate, chiles, nuts and raisins; pipián verde, a Oaxacan sauce derived from toasted pumpkin seeds and tomatillos; and huitlacoche, a creamy concoction that is named for its main ingredient, a mushroom-like Mexican delicacy that grows on corn.

Delgado says he originally intended to add Exhibit México to Mayahuel’s menu, but admits it’s kind of fun to keep it hush-hush.

“It’s one of those hidden treasures,” he says. “I tell [diners sometimes], ‘Ask for Exhibit México. It’s not on the menu but you’re going to love it.’ Or the server tells them about it. And they’ll get something that’s tied to the history of Mexico.” $17. 1200 K St. 916-441-7200.

Photo courtesy of Lucca Restaurant & Bar

Photo courtesy of Lucca Restaurant & Bar

The Governor’s Salad

Lucca Restaurant & Bar

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s legacy may be subject to debate in the halls of the Capitol, but not in the kitchen at Lucca Restaurant & Bar, where his namesake menu item has endured seven years past his time in office. “The No. 1 thing people always ask for is The Governor’s Salad,” says general manager Glenn Stewart.

Schwarzenegger—who frequented the midtown eatery while in office (“He was here all the time. He called us the ‘official governor’s restaurant,’ ” says Stewart)—once asked Lucca’s co-owner Terri Gilliland, who also runs local restaurants Roxy and Meadowlands with her husband Ron, if he could order a custom salad. His request? Mixed greens with bacon, tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles, lemon vinaigrette and, wait for it, pork sausage (made in-house with a blend of spices like fennel, garlic and oregano).

Soon word got around about “The Governor’s Salad,” and Stewart mentions that the restaurant still makes the protein-rich plate on a regular basis due to frequent requests from diners.

But there was one person who never warmed to the dish.

“[Schwarzenegger] loved the sausage,” says the Lucca GM. But on the days Maria Shriver joined her husband for lunch, Lucca sold a little less of it. “She would always have him order a salmon or something else healthier,” says Stewart. “It was pretty funny.” $13.50. 1615 J St. 916-669-5300.

Photo by Mandy Carlson

Photo by Mandy Carlson

Spicy Tuna Nachos

Aji Japanese Bistro

About two years ago, the team at Aji Japanese Bistro in El Dorado Hills was, as chef-owner Russell Okubo puts it, “screwing around” in the kitchen and created an artful plate of sushi-style nachos that resembled a Jackson Pollock painting. Taro chips topped with spicy raw tuna, sliced avocado, miso sauces, green onion, sesame seeds, sriracha, and a yuzu-and-shiso-leaf-flavored tomato “salsa” were sent out to one of his regulars. “There are people who come in and just say, ‘Make me something,’ ” Okubo explains. “That’s how [the nachos] started.”

The elevated appetizer has since become a hidden favorite. “It’s something fun and people think they are so amazing,” says the chef. “It kind of cracks me up.”

The from-scratch taro chips are what upgrade Aji’s nachos from ubiquitous party app to unique bistro fare. Making them, however, is a labor-intensive process—taro root is sliced paper-thin by hand and fried into chips (which also accompany the bluefin toro tartare, a raw bar staple, assuring the kitchen always has them on hand)—so the restaurant can only accommodate up to five orders of the nachos a day. Pro tip: Get there early—Aji is open daily for lunch and dinner starting at 11 a.m.—or call ahead to reserve a plate the next time a snack attack strikes. $12. 4361 Town Center Blvd. El Dorado Hills. 916-941-9181.

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Breakfast Pizza

Firestone Public House

When Firestone Public House opened in 2012, the weekend brunch crew, who often started as early as 7 a.m., began experimenting with tossing different toppings on the restaurant’s house-made pizza dough for their own breakfasts. And when executive chef Christian Palmos—who also oversees the kitchens for sister establishments, including Cafeteria 15L and Iron Horse Tavern, owned by the brother team of Mason, Curtis and Alan Wong—caught wind of the back-of-house improvisations, he decided to run with it.

“We were like, ‘Hey, this is a good idea. Why not serve pizza for breakfast?’ ” he remembers. “And I was like, ‘Let’s make it interesting and flavorful and colorful.’ ”

Check, check and check. The vibrant, head-turning pie that Palmos settled on features garlic cream sauce, chicken chorizo, fontina cheese, spinach, green onions, chipotle hollandaise and two sunny-side-up eggs on top.

The popular pizza was on the menu during brunch, lunch and dinner until 2014, when Palmos clipped it from the official lineup to make way for new dishes. But its reputation lives on, as do the frequent orders for it, day and night. The chef says the kitchen always has the ingredients for the special dish, so he’s more than willing to indulge pizza lovers who don’t put time constraints on the most important meal of the day. $14.50. 1132 16th St. 916-446-0888.

Photo by Vu Chau

Photo by Vu Chau

Marinated Ravioli

Club Pheasant

When you think of ravioli, you think of marinara, not marinated.

But at West Sacramento’s venerable Club Pheasant—famed for both its classic and fried ravioli—those in the know can dispense with the menu altogether and indulge in a third, lesser-known and yes, marinated version of this Italian dish.

Stuffed with ricotta cheese and either beef or vegetables, the house-made pasta is cooked and soaked in olive oil, red wine vinegar, herbs and spices for a few hours, after which it is topped with Parmesan and served cold. The exact recipe of the marinade is top secret, says Club Pheasant co-owner Peter Palamidessi, but let’s just say after a couple bites, you could repel vampires with a few choice words.

“They are very garlicky,” says Palamidessi. “If you don’t like garlic, you’re not going to like them.”

Palamidessi, who is part of the third generation to own the 83-year-old haunt, says his cousin Ron Rivera came up with the marinated ravioli over 25 years ago, but it never went on the menu, and has circulated only via word of mouth. While they sometimes have some on hand for regulars (feel free to ask), if you want to try this flavorful off-menu appetizer, it’s best to call a day in advance.

So grab a few garlic-loving gourmands and preorder a plate for the table. Just don’t forget the after-dinner mints. $8.50. 2525 Jefferson Blvd. West Sacramento. 916-371-9530.

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Pan con Chocolate

Carpe Vino

When an order ticket pops up in the kitchen of Auburn’s Carpe Vino asking for the Pan con Chocolate, executive chef Eric Alexander knows his former cook Jesse Warda is in the house.

“A couple of people know about it, but Warda comes in and requests it,” says Alexander. “Actually it’s his wife [Carrie]—she’s the one who usually gets it.”

And who can blame her? The dessert starts with a slice of levain bread from the Auburn artisans Baker & the Cakemaker, which is brushed with extra virgin olive oil, and toasted or grilled. Afterward, pieces of 70 percent Valrhona chocolate are laid on top like pepperoni on a pizza, and back in the oven it goes until the chocolate melts just enough to be spreadable. The toast is finished with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt flakes and fresh citrus zest.

With all the ingredients always available in Carpe Vino’s kitchen, it’s easy to whip up on the fly, says Alexander, who created the decadent dish for the bar menu in 2013 after seeing variations of the snack at Spanish tapas restaurants and feeling it would fit in nicely at the wine-centric establishment.

“It’s a sweet and savory thing that goes well with a glass of red wine,” the chef notes. But it came off the menu shortly thereafter to make room for other bar bites.

Clearly, the Pan con Chocolate wasn’t out of sight, out of mind for the Wardas. We bet now you won’t be able to get it out of your head either. $9. 1568 Lincoln Way. Auburn. 530-823-0320.

Photo courtesy of House Kitchen & Bar

Photo courtesy of House Kitchen & Bar

Breakfast Fried Rice

House Kitchen & Bar

Shortly after Chris Nestor, chef-owner of midtown’s Ink Eats and Drinks, launched his second venture, House Kitchen & Bar, on Capitol Mall in 2010, he ran into an unforeseen problem: Each night, there was rice left over from his kung pao chicken entrée. So Nestor figured he could use the cooked grains the next day in a fried rice dish, and developed a unique way to determine the recipe.

“We had a little contest between one of my investors and one of my cooks to see who had the best fried rice,” he says. He invited patrons to do a blind tasting and vote for their favorite. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cook prevailed.

That winning dish, dubbed the Breakfast Fried Rice (which is available, ironically, for lunch and dinner), includes bits of bacon, green onion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and any-style eggs on top, and was popular from the start. It was so popular, in fact, that it created the opposite problem Nestor was originally trying to solve: This time, the kitchen kept running out of rice. So the chef removed it from the menu two years later. But he typically still has all the ingredients on hand, so he can make it anytime for fried rice fanatics, or those just wanting bacon and eggs for dinner. Count us in. $13.50. 555 Capitol Mall. 916-498-9924.

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Gnocchi with Duck Confit


Feeling the need to freshen things up, this winter marks the first year that Ed Roehr, chef-owner of Magpie, has opted not to put the gnocchi with duck confit—a belly-filling, soul-warming dish with house-made Russet potato gnocchi, Bloomsdale spinach, butter, cardamom and yes, duck confit—on his seasonally changing menu since he and Janel Inouye opened their midtown restaurant in 2009 (originally on R Street, a few blocks from its current location at 16th and P).

But old diner habits die hard, and regulars started asking for it as early as mid-December. Luckily, with a gnocchi appetizer on offer, as well as a salad with crispy duck confit, the kitchen still has the components to create the seasonal pasta (until the end of March), and Roehr is happy to accommodate.

“People who come to Magpie like seasonality,” Roehr says. “They look forward to [certain dishes and ingredients]: ‘Hey, when is asparagus going to come back?’ or ‘When are the tomatoes done?’ or ‘When are you going to start the gnocchi?’ ”

Now that they know they can still get the gnocchi with duck confit this winter, there’s no reason to cry fowl. $28. 1601 16th St. 916-452-7594.

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Ding Dong

Mulvaney’s B&L

When Patrick Mulvaney was about to open his eponymous restaurant in midtown in 2006, he knew he needed a chocolate dessert of some kind on the menu.

As a kid, the former New Yorker loved Hostess snack cakes, so he worked with his team to create a fine-dining equivalent. The finished result, which he dubbed the “Ding Dong,” combined components from three different top chefs.

The recipe for the dessert’s devil’s food cake was created by one of Patrick’s old bosses—Leslie Revsin, a New York culinary star who was the first female chef at the city’s Waldorf Astoria hotel. For the chocolate mousse in the center, Mulvaney tapped the expertise of Casey Hayden, formerly of the original Spago restaurant in West Hollywood, who was the pastry chef at Paragary’s when Mulvaney worked there in the ’90s. And the shiny chocolate glaze that encases the cylindrical cake was created by none other than über-chocolatier Ginger Elizabeth Hahn, who was renting out kitchen space in the B&L as she prepared to launch her midtown desserterie. Finally, an in-house contest to see who could draw the best Hostess cupcake-style loops on top was won by the pantry guy, Mikey Tan.

Now technically, Mulvaney’s creation looks like the classic Hostess cupcake on the top, but the glaze coating is all Ding Dong. Plus, Ding Dong is just more fun to say. “I thought it was funny,” notes the chef-owner, adding that there were also “lively discussions as to whether it was a Ding Dong or a Ho Ho. My dad was a lawyer and he said to never let the truth get in the way of a story.”

The dessert was an instant hit, but Mulvaney pulled it off the menu after about a year to mix up the offerings. “But there were literally people who would leave the restaurant if we didn’t have it. They would say, ‘Call me when you do have it,’ ” he remembers. “So now we just have it all the time. It’s become a not-so-secret [secret], like getting your burger animal style [at In-N-Out].”

Also on the off-menu menu, Mulvaney recommends the under-the-radar Sweetbreads Bernard. Named after longtime client Bernard Miramon, the sweetbreads are cooked with mushrooms, marsala, veal demi glace and “lots of butter,” and the chef always has them available in case Miramon shows up without a reservation. And if you are at the restaurant and hankering for a burger, Mulvaney can rustle you up the Chevo Burger, which he made one night for the late boulevardier Eusebio “Chevo” Ramirez, with ground dry-aged rib-eye, cheese, grilled onions and chili aioli. $8. 1215 19th St. 916-441-1771.