Farm-to-Table & Summer Dining in the Heart of California's El Dorado Hills

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When you think of the rural El Dorado Hills in Eastern California, you don’t necessarily think of food despite its abundance of wineries in the region. They are likely names you’ve never heard of like Cielo Estate, Colibri Ridge, Busby Cellars, Mount Aukum, Single Leaf, Sierra Vista, Shadow Ranch, Saluti Cellars, Nello Olivo, Perry Creek, Skinner, Windwalker, Findleton Estate, Grace Patriot Wines, Crystal Basin and Fenton Herriott, although there were a couple on the list I had heard of, like Gold Hill (we bought wine here) and David Girard Vineyards, where we saw selections from on a few restaurants in the area, so had an opportunity to pair them with meals in addition to sampling their reds at their tasting room.

Dinner for our first evening in El Dorado County was at a very popular local that later, we learned, is a favorite among many — Cafe Mahjaic on Lotus Road in Lotus CA, a close drive from our Italian Villa where we hung our hat for a few days. Since we wanted to sample what locals insist on, we were fortunate that our host ordered the Pork Schnitzel with Spaetzle, which was made with naturally raised Niman Ranch pork tenderloin and prepared with a bread crust over spaetzle. The dish was served with fresh herbs, capers and lemon beurre blanc and roasted corn of course! Yum!

We also tried the fish special of the day, which changes weekly with the seasons – we were lucky to be there in June when salmon was fresh.

What I loved most about this restaurant was it’s creative menu — from traditional Coq Au Vin to Provencal Stuffed Peppers! Clearly there was a central and northern European influence but they also had a Greek infusion throughout. One specialty was the Saganaki, which is Kasseri Cheese sauteed, flamed with brandy and extinguished with lemon, and served with crusty white bread. If you’re in the mood for something heavier and more classic, they had a Wagyu Coulotte Steak on the menu, grilled with garlic rosemary sauce, horseradish creme fraiche and roasted fingerling potatoes. You can imagine just how delicious that would be with a Cedarville Syrah or Four Fields Grenache. Of course, if you’re not adventurous and don’t want to try one of the medium bodied reds from the county, you could always opt for a bigger Cab from Napa.

They insisted we try the Grilled Prawm appetizer and how could we say no! Delicious — it was brushed with a smoked chili butter over tomatillo salsa, with black bean sauce and a flour tortilla. Also famous is their Chocolate Chipotle Prawns sauteed in a Scharffen Berger chocolate, brown sugar, chipotle sauce, avocado and jasmine rice! While we LOVE artichoke, we sadly took a pass since we already had plenty to sample and share, but if I were to return, I’d definitely order this gem of an appetizer, which they grill with a flat bread, hummus, clarified butter and fresh lemon.

They offered a number of local wines by the bottle to pair with your meal as well as from nearby counties – Pinot, Frenach, Barbera, Zin, Merlot and Primitivo was on the menu from North Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley, El Dorado County, Amador County, and Santa Ynez Valley. We went with a local option of course — two thumbs up!

The Farm Table is a Restaurant and Market specializing in the farmstead arts of preservation and whole harvest cookery in the heart of Placerville CA. When you first walk in, you might think it’s a simple small town take out and lunch eatery for locals and in fact, it absolutely serves that purpose and market, however there’s a special story behind it that makes it a little more interesting. Despite its small town feel (not unlike where I grew up), they are all things sustainable in every way. They use the best of local and seasonal ingredients and offer many delicious gluten-free and vegetarian options as well, which is often hard to find in a smaller American town.

What they’re most known for however is their house-made sausages and charcuterie, pickled seasonal vegetables, preserves and condiments, picnic provisions, local and imported beer and wine. They also have gourmet gifts and souvenirs for the road. Their preserves are delicious, so much so that I asked for seconds, which was a great accompaniment with our lunch order.

The husband wife team owners Zach and Kara Taylor started Smokey Ridge Charcuterie in 2010 which was based off of their family farm on Carson Road. When they first expanded, they started with the Apple Sausage and quickly grew their product list to include dozens of hand-crafted sausages, several pates, dry-cured bacon, duck confit and preserves, condiments and pickles. YUM!!

After 4 years developing a loyal following at farmer’s markets, through their club, and at their family Farm Stand, they moved into town and started a location smack in the middle of Main Street. The menu was diverse and had so many charcuterie options, I didn’t quite know which one to choose, so we opted for a sampler plate. While you can get larger plates (Rabbit Pot Pie, Fried Chicken, Vegetable Risotto, Salmon with lemon-herb creme fraiche, Duck Confit or a Black Angus New York Strip), one of the samplers is the definitely the way to go.

Below, we dove into Prosciutto di Parma (t’was my favorite), the Chicken Liver Pate, and the Duck Pastrami (the latter two both house-made). Accompanying this delicious trio were picked baby carrots with tarragon, cornichons, olives, pickled garlic scrapes (delicious), homemade red wine jelly, red mustard, pickled root vegetables and Chevre. You can order the platters with baguettes or crackers and cool beans that they also offer an option of gluten free crackers if you’re watching your gluten intake.

You can add on a sandwich if you’d like, one of their sides (bacon biscuits drew my attention as did the risotto and deviled eggs), or a house or spring salad, both of which you can add salmon or chicken to if you wish. They also offer picnic boxes for groups, which makes a great takeaway item if you’re going off for the day with your family or on a long day hike. While organic and all things fresh is their typical order of the day, if you want to order a little more guiltily, you certain can — the Pastrami sandwich or the Hot Rueben with sauerkraut and swiss and Russian dressing both come to mind.

The Argonaut Farm-to-Fork Cafe is a cozy, river front restaurant located within the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. Their core? Organic and locally sourced ingredients, from breakfast and lunch items to their freshly squeezed juices! They also had a nice range of sorbet and Italian styled gelato, which given that it was close to 100 degrees the day we were there, it made for a perfect choice!

The eatery is housed in a small wooden house with uneven floors and an unbeatable charm on the exterior and interior. For a moment or two, I was taken away to good ole Cape Cod however a quick pinch reminded me that I was in the wide open valleys of California in a small town with a big river running through it that brings people over its mild rapids on rafts and tubes throughout the summer months. Because the space is small, they can’t house a lot of fresh product on-site but as fresh as they can get it, they do, sourcing as much from local farmers in the region as possible.

Now onto their fresh juices and drinks — from seasonable berry, spirulina and coconut water smoothies to carrot, apple, ginger, celery, cucumber and spinach juices, it’s hard to beat freshly prepared juiced greens and veggies to give yourself an energy boost on a hot day. What’s nice is that they also had homemade lavender lemonade (YUM!) and booster shots you can add to any combo, including Acerola Cherry & Honey, local bee pollen, chia seeds, maca, coconut oil and Brazilian nut protein powder.

Homemade fresh cookies inside! For the more traditional, there’s root beer, drip coffee and herbal tea with a twist, like their Lotus Love, which is made with Vanilla Rooibos with steamed milk and maple syrup.

Not far away is the well known historical Sierra Nevada House, which has become an institution over the years. Set in the Sierra Nevada foothills, this casual, historic hotel dates from the 19th century. In 1839, when the foothills of the Sierras were open wilderness and the unchallenged domain of the Miwok and Maidu Indians, an adventurous Swiss pioneer wandered into the Central Valley and built a modest fort at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, a time which ushered in an era of economic boom from which the Sierra Nevada House, and much of the history of the West, would eventually find its roots.

The sleepy ranch became a bustling hub of criss-crossing travelers and pioneers, and Sutter understood that he had to expand the fort to accommodate the rising tide of wagons and people. The hotel remained alive until it burned down by fire in 1902 and was rebuilt in the 1960’s in a design reminiscent of its original 1850′s heritage. Owner Keith Merson took over the hotel and restaurant, which has a lovely outside seating area for dining and listening to live music on summer weekends.

It’s a block from the South Fork American River and 0.6 miles from the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where we spent most of our time during our stay in El Dorado County.  Small plates are likely more typical of the kind of fare people go to the Sierra Nevada House for and include items like Kung Pao Chicken Wings, Beer Battered Artichoke Hearts, Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, Deep Fried Green Beans, Calamari Fritti, Whithe Truffle Mac and Cheese, Sweet Potato Fries, soups and salads. Of course, we had to try the spicy clams, which they serve in a spicy white wine broth – it paired perfectly with a cold Chardonnay.

Lunch which is served all day includes southern and Caribbean style sandwiches like Pulled Pork, Caribbean Chicken in a spicy marinade, Blackened Catfish BLT and Fish and Chips. They’re also known for serving a mean (and delicious) burger. While I was eyeing the Cajun Meatloaf with roasted red peppers and Baby Back Ribs with a spicy Bourbon barbeque sauce, we ended up with a fish over linguini dish and the catch of the day. There was also the divine seafood stew with a spicy tomato and fennel (LOVE fennel) broth served with warm sourdough bread.

Two thumbs up! The service was outa this world, the owner was about as gracious as they get and we had the added benefit of being there on a weekend evening, so were able to take in the energy of a local band who had locals dancing and tapping their feet. I wished we had more time — the evening air was warm with just a slight breeze and the night’s serene energy was a lovely balance side-by-side with their upbeat music which brought smiles to every diner’s face.

Catch my write-up on Serene & Romantic Getaways in the Heart of Gold Country as well as my article on Gold Country for Wine, Romance & River Fun.

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