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Dine Downtown: Dawson's at The Hyatt

So, I've got to come clean: I've had a long-running love affair with a promotion in Sacramento called Dine Downtown. The restaurant week and I have been seeing each other for seven years now and, quite frankly, there's no end in sight. It's cool...my husband knows. He's pretty okay with it. In fact, he often accompanies me on annual Dine Downtown dates.You see, I used to work for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership (DSP), which puts together this food lover's paradise every year. I helped manage the promotion for four years and have a deep knowledge of what it takes to bring dozens of restaurants together to offer 10 days of three-course menus for $30. It's not easy. It actually takes a ton of hard work. So, my first order of business is to say thank you to the staff over there for making this event thrive year after year. You all rock.

Now, on to the food!

My husband and I were lucky enough to preview the Dine Downtown menu at Dawson's at The Hyatt. To be perfectly honest, it had been a while. I've always enjoyed the food at Dawson's, but I often forget about the many, many restaurants tucked away in Sacramento's beautiful hotels. Thus, most of Sacramento's hotel restaurants get left off the "where are we going to dinner tonight?" response list. No more! The food and service at Dawson's were both incredible and we will definitely be back.

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{You can download the full menu here.}

Here's the scoop on Dawson's Dine Downtown menu: they offer options for each course, which I always appreciate. We had trouble deciding what to get, but as I jokingly explained to our server, Ardy (who was hilarious and did an impeccable job), my husband and I had already agreed to choose different options so that we could taste more from the menu -- even if my husband and I wanted the same dish. Seems harsh, but this strategy has always served me well during restaurant week.

Starter:

Dawson's offers up a starter of deliciously fresh bread, butter and the most incredible olive tapenade. It's made in-house and Ardy warned us of its addictive powers. True to form, we had a second serving. {Have I mentioned that we never, ever make food-related new year's resolutions because of Dine Downtown? Truth bomb. Food wins every time.}

First Course:

All of the options for the first course sounded amazing, but we decided on the espresso cured tenderloin carpaccio for him and the baby beet and burrata salad for me.

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{Guess who was too excited about the food to adjust her camera for a low-light situation? This girl. The result? Sad face city upon download and some seriously over-edited photos. Here's to embracing the learning curve, my friends! Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...}

I'm a big fan of beets and have trouble passing up menu items containing them. They're just so good and I hate preparing them at home. This salad was the perfect first course for me and my husband loved the carpaccio.

Second Course:

The entrée is always where the magic happens for me. There's something so beautiful about artfully plated food and the chef at Dawson's did not disappoint. My husband reluctantly (yes, he was going to order the salmon, but stuck to our agreement) ordered the braised beef short rib and I opted for the charred pacific salmon.

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If I could adequately describe the look on my husband's face when he took his first bite of short ribs, I would. His eyes got really big, he mumbled something resembling "oh man...that's good," and kept eating. Needless to say, he was happy with his choice. I tried a bite of his entrée and I have to say, the combination of incredibly tender beef, perfectly prepared polenta and braised greens was nothing short of amazing. My salmon was also pretty incredible. It was perfectly cooked with a really interesting brussels sprout Caesar perched on top. I love when chefs try something out of the ordinary and that "twist on a Caesar," as Ardy described it, was delicious. The anchovy and garlic puree added the perfect amount of flavor to the dish.

Third Course:

With the third course, we again tested our pact to order different dishes. I opted for the California triple cream camembert because, even though I'm a sucker for a root beer float, my husband had already called dibs on the sweet crab apple fritters.

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The float was made with Dad's Root Beer and vanilla bean gelato. Don't worry, my friends. I definitely got to try it and the float suited the fritters quite nicely. On the cheese dish, the kitchen wisely paired the wonderful camembert with a side of walnut brittle and gooseberry jam. It was the perfect sweet and savory dessert.

Final grade: A+++

We left full and happy. You can't really beat that.

As I mentioned, I'm pretty partial to Dine Downtown. It's just such a great deal. And the food? Well, the food is always top-notch. The promotion is great for participating businesses, it gives food-lovers a chance to live it up without breaking the bank and it's really, really good for the downtown economy. That's a win, win, win. A trifecta of winning, if you will.

So what have we learned here?

  1. Always thank the people who work tirelessly to bring us amazing events and promotions.
  2. Don't forget to try hotel restaurants. They might surprise you!
  3. Always remember to adjust your camera properly for indoor, low-light situations.
  4. Eat at Dawson's often. TRUST me on this.
  5. Go with someone who is up for ordering different options for each course (if the restaurant offers options). That way everyone gets to try more of the menu!

The Scoop:

Dine Downtown Restaurant Week January 9 - 18, 2013 More info: downtownsac.org/dinedowntown Reservations are highly recommended.

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Disclaimer: While our meal was on the house, all opinions are my own. If we were in the same room right now, you'd know that I'm telling the truth. I've been writing through lunchtime and my tummy is growling just thinking about the food! Time to eat!

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Recipe: The One With All the Rum

When most people smell rum, they probably think of tropical drinks. You know, the ones with those tiny umbrellas? Well, when I catch a whiff of rum I think of Christmas at my Nana and Papa's house. Yes, the deliciously strong smell of alcohol synonymous with pirates (yo-ho-ho, anyone?) conjures up fond memories of my British grandparents.It's not as strange as it sounds. You see, my family, both immediate and extended, show love with food. For generations, we've been offering up goodies in times of great joy, terrible sadness and everything in between. My Nana and Papa were no different.

At Christmastime, they would get to work in the kitchen creating goodies like peanut brittle, mince pies and Christmas pudding. The standout for me, however, was the simple rum ball. Some people in our family love them, some don't. For those of us who do, the rum-laden treats are like gold.

Now, I know it seems early to start sharing favorite Christmas recipes, but stay with me. These goodies are best if made well in advance and kept in the refrigerator to... ahem... cure.

The best part of this rum ball recipe has to be that it only involves 5 ingredients: walnuts, vanilla wafers, honey, rum and cocoa.

Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder

We recently scored a huge bag of walnuts from my in-laws, which is awesome. Walnuts can be a bit pricey at the store, so we're always grateful when we can get them for the low, low price of a hug. :)

Let's break this down:

The walnuts and vanilla wafers act as the base for the "cake." This time around, I used my pathetic little dorm-sized food processor (a grown up food processor is definitely on my Christmas list this year), but I've also just chopped the walnuts and used a rolling pin to grind up the vanilla wafers in a plastic zip lock bag. As far as consistency goes, it's really up to you. I like processing everything to a fairly fine consistency (think cookie crumbs), but some would rather have large chunks of walnuts in their version of the recipe.

Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder
Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder

Once you've chopped everything, it's time to add the honey and rum. The honey acts as a sweetener (obviously) and helps bind everything together. The rum adds moisture and, of course, flavor.

Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder
Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder

Once you mix everything together, it's time to get to rolling. If you're like me, you're cool with just estimating the amount dough you need to make a nice golf ball-sized rum ball. I'm sure there are folks out there worried about each treat being the same size. You could probably use a melon baller or small scoop to ensure consistency, if you're interested.

After rolling comes the final touch: a coat of cocoa:

Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder
Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder
Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder

When you're done, you'll be left with dozens of delicious holiday treats ready for the festivities!

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Holiday Rum Balls:

  • 3 cups crushed vanilla wafers
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup rum
  • Cocoa to coat

Mix first 4 ingredients well. Shape into balls and roll in cocoa. Keep in an air tight container in refrigerator.

If you're planning on giving these away for the holidays, you can easily double or triple the recipe. I also find that I end up adding a bit more honey and rum to this recipe at the end, so adjust according to your taste.

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The second best thing about this recipe is that there are substitutes for every ingredient. Prefer graham crackers to vanilla wafers? Go for it! Have an affinity for almonds? Use those instead of walnuts. White corn syrup can be used in place of honey to help keep it all together and, believe it or not, you can trade out the rum for brandy or sherry. Even the cocoa can be swapped out if you have Nestle's Quick on hand (in fact, some prefer it).

'Tis the season to work with what you've got, so it's no surprise just how many variations of this recipe exist. I say experiment and make them with whatever sounds good to you.

Me? I'm sticking with rum. :)

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Anyone else have fond holiday memories associated with alcohol-infused treats? Spill it, people. Link up in the comment section if you have a tasty recipe to share!


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