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Baseball, more than any other sport, is meant to be seen in person.
In this day and age, football is far better viewed from the comfort of your Barcalounger, especially if your team happens to be the Niners. If you have great seats, basketball is awesome, but from the upper bowl it's hardly worth it. And basketball is a dirty word here in Sacramento right now, anyways. I would grant you hockey, but … it's hockey.
Baseball is the one. It's meant to be enjoyed in the sunshine or under the lights, with all the accouterments that go with it. The sights, of course, but also the sounds, the smells and the tastes of that can only be had at the ballpark. Mmmmmmm. The tastes.
I often go all winter without eating a hot dog. I thought that was the case this winter until the vaguest recollection of a semi-recent 2 a.m. drunken devouring of a chili dog from Hot Rod's popped into my head. I'm gonna go ahead and pretend that never happened.
With Major League Opening Day upon us, and Opening Day for your River Cats just a week away, I was lucky enough to commemorate the beginning of baseball season (hot dog season?) by attending a food tasting at Raley Field on Wednesday.
It was wonderful.
The Raley Field concessionaire, Ovations, had set up a spread in one of the suites with all of their new and or improved menu items. In attendance were various members of the media, fan sites and at least one winner of a tweet-off.
The menu was as follows:
Walking Taco ($7.75)
Seared steak, chicken, or chayote squash tossed with shredded cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, onions and a chipotle ranch dressing all stuffed into a southwest-flavored taco shell cone. This was the first thing I tried, and it was very good. It's the brainchild of head chef Ryan Curry, who has a real passion for authentic Mexican flavors which shines through in his creation. I had a chicken version with some grilled jalapeno, cilantro cream and salsa verde, all of which will be available at the games. It’s like a fajita in a spiced waffle cone, and I would most certainly get it again.
Mango on a Stick ($5)
Another example of Curry’s appreciation for true Mexican dishes, this is a play on a classic Mexican street food: fresh-peeled mango drizzled with lime juice, ancho chile powder and cayenne pepper. The heat and spice from the chile powder and pepper balance perfectly with the tartness of the lime juice and the sweetness of the perfectly ripe mango. Absolutely delicious and super refreshing. I want one right now.
Donut Bacon Cheeseburger ($9.75)
Whoooooa. The second thing I tried, and the first of several dishes I split with the contest winner, Maudi Munoz. I had seen variations on the theme before, often called a "Luther Burger" after Luther Vandross (RIP). It's a bacon and cheddar cheeseburger on not one but two glazed doughnuts. The versions I had seen before had always been on one doughnut, split in half. That always seemed silly to me, not to mention structurally unsound. What, are you worried about calories? Two donuts, that's the ticket.
It is served sans accoutrement, but I added all the fixin’s. (I have a buddy who sometimes calls me "Captain Condiment." I've never met one I didn't like.) Once my Luther was fully loaded, I excused myself to eat it alone out on the deck. This was a private moment. The thing was shockingly good, far better than I thought it would be. The first bite, the doughnut is a little cloying, but by the third bite, all the flavors have melded and you just get a wonderful blend of sweet, savory, salty, juicy goodness. I would, and absolutely will, get it again. Yum.
BBQ Nachos ($8.75)
Smoked sirloin simmered in chillies and barbecue sauce with a creamy cheese sauce over chips. Quite good, although it could have used some jalapenos and onions. Of course, I think pretty much everything could use jalapenos and onions. I would gladly eat some of yours if you got it, but I would probably stick to the classic chili cheese style.
Pacific Wild Salmon Tacos ($7.75)
Sports Illustrated recently ranked these among the top Minor League eats in the country, and it's easy to see why. Perfectly roasted Pacific salmon, shredded cabbage, thin-sliced radish, salsa fresco and a lime-cilantro aioli all piled on fresh corn tortillas. Unfortunately, I forgot to get my tortilla grilled (thanks for nothing, Maudi!) before making it, so the whole deal kinda fell apart on me, but other than that it was good. I'm not a huge salmon guy, so I probably wouldn't get it again, but you totally should.
Chipotle Black Bean Burger ($6.75)
This is a vegan black bean and chipotle patty with an herb aioli, layered with lettuce, tomato and onion. I just tried the patty and it was among the better veggie burgers I've ever had. It had a really nice charbroiled flavor with a mellow heat from the chipotle. I probably won't get it because it will be trumped by the Luther, but I totally will have a bite or three of my girlfriends’.
Veggie Italian Sausage ($7)
This was probably the best veggie sausage I've ever had, which is to say it was edible. Barely. I shall not be revisiting it.
Sac Town Dog ($7)
Now we're talking: a jumbo dog topped with chipotle ranch, blue cheese crumbles and fried onion strings. If you like blue cheese, you'll like this dog. I always see blue cheeseburgers, but this is the first time I've ever seen a blue cheese hot dog. It's really good. The only reason I might not get it again is because of how good the next ones were.
Chicago Dog ($7)
This was probably my favorite of the dogs, a classic combo of tomatoes, onions, coarse relish, sport peppers, mustard and a pickle spear. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Eighty percent chance I get one opening night.
Dinger Combo ($12.50 with a 21-oz. drink)
The famous Dinger dog is smothered in chili con carne, cheese sauce and onions. It’s just a great chili dog. Their chili is top notch, and so's their Dinger dog: two great tastes that taste great together. Eighty percent chance I get one opening night.
Baked Potato Dog ($7)
This jumbo dog is topped with sour cream, chopped bacon, chive and shredded cheese, using a Russet potato for a bun. Are you kidding me? This is a revelation, a stroke of genius. It was the last thing I ate and one of the best. Russet potato bun. C'mon. Eighty percent chance I ... I may have to adjust these percentages.
As if you needed another reason to come out and enjoy a game at the best minor league stadium in the entire country, there's 10. And a veggie Italian sausage.
Video courtesy of Raley Field