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Grape Escape satisfies wine and food enthusiasts

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Cesar Chevez Park was a foodie and wino’s paradise on Saturday night at the 8th Annual Raley’s Grape Escape.

Upon entrance, attendees were handed platters and wine glasses that vendors kept filled. For three hours, guests circled the plaza enjoying samples from Sacramento’s up-and-coming restaurants along with more than 100 wineries from surrounding counties such as Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, and Nevada among others.

"This was my third straight year I have gone to the Grape Escape and once again it was a great time with a broad variety of wineries and restaurants," said Melissa McNabb.

Local restaurants such as Grange Restaurant & Bar, Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, Brew it Up, Zocalo, Lucca, and P.F. Changs (among many others) served samplings of their most popular menu items in both liquid and solid form. Many restaurants took the event as an opportunity to reel in future business and passed out coupons for future visits. Grange even passed out a $20 gift cards to those who waited in a lengthy line to sample their sausage and pulled-pork sandwiches.

Aside from Grange, some of the most popular samplings included sliders from the recently-opened Cafeteria 15L, barbecued corn and asparagus from Raley’s, lettuce wraps from P.F. Changs, and a garlic-rich pasta from Paesano’s.

In support of the event, in the weeks before Grape Escape various Raley’s and Bel-Air stores hosted in-store tastings featuring pours from wineries at Grape Escape. Some of these included Barefoot Bubbly, Michael David, Toasted Head and Ironstone.

"The goal of [Grape Escape] is to educate the locals on all the culinary treasures that we have here in the Sacramento region," said Mike Testa, Vice President of Communications at the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Too often, many people automatically think Napa and Sonoma when they think wine tasting and we want them to know that award-winning wines are here in their own backyard. We saw that education in action this weekend."

The main attraction and most excitement came from the "Chef’s Challenge" on the main stage, presented by the Institute of Technology. The battle of the local chefs showcased the talents of Ame Harrington of L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen, Noah Zonca of The Kitchen Restaurant, Adam Pechal of Tuli Bistro, and Darrell Madeira of Crush 29. TV personality and "Good Day Sacramento" host Mark S. Allen kept the competition lively.

All chefs, with the help of an assistant, were given 25 minutes to prepare and serve a dish with a pre-selected basket of ingredients, including Sturgeon, English peas, strawberries, Horseradish root, and Manchego cheese. Teams competed in two rounds and the winner advanced to the final round. It came down to Harrington and Zonca and after the judges weighed on their final dishes, Zonca was crowned winning chef.

Judges for the event included Rick Kushman, The Sacramento Bee "Good Life" columnist; Patty Mastracco, Food Editor for Raley’s "Something Extra" magazine; and Don Dickinson, Culinary Division Director at the Institute of Technology’s Culinary Arts Division.

"I especially enjoyed the chef competition and the opportunity it gives local chefs to showcase their talents," said Ali Zamanian, who had worked at past Grape Escapes as a vendor but was able to enjoy the event for the first time as a guest.

Other entertainment throughout the event included live music and art by local artists on display throughout the plaza.

When 7 p.m. came and it was time for Grape Escape-goers to leave, many left with satisfied palates, filled with our region’s culinary offerings.

For a full listing of participating restaurants and wineries, visit the Grape Escape website

All photos by Ron Nabity of Nabity Photos

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