Just back from a weekend jaunt to the center of California's financial and political universe, the city of Sacramento. Interestingly, it was not the first choice for early Californians, since Monterey and San Jose have had legitimate claims to the title. Since I am a semi-native of Monterey I tend to side with the Monterey argument and it was where the California Constitution was drafted and approved.
Sacramento is a government town--the city had grown as the state government has expanded. The two most impressive buildings there (other than the Capitol Building) are the headquarters of the State's retirement systems: CalPers (The state's employee retirement system) and CalStrs (Teacher's retirement system). Recent open government initiatives revealed that the CalPers director was the highest paid state employee, to no one's surprise.
A metaphor for the current state of affairs: a group of State Policemen, department of corrections officers, had to get change for the parking meters since State vehicles are now ticketed as if they were private ones all the time.
But enough of that. Sacramento is worth a visit even though there is no full service Marriott in the immediate vicinity. It's at the intersection of two major freeways, the 5 and the 80. There is a good airport.
During our weekend adventure we enjoyed both the nightlife and the dining. A good place to start is downtown at Pizza Rock, which has been open less than a month. The chef, Tony Gemignani, won the 2007 prize in Italy for the best Neapolitan Style Pizza, no small feat. Sitting at the bar you're amazed at the Michelangelo style ceiling, complete with the addition of Fender Stratocaster Guitar, and the full size replica of a Peterbuilt 18 wheeler perched overhead.
Dinner was at Lucca, a place where the prices (thankfully) do not match the high standards of service and quality of food. Ian McBride, the chef, has managed to turn out five star dinners at just about Denny's prices! The most pleasant thing about the Lucca Menu was that no dictionary was needed to decrypt the menu or the additions. (California is famous for dozens of menu items that even James Beard would have had to look up). We enjoyed a mix of Mediterranean and Classic dishes while there, and started with Zucchini Chips (house made). Salads were excellent, and the dining experience memorable. Total cost for an appetizer, two salads, and two main courses was under 50 dollars.
Ettore's European Bakery located about 15 minutes from center city, serves fantastic pastries and meals. And no one mentions calories either.
Old Town Sacramento is a bit tacky for my taste, an excuse to sell souvenirs to the suspecting and unsuspecting. Nicer to do the newer structures like the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the second largest Catholic Church west of the Mississippi River.
Hope a bunch of Insiders can make it there. Worth a weekend visit.