Lunch at Club Pheasant

Met up with some business colleagues for lunch at Club Pheasant in West Sacramento.  It was my first time to this restaurant and it had pleasant associations:  it is much like the family-owned Italian restaurants in Sonoma County that my family frequented when I was growing up.  The atmosphere is comfortable and family friendly without sticky tables or floors.  I have to admit that I did not pay attention to the prices because it was a business lunch.  (Urban Spoon gave it $$$ for dinner; more like $$ for lunch).

There were lots of locals enjoying lunch and a large retirement party in the private room in back.  The restaurant is spacious and could accommodate a big family or a crowd of wine tasters on their way to/from Clarksburg.

lunch crowd

In true Italian style we shared a large order of lima beans and onions.  My colleagues had minestrone soup and garlic bread.  I had the half garlic steak sandwich and the side of ravioli.  It was all delicious.

The Club Pheasant is a landmark in West Sacramento operating as a bar and restaurant since 1935.  I would not be surprised if the ravioli recipe is still Luisa Palamidessi’s.  You can ask Patti Palamidessi (third generation) or one of the other family members when you dine there.  She welcomed us and made sure we were happy with our meal.

Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan and Patti

If you are on your way from Sacramento to Clarksburg for a little wine tasting, why not stop at the Club Pheasant and put a good foundation of pasta in your tummy?  You will be very satisfied and able to taste that much more wine.

2525 Jefferson Blvd.  West Sacramento, CA 95691

(916) 371-9530; lunch Tues-Saturday and dinner Tues-Sunday


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Town of Locke

Step into living history:  only a mile up the river from Walnut Grove, Locke offers historic interest, quirky shopping and good food and drink.  And yes, there is a Chinese food restaurant.

It is easy to pull off the highway and park in the parking lot by the public bathrooms or along the street.  A few of the buildings are California State Park museums (

I had a relaxing time at the bar in Al the Wop’s where I met Dessa (who hopefully will be my tour guide for Walnut Grove).  I will return and enjoy a meal at Al’s place and post a review.  Meanwhile Al’s enjoys a 94% approval rating on the Urban Spoon.

Al the Wop’s (916) 776-1800; 13936 Main Street, Locke, CA 95690; open 7 days a week

Locke Garden Chinese Restaurant (916) 776-2100; Cantonese style; Tues-Sun 11-9



Dining at Alma’s River Cafe in Walnut Grove

I attended a meeting of the Delta Conservancy in Walnut Grove and was looking for a bite to eat at lunchtime.  Walnut Grove is a larger town by Delta standards so I drove around a bit and then decided to give Alma’s River Cafe a try.  It is right on the River Road just a stone’s throw from the Georgiana Bridge and one of the docks where you can leave your boat tied up while you go ashore and explore.


The atmosphere is local diner.  I was greeted warmly by the waitress/hostess.  She brought my diet coke immediately.  While I was there I sent a few e-mails; there is no wi-fi but the reception for Verizon was strong.  Locals came in, ate very large helpings of pastrami sandwiches or breakfast (served all day) and then went back to work.  I ordered the tri-tip sandwich special with a choice of fries or potato salad.  I asked if I could have just a taste of the potato salad, which is made homemade at the cafe.  (Rarely do I find potato salad as good as my Mom’s but this one was alright after adding a little salt and pepper.)  The sandwich was delicious and a good value at $8.99.

If you are from out of state you may not be familiar with “tri-tip”.  It is a cut of beef that benefits from marinade and barbeque.  Made popular first in Santa Maria, California, it is now enjoyed in restaurants around the state.

The cafe is also clean (including the bathrooms) and has a pleasant atmosphere, with not just one, but two photos of Marilyn Monroe.  It isn’t a huge place, so if you have a big group you’ll have to split up to be seated.


It’s a solid American menu, a good value, friendly and clean.  Check it out.

Alma’s River Cafe

14147 River Road

Walnut Grove, CA 95690

(916) 776-1323

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Nigiri Project: salmon on rice

The Yolo Bypass is tucked between Woodland and Sacramento and yet when you are in the middle of it you feel a million miles away.  My car stirred great blue herons and snowy white egrets as I drove along the levee to meet John Brennan and Emily James.  I had forgotten just how great is the wingspan of these birds so I slowed and paid attention to their elegant flight.

John and Emily directed me to park my car and I hopped into their truck. Our first stop was at the top of the property where they operate a  seasonal earthen dam to direct water from the Ridge Cut Canal at the bottom of the Colusa Drain into the fields. This is the water that floods up the rice fields in winter to decompose rice stubble and provide waterfowl habitat. With duck season over at the end of January,most rice farmers or duck club managers have pulled out the boards on the fields and drained them. They’ll go on vacation with their duck club widows and then return to begin prepping the fields for planting rice in April.

There are other crops grown in the Bypass–safflower, sunflowers, tomatoes–and cattle and sheep graze, but in this section the predominance of clay soils makes it good for growing rice.  And there is a long established symbiosis between waterfowl and rice.   What seems like a new idea is that this seasonal floodplain might also be ideal for fish.

In 2001 Ted Sommers and colleagues published a paper about the importance of floodplains as temporary Chinook salmon habitat.  It caused some excitement at the time, but it took just over 10 years before he was able to stage an experiment with hatchery salmon fry in the Yolo Bypass.

Before the levees, when the salmon runs were much higher than today’s 50,000 fish, the young salmon would regularly find themselves out on the various floodplains that bordered the Sacramento River where they were  able to find a safe place to feed and grow before heading out to sea.

This year the seasonal floodplain was recreated on the lower five acres of a Yolo Bypass rice field. Ted’s crew with the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and a crew from UC Davis set up experiments with 10,000 hatchery fish: releasing them to eat and grow from the end of January to mid-March.

Recently I was able to visit the intentional floodplain to see the conclusion of the experiment.  The two crews worked together to catch and count the fish before they released them into the Bay Delta.

A portion of the fish had microchips inserted that made it possible to wand them and record their growth rates. The DWR study is straightforward: fish in, fish out, fish size and fish health.Their preliminary findings showed very healthy fish that had doubled in length and quadrupled in size.  The UC Davis study designed by Peter Moyle and Jacob Katz prepared various rice stubble treatments and made fish pens within the floodplain to hold fish and see if their growth and survival rates varied with the various treatments. These are the black pens in the midst of the flooded field.

The UC Davis grad students were also taking random samples of fish to measure and a few were packed to take back to the lab to check for other growth indicators.

On the day I visited the mood was jubilant.  Everyone was working to count the fish before the forecasted storm made it harder to get into the site.  They were also having a good time doing what they love most.

John Brennan the farm manager for the Cal Marsh & Farm Ventures where this project is taking place is one of the most enthusiastic and well-spoken of the team members.  He has spent hours explaining the project to reporters and others who need to understand what the potential is for fish in the Yolo Bypass.

John can envision a wayto manage for fish on the their rice fields on a seasonal basis. And he explains how this 5 acre project can be incrementally expanded until 1,000,000 small salmon safely grow to a size where they have a better shot at making it to adulthood.  If they can improve the return rate of the fish to 2% , then this site can potentially grow the salmon run from 50,000 to over 70,000 and so on.

John thinks the project is important because it stresses the integrated management of a working landscape, which he sees as the path forward, with the agricultural community, as the true stewards of the land, taking a lead role in the designing and implementing the environmental solutions of the next generation.

It is also an important lynchpin in the conservation strategy for managing the water supply operations in the Delta under the current Biological Opinion (that is the opinion by the fish agency NMFS about what steps must be taken to keep the salmon from becoming extinct). It becomes even more important in the proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

The idea is controversial.  Yet, the Yolo Basin has long had multiple uses as farmers and wildlife refuge managers have worked together to provide flood protection, food, and habitat.  This is another benefit that can be accommodated if good will can prevail.

Starting a new adventure

I am an avid tourist. I have travelled the globe and had many adventures. I frequently go to Napa or Point Reyes or Tahoe, but I am intimidated when it comes to entering the Bay Delta. I remember my dear late friend David Elliot III telling me once about people getting so lost in the fog in the Delta that they would come to his doorstep near Walnut Grove desperate for directions and someone to guide them to safety. This struck a chord with me because the network of levees and islands quickly confuses my internal GPS.

With my trusty Android smart phone I no longer have an excuse. I also have a consulting firm and one of my largest contracts is working with the 5 Bay Delta counties for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. So my job will take me into the Delta. I also have an interest in comparing the tourism infrastructure and industry in places that market their natural environment, such as New Zealand and Norway, with that of the Bay Delta.

All of this I will share with you.