16525 Bucks Lake Rd, Meadow Valley, CA 95956, (530) 283-2262

True you won't hear any dueling banjos ala "Deliverance," when you stroll up to the Buck's Lake Lodge but after eating there you'd wish you had. At least upon hearing the opening chords, you would have been warned to flee this disaster of a dining establishment.

Last year a friend invited me to go camping up at Buck's Lake with her. For those who are unfamiliar with the area, it's in the mountains up past Quincy. We usually park our gear at the Haskins campground and spend most of our time lounging at the lake or going for nature walks with the dog. My friend T has a tradition of liking to forgo the usual campfire fare and eat at the Lodge on one of the nights during our outing. Last year, we went up there and had a good time. Although the grub was nothing extraordinary it hit the spot and was a nice change of pace.

The B.L. Lodge is a no-frills joint specializing in over-priced prime rib, burgers and various standby seafood dishes like shrimp scampi. The decor is very reflective of Garrison Keillor's "Lake Wobegon" - wood paneling with a smattering of government issued looking chairs, Little House on the Prairie-ish curtains and a lot of dusty cabinetry. There's a separate bar area that serves up their infamous house drink appropriately named a "Tree-Smacker," a nefarious concoction of various liquors presented in a glass that has to be at least a foot high. After drinking one of those, you do wake up the next day feeling like your head has been smacked against a tree several times.

Anyhow, this year after arriving I found out that both the restaurant and the accompanying convenience market had been sold. After surveying the scene and grabbing dinner there, I determined...hmmm, how can I put this delicately...the new owners are the suck. The bare shelves in the market should have been a dead giveaway as to show how attentive they are to their business, but high on mountain air I failed to register it until later.

At the Lodge, we were seated immediately upon entering then we waited...and waited...and waited. Finally a server approached our table, "Great! We can get some water and even order perhaps!" was what went racing through my naive mind. In reality, the server opened a cabinet behind me to get some wine and ended up smacking the back of my chair several times in her attempt. Whack! Whack! Whack! Hmmm....after three unsuccessful attempts to get the cabinet door open because it kept banging into the back of my chair and stirring up a dust whirlwind Grapes of Wrath-style(ever heard of Pledge and a dustrag?), the server took a step back and actually glared at me. I glared back; finally she inquired whether I'd move so that she could get into the cabinet. It only took her 15 minutes and three door whacks to finally figure this out. After about twenty minutes from the time we were seated had passed we were able to finally place an order. I wish we hadn't. The salad was just large chunks of lettuce with dressing, nothing much else. I had opted for the chicken soup and in my opinion, they would have been better off serving some Campbell's from the can than this swill. T. said her prime rib was okay but in my opinion it had an odd hue to it. My scampi consisted of 4-5 prawns the size of a baby's fist drenched in butter, it was completely devoid of any flavor. The side of "rice pilaf" was just plain white rice. Eager to finish this horrendous meal and escape back to our campground where we could knock back some wine to forget this experience, we tried valiantly to flag down a server. After about a good ten minutes, someone was able to locate her and get our check. For a second or two, I thought it was after her bedtime and she had gone home. The servers working that night all looked like high school students. ABC would have had a field day at this dive, as these youngsters were serving booze to all the customers...a big no-no in the state of California.

That night some bears perused our campground in an effort to find some grub. Had I been a bear I would have been searching the campgrounds too because if the Buck's Lake Lodge was my only other viable food option, I would opt to starve.
2000 Capitol Ave, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 498-9891

Since my Thursday night dining excursion, I've been pondering whether the Waterboy is slipping a bit... it's always been one of my all time favorite Sacramento restaurants but on my last visit, it failed to be the specimen of culinary pleasure that I've come to expect over the years.

I ended up getting there a bit earlier then my dining companions and although I was seated promptly, it was a good ten minutes before I was asked if I would like to order a drink. Not a good way to start off the meal, especially when there were only two or three tables occupied and being busy wasn't an excuse.

We had one friend flake, so I got to dine with two handsome men by myself. Lucky me! ;-) My dining companions and I ended up starting off dinner with the Running Tigers Syrah and two appetizers- the steak tartare and the sauteed sweetbreads. The syrah was on the full-bodied side and if I wasn't mistaken, flaunting a hint of spiciness. The Niman Ranch steak tartar came with shoestring like herb fries, although tasty, proved to be quite difficult to scoop the tartare with. We ended up dipping the fries in the sapid aioli (the condiment being an unanimous table favorite) and using our dinner bread for the tartare in true peasant fashion. The sauteed veal sweetbreads were scrumptious; the rich marsala danced on my tongue in a happy jig...the bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes intertwined themselves in a delicate union of sweet, tangy and smooth flavor simultaneously enhancing the succulent veal treat. Had I not been accompanied by two gentlemen, I would most definitely been sopping up the remnants of the sauce with my bread, in an unladylike manner.

For our second course, we opted to pair our entrees with a bottle of the Whitehall Lane cabernet. Out of the two wines that we ordered, I much preferred this one. The Whitehall Lane was fruit-like and exhibited an extremely smooth finish. (Its heady vapors coupled with its intense ruby hue was mesmerizing, just the type of wine that would be a perfect recommendation for a luxurious, romantic dinner date.) My dining companions chose to order the night's fish special and the rack of lamb. I took the road less traveled and decided upon the Seared Dayboat Scallops. Though designed more for aesthetics then to satiate one's hunger, these scallops were divine. The plump seafood medallions were not overcooked in the least. Coupled with a tomato-saffron risotto that was could stand on its own merits, the dish was "all that and a bag of chips." The garnish of miniature pickled beet wedges, I could have done without.

We concluded with a chocolat tart and a glass each of the Lagavulin 16 year scotch. The scotch tasted a bit "off" to my palate and the dessert, which I only indulged in a bite of, came across as lackluster. To be honest, I can safely say that I've had better tarts from Bel-Air.

Throughout our dinner, we received exemplary service from the secondary service staff (the busboy and the server's assistant). On the other hand, our server was courteous but at times, I felt as though she came across as impatient and distracted. Additionally, she kept fiddling with the blinds behind our table throughout the evening which I found a bit distracting.

Overall, the experience was enjoyable...just not as exemplary as I recall it being. Perhaps it was an off night for the establishment, but with Sacramento slowly becoming populated with high end, fine dining options they need to be more consistent or else they may start losing their loyal customer base.