The Farmers Market, Vendors from Capay, ©Lee Foster

The Farmers Market, Vendors from Capay, ©Lee Foster

“Dallying in Davis”

by Georgia I. Hesse

Something in the water (and maybe in the wine) of Yolo County leads the locals to appreciate aphorisms and to post them in public places where they can be smiled (or grimaced) at by travelers passing through as well as students in temporary residence at the University of California at Davis, the largest UC campus.

On occasion the postings are less aphorisms than admonitions, witness the sign dangling overhead at Caffé Italia, a skip from the reception desk at University Inn and Suites, just off I-80 in Davis. “If you’re drinking to forget,” it counsels, “please pay in advance.”

I had checked in on Friday in order to enjoy April 13th’s very creative meeting, largely the work of BATW President Ginny Prior and Alan Humason, executive director of Yolo County Visitors Bureau, itself an Associate member of BATW. That proved a wise move, as Saturday was as stuffed as an olive with intriguing events, several centered at the on-campus Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science.

At 10 a.m., we noshed on fresh nibbles, cogitated upon the customary business blurbs, were welcomed by Richard Bellows of nearby Woodland and its Stroll Through History tours, then inspected the institute and learned how to taste olive oils (fresh, bitter, grassy) with the guidance of Dan Flynn of the Olive Center.

Davis Farmers Market in Central Park offered a divertissement of delectables: fresh figs, berries, nuts, honey, cheeses, and everywhere on that day, asparagus. My boxed lunch from the outdoor stand of Kathmandu Kitchen – cubed lamb, garlic, cumin, and that asparagus – could not have been better had it come from a Nepali hideaway. (At our picnic table, Sandy Sims waxed lyrical about the cuisine consumed the night before at Little Prague: pork schnitzel or Vepřový řízek it may have been.) Whatever happened to biscuits and gravy? Who cares?

BATW President Ginny Prior tries out a "big wheel" at the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame

BATW President Ginny Prior tries out a “big wheel” at the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame

And the day danced on. The U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame showed off one of the world’s best collections of big (and little) wheels, awards and apparel from cyclists such as Greg LeMond and Eric Heiden.

At the Davis Transmedia Art Walk, the nation’s first collection of public downtown artworks, cell phone scanners using RFID chips can lead viewers to videos of the artists at work and other high-tech sites.

As always, time ran short before the attractions did. I was thankful I had arrived early to explore, for the first time, the little town of Winters (pop. 6,624), lined along Main Street with historical treasures such as the Opera House and the Hotel de Vilbiss where John deVilbiss began construction in 1889 on what became the showplace of the west Sacramento Valley. Passenger trains brought businessmen from the East to lounge in its ornate lobby, sleep in its 40 luxurious rooms, and dine on dishes prepared by the Montegue Patent French Range in the kitchen. Today it houses the Buckhorn Steak and Roadhouse. Across Main Street, the Putah Creek Café attracts the kinds of acclaim awarded by Zagat to small, fine dining spots in Sonoma-Napa.

In mid-afternoon, I munched chicken nuggets at Chuy’s Taqueria and, down the hall past the lighted Ave Maria painting, spotted my first regional aphorism: “It costs nothing to dream and everything not to.”

Sunday breakfast back at Davis’ Caffé Italia: I might have been away from San Francisco for a week, with fresh asparagus and strawberries on the inventive menu. The sign bobbing above my head read, “I know I’m in my own little world but it’s O.K. They know me here.”


[Ed. Note: Photo of Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science on homepage also by Lee Foster.]