Ever tasted a salad of tender mixed greens with fresh pear slices, pomegranate seeds, pecan halves, and crumbled feta or bleu cheese, laced with a tangy, fruity vinaigrette dressing?
Do you love dipping chunks of crusty artisan bread in olive oil flavored with crushed pepper or fresh rosemary?
Perhaps the highlight of your meal is something to sink your teeth into. Do grilled chops, blackened steak, skewered shrimp or pasta piled high in a thick, meaty sauce appeal to you?
Or maybe you skip dinner altogether as you travel the globe in search of the most delectable dessert? How does warm chocolate croissant bread pudding served with chocolate chip brownie ice cream sound?
January is the month-long celebration of great food in California. Restaurants all over the state are offering special menu items and prices to lure customers to their dining tables. Find details online at, http://www.visitcalifornia.com/restaurant-month/about.
It's no wonder California is a becoming a foodie destination. Besides notable restaurants in San Diego, Los Angeles and Monterey, Northern California has some of the best places to eat in the country.
This state leads the nation in crop and livestock commodities for more than 70 products, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Also known for popular beaches, celebrities and Hollywood, the Golden State produces nearly half of all nuts, vegetables, and fruits grown in the United States.
Creative chefs enjoy adding California-grown ingredients to their culinary masterpieces.
Even some smaller communities around the state boast superb dining experiences.
Of Mariposa's 20 restaurants, Sugar Pine Cafe ranked in the top three. Some come to the cafe for classic American burgers, steaks and fries. Others want the comfort of homemade soup and warm-from-the-oven pies and pastries. Located right on the main thoroughfare through downtown Mariposa, this friendly diner is a local favorite.
Dazzle's Donuts and Pastries ranked high for its raised, glazed old-fashioned donuts, apple fritters and cinnamon rolls. Repeat customers appreciate the cappuccino and other hot beverages on the menu. Dazzle's is new to the community and has already gained a loyal following.
Savoury's came out on top as Mariposa's best spot for dining. Offering a casual yet tasteful atmosphere with sophisticated cuisine and wines from local vintners, Savoury's will not disappoint.
In Tuolumne County, several restaurants in the cities of Groveland, Standard, Jamestown and Sonora are participating in a special Restaurant Week later this month, Jan. 20-26.
Sonora's The Homeplace serves Montezuma Ranch free-range beef for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Cellar Door at the Victorian-style Groveland Hotel offers fine dining with rack of lamb, gourmet cheeses and vegetarian options, as well as chocolate and wine pairings.
Chef Christopher Segarini of Christopher's Ristorante Italiano prepares meals you'll not forget. From traditional Italian entrées to contemporary California cuisine, downtown Sonora is the place for memorable dining and catering.
The Willow Steakhouse and Seafood Grille in Jamestown serves up history along with its famous cheese fondue. The Willow has been in business for 150 years. Certified Angus Beef and fresh seafood keep customers coming back.
During Tuolumne County's Restaurant Week, some gourmet "prix fixe" dinners will be offered
for $25. Visit www.yosemitegoldcountry.com/restaurantweek for more information.
Like a lot of us who only exercise in order to eat what we want, you may consider scheduling a few calorie-burning hikes this month in between your dining excursions.
Tourist season is past, the crowds are gone and hotel rates are at their lowest. Bundle yourself against winter's chill and take a drive. California's Gold Country has much to offer, including distinctive flavors to excite your taste buds.
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.