Eating Out: Tamale competition benefits Dan Brown fund

The Fresno BeeDecember 11, 2012 

Think you make the best tamales around? Let's find out.

The first Tamale Throwdown event happens Sunday, when cooks will compete for bragging rights and cash, and the public can sample all kinds of tamales and drink beer.

The event runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, at Bella Frutta, 2917 E. Shepherd (at Willow) in Clovis.

The Casa de Tamales restaurant on West Shaw Avenue is hosting the event and will sell sampler plates of five half-size tamales for $10.

Owner Liz Sanchez is using the event to debut some new tamales, including a braised pork and bacon tamale and a Napa Valley tamale soup.

Non-professional cooks are asked to prepare a dozen tamales for the competition. The deadline to enter is today, so head over to TamaleThrowdown.com if you want to sign up.

Money raised goes to the Dan Brown Legacy Fund, named after the former Fresno State assistant football coach who died of brain cancer. The fund helps people with brain tumors stay in Fresno for treatment.

Bella Frutta was a logical choice for the fundraiser. Vincent Ricchiuti, a member of the family who owns it, used to work with Brown as assistant director of football operations. Brown's widow, Mindy Brown, works at the store and fruit stand when she has time.

Details: TamaleThrowdown.com.

-- You may have noticed a new sign outside The Venue, the restaurant, bar and hookah bar at Palm and Nees avenues.

The Venue is still there and open, but owner Vahan Panossian decided to make some tweaks to the restaurant. The five-star restaurant concept he planned didn't work out, and some people thought The Venue was just a night club.

So Panossian changed the name of the restaurant to Lula's Mediterranean Grill. The more casual concept has a smaller menu, featuring dishes such as lamb shank baked with tomatoes, onions and bell peppers, and fish kebab, a sturgeon fillet served with tahini.

The restaurant still has a large selection of appetizers, including hummus sautéed with ground beef and Armenian sausage.

The Venue, with its bar and hookah lounge, remains the same.

-- And some sad news: Victoria Rose Restaurant is closing Dec. 23.

Owner Nathan Lewis-Copeland said he's just not getting enough customers to keep it going.

"The majority of it is the economy," he said. "People don't have the discretionary income to go out and out enjoy lunch and dinner."

He took over the restaurant, the former Victoria Rose Cottage at 356 Pollasky Avenue, two years ago. Lewis-Copeland kept the tea and added an espresso bar and an emphasis on local and organic meat and vegetables.

Locally raised himself, Lewis-Copeland will head to San Diego for a week to visit his sisters and nieces before figuring out his next move.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6431, bclough@fresnobee.com or @BethanyClough on Twitter.

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