Okay, so this place isn’t exactly on the grid, but it is so worth getting into a car to get there. It was a complete surprise to me… we were driving into the “ghetto” and I was like, where the heck are we going? But it’s Cinco de Mayo and I’m kind of glad that I’m not out and about on the grid, although laughing at all the drunk people celebrating a holiday they really know nothing about would have been mildly entertaining.

Located right on the corner of Del Paso and Arden Way, it’s pretty easy to find. Not only that, but the facade is a pinkish plaster, with greenish trim that also makes it pretty tough to miss. It is reminiscent of a soda shop circa 1955. Word to the wise… use the valet parking. At a mere five dollars, it’s worth it to not have to roam around trying to find a parking spot and then figuring out how to get to the restaurant in an area that is, um, less than ideal.

As we walked in, we were immediately greeted by the hostess. She welcomed us with a smile, a “how are you this evening,” and showed us through the bar area, where a band was setting up, down a long hallway (the large courtyard area is on the right hand side), and through another door into the dining room. It is a relatively small, intimate dining room. We were seated in the most private area, at a table in a corner surrounded by wine lockers. I saw labels I knew, like Bogle, Frank Family, and Rombauer, and others from undiscovered international makers. All told, I estimated there were probably 250 varieties. I also estimated that they would notice if I broke into one and helped myself.

Once we were seated, water immediately followed. She was super sweet and complimented my clutch (kate spade Gia, sparkly), which she said she saw from across the room and loved. Naturally, I felt we bonded over that. Soon after, our server stopped by. Ramon explained the specials for the evening, asked if we had any questions, took our wine to their storage to keep it cold, and was generally one of the most attentive, nice, friendly servers I’ve had! He explained his philosophy: attentive, but not hover, and all it takes is a glance his direction to bring him to your table. It really was true. I happened to look up as he was walking by and he came straight over. He was also there to open the door for me to get to the restroom down the hall. Impressive? I think so. But let’s get to the food and wine, shall we?!

We began with a dozen oysters. They were served with sherry mignonette and a wedge of lemon. The mignonette was a bit too heavy on the sherry, but the oysters were so delicious, I didn’t even need it. Unfortunately, I was so ravenous I forgot to ask what kind of oysters these were. Suffice it to say, they were the yummy kind.

And what do you have to drink with oysters? Bubbles, of course! This was their flight of bubbles, and at $12.50, I believe, it was well worth it! On the left is NV Varichon & Clerc Privelegè, a blanc de blancs brut from Savoie, France. Pale in color, refreshing and light. Next was a 2009 Gérard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux brut Rosé from Limoux, France. Last was a Pierre Morlet Grand Réserve Premier Cru Brut from Aveny-Val-d’Or. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on champagne for the deets on the different kinds.

My bubbles!!!!

Following up the palate teasing oysters came lemon gnocchi with wild mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and a sage cream sauce. This was utterly sublime. The amount of lemon was perfect to cut through the fat of the cream sauce, which was awesome! Not too heavy… just right. Perfectly balanced and I think I could have eaten a couple bowls of this deliciousness!

For our next course, we had an heirloom beet salad. Baby spinach sat atop red and gold beets on a delightful bed of lemon chevre mousse, and topped with crunchy, sweet candied walnuts. The only criticism I had about this was there was a tad too much dressing… but I am definitely a believer of less is more when it comes to dressing. Regardless, though, it was delicious! And without us even requesting it, they split the plate for us.

Enough food nonsense, what comes after bubbles? White! Oh wait, we went with… Red! I freely admit that I am expanding my world and trying to enjoy Pinots a bit more. I’ve had way too many that were more barnyard-y than my aunt and uncle’s farm in Iowa, and tasted more like dirt than the dirt I probably ate when I was a kid. So, in the interest of discovering some Pinots that I actually like, we ordered a fight. 2009 Vavasour Pinot Noir from Awatere Valley, New Zealand. 2008 Miura from Monterey. 2010 Belle Glos Meiomi from three counties, which is the Caymus Pinot Noir project. Again, here’s the Wiki entry on Pinot Noir. I’m sure you’re all dying to know which one I liked the best, and the award goes to the Belle Glos Meiomi.

For the main dishes, first up is grilled ohno. Here’s where I have my first big fat blogger FAIL. Since I didn’t order this, I didn’t write any notes on it, even though I had a couple… okay, a bunch, of bites. My mouth was in heaven with this fish and my brain was too busy processing the flavors to remember what a pen was. All I know is that it was utterly delicious. Other than that… well, I guess you’ll just have to go there and see if they still have it! Although, you might be SOL, because it was the fish special of the night.

Instead of having identical dishes on the table, I opted for the Vegetable Risotto. It included butternut squash, spinach, roasted pearl onions, wild mushrooms, and was topped with chili threads and shaved parmesan. I admit it, after trying the fish special, 90 percent of this ended up in a to-go box. Plus I was extremely full from the oysters, the gnocchi, and the salad. However, it was fabulous. The texture of the rice was spot on and all the flavors and textures of the other ingredients worked extremely well together.

None of the desserts on the menu were really speaking to us, so we went with the cheese plate, at Ramon’s suggestion. There was a Point Reyes Blue, triple cream Brie, and something else I can’t remember. Again, blogger FAIL! But this really was the perfect way to end the meal.

With the cheese platter came our final wine flight of dessert wines. 2010 Fratelli Oddero, a Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont, Italy. Next is a 2000 Terrabianca Il Fior di Fino, Trebbiano/Malvasia from Tuscany, Italy. And finally a 2009 Littorai Lemon’s Folly, a late harvest white from Sonoma: 92% Gewürtztraminer, 5% Chenin blanc and 3% Sauvignon blanc. I think of these, I liked the Moscato the best.

I can’t even begin to tell you how stellar the service is at this place. Ramon was absolutely flawless, as were the support staff. He even recommended a place for us to go hiking on the coast near Cowgirl Creamery. What sent me over the edge was when I asked for a menu and he returned with it, presented like this:

Note on the wine flights: I highly recommend these, no matter where you go. It’s a great way to taste wine of the same varietal that comes from different places in the world, and even different regions within the same area. For instance, you could taste a Chardonnay from the Carneros in Napa, one from Monterey, and one from Sonoma. Or Zinfandels from three different parts of the world. You might also taste three completely different wines, but that all share a common theme, like the dessert wines I tried this evening.

Overall: 5/5
Price: $$$$/$$$$$
Service: 5/5
Ambience: 4/5 (There were only a half dozen tables occupied when we were there, so I’m not sure about noise level or vibe on a crazy busy night.)

1431 Del Paso Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95815
phone: 916.922.6792
email: enotria@enotria.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EnotriaWinebar
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/ENOTRIAwinebar

Enotria Restaurant and Winebar on Urbanspoon


Blackbird Kitchen + Bar

On the arguably hottest day of (the ridiculously early) spring, I decided it sounded like a great idea to ride my bike all the way to Blackbird Kitchen + Bar, a new restaurant in downtown. Yah… not so much. But the fact that I was sweaty, hungry, and in desperate need of something cold to drink wasn’t going to dampen my excitement! I couldn’t wait to try this new spot that looked like it had all the makings for a great new haunt. And let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed.

Located on 9th between J and K, you can’t miss the facade. It’s quite stunning, in fact. The mural is at the same time noticeable, and yet not. Okay, so I guess you can miss it, because I rode my bike past it without even knowing it. Then when I crossed the street to park my bike, I was stunned I hadn’t noticed it before. Open your eyes, Quaid, open your eyes. Okay, I know he says “mind,” but just go with me here.

Upon walking in, I immediately felt the vibe of the place: fun, accessible, and, I can’t think of any other word to use… “nice.” The intial “taste” of a restaurant you get is the first person you see when you walk through the door. How you are greeted can set the stage for the entire experience and make or break it for me. On this evening, the hostess was ready with a friendly smile and gave me even better news: we were getting the last table. I guess the patron saint of Women-who-stupidly-think-it’s-a-great-idea-to-bike-across-town-on-a-freakishly-hot-day-in-April was watching over me.

Chef/owner Carina Lampkin gets inspiration from the sea and the local farmers’ market. Which, along with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,  just happen to be two of my favorite things.  It’s a great place for a pescetarian like me. If you’re a full-on vegetarian… maybe not so much. The vegetarian items include a salad and a soup, which is typically served with an egg. However, if you enjoy the bounty of the sea (try saying that seriously without laughing), then this is the place for you.

Happy hour is a fabulous time to try it out. Their offerings include $1 miyagi oysters, $2 fish tacos, and $5 lobster mini roll. For the drinkers out there, they have $4 glasses of red or white (these supposedly change daily), $4 margaritas, and $3 beer. The full menu is also available, so you can mix and match to your heart’s content.

Today, we decided to go with 6 miyagi, and mix with 4 beau soleil and 4 kumamotos. They’re served with the traditional accoutrements of mignonette, lemon, and cocktail sauce. I really enjoy tasting a restaurant’s mignonette and this was quite good!

Kumamoto and Beau soleil

As for the other two selections, the aforementioned fish taco and lobster roll filled the bill. The lobster roll is on griddled brioche with upland cress. I really enjoyed this, though wish I could have gotten two. Two for the price of $10 was a bit much for me to swallow, however, no pun intended. The fish tacos were really tasty… fried cod with cabbage and a chipotle crema. The fish was crunchy, without being overly breaded, and the proportions were perfect. Not too much cabbage, not too little spread.

It was a difficult decision of what to get from the regular menu, but we settled on arctic char and dayboat scallops. I was extremely curious about the arctic char after seeing on the menu online and knew I had to get this. It’s served with housemade kimchi, a honey-soy reduction, micro cilantro, and black lava salt.

It’s difficult to properly cook scallops and even more challenging, I suppose, to find scallops that are good enough to serve raw. This dish was served with a green pea puree, pink peppercorns, and asparagus, with lemon oil. The textural variety on this was excellent. The softness of the scallops was perfectly balanced by the crunchiness of the asparagus. There was also a special surprise of a bit of radish to really add more punch to it and balance the sweetness of the scallops.

Moving on to ambience and service. These were both stellar. The server, whom I had known from another restaurant, was spot on with everything. The only negative I could say would be the noise level. We were seated upstairs against the back wall, with sound freely bouncing off the walls. This was only punctuated by the shrill voice of a woman at the table next to us.

Upstairs – lady with shrill voice not pictured

I am anxious to go back and try out their cooked items, like the asparagus soup, beer popped mussels, lobster and beet salad, and squid ink fettucini. Oh and the applewood smoked clam and seafood chowder. And the kona kampachi… and the… okay, pretty much everything but the blackbird burger, which, if I ate beef, sounds delish (bacon, avo, onion, white cheddar, pickled vegetables).

Overall: 4.5/5
Food: 4.5/5
Ambience: 4/5
Price: $$.5/5 (note: the two non-happy hour plates we got were $9, which is incredible for what you’re getting. Good luck getting the quality and amount at a place like Mikuni. In addition to that, the oysters are very competitively priced.)
Service:  4.5/5

Happy hour: Tues-Fri, 4:00-6:00
1015 9th Street
website: blackbird-kitchen.com
Facebook: facebook.com/BlackbirdKitchenBar
Twitter: twitter.com/#!/blackbirdflock

I don’t know if they take reservations or not. But go check it out… but don’t take my table! ;-p

Looking down onto the bar

How did I miss this facade?!

Blackbird Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon