Restaurant Thir13en

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know that I am not completely impartial to this restaurant. Chef Adam Pechal is a friend of mine. And I’m sure he thanks his lucky stars every day for it. Now onto my evening.)

Restaurant Thir13en, heretofore to be known as simply 13, occupies the area formerly used by Chanterelle in the Sterling Hotel. Being a fan of Tuli and wishing Adam nothing but success, I was very excited to check out his new venture. Going there on a mild summer evening is, in fact, one of the best ways to spend a few hours with close friends, sipping on a glass of wine or a signature cocktail, and leisurely chewing some cheesy comestibles (random Monty Python reference. If you get it, score 5 for no embarrassment, 3 for slight embarrassment… crap, I keep leading you down the garden path, Mrs. Bueller. Wow. I’ll stop.) So when I noticed that they were participating in Sacramento Dine Downtown Week, I was eager to introduce our friends Jeb and Lea, who are new to Sacramento. If you are unfamiliar with Dine Downtown, it is a week (actually ten days, I think) where participating restaurants offer a prix fixe menu of three courses for $30. Many also do wine pairing for an additional $15.

13 has a very cozy feel, with dark woods, a relatively low ceiling, and soft lighting. It is intimate, comfortable, private, yet not isolated. There is also an upstairs dining room that is a new acquisition for the restaurant. Situated off the main foyer of the hotel, it was a hair salon in its previous life. I’d guess they can probably seat about 40, 50 at the most. In order to reach it, you have to go back out the front door, up the stairs and into the hotel through a side stair way. This dining room is enclosed by glass and accessed by two heavy glass doors. On this night there were no available seats; I’m sure Dine Downtown brought out a lot of patrons. This is where we were seated. Immediately, I noticed the noise level. It was nearly impossible for me to hear the other people at our table and it took time to adjust my ears and brain enough to carry on a conversation. Also, the restroom is back out the glass doors, up the stairs, to the left down the hallway, and on the right. There is only one. However, you can also take the elevator back downstairs to use the restrooms in that dining room.

upstairs dining room

upstairs bar area

If you’ve ever been to Tuli, you know they don’t have the ability to serve oysters. Well, 13 does! So here’s our dozen of yummy kumamoto oysters. Instead of the traditional mignonette sauce, 13 serves their oysters with spicy dijonaise and pear prosecco granita. These were not included on the Dine Downtown menu 🙂

Oysters all around!

The first course: 12 Hour Beeler Ranch pork belly with apple “3” ways, parsnips, and bulls blood. This was paired with a chardonnay. Obviously I didn’t order this, so I can’t speak for its flavor or texture. Needless to say, it was a hit with the person who ordered it.

My first course was a beet salad with pistachio-crusted goat cheese, arugula, blood oranges, fennel, tossed with a golden balsamic vinaigrette and paired with a sauvignon blanc. The goat cheese was fabulous. I loved the crunchy texture of the pistachios as a counterpoint to the smooth goat cheese. Calling this a “beet” salad was a bit of a misnomer, however, as it was mostly arugula. I really enjoyed this. It was perfectly dressed and the crouton was also a great addition to add a little bit more crunch to the overall dish.

The second course was a sous vide and seared Passmore Ranch sturgeon perched atop a Tasso-braised rainbow chard, surrounded by a pillow of buttermilk parsnip puree and sunk in a lake of sauce almondine. If you’re wondering what the heck “sous vide” means, check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sous-vide. It was paired with an Orvieto, which is both a growing region in pretty much the middle of Italy, and what they call the wine from that area. It’s a dryer, less sweet wine, and not as heavy or buttery as a lot of chardonnays these days. I enjoyed this dish, but thought it was a tad heavy on the almonds. The puree was smooth, buttery, and was the “glue” that tied in all the flavors. The sturgeon was perfectly prepared.

The meat dish was a sirloin steak from Lucky Dog Ranch, also sous vide and then skillet seared with Oregon blue cheese, butter, a wild mushroom ragout, and whiskey demi and sous vide potatoes. I did have a small bite of this and was good, although Jeb found it to be a tad on the tough side. The flavors, however, were wonderful and it was cooked to exact specifications. This was paired with a Twisted Rivers syrah.

The full vegetarian of our group was given an orecchiette pasta with various veggies. This was perhaps the funniest order ever. When we asked what the vegetarian option was, the server had no idea, since apparently, they hadn’t had anyone request one. After he had found out for us, we were told it was “pasta with vegetables.” What kind of vegetables? “Whatever you see on the menu will probably be in there.” It turned out to be quite tasty, however, and a very large portion that was good enough for another meal. The reason for the caption? The menu said exactly that.

The vegetarian or vegetarian option

Dessert was a deliciously smooth, creamy, and utterly yummy panna cotta with a wedge of strawberry, orange glaze winter citrus, and almond biscotti, paired with a moscato d’asti that was light and refreshing.

panna cotta ftw

The other dessert was a chocolate bread pudding with whiskey sauce and salty caramel ice cream. It was quite a large serving that managed to not be too heavy. The ice cream was a lovely complement.

Chocolate bread pudding

While this was for the Dine Downtown week, however there are plenty of other delicious things to try if any of these dishes aren’t on the menu. The Mac and Cheese is one of my favorite (and I’ve had a lot of mac and cheese!), the scallops are just the perfect mix of sweet and savory, and the Passmore fish is always a good bet. And someone told me the burger was the best he’d ever had.

On this occasion, the service at first, was incredibly slow and the server a little short and brusque. But I know he was incredibly busy, and it got much better as the evening progressed.

So, to recap, request a downstairs seat when you make your reservation (they are on Open Table), order pretty much ANYTHING, and settle in for a fantastic night of food, cocktails, and friends.

Out of five stars:
4.5 stars overall
3.75 for value
3.75 for service
4.5 for food

Thir13en on Urbanspoon

The Porch – Brunch

The Porch – Redux

How did I kick off 2012? With a good ol’ southern style brunch from The Porch.

The first day of 2012 wasn’t just the first day of a new year, it was the first day of brunch for The Porch. Ambitious, right?! Going forward, they will be serving brunch on Sundays.

First off, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. While we chose to sit indoors, when we left, the outside patio (porch) was fully occupied.

There’s no better way to start out the day, and a new year, with a wonderfully presented mimosa! It wasn’t bottomless, which was probably a good thing, but refills are just $3.50.

Kila cava with orange juice

Now came the fun part: the agonizing task of trying of decide what to order. There were several items on the menu that looked fabulous. Which to choose? The vegetarian omelet with mushroom, broccoli, cheese and hollandaise sauce? Or the jambalaya omelet….crawfish and Louisiana red rice and blue crab gravy. Or something simple like grits and eggs? As you can see, the menu isn’t designed for vegetarians, aside from the veggie omelet. After all, this is Southern food, so you have to expect bacon, cheese, and eggs in pretty much everything! However, if you’re pescetarian, you will probably be okay with a few dishes. Plus, you can modify, if need be. However, I might be concerned with cross-contamination. Vegans, stay away! This is NOT the place for you!

The Porch brunch menu

Before bringing out the meal, the chef sent an amuse bouche of bacon infused cornbread muffins with honey and a little bit of a kick. I believe this comes from their jalapeno butter!

Super crabby crab cakes with a lemon and mustard hollandaise sauce, applewood smoked bacon, and potatoes that had a delicate vinegar flavor. This was absolutely delicious. The crab cakes were, well, super crabby! No skimping on the meat in these suckers! The hollandaise sauce was very unique, as were the potatoes. They were actually unlike any standard breakfast potato I’d ever had.

Eggs and biscuit, with The Porch gravy, andouille sausage and house potatoes.

I like to do it my own way… Okay, so this is how I’m like a “Sally”: If they don’t have a dish I like, I make my own! Side of cheesy grits, with biscuits and blue crab gravy. The grits were really authentic. I could feel and see the corn kernels. They make them savory, and I don’t know if they have a sweet option. As for the biscuits and gravy? Holy shmoley these were good. Three huge biscuits and a crock of gravy that was so full of bad stuff, it almost turned healthy. I was eating these for three days! The gravy is almost reminiscent of some kind of amazing, ridiculously thick chowder, minus the potatoes. It’s delicately seasoned, so as not to overpower the crab flavor, with an amazing texture that worked awesome with the crunchy exterior of the biscuits.

Because he is such a fan and wanted to share them, the server brought out ramekins of their apple blueberry jam and huckleberry jam for the biscuits. I really liked the huckleberry jam, but I said, screw the fruit, gimme the fat! Both jams are made in house. They try to do pretty much everything on the premises and are very adamant about sourcing their meats and produce from local purveyors. In fact, the server whipped out his cheat sheet to tell me the exact name and location of where they get their pork, chicken, beef, and anything else I might be wondering about.

Some of the items on the brunch menu are also on their lunch/dinner menu, like the Porch Burger, Seafood Cobb Salad, and Shrimp and Grits. Just like with dinner, it’s likely you will get two meals out of this!

If you’re looking for a fun place for brunch, check it out. It’s not someplace I would regularly visit, just because it is a tad pricey and the food is a bit too rich for me (insert: fattening!), but it’s super tasty and fun for special treat.

http://www.theporchsacramento.com/index.html

The Porch on Urbanspoon

The Porch – Dinner

Where, oh, where to go eat in Midtown? So many favorite spots! Although I hadn’t been there for a while, Celestin’s had been a fun place with a funky vibe and a long time staple on “K” Street. So I was a bit disappointed to hear they had decided to close down. However, when it was announced that the Capitol Garage owners were opening up a Southern cuisine restaurant in its place, I was thrilled! After having spent my undergrad years at a school that straddled the food line of spicy Southern and bland upper-midwestern, I was looking forward to a place that could make hush puppies, fried okra, and grits. I was hoping The Porch could deliver.

What is immediately different from Celestin’s is the facade. Gone is the yellowish plaster with the flowery painting. In its place is a white picket fence, the outside eating space designed to resemble a wrap-around porch you might find on any plantation house in Georgia. Upon entering, the space is airy and bright, with a lovely colored laminate floor, dark wood crown moulding, and eating spaces separated by tempered glass partitions.

As we were shown to our seats, we ran into a couple of friends whom we never bump into out on the town, so that was quite a lovely surprise! Once we were seated, we received a small serving of muffaletta spread, which is pretty much an olive tapenade, but different, flavor wise. I suppose this could be considered the amuse bouche. Then came the difficult selection of beverage. The owners consulted with a good ol’ southern bartender to craft their artisan cocktails. Briana had The Southern Mule, while I enjoyed a One Burnt Orange: Stoli Ohranj vodka, house made blood orange puree, fresh squeezed lemon, topped with Victory stout beer. Most of these handcrafted libations include bourbon, a true testament to its Southern roots! These aren’t your ordinary cocktails, my friends. These are unique, fun, and delicious sipping drinks to enjoy over a lazy dinner… also nice and Southern!

I ordered the Oyster Po’ Boy: A soft loaf of French bread lined with crab mayo and stuffed with cornmeal fried oysters, lettuce, avocado, white cheddar, apple wood bacon (which I removed), and pickled onions. Usually this is done with shrimp, but for some reason, they didn’t have any. Because I’m a sucker for mac and cheese, I indulged in a side of skillet macaroni and cheese. Briana got the sturgeon, which was pan fried with a cornmeal crust and served atop creamy white cheddar grits and garnished with tomato & corn relish. She couldn’t resist ordering a side of collard greens.

After our meal was finished (we also had it for lunch the next day), we joined our friends in the bar area for an evening (well, okay, we closed it down!) of drinks, laughter, and chatting… just what I imagine a night in the South is like.

Overall, I give this place 3.5 stars. The entrees are pretty pricey: $14 for a burger up to $24 for fish, but the portions are hefty and the sides and salads are reasonably priced.

http://www.theporchsacramento.com/index.html

The Porch on Urbanspoon

Birthday at The Kitchen

So here’s my first post…

And I think it’s appropriate that my first post would be to share one of my favorite experiences!

After celebrating my last birthday with a night of pizza, wine, and karaoke with about 35 of my closest friends, I decided this year would be something a bit more mellow and with just one special person. This year, I decided to revisit one of the happiest places on earth for a food-aholic like me.

I present to you… my evening at The Kitchen!

First off, finding it can be a bit of a challenge. It’s located off Howe and Hurley in an unmarked building across from a strip mall that includes a Ross and a Subway. You know you are going to be well taken care of; there is a security attendant monitoring the lot at all times.

We entered through large glass doors to be greeted by one of the staff. Long white curtains partially obscure the entry from the parking lot, adding to the air of exclusivity, as if you are stepping from the world of the mundane and ordinary into one of sheer delight and imagination. “Pladson,” I reply when asked for the reservation. We are shown to our seats at the end of the bar, my favorite place to sit to watch the action. It was also a pleasant surprise, since I was told there were no available seats there when I made my request.

The stage has been set: All spectators are seated. The players are waiting in the wings to get the proverbial show on the road. The room is pervaded with smells of exotic mushrooms cooking down to a delicate reduction, onion soup that has been simmering for hours… slow roasted beef tenderloin waiting to be carefully sliced and married with sauteed brussel sprouts and green peppercorn sauce.

Our guide on this gastronomic adventure of epic proportion is Noah Zonca, Chef de Cuisine. Not only does he speak in the language of food as experience, but he is a consummate performer, a chaperon who not only tickles your tongue and stomach, but your funny bone as well. Noah grandiosely explains what lies in store for us and we wait, expectantly… hungrily!

Yes, this isn’t just a regular meal… this is a night where food is the headlining act. This is a night where the staff of The Kitchen takes you on a seven act play of culinary delights.

The Playbill!

The only way to start out the night is with a glass of sparkling wine. Douglas, the wine steward, recommended a delicious Brut from Domaine Carneros.

Just as the last drops of this delight were being emptied from the glass, the first course was being plated:  Randall’s French Onion Soup with Swiss Gruyere and Black Truffle. This was not your ordinary French Onion soup. This was created using a variety of onions including yellow and pearl onions, cipollini and chives, all from local farmers markets, and cooked down with red and white wines, cognac, and port. I think Noah may have said there was some whiskey involved as well!

French Onion Soup at The Kitchen

After that heavenly experience came the salad course. By now we decided to open up a bottle of Frank Family chardonnay, a housewarming gift from some dear friends. It made me realize that it had been a long time since I had had a truly delicious chardonnay! It went wonderfully with the frisee and endive salad. This was a harmony of the bitter endive, the texture of the frisee, the crunch of Chandler walnuts from Lodi, the pomegranate sauce (sourced from their receptionist’s yard!), the sweetness of apples from Apple Hill, and the smoothness of Central Point blue cheese, a subtle and not overpowering blue from Oregon. To top it off, lardo made by Noah’s sous, Stan, made it one of the most decadent and texturally interesting salads I had had in a long time!

Plating:

Frisee and endive salad

The finished product:

Endive and frisee salad

Next came the Intermezzo: Sushi, Sashimi, and Crudo. Unfortunately they ran short on oysters, but the albacore, hamachi, and maguro were heavenly… THIS is what sushi is supposed to be like. The tuna was some of the most flavorful and delectable I had ever had. There were some sushi rolls, however the sashimi was definitely aces for me!

After this course was finished, Number Three was up. This was by far my favorite: The Kitchen’s Dungeness Crab-Maine Lobster “Melt.” A delicate puff pastry lazily housed a butter-poached Maine lobster and dungeness crab mixture which included house preserved lemon and Modesto sourced goat cheese for an even richer flavor. It was surrounded by chervil water and caviar.

Lobster and Crab "Melt"

By now, we were ready for some red wine. Douglas recommended a bright, cheery, non-earthy Pinot Noir for the occasion: Lady Slipper from the Carneros appellation.

The main meat course was up next! I did not partake fully (more on that later!), so instead of the regular dish, the expert cooks whipped up a peppercorn crusted seared ahi for me. But first, let’s get to the dish! This was a slice of sheer heaven for any carnivore. Beef from Montana Ranch was grilled, then slow roasted at a low temperature before making its way to us, medium rare. While I would be appalled at anyone cooking this any longer, they are more than happy to accommodate anyone who wants their tenderloin burnt to a crisp! It was crusted in ground telecherry peppercorns and set atop a poached egg sauce and a reduction of some kind. The coup de grace, however, were the frittes. These were slices of potatoes fried, not in zero transfat vegetable oil. No. These were fried in pork and duck fat, yielding the most flavorful, crunchy fries imaginable. You could cut the beef with a fork, trust me, I tried. Indeed, it was so tender, I bet you could cut it with a rubber coated toddler spoon.

Plating:

Plating the meat course, take 1

Plating the meat course, take 2

Plating - Done!

The finished product!

Beef tenderloin

They made a special peppercorn crusted ahi tuna for me:

Seared ahi tuna

But I just couldn’t resist!

And then came the white-gloved tea service. And when they say “white glove,” they mean it. The “tea dude” has monogrammed white gloves. Not only do they serve excellent French press coffee, they are expert tea “makers,” with herbs and teas they grow. They’ll also create any blend you wish and steep it not a second too long, or too short. This is where iPhones came in handy!

I selected Nancy’s Blend, an amazing mixture of herbal teas, the majority of which was lavender.

Nancy's Blend tea

And finally dessert!

Toasted macadamia nut-warm chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream, coconut foam and a sugared tuile.

Dessert

The evening finally wound down as people slowly filtered out, their bellies full and minds quieted by wine and chocolate. We hung back, taking our time and chatting with Chef Noah. It wasn’t until after midnight when we finally exited “Disneyland for Foodies” and headed back home.

The man himself… Randall, who spent a ton of time with us, chatting about everything from his kids to social media. When we ran into him at Selland’s a few days later, he remembered us, introduced us to his son Josh, and even remembered that we were there for my birthday… and he remembered my name.

Randall the man!

The entire philosophy of The Kitchen is mi casa es su casa. They encourage you to wander around the kitchen, enjoy a glass of wine by the fireplace on the patio, even chop a few things, if you want. Because everything is prepared before your eyes, you get a feel for the time, effort, and care they put in every single dish. They are attentive, gracious, and eager to tell you all about what you’re eating. Here are some shots from within.

While it is not cheap to experience The Kitchen, it is well worth every penny for foodies. You can return to any course you wish (I had seconds of the Third Act!) and even repeat the entire menu if you want to. I have no idea if anyone ever has… I’ll just have to remember to ask Randall next time I visit!

http://www.thekitchenrestaurant.com/

The Kitchen Restaurant on Urbanspoon