Bold actions are always inspiring, and they can be found in the most unusual places.
I recently found myself inspired by the boldness of Michael Tuohy, chef of the new Grange Restaurant & Bar, located
on the ground floor of the 198-room Citizen Hotel in downtown Sacramento.
My inspiration stems from Tuohy’s unflinching vision of seamlessly executed dishes, built upon carefully selected, locally grown and produced ingredients and served from early morning until late in the evening, seven days a week. It’s dizzying to ponder the scope of his challenge. On each of my four visits, staff members spoke wonderingly about the “Energizer Bunny” chef who “never leaves.” And they weren’t wrong: Tuohy was there on most of my visits—both morning and evening—dressed in a crisp chef’s jacket, brow furrowed in concentration as he expedited plate after plate of his farm-centered fare. As a past owner of a small food business, I know what it’s like to be inexplicably fueled by exhaustion when you are in the grip of this kind of a pursuit.
Tuohy has certainly picked a grand venue for his bold vision, a stunning, Gothamesque space dominated by stately concrete pillars. The columns are actually the support structures for the once-exterior wall of this 1925 building at the corner of 10th and J. The space has been extended out beyond its original boundaries, and the design of the sleek glass-and-steel addition provides an arresting juxtaposition to the historic formality of the building from which it sprouts. If you’re seated at the windows facing 10th Street, gaze upward and you will see the exquisite flourishes and details of the facade once admired from the sidewalk. Striated wood floors add a lively zing to the room, while gorgeous light fixtures lend a romantic cast to the darkish space. A New Orleans-inspired mezzanine, featuring a delicate, lacy metal grill, looms prettily over the bustling bar. Grange’s private party room, located on the mezzanine, is constructed with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Resembling an elegant, people-size fishbowl, it provides some interesting visuals for those below.
Tuohy’s focus on farm-to-table cuisine is nothing new; in fact, it’s the central theme of many fine restaurants today. However, I get the sense that it’s a personal mission for the Bay Area-bred chef. He received numerous accolades for his promotion of local producers at his recently sold restaurant, Woodfire Grill, in Atlanta. And I watched him at a Slow Food event not long after he arrived back in California as he peppered strangers seated around him with questions about Sacramento-region farms and products.
Tuohy’s vision is bold, and so is his food. You’ll know what I mean when you sample his spicy housemade fennel sausage, so deliciously robust I felt I had leapt into a Godfather film; or the grilled Sacramento River sturgeon, a firm-fleshed fish served with a brisk olive and caper salsa. There was a bracing, enticingly bitter arugula and radicchio salad, rounded out and sweetened with a fig balsamic vinaigrette; and a slow-smoked hunk of pork, whose texture was too dry for my liking but which had a stunning, sexy-smoky flavor.
I loved his farm-on-a-plate vegetable assortment, featuring four distinct heaps: puréed, ethereally creamy roasted butternut squash; sweet roasted chunks of parsnip; sharply flavored sautéed mustard greens; and a tangy pile of teeny lentils, punctuated by perfectly diced carrots and celery. Other knockouts included a breakfast frittata loaded with marvelous housemade chorizo, and a slickly textured tuna tartare, stacked with slivers of creamy avocado and adorned with jewel-like satsuma mandarin segments. Even Tuohy’s butter has attitude. Infused with herbes de Provence, it offers up a deep lavender hit that catapulted me back 10 years to a drowsy afternoon I once spent in a small village in southern France.
Curiously, what isn’t bold is somewhat lackluster, and often dry. A vibrant bowl of citrus zest- and anise-flecked olives was served with leathery, overly grilled flatbread; the slow-smoked pork was accompanied by bland, buttery grits.
Several desserts fell into the dry category: A warm sticky toffee pudding cake lacked the moisture you’d expect from such a cake, though it was served with a lovely sauté of apples and raisins. And a slab of lemon meringue cake, though delightfully embellished with a toasty waggle of meringue, was equally dry. Other desserts were more appealing. Try pastry chef Elaine Baker’s vanilla cheesecake, a pristine dome surrounded by spackles of a beautiful pomegranate glaze and flanked by intensely flavored honey-spiced quince slices; or the mousselike bittersweet chocolate and espresso bombe, served with crunchy hazelnut brittle and espresso sabayon.
Tuohy and the enthusiastic staff are eager for you to remember the small-farm connection at this elegant venue. In fact, the restaurant’s name was chosen to reflect that connection. (In the past, the grange hall was the center of a farming community.) Dreamy old photos of a local grange hall and a cluster of beaming “peach girls” are sweet reminders that the sophisticated fare is construct-ed from good, honest ingredients. If you can acknowledge that farm-to-table relationship while relishing the food you have ordered, then Tuohy’s bold leap into Sacramento’s hotel foodscape might just be a triumphant one.
It’s a deal: Every night, there’s a different three-course meal for two for just $45. Thursday is fried chicken, Saturday is smoke-roasted prime rib, and Sunday is the locavore-friendly “everything from within 100 miles.”
Wines: All the wines are from California—and there are some exciting selections.
926 J St., Sacramento; (916) 492-4450; grangesacramento.com l Hours: Breakfast Monday–Friday 6:30–10:30 a.m., Saturday 7:30–11:30 a.m.; lunch Monday–Friday 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Sunday–Thursday 5:30–10 p.m., Friday–Saturday 5:30–11 p.m.; brunch Sunday 8 a.m.–2 p.m.; bar menu (includes lunch items) Saturday 11:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sunday 2–5 p.m. l Prices: $$$