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If you're looking for dazzling culinary artistry, head to Ambience in Carmichael for one of chef/owner Morgan Song's five- or seven-course fixed-price meals. Song creates complex, visually stunning dishes that often elicit gasps of appreciation from diners. The wine-pairing option with each of the courses is a fun way to be introduced to new varietals, producers and food/wine partnerships. Song often serves game such as wild boar, rabbit or venison. Courses are modestly sized, so you should have plenty of room for one of the intricate desserts. (Baked Alaska is a signature item.)
6440 FAIR OAKS BLVD., CARMICHAEL; (916) 489-8464; AMBIENCERESTAURANTSAC.COM
THE PRESS BISTRO & BAR
Located in a hip, restaurant-crammed section of midtown, The Press Bistro & Bar quickly distinguished itself with its excellent, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, snappy service and lively European-bistro ambiance. Owned and operated by the talented David English, the former chef at Ella Dining Room & Bar, this is one of the most engaging eateries in town. The interior features a lovely brick wall, a soaring ceiling, rustic exposed rafters and a lengthy community table. English offers an enticing selection of small plates, pastas and fullflavored entrées. The wine list features a wonderful (and economical) jumble of Spanish, French, Italian and California products.
1809 CAPITOL AVE., SACRAMENTO; (916) 444-2566; THEPRESSBISTRO.COM
Part supper club, part theater, part cocktail party: An evening at The Kitchen is a lengthy gastronomic adventure. The dining room, reserved months in advance, offers just one seating for 50 people per night. Its focal point is an open demonstration kitchen, framed by counter seating and surrounded by tables high enough to afford an excellent view of the chef. The atmosphere is infectiously jovial, and the multicourse meal is wildly creative (narrated throughout by the chef). During the mid-evening sushi/sashimi break, diners leave their seats and wander out to the tiny, walled-in patio to nosh and chat. There's no other dining experience like it in the region.
Gotta have it: Any wine recommended by the staff—they're spot-on
2225 HURLEY WAY, SACRAMENTO; (916) 568-7171; THEKITCHENRESTAURANT.COM
Entering Anatolian Table from the sprawling retail center in which it is located is like crossing into another continent. The walls explode with bold colors, and toe-curling scents waft from the sparklingly clean open kitchen. Take time to read through the lengthy menu: You could make a meal just out of the appetizers, which include spicy housemade hummus and a luscious smoked eggplant salad called patlican babganuc. Kebabs are a big seller, and so-called "oven foods" such as kusbasi pide, a traditional Turkish dish similar to a pizza and piled with chunks of lamb and vegetables, are a great option. The thick, tangy yogurt, breads and dessert pastries are all made in-house, and the flavors are vivid and fresh.
Gotta have it: Yogurtlu izgara kofte, little grilled meatballs with fresh yogurt and crunchy housemade croutons
6815 LONETREE BLVD., ROCKLIN; (916) 772-3020; ANATOLIANTABLE.COM
I'm pretty confident that Chando's Tacos plates up the tastiest tacos in town. If you want proof, just show up to the teeny eatery during a rainstorm and you'll see (like I have, on several occasions) a line of hungry, very wet customers waiting patiently to order. Once the food comes out (and it can take quite a while, especially on weekends), the outdoor seating options are bare bones at best. (And if it's raining, well, you'll be eating in your car.) Still, fans of Chando's can't get enough of those tacos. Served on excellent, fresh corn tortillas, these rustic treats are topped with lots of chopped white onion and cilantro, a big dollop of housemade guacamole and soft grilled green onions. Choose from six meats, including pork adobada (cooked on an upright rotisserie with big slices of pineapple) and chicken (marinated in achiote and citrus juices and charbroiled to order). Chando's also makes a fantastic pico de gallo that's just spicy enough.
Gotta have it: Carnitas taco
863 ARDEN WAY, SACRAMENTO; (916) 641-8226