In more than a decade of reviewing restaurants, I’ve seen many come and go. Often, their success is due to a subtle mix of location, ambiance, adequate cash reserves, relentlessly dedicated owners and a distinctive product. And sometimes, restaurateurs are lucky (or wise) enough to choose a community that’s so ready for what they have to offer that they open their doors to a collective sigh of relief.
This is what appears to have happened in El Dorado Hills, where a restaurant called Sienna recently opened in the La Borgata shopping center, in the space that once housed Masque Ristorante. When I dined there, I watched in amazement as waves of people came rolling through the doors. The patio was packed and the bar was thronged with customers sipping cocktails. I had the odd sense that I had landed, Alice in Wonderland-style, into the middle of someone’s family reunion or company dinner. Diners radiated a sense of ownership that I found fascinating in a restaurant so new. Clearly, El Dorado Hills has claimed Sienna—and is awfully pleased with its choice.
In a holdover from Masque, the space still feels heavily, almost somberly Tuscan. The night I was there, a fire blazed enticingly in an oversized fireplace despite the warm evening. Tables, constructed from enormous slabs of heavy wood, are crammed too close together, and the elaborate leather chairs “look like they belong in The Venetian in Vegas,” whispered my husband.
Assuming the food would jibe with the ambiance, I was surprised to see a menu filled with New American, tropical and Asian-inspired dishes. Watermelon basil martinis! Thai beef tacos! Spicy salmon salad! I pondered the complete disconnect between the dining room and the food, then noticed that the people around me appeared as if they couldn’t care less. If they could relish coconut crunchy shrimp in an opulent Tuscan dining room, then so could I.
From the appealing appetizer list, I ordered Dungeness crab won tons. They were like cunning little deep-fried doll purses, but their creamy, sweet filling was more dairy than crab. I didn’t enjoy the accompanying pineapple marmalade, which was very sweet.
Wood-fired pizzas and salads figure prominently on the menu. I’m a fan of California Pizza Kitchen’s Thai chicken pizza, so I took Sienna’s version out for a spin. More rustic than the chain’s cookie-cutter-style pizza, this one had a wonderful, irregularly rectangular shape and a thicker, more textural crust. I loved its spicy bite and the crunch from the toasted peanuts and pickled carrots sprinkled on top. The ahi tuna salad was another delight. Gently bathed in a sesame-kissed mustard-miso vinaigrette, the salad (primarily chopped Napa cabbage) had green-tea soba noodles nestled in its center and was garnished prettily with slices of deep-fried lotus root.
Feeling bolder, I ordered the mahi-mahi tacos, which were the star entrée of the evening. The fish was deep-fried to a delectable crispness, then squeezed into corn tortillas and drizzled with a kicky chipotle aioli. Less appealing were large blocks of fried tofu, strewn with sesame seeds and served on top of gingery sautéed vegetables. A curious but tasty dish was the “loose ravioli,” which resembled a giant’s discarded handkerchief. A voluminous sheet of pasta was folded over and stuffed with a fragrant braised short rib sauce sweetly punctuated with soft cipollini onions and mushrooms. It would be fabulous with a lusty Barolo wine.
More surprises were to follow. I am often disappointed by restaurant desserts, which frequently don’t match the quality of the savory dishes. But this wasn’t the case at Sienna, where the desserts were beautifully composed and scrumptious. Tempura-fried bananas were stacked atop chunks of fresh-baked banana nut bread and crowned by a scoop of coconut ice cream—a dish full of contrasting textures and temperatures. A dark-chocolate pyramid, filled with Grand Marnier white chocolate mousse, looked like it had been plucked from a Parisian patisserie. And a comforting butterscotch crème brûlée, served with soft gingersnap cookies, was adorned by a small clutch of caramel popcorn—a charming garnish that demonstrated real atten-tion to detail.
Despite the incongruity of its cuisine and ambiance, Sienna may possess the ineffable mixture of attributes needed for it to succeed in a challenging industry (and lousy economy). If El Dorado Hills has anything to say about it, it’s likely that Sienna will be around for some time to come.
Seating options: There are several private dining rooms, plus a chef’s table in the kitchen
Morning fare: Sunday brunch includes bottomless mimosas, an omelet station and a compact menu
3909 Park Drive, El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-9694; siennarestaurants.com
Hours: Monday–Tuesday 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Wednesday–Thursday 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Friday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–midnight, Sunday 9 a.m.–10 p.m.