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I’m sure there are many ways to begin a review of Kupros Bistro, midtown’s hot new gastropub, but mine involves an epiphany—a beer epiphany, to be exact. It started when I took a long, greedy gulp of Mendocino Eye of the Hawk Select Ale while sitting at Kupros’ stunning mahogany bar. The draft ale offered a bracing, complex punch
of big flavor that rocked my world. In that moment, I was transformed from a beer liker to a beer lover.
But while I credit this quirky establishment for my epiphany, don’t think for a moment that Kupros Bistro is merely a beer joint. Housed in a beautifully renovated 1910 Craftsman-style building, this upscale pub/restaurant is an entertaining, if somewhat bewildering, jumble of atmosphere and cuisine.
The two-story building’s interior was painstakingly converted from a well-worn fourplex by owners Stephen and Sharon Tokuhama, who also own G Street Pub in Davis. Downstairs, the focal point is the glossy wood bar, which cleverly incorporates pieces of the original building, including doors and bathroom wainscoting. Overhead, there’s a colorful, 62-paned stained-glass drop ceiling designed by local glass artist Mickey Abbey. The upstairs dining area was kept largely intact, although the Tokuhamas expanded the balcony overlooking 21st Street to create a great outdoor dining space.
Throw chef John Gurnee’s eclectic menu together with this handsome, historic venue, then add a dose of loud reggae music, and you’ll understand why I had a hard time wrapping my head around the theme of this gastropub. Gurnee built his innovative, thought-provoking menu on what he calls “social food”: dishes designed for sharing. I can’t say I’ve seen potted rabbit on anyone else’s menu lately, but Gurnee’s is a naughty pleasure. It comes in its own little glass pot and is served with a chunky peach mostarda—a zingy, housemade fruit condiment. I also was delighted by another seasonal charcuterie selection: a slab of local Bledsoe pork ciccioli (a rustic pâté) accompanied by tangy pickled chanterelle mushrooms.
A delicate fig and melon salad I savored one balmy evening was napped with truffled fig vinaigrette, and the hearty beer-steamed clams were the highlight of a meal I enjoyed out on the breezy balcony. I also relished Gurnee’s crispy pork belly BLT, with luscious heirloom tomatoes and the bitter snap of arugula. The sandwich married delightfully with the bar’s freshly pulled Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA.
The kitchen does a nice job with pasta dishes. (The linguine and tagliatelle are crafted by “Pasta Dave” Brochier, the pasta maker at Mulvaney’s Building & Loan.) And entrées come with interesting accompaniments: the flank steak with duck-fat potatoes, the halibut cheeks with sweetly pleasing “creamless” creamed corn.
Gurnee’s signature dish is poutine. A Canadian bar-food staple, traditional poutine features french fries and cheese curds smothered with a thick Thanksgiving-like gravy. Gurnee wanted to elevate the dish—and boy, did he. His version features hand-cut fries and housemade cheese curds topped with tender oxtail braised in red wine. Swooning over the meat, I refused to think about the dish’s shocking calorie count. Washed down with a pint of Arrogant Bastard Ale (“hated by many and loved by few,” says the menu), the poutine was definitely my kind of bar food.
Other dishes you really shouldn’t miss: the duck confit Reuben sandwich with housemade Russian dressing, and a thick burger drenched in beery cheese sauce. And the lovely hamachi tuna crudo appetizer, embellished with opal basil and a touch of vanilla, would be wonderful with a glass of sparkling wine.
I for one celebrate the opening of Kupros. Its menu feels like a breath of fresh air. And while its identity isn’t exactly clear to me yet (reggae + potted rabbit?), nothing would stop me from coming back for a second bowl of poutine, accompanied, of course, by a frosty draft beer.
What’s for lunch: Order the calamari salad and the tri-tip sandwich with caramelized onions
Best seat in the house: The cozy balcony overlooking 21st Street
Suds lovers: The intriguing beer selection includes Green Flash Le Freak Belgian-style IPA and Peroni Nastro Azzurro lager
1217 21st St., Sacramento; (916) 440-0401; kuprosbistro.com
Hours: Open Tuesday–Sunday lunch 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m., dinner 5–10 p.m., closed Monday