Much has been made of Sacramento’s expanding options for fine dining. But truth be told, there are only so many nights when you want to throw big bucks down on the city’s white tablecloths. More often, you’re looking for a comforting bite after a busy day, or a night out with friends when you can laugh too loud. And you want wine&emdash;good wine.
Finding a decent wine list in a casual restaurant can be a challenge. It takes special effort for a cafe to go beyond the run-of-the-swill and spend time and money on a distinctive list. So my baseball cap is off to the following places that’ll feed your wine jones even when you’re in your jeans.
Bidwell Street Bistro
The wine list at this French bistro has something&emdash;from the obvious to the obscure&emdash;for everyone. I especially appreciate the list’s layout (light to heavy) and the options: 3-ounce taste, 6-ounce glass and bottle.
Try this: Lamb shank with horseradish mashed potatoes and cauliflower gratin/Mollydooker Two Left Feet Shiraz
1004 E. Bidwell St., Folsom; (916) 984-7500; bidwellstreetbistro.com
The wines, chosen by chef William Rolle, all cost the same ($24 a bottle), whether you drink them in the cafe or take them home.
Try this: Marinated prawn salad/Jean-Luc Colombo Viognier La Violette Vin de Pays d’Oc
5357 H St., Sacramento; (916) 455-9140; caferolle.com
The restaurant’s laid-back vibe belies an ambitious wine list full of Italian and Californian gems; wine by the glass is a generous pour.
Try this: Housemade fettuccine con capasante (fettuccine with scallops)/Frank Family Chardonnay
Arden Town Center, 3535 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 487-1331; cafevinoteca.com
This mall restaurant is a far cry from the food court, with a broad list of California wines arranged by wine style, along with themed flights of three 2-ounce pours.
Try this: Prime New York steak with
herbed arugula fries and veal demiglace/Field Stone Alexander Valley Merlot
Arden Fair, 1689 Arden Way, Sacramento; (916) 925-2233; californiacafe.com
A late-night confection of exotic silks and low lights, Kasbah Lounge offers tasty small plates and an extraordinary wine and spirits collection from the Middle East and the Mediterranean region.
Try this: Cheese-stuffed Majool dates/Chateau Ksara Blanc de Blancs from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley
2115 J St., Sacramento; (916) 442-4388; kasbahlounge.com
La Trattoria Bohemia
A small, thoughtful wine list accompanies Italian and Eastern European comfort foods. Where else can you find a Czech MÃ¼ller Thurgau as the house pour?
Try this: Beef goulash/Hey Mambo, a California red blend
3649 J St., Sacramento; (916) 455-7803; latrattoriabohemia.com
Michelangelo’s Italian Art Restaurant
Comfortable, affordable and a feast for the eyes, this artsy-cool cafe gets a vinous boost from managing partner Jacqueline Barton, a wine enthusiast. Dine on the patio next to wine barrels planted with herbs used in the kitchen. And if you like a wine, you can buy it at retail to take home.
Try this: Veal saltimbocca/2004 Zenato Valpolicella
1725 I St., Sacramento; (916) 446-5012; sacartz.com
At this Granite Bay pizzeria, the wine-savvy staff conducts a daily review of the 50-plus wines on the list. Take advantage of the selection of half-bottles.
Try this: Warm brussels sprout salad/2006 Champalou Vouvray Sec
5540 Douglas Blvd., Suite 150, Granite Bay; (916) 786-0400; pizzaantica.com
Ever dream of accessing The Kitchen’s stellar wine list? Here, you can enjoy a boutique wine by the glass or bottle.
Try this: Nancy’s pulled pork with au gratin potatoes and seasonal roasted vegetables/2006 L’automne
5340 H St., Sacramento; (916) 736-3333; sellands.com
Tapa the World
We’d be happy if a convivial small-plates mecca such as this had a list of 23 good wines, but Tapa the World’s list is 23 pages, one of the best in the area.
Try this: Pinchos morunos (grilled pork skewers)/2004 Olaia, a Spanish Tempranillo blend that can dance with cumin and chilies
2115 J St., Sacramento; (916) 442-4353; tapatheworld.com
Tucos Wine Market & Cafe
Owner Pru Mendez brings a world-beat sensibility to food and wine, paying special attention to artisan producers both local and beyond our borders. It’s Sonoma meets Rioja meets SÃ£o Paulo. Around 200 wines are offered for retail sale or for drinking on-site.
Try this: Four-cheese ravioli with butternut squash cream/Canella Prosecco
130 G St., Davis; (530) 757-6600
Elaine’s Picks of the Month
It’s the start of crab feed season, so I’m poking around for yummy white wines to share. Here are two I’d sneak in under my coat:
2006 Stellina di Notte Pinot Grigio Venezie ($10)&emdash;Does the insipid Pinot Grigio flooding U.S. grocery stores leave you wondering what the fuss is about? Well, let this citrusy, focused ambassador from Italy be your guide. And at the relatively low alcohol level of 12 percent, it’s a safer option when the crowd is armed with crab picks.
2006 Morgan Highland Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands ($26)&emdash;Full of fresh lime, pear and red apple, with a smooth, buttery finish, it’s got a nice balance&emdash;both bright and rich&emdash;so bring on the lemon and drawn butter.
Wine Trivia Contest
>> Pinot Grigio’s home turf in northeastern Italy, known as Tre Venezie, is named for a) the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; b) Tuscany, Piedmont and Campania; c) Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia; d) Michelangelo, Modigliani and da Vinci.
E-mail your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by Jan. 15. The winner will receive The Wine Wheel, which shows how to pair hundreds of foods and wines. Make sure to include your name, address and telephone number. The winner will be selected by random drawing from all the correct responses.
We’ve got a winner! In November, we asked: The cover of Wine, Food and the Arts, Volume 2, features the hands of which beloved cookbook author? The correct answer: Julia Child. The winner, Laura Bickford of Roseville, received The Wine Wheel.