Casa East Sac

With Casa East Sac, two brothers appear to have found the secret to success.
Deviled eggs and prawn Louie at Casa East Sac
Deviled eggs and prawn Louie. Photo by Susan Yee.

Some restaurants seem cursed. That’s how I once regarded a restaurant space at the corner of 54th and H streets in East Sac. Originally a small house, it was turned into an eatery a few years back. Its first tenant was The Neighborhood Pizzeria, from the owners of Federalist Pizza in midtown. Serving thick squares of a vaguely Detroit pizzalike product, it never quite caught on, and the place closed within 10 months. It was replaced by Joon Market, a hip spot run by a pair of talented chefs who made things like smoked yogurt and heirloom-grain bread. While I was a big fan of Joon Market, it, too, had trouble finding traction and closed after little more than a year.

Casa burger with potato salad at Casa East Sac
Casa burger with potato salad. Photo by Susan Yee.

But in a twist worthy of Goldilocks, the space seems finally to have found a tenant that is just right. Called Casa East Sac, it hits the sweet spot between casual and high concept with simple, delicious food that’s not too basic and not too offbeat. Within weeks of its opening for dinner in December, people were lining up in the small foyer for a table in the cozy dining room. It appears owners Steve and Ted Gibanov have cracked the code for this accursed location.

Owners of Casa East Sac, Ted and Steve Gibanov
Ted and Steve Gibanov. Photo by Susan Yee.

The Gibanovs are brothers, first-generation Russian Americans who learned about food from their grandmothers. “Both grandmothers were amazing cooks,” says Steve. “Cooking was their expression of love, not hugs and kisses.” One grandma made Russian meat dumplings called pelmeni, which she sold from her apartment. The other grandma babysat the boys after school and cooked dinner for them every night. Steve can still remember watching one of his grandmothers make what he calls “béchamel magic” at the stove.

Eleven years older than his brother, Steve went off to culinary school in San Francisco, then worked at a succession of jobs in restaurants, hotels and an upscale senior living development. Ted followed him into the industry, becoming the chef at midtown’s Revolution Winery. Eventually, they teamed up to run their own catering company, American River Provisions. They were working out of a commercial kitchen in Citrus Heights when they saw the empty space on H Street and decided to take a stab at running their own restaurant. The space fit their vision, which was to serve a good burger at lunch, a nice entrée at dinner—classic, no-frills, honest, straightforward food. “We’re not trying to build the atom bomb,” says Steve.

Pizza with herbed ricotta, prosciutto and arugula
Pizza with herbed ricotta, prosciutto and arugula. Photo by Susan Yee.

At lunch, Casa’s menu includes a handful of pizzas; small plates like deviled eggs and bruschetta; several salads, including a lovely Louie featuring plump prawns and a perfectly cooked 6-minute egg; a burger on a house-baked brioche bun; and a few sandwiches, including (if you’re lucky) house-cured pastrami, a recipe that “Teddy dialed in,” according to Steve. The evening menu has most of those things, along with four entrees: an herb-roasted half chicken with panzanella (an homage to the famous chicken and bread salad served at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe), ricotta gnudi (based on another Zuni dish), plus a fish and a steak that both change daily. The steak, whether it’s a filet or a rib-eye, gets flavor reinforcement in the form of demiglace, compound butter, a drizzle of olive oil and a hefty sprinkle of sea salt. Dessert is something simple and homey, such as panna cotta, tiramisu or crème brûlee. There are always two or three specials; it could be a giant bowl of spaghetti with three enormous meatballs, or a 2-pound tomahawk rib-eye for two that costs $140 and comes with salad, vegetables, dessert and a bottle of wine.

Tomahawk steak special
Tomahawk steak special. Photo by Susan Yee.

The Gibanovs believe in hearty portions. It harkens back to the days when their grandmothers used to stuff them full of food. Good food, good value is what they’re all about. “We’re simple guys,” Steve explains. “I respect fine dining, but it’s not our style.”

Told that they seem to have cracked the code on creating a successful restaurant in a once-unsuccessful spot, the brothers smile. “The code is simple,” Steve says. “Don’t overdo things.”


5401 H St.; (916) 898-3702