Opening a new restaurant is always a leap of faith, and anyone who makes that leap in a cruddy economy must be either very confident or hopelessly idealistic.
Adam Pechal appears to fall into the first camp. The garrulous chef just opened Restaurant Thir13en in the Sterling Hotel at 13th and H streets. Flush from the success of his neighborhood-centric Tuli Bistro in midtown, Pechal is taking a go at a different audience of diners: the Capitol crowd and time-crunched theatergoers.
Although Restaurant Thir13en shares a few similarities with Tuli Bistro (most notably, both places have very limited indoor dining space), Pechal hasn’t replicated Tuli’s cuisine. “We’re still looking for our identity,” he confessed shortly after the restaurant opened. “We’re making it up as we go along.” The emphasis will be on locally sourced ingredients and “a more California focus” than Tuli. “But we’re open to the public’s desires,” Pechal said.
The restaurant, which opened in mid-June, has a simpler, shorter menu than Tuli’s. The lunch menu is dominated by sandwiches, with a smattering of salads, fish ’n’ chips and a pasta of the day. The evening menu is all about small plates. Selections range from a housemade country pâté and Royal Miyagi oysters—ordered individually and served with a tequila sunrise granita and mignonette sauce—to macaroni and cheese and lamb carpaccio with pistachio aïoli. “I don’t see us as a dinner house during the week,” said Pechal. “The emphasis will be more on tapas and shared plates—just good, tasty bites.”
A lobster roll I tried one lunch was fetchingly pretty but disappointingly bland, though I enjoyed the thin-cut fries that came with the sandwich. More successful was the robust housemade fennel sausage sandwich, enlivened with spicy roasted red pepper relish and quick-pickled cabbage. The plump, juicy Capitol slider was a fun nosh, as was the beautifully presented tuna carpaccio. Jewel-like slices of pepper-crusted rare ahi tuna were mounded with thin rice noodles, carrot slivers, watercress, and fresh basil and mint leaves, all gently bathed in a chili-lime vinaigrette—a vivacious choice on a sweltering Sacramento afternoon.
A big fan of fish ’n’ chips, I was eager to try Pechal’s version. Artfully arranged in a small pile, the finger-size, battered cod pieces were served with fennel remoulade and a curious streak of malt vinegar gastrique on the plate whose function I couldn’t understand. While I appreciated Pechal’s creativity, the dish made me long for a more straightforward rendition of this comfort food. However, I relished the kitchen’s uncomplicated, freshly made saffron chitarra pasta, tossed with chunks of grilled organic chicken and Toy Box squash.
On the three occasions I visited, there were just two desserts to choose from: an exuberantly seasonal strawberry shortcake whose shortcake, unfortunately, was tough and unappealing; and an attractive but underwhelming raspberry-chocolate swirled mousse, served in a tall goblet. However, the pastry chef had just returned from a cooking course in France, and there were excited plans afoot for an expanded dessert menu.
I dined both inside and out and far preferred the attractive patio, with a soothing water fountain and big umbrellas looming sturdily over the tables. A tent will enclose the space once the weather turns cool. The interior dining room is cave-like and dimly lit; it doesn’t offer the airiness or casual cheer of the patio.
I applaud Pechal’s courage in launching a new restaurant in these shaky times. If he can provide diners with the same charm and solid cuisine that’s made Tuli Bistro a fixture on the city’s food scene, he should do just fine.
1300 H St., Sacramento; (916) 594-7669; thir13en.com
Hours: Monday–Friday 11 a.m.–8 p.m.