A fresh breeze called Roxy has blown into town, bringing a welcome burst of playful innovation and sparkling distinctiveness to the restaurant landscape. The newest venture of husband-and-wife team Ron and Terri Gilliland, owners of popular Lucca on J Street, Roxy is unlike any other restaurant I’ve encountered in the region.
The Gillilands have used an incongruous theme&emdash;let’s call it sun-roughened cowpoke meets pretty uptown gal&emdash;as a flexible framework for the restaurant’s cuisine and dcor. The result? Nothing short of charming. Waiters wear sparkly Western shirts, booths are crisply upholstered with spotted cowhide, and a gorgeous chandelier hangs regally above it all. The restaurant is modern and stylish, with contemporary paintings of cowboys (and cowgirls) by Santa Fe artist David Devary on beige walls. Tables for two tend to be shoved close together, Ã la Lucca (a feature of that restaurant I have always disliked), but if you want privacy and elbow space, you can request one of the sumptuous booths or a roomy table near the large front windows.
The menu is dappled with cowboyish names, from Gaucho Steak to Prairie Spicy Caesar. However, that uptown gal has a presence as well, as evidenced by dishes such as curry risotto with white shrimp and a sophisticated beet and watercress salad. When a waiter characterized the food as modern ranch cuisine, I had to giggle, imagining craggy cowpokes nibbling the kitchen’s black-sesame ahi cones (with nopales-jicama salad) or the lobster ravioli.
I have studied many menus in 10 years of reviewing restaurants, and few have been as fun or interesting as Roxy’s. From the niÃ§oise salad with grapefruit and radishes to the basket of doughnuts and doughnut holes with three dipping sauces, the menu is unique without being esoteric. It’s enough to make you want to plunge in.
And plunge I did. One dish I can’t seem to stop ordering is the Roxy chopped salad: bitter radicchio and butter lettuce leaves finely chopped with an abundance of fresh mint, then tossed with just-barely-tender chickpeas and tiny chunks of kalamata olive and cheddar cheese. The salad, judiciously coated with a silky citrus vinaigrette, has a not-quite-aggressive edge that is a real palate cleanser.
If you visit Roxy at lunch, I’d recommend the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, served up on warm toasted bread slathered with a kicky Tabasco mayonnaise. The chicken is impossibly tender and the skinny garlic french fries first-rate. The butter lettuce salad features sweet apples from Placerville’s esteemed Gold Bud Farms, paired with roasted pecans and cheddar cheese; and the white Syrian squash soup is soothing and creamy, garnished with earthy bits of fried sage.
Like any good ranch kitchen, Roxy offers hefty meat dishes, from Colorado buffalo burger and 14-ounce rib-eye to Port-braised short ribs and excellent, fork-tender pork stroganoff, poured extravagantly over fist-sized potato-mascarpone ravioli. There’s also seafood: sustainably raised Scottish salmon, served with lemony mashed potatoes and a captivating cherry-tomato butter sauce, and crisp calamari, fried up with sweet red onions and served on an orange slick of hot sauce. However, I had little luck with the shrimp dishes: the curry-shrimp risotto was unpleasantly spicy and the shrimp fritters doughy and virtually tasteless.
Breakfast lovers will revel in Roxy’s morning food menu, which includes banana-bread french toast and buckwheat crÃªpes with Berkshire ham. Don’t miss the terrific chilaquiles, a bowl of crackly corn chips layered with a robust red chili sauce, perfectly cooked black beans, fried eggs and cheddar cheese. The kitchen’s steel-cut oatmeal will be a revelation if you’re used to the packaged stuff: textural and chewy yet creamy, it’s served with pomegranate seeds, toasted almonds and brown sugar. The buttermilk cheddar biscuits are piled with soft-scrambled eggs and swathed in ancho sausage gravy, a thrilling departure from traditional biscuits and gravy. The only breakfast dish that left me cold was the Roxy eggs Benedict, served atop lukewarm mashed Yukon-potato cakes. Without the sturdiness of an English muffin to keep the dish together (and to absorb some of the liquid), the soft components slid together in a moist, sticky mass that I found very unappealing.
Roxy’s dessert menu doesn’t seem to jibe with the kitchen’s focus on seasonal, farm-centric cuisine. The enormous Dr Pepper chocolate cupcake, though delicate of crumb and flavor, was encased in a mountain of frothy, buttery, granular frosting; and the lemon buttermilk cream cheese tart, with its decidedly overcooked crust, was oddly floury and showered with bland shards of lavender-colored huckleberry meringue. The chocolate trio plate contained a slim slice of crumbly decadent chocolate cake, a tiny, warm chocolate souffl and an almost indiscernible spoonful of chocolate gelato. After battling over sparse bites of dessert, friends of mine ordered a second chocolate trio just so they could both try the three components. At $8 apiece, that struck me as an expensive compromise.
I’m not sure what John Wayne would have to say about Roxy’s swanky, newfangled ranch cuisine, but I bet Sacramentans will embrace it with enthusiasm.
Why it’s exciting: Roxy, on Fair Oaks Boulevard near Pavilions, is the neighborhood’s most distinctive new restaurant since Lemon Grass.
Don’t miss: The robust roasted piquillo peppers, stuffed with braised beef and goat cheese.
Roxy Restaurant & Bar: 2381 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 489-2000
Hours: Mondayâ€“Thursday 11 a.m.â€“10 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.â€“11 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.â€“11 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.â€“9 p.m.