When it comes to eating out, I rarely think of West Sacramento. With so many fabulous restaurants in downtown and midtown (and a serious dearth of the same in West Sac), why would I make the drive?
Why? Because now there’s a compelling reason to do so: The Eatery, owned by chef Jess Milbourn and his wife, Monda Korich. Located in a large retail complex, it’s a lively neighborhood bistro brimming with diners and good cheer.
The restaurant is one big room with a long counter at the back that offers a more casual dining experience. Large windows remind you that you’re smack-dab in the middle of a shopping center, but the friendly bustle inside creates its own engaging ambiance.
One evening, I was thrilled with several of the kitchen’s lustier dishes, including a delicious grilled flatiron steak perched carefully on top of two golden potato cakes. Dappled with robust blue cheese crumbles and served with leggy piles of beautifully cooked broccolini, the meal was an excellent choice on a chilly evening. My only complaint was the blandness of the potato cakes, but their crusty, deep-fried exterior and smooth, mashed interior were a nice foil to the chewy, flavorful meat.
A generous portion of fettuccine is tossed with fragrant vegetable ragu and sprinkled with grated white cheddar. The 8-ounce burger is thick and juicy—for $2, you can add a second patty, though I don’t know how you’d wrap your mouth around it—and it comes with thin, crispy fries that everyone at your table will clamor to share.
At a recent lunch, I was intrigued and a bit perplexed by Milbourn’s pork belly appetizer. Three chunks of crispy belly came with a clump of tepid sweet potato purée and a tart, curiously dry apple slaw. The plate was speckled with pomegranate seeds and encircled by a ring of maple syrup. I’m not sure I understood, or appreciated, the chef’s vision as I worked my way through the dish. But the pork belly was so decadent that it could have come with a mound of Cap’n Crunch cereal and I still would have gobbled it up.
I savored a delightful spinach salad with warm cubes of grilled pineapple and toasted almonds, whose irrepressibly sunny flavor was another boost on a cold day. And a Thai chicken wrap sandwich burst with fresh lettuce, moist slices of meat and a vivacious peanut sauce—a filling yet refreshing lunch dish.
While the kitchen turns out tasty, earnest fare, The Eatery’s desserts really captivated me. After writing about food in the Sacramento region for almost 15 years, I can say with confidence that it is difficult to find exceptional desserts in restaurants. They often are given short shrift, either prepared by a chef who doesn’t have the time or interest or by a low-paid, untrained kitchen staffer who simply follows basic recipes. Restaurant desserts tend to be stale and unimaginative, and they rarely taste very good.
However, The Eatery’s sweets alone are worth the drive from Sacramento. Try the s’more and you’ll see what I mean. An intense flourless chocolate cake is jauntily adorned with a crunchy, nutty tuile cookie, served with an airy pouf of browned meringue and embellished with a velvety caramel sauce. The flavors are fresh and true, the presentation attractive, the quality obvious. The butterscotch crème brûlée is smooth and sweetly pleasing, and a whimsical peanut butter tart is topped with melt-on-your-tongue honeycomb candy chunks and served with honey ice cream. These are desserts I would expect to see at Ella or Hawks, two of the few restaurants in the region that consistently serve up first-rate, creative desserts.
West Sacramento suddenly has become a more attractive dining option, thanks to The Eatery. I’ll be back soon—particularly because I still haven’t tried the lemon cheesecake.
2155 Town Center Plaza, West Sacramento; (916) 372-2240; eaterywestsac.com