The Thrill of the New

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Recession? What recession? New restaurants seem to be popping up all over the region, defying the gloomy economy. Here’s a look at 19 plucky new places that are working hard to earn your attention—and your dollars.

 

• Hot Italian
Sleek and contemporary, Hot Italian offers a completely new take on the corner pizzeria.
What: Starkly stylish, urban Euro pizzeria
Why visit: It’s a midtown hot spot
Special feature: The gelato bar
What to order: The Magnini pizza, with smoked salmon, mozzarella, mascarpone and dill
Bring: Your trendiest pals
1627 16th St., Sacramento; (916) 444-3000; hotitalian.net

• Sapporo Grill Japanese Steakhouse
Gorgeously appointed, with a sleek, ceiling-to-floor waterfall, two glass-enclosed private dining rooms and a sushi bar crafted from knotty redwood, this is one of the most stunning dining spaces in midtown.
What: Glam Japanese sushi bar, steakhouse and lounge
Why visit: To sit at the cozy teppan grill (imagine a sophisticated Benihana)
Special feature: The all-jade bar
What to order: Bacon-wrappedscallops
Bring: Your interior designer
1118 16th St., Sacramento; (916) 448-1818; sapporogrill.com

• Shady Lady Saloon
With its crimson wallpaper, old-fangled lighting fixtures and dimly lit, speakeasy-ish environment, Shady Lady offers excellent handcrafted cocktails and Southern-inspired dishes. (Trythe ham and cheddar hush puppies.)
What: Victorian bordello meets fine cuisine
Why visit: There’s nothing else like it in the city
Special feature: Live music—mostly jazz—Tuesday through Sunday
What to order: The addictive shrimp po’ boy: a French roll filled with plump, deep-fried shrimp, coleslaw and lots of hot sauce
Bring: The gang
1409 R St., Sacramento; (916) 231-9121

• Ravenous Cafe
Situated in a Greenhaven retail center, this teeny restaurant is an exciting addition to the Sacramento food scene. Its vibrant, compact menu surprises and delights with its distinct, robust flavors.
What: Spunky Greenhaven gem serving seasonally inspired fare
Why visit: Chef/owner Mark Helms is quietly producing some of the best food in the region
Special feature: Ravens as a design motif
What to order: Anything with pasta
Bring: Foodie friends
Riverlake Village, 7600 Greenhaven Drive, Sacramento; (916) 399-9309; ravenouscafe.com

• OneSpeed
Lively, loud and welcoming, OneSpeed makes fantastic thin-crust pizzas and interesting small dishes.
What: Chef Rick Mahan’s new—and really busy—East Sac bistro
Why visit: To enjoy Mahan’s earthy, Mediterranean-influenced small plates
Special feature: $5 bicycle delivery service
What to order: The irresistible frito misto
Bring: A patient friend (you’ll be waiting a while for a table)
4818 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 706-1748; onespeedpizza.com

• High-Hand Conservatory & Cafe
This restaurant showcases simple, honest food, but its real appeal is its location on the grounds of the enchanting High-Hand Nursery.
What: Celebration of locally grown food in a stunning setting
Why visit: High-Hand’s sun-flooded atrium, decorated with potted magnolia trees and vibrant tulips
Special feature: The ravishing garden adjacent to the restaurant
What to order: Wood oven-roasted pizzas
Bring: A friend who loves to garden
3750 Taylor Road, Loomis; (916) 652-2064; highhand.com

• Plan B
Tucked away in a quirky shopping center, Plan B proves that sophistication can be found in the most curious places.
What: Chic dining in the ’burbs
Why visit: Tasteful, French-inspired small plates and intimate ambiance
Special feature: Mussels prepared six ways
What to order: The succulent burger, served on a crisp bun and topped with wild mushrooms, ham and béarnaise sauce
Bring: A hot date
Arden Town Center, 555 La Sierra Drive, Sacramento; (916) 483-3000; planbrestaurant.com

• Tres Agaves Mexican Restaurant
Loud and colorful, this restaurant serves handcrafted corn tortillas (formed and baked to order) and flavorful Jaliscan dishes.
What: Hearty Jaliscan cuisine in an upscale shopping mall
Why visit: To try the stellar margaritas, served on the rocks and prepared with fresh, hand-squeezed lime juice, aged tequila and organic agave nectar
Special feature: The Tres Agaves tequila store; inventory includes unique tequilas from very small, Jaliscan boutique distilleries
What to order: The spicy carnitas, which are terrific
Bring: Your book club (after reading Carlos Fuentes’ The Death of Artemio Cruz)
The Fountains at Roseville, 1182 Roseville Parkway, Roseville; (916) 782-4455; tresagaves.com

• Pearl on the River
This riverside restaurant doesn’t depend entirely on its gorgeous view to reel in its customers; it also provides top-drawer seafood, sourced from the California/Hawaii/Pacific Northwest “triangle.”
What: Riverside dining with high aspirations
Why visit: The view
Special feature: An entertaining demonstration kitchen
What to order: Beer-battered seafood platter
Bring: Your in-laws
1379 Garden Highway, Sacramento; (916) 567-3275; pearlontheriver.com

• Taylor’s Kitchen
Cozy and welcoming, this popular bistro serves hearty Italian-inspired fare that incorporates seasonal elements. Find a wine you like at the restaurant? Odds are you can buy it next door at Taylor’s Market.
What: The quintessential neighborhood bistro
Why visit: Comforting food in a convivial environment
Special feature: Counter seating with a full view of the kitchen
What to order: Stuffed pasta appetizer
Bring: Mom and Dad (they deserve it)
2924 Freeport Blvd.; Sacramento; (916) 443-5154; taylorsmarket.com

• Magpie Caterers   Market and Cafe
With its casual, unassuming ambiance and attentive staff, this cheery space is one of the best places in town for a beautifully prepared, seasonally inspired meal.
What: Vibrantly fresh, simple cuisine with a local focus
Why visit: This is food to feel good about
Special feature: Love the food? Magpie can also cater your next special event
What to order: Linguine with clams and garlic cloves (and the freshly baked chocolate chunk cookies)
Bring: Office pals for a casual lunch or dinner
1409 R St., Sacramento; (916) 452-7594; magpiecaterers.com

• Burgers and Brew
This pubby place offers interesting, hearty burgers and an excellent selection of Belgian beers.
What: The name says it all
Why visit: Sometimes you just need a really good burger
Special feature: Open until midnight Sunday through Wednesday, until 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday
What to order: Mushroom and onion cheeseburger
Bring: Your teammates
1409 R St., Suite 105, Sacramento; (916) 442-0900

• California Pizza Kitchen
This spacious, friendly chain restaurant, located in the old Firestone building, serves imaginative pizzas to business folk and families.
What: Creative pizzas, sandwiches and salads in a hip midtown building
Why visit: There’s something for everyone—even people who don’t love pizza
Special feature: Kids are warmly welcomed
What to order: Thin-crust Sicilian pizza with sweet Italian sausage, capicola ham, salami, and fontina, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses
Bring: The family
1132 16th St., Sacramento; (916) 930-0706; cpk.com

• Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar
Smaller and less zany than many of the region’s Mikunis, this bustling Davis restaurant really packs ’em in at lunchtime. Big, fanciful sushi rolls are a specialty, but don’t overlook small plates such as Illegal Asparagus (hot oil-blanched asparagus seasoned with Japanese sansho pepper and sea salt).
What: Feisty, innovative Japanese cuisine in a small university town
Why visit: This is where students, university staff and locals go for their sushi fix
Special feature: There’s a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop next door
What to order: The Black and White: lightly seared strips of butter-tender albacore tuna sprinkled with black tobiko caviar, thinly sliced jalapeños and a tangy ponzu dressing
Bring: The old college crowd
500 First St., Davis; (530) 756-2111; mikunisushi.com

• McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant
This seafood chain’s Roseville outpost offers attractive décor and a wonderful selection of fresh fish. The wild sage-rubbed Alaskan halibut with heirloom beans, sautéed prosciutto and caramelized wild mushrooms is a knockout.
What: Swanky seafood
Why visit: Extensive, ever-changing menu
Special feature: Curtain-enclosed private booths
What to order: Seafood and corn chowder
Bring: Guests you’d like to impress
The Fountains at Roseville, 1194 Roseville Parkway, Roseville; (916) 960-4875; mccormickandschmicks.com

• My BBQ Spot
Knee-weakening aromas waft from the kitchen in this sliver of a restaurant. Don’t miss the tasty side dishes; the barbecued beans and sturdy potato salad are as good as your mom’s.
What: Finger-licking meat fest in midtown
Why visit: It’s the best ’cue for blocks
Special feature: Open until 4 a.m. (no kidding) Friday and Saturday nights
What to order: Barbecued baby back ribs so tender, the bones fall away when you nudge them
Bring: Carnivorous cronies
2502 J St., Sacramento; (916) 442-4446

• Grange Restaurant
Located in the gorgeous Citizen Hotel, Grange cranks out bold cuisine at breakfast, lunch and dinner, using carefully sourced ingredients from small, local farms and food artisans. Check out the all-California wine list.
What: Upscale farm-centric cuisine
Why visit: To eat local fare in a stunning, Gotham-esque dining room
Special feature: Chef Michael Tuohy’s nightly three-course dinners for two—a great deal at $45
What to order: The fish dishes are consistently excellent; try the sautéed petrale sole with spinach and a lively lemon-caper beurre blanc
Bring: Out-of-town guests
926 J St., Sacramento; (916) 492-4450; grangesacramento.com

• Suede Blue
This serene, upscale restaurant is perfect for a power lunch or a romantic meal. Seafood is a big deal here, and the options are elaborate and rich.
What: Tahoe-style lodge meets sophisticated seafood
Why visit: This is one of the handsomest restaurants in Placer County
Special feature: A nice lineup of interesting appetizers (try the lobster pierogies)
What to order: Pistachio- and almond-crusted sea bass
Bring: Your boss
1400 Eureka Road, Roseville; (916) 782-5525; suede-blue.com

• de Vere’s Irish Pub
With its massive red-oak bar built in Ireland and swig-worthy collection of European draft beers, this is the best place for a fun pint in the city.
What: Great suds and flavorful pub grub in a boisterous environment
Why visit: To enjoy a taste of genuine Irish hospitality
Special feature: Pub “snugs”: partially walled-in areas providing a bit of privacy for small groups of friends
What to order: Granny’s shepherd’s pie
Bring: Your drinking buddies
1521 L St., Sacramento; (916) 231-9947; deverespub.com

  • Trends We Love:
  • Neapolitan-style pizza
  • Cheese as a separate course
  • Handcrafted cocktails
  • Small plates
  • Rustic food like meatballs
  • The return of prix fixe
  • Build-your-own-burger bars
  • The under-$20 entrée
  • Gelato (Could it be the new fro-yo?)
  • Belgian beer
  • No corkage fees

 

   NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

After 22 years in Atlanta, chef Michael Tuohy lands in Sacramento to run one of the city’s hottest new restaurants.

By Marybeth Bizjak
Photography by Ryan Donahue

On a warm July morning, Michael Tuohy strides across J Street to Cesar Chavez Plaza to lead his weekly tour of the Wednesday farmers market. With five women in tow, he circles the park, talking to farmers, sampling their wares, occasionally whipping out an army knife to slice up a ripe peach or juicy plum. In less than an hour, his bags are bulging with produce: a pint of triple-crown blackberries, eight lemon cucumbers, some white nectarines and patty pan squash, several cantaloupes.

Tuohy heads back across J Street. His destination: Sacramento’s chic new boutique hotel, The Citizen, where he’s the executive chef of Grange. Back in the restaurant’s open kitchen, he’ll turn his purchases into a three-course lunch for the five women.

Grange’s proximity to the farmers market was one of the reasons Tuohy moved to Sacramento a little more than a year ago. A celebrated chef in Atlanta, where he was known for his farm-to-table cuisine, he’d owned or run six restaurants. But Tuohy, who was raised in the Bay Area, was itching to get back to the West Coast after 22 years in the South.

“There’s a real food culture here,” he says—something that’s largely missing in Atlanta. “People here get it.”

Since coming to town in August 2008, Tuohy has embraced that culture, becoming a fixture at the Sunday farmers market under the freeway and befriending local farmers such as Suzanne Peabody Ashworth, Heidi Watanabe and John Bledsoe. And Sacramento, in turn, has embraced him right back. Despite some initial rocky reviews, Grange attracts more than its fair share of local diners (no mean feat for a hotel restaurant), including high-wattage politicos Mayor Kevin Johnson and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Before landing in Sacramento, Tuohy had looked at buying a restaurant in Sonoma (too expensive) and interviewed for a job as culinary director at Copia, the Napa food and wine center (which went bankrupt and folded last year). Then he heard Joie de Vivre Hospitality, a San Francisco boutique-hotel firm, needed an executive chef for its Sacramento property.

The company was looking for somebody to create a farm-to-table, market-driven restaurant that would “engage” with the local farmers. “It seemed like the perfect fit,” says Tuohy.

He had less than five months to design a menu, hire almost three dozen staffers and create the complex systems needed to keep the hotel’s and restaurant’s guests well-fed. When The Citizen opened in early December after months of delay, Tuohy hit the ground running. It was the holiday entertaining season, and the restaurant was booked solid. Tuohy hardly ever left the hotel. “That first week, I worked 22-hour days,” he recalls. “A short day was 17 hours. I was prepping at 2 a.m., trying to get caught up.”

It wasn’t until Easter that he was able to catch his breath. While the restaurant does a steady business (and reportedly is beating the company’s internal projections), things have calmed down enough to allow Tuohy to take off one day a week. He arrives at work sometime between 8 and 9 a.m., and his chef de cuisine tries to push him out the door around 7 p.m.—although he often stays until 10 or 11 to chat with customers or help out on the line.

The recession hasn’t seemed to hurt Grange much. That may in part be due to the fact that Tuohy is a savvy marketer. In addition to leading a weekly farmers market tour, he writes a blog and offers a popular three-course prix-fixe menu made up of comfort-food classics. On Mondays, he serves meatballs, Thursdays fried chicken. On Fridays, it’s “everything from within 100 miles.”
“In Sacramento, the food has to be accessible,” Tuohy explains, noting that this is still a meat-and-potatoes town. “And I don’t mean that in a bad way,” he adds.

Tuohy’s food is marked by clean flavors and simple preparations. Fresh ingredients—often delivered by the farmers themselves—arrive constantly. Tuohy changes the menu twice daily to keep up with the influx of new products. “It’s hard to be a market-driven restaurant if you can’t change the menu every day,” he says.
Making the transition from restaurant owner to employee doesn’t seem to have bothered Tuohy. It’s the difference between writing checks and getting a paycheck. “Being a chef/owner is very stressful,” Tuohy says. “You can only refinance your home so many times.”

For now, he just wants to make good, simple food for Sacramento. “As long as I’m here,” he says, “my goal is for Grange to be the showcase for the region’s culinary diversity.”