Farm-to-table cuisine is the dominant theme at many of Sacramento’s best restaurants, reflecting their chefs’ commitment to sourcing locally, seasonally and sustainably. But the culinary world (like everything else in life) is never static. There’s always a handful of restless upstarts seeking to push the envelope in order to create new dining experiences.
Enter Pajo Bruich, the ambitious, innovative talent in the kitchen at the newly revamped Lounge on 20. Like his peers, this young, self-taught chef cooks with fresh, local ingredients. But Bruich (who until recently was best known for his pop-up dinners) uses molecular gastronomy to put his personal spin on the food. It’s a case of chef as chemist, using high-tech equipment and natural agars and hydrocolloid gums to reimagine food in new forms, textures and guises.
Case in point: Lounge on 20’s spicy shrimp ceviche. The dish arrives with what looks like a wobbly, sunshine-yellow egg yolk glistening on top. Poke it with a fork and the faux yolk instantly expels runny fluid, just like the real thing. Yet it’s made from mango purée through a process called spherification. A flavorless calcium salt is added to the fruit purée, which is then dropped by the spoonful into a bath of water and sodium alginate, where it forms a gel-like exterior that looks astoundingly like a raw egg yolk.
In another knockout of a dish, jewel-like strips of lime-cured hamachi tunaare decorated with a teeny block of compressed Fuji apple, created with the use of a chamber vacuum. The vacuum changes the atmospheric pressure of the apple and compresses its flesh. Bruich then flash-injects a solution of simple syrup and lime juice into the fruit to further intensify the flavor. Other teeny treats ornamenting the tuna include bright-red Fresno chili “pearls,” which Bruich makes by adding gelatin to pickled Fresno chili juice, then painstakingly dribbling the mixture into cold canola oil. Bruich’s fabulous pork tacos, cradled in earthy corn tortillas, feature tender, fragrant meat topped with compressed pineapple salsa, lime crema and a frothy avocado mousse.
A beautifully presented heirloom beet salad sprinkled with walnut “soil” features a ravishing strawberry-beet sorbet. And a chunky rib-eye steak, cooked sous vide, comes with a scrumptious potato gratin. The dish’s red-wine reduction and sweet, braised cippolini onions
make the entrée a real dazzler.
But not every dish requires precise scientific techniques. Mini open-face lamb sliders resembling little Christmas tree ornaments are served on minuscule rounds of brioche bread. Pop the tiny patties into your mouth whole. They’re wonderfully juicy.
Before the revamp, Lounge on 20 served fried mac ’n’ cheese, a dish that was very popular. It’s there on the new menu, but Bruich has added a liquidy, cheesy center that gushes out when you bite into it. I didn’t particularly appreciate the adaptation, since I adored the original.
Bruich recruited highly regarded pastry chef Elaine Baker, recently of Grange Restaurant & Bar, to add a little sweetness to his avant-garde endeavors. Fluid carrot gel, made with agar-agar, has already crept into her repertoire. She serves it with carrot cake, garnished with something she calls “carrot crisp,” made of carrot juice, methyl cellulose and xanthum gum that’s whipped, then dehydrated so it takes on a honeycomb structure that can be broken up into small pieces.
The menu isn’t the only thing that has changed at Lounge on 20. Attractive tables and booths have replaced the awkward bar tables, and the space feels warmer and more accessible. It’s a sophisticated venue for Bruich’s exciting, out-of-the-box cooking.
Beer cocktail: The Botanical Gardens is made with Pimm’s, Trumer Pils, fresh ginger, cucumber and mint
Dine outside: Lounge on 20 has one of midtown’s prettiest outdoor patios
For pasta lovers: Pillowy ricotta gnocchi are tossed in black-truffle butter sauce
1050 20th St., Sacramento; (916) 443-6620; loungeon20.com
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 5–10 p.m.; lounge menu available Thursday–Saturday until midnight