As a food critic, I’m always interested when a restaurant has a distinct or thought-provoking name. It’s a bold move to give a restaurant an unusual name or one that evokes a particular feeling. Local eateries that have done this successfully include midtown’s Hot Italian and Mulvaney’s Building & Loan. At both, the food and ambiance seem to reflect (and embody) the restaurant’s name.
So it was with curiosity that I approached Davis’ new Our House restaurant. With a cozy name like that, it’s hard not to imagine a comfortable, sunny place staffed by smiling family members and showcasing old photos of grandparents and heirloom tea kettle or salt-and-pepper shaker collections.
I was surprised, then, to walk into the space last occupied by Aïoli Bodega Española, only to discover that the one feature I found most off-putting about Aïoli—its almost claustrophobic dimness—remains. I’d always had the sense of walking into a cave when I dined there, and I had that same feeling again on this most recent visit.
Lighting issues aside, the eclectic décor doesn’t give off an “our house” vibe, either. The most arresting feature in the space is a collection of lumber affixed to the back wall, in a slightly irregular pattern that is interestingly textural and placed so randomly that you’re instantly curious about it. Why is it there? Does the wood have some significant history? Perhaps it’s reclaimed from an iconic local business or barn? Our waiter blushed uncomfortably when I asked about it and murmured that the wood had been cut nearby and hung on the wall because the vision of the restaurant is to “keep things local.”
At the front of the restaurant is an appealing clump of sofas and chairs, clearly designed as a lounge area for cocktails, and the bar area features two pretty, large wood tables that are used for communal dining (and drinking) in the evenings. Customers seeking a quieter and more intimate meal will want to sit farther back in the restaurant, separated from the bar by a low wall.
Our House’s menu features New American cuisine—a compact selection of traditional items with some fun, innovative tweaks. On a recent lunch, I had a sturdy, jaw-poppingly wide meatloaf sandwich, studded with mushrooms and composed on toasted sourdough bread. Simple and satisfying, it would be a wonderful treat on a blustery winter afternoon. The kitchen’s macaroni and cheese, made with local Winters Cheese Company cheddar, was shockingly, delightfully garlic-laden. It’s a dish you want to avoid if you’re planning on smooching someone later in the day, but a tasty nibble nonetheless.
I enjoyed the excellent, flaky barbecued salmon, drizzled with a vivacious soy, mint and cilantro sauce that really perked up the fish. But the whisper-thin asparagus served alongside the salmon was salty, and the accompanying pile of greens was so tired and lackluster-looking that I didn’t bother to try them. Pork fans will enjoy Our House’s root beer pork sliders, gussied up with soft caramelized onions and housemade barbecue sauce.
Perhaps the most delicious item I tried was the tomato- and bacon-speckled blue cheese BLT wedge salad, a delectable version of this classic American dish. Offered at lunch and dinner, this is one salad you shouldn’t miss. Other dinner standouts included a bracing, lemony chicken piccata, generously sprinkled with capers and served up with satisfyingly lumpy mashed potatoes; and a sophisticated and well-cooked steak au poivre, crusted with coarse-cracked peppercorns and bathed in a Cognac-and-cream sauce.
Desserts I sampled were decidedly underwhelming. A perplexing s’more made with housemade marshmallows simply left me longing for the real thing, and a practically tasteless cheesecake, placed atop a zigzag of chocolate sauce and embellished with fresh berries and an assertive berry sauce, was uninspiring.
However, our young servers were terrific and attentive, and their enthusiasm for the restaurant went a long way toward brightening up the ambiance.
Our House doesn’t feel like any house I know, nor does it serve what I would consider to be home-style cuisine. But it’s a nice spot in Davis to stop in for a pleasant meal—and maybe that alone will be satisfying enough for local diners.