A few weeks before it opened in mid-June, I dropped by OBO’—the gorgeous new Italian restaurant from the Selland family—and got an impromptu tour from 6-year-old Owen Nelson, who took me by the hand and proudly showed off the place he calls “my restaurant.”
Named OBO’ after Owen’s nickname, it is his restaurant—or at least it will be someday if Owen joins the family business started by his grandparents, Randall Selland and Nancy Zimmer. The next generation is already asserting itself: Owen’s dad, Josh Nelson, and his aunt, Tamera Baker, are gradually taking over the reins of the company, which includes the high-end, prix-fixe restaurant The Kitchen, downtown’s upscale Ella (named after Baker’s daughter) and two Selland’s Market-Cafes in East Sac and El Dorado Hills.
“All our restaurants are based on places where we’d like to eat,” says Selland. He and Zimmer got the idea to open an Italian restaurant during a trip to Europe a few years ago. In Naples, they went crazy for the pizza, eating at little places recommended by local grocer Darrell Corti. In the foothills outside Rome, they gorged on porchetta. In Sorrento, they savored the antipasto—things like perfectly grilled bell peppers and roasted octopus. Everywhere they went, they were drawn to small, family-run restaurants, enchanted by the simplicity and quality of the food, the wine, the service. Sacramento, they realized, had nothing like it.
So they took over half of a building in East Sac that once housed Rosemount Grill and, later, Andiamo. (Kru, the hip midtown sushi bar, will open in the other half of the building later this summer.) Originally, Selland and Zimmer planned OBO’ to be a sit-down restaurant. But in the early planning stages, when their architect asked them where they wanted to put the hostess stand, they realized they didn’t want that much formality. So they decided to adopt the casual Selland’s Market-Cafe concept: walk up to a counter, place your order and sit down.
It feels like the family took everything they learned from running Selland’s, Ella and The Kitchen and applied it to OBO’. The decor riffs on those other restaurants, with a chic mash-up of rustic and elegant elements: marble countertops, white tile, wood truss beams, long tables and benches, chalkboard menus. A massive, tongue-in-cheek chandelier is constructed of bare Edison bulbs and hanging wood pizza peels.
Zimmer oversaw the menu and created most of the recipes. Hot and cold food cases are filled with prepared foods in-cluding meatballs, braised short ribs and Italian macaroni and cheese. Other dishes are cooked to order: fresh pastas (made in-house), thin pizzas, hot and cold sandwiches. The food, says Selland, isn’t authentic regional Italian cuisine. Instead, it’s the family’s interpretation of Italian, light and delicate. Pappardelle with lemon butter sauce and a poached egg is a near-copy of a popular Ella dish. The beef-and-pork ragu for the rigatoni Bolognese is a sauce that Selland created years ago for The Kitchen. The hot sandwiches include a PLT (pancetta, lettuce and tomato) and several Italian-style “dips,” including porchetta dip and chicken-and-fennel dip.
Unlike Selland’s (but like Ella), OBO’ has a full bar serving craft cocktails dreamed up by Nelson and Joe Vaccaro, the company’s wine director and COO. Like Ella’s gin and tonic, OBO’s includes house-made tonic water and organic sucanat. OBO’s version, however, gets a float of house-made amaro, an Italian liqueur.
With OBO’ now open, the family can turn its attention to other projects, including a big Selland’s Market-Cafe set to open later this year on Broadway, and two concession stands at the new downtown arena. (One will serve pizza, the other Indian food.) After that, who knows? Selland and Zimmer have two grandchildren—Jackson and Henry—who don’t have restaurants named for them. Not yet, anyway.
Market veg sandwich
OBO’ ITALIAN TABLE & BAR
3145 Folsom Blvd.