Off the Menu

Gotta Have It

by Kira O’Donnell

Venturing out to a restaurant you’ve never tried before? We thought it would be fun to ask several restaurateurs to choose the one menu item they would most want a first-time diner to order when visiting their establishment.
Kurt Parkinson, partner at the new Brew It Up! Personal Brewery & Grill in downtown Sacramento, says patrons shouldn’t miss the restaurant’s crab cake appetizer. “There is nothing else like it in town,” he enthuses.

Made from Maryland blue crab, rather than the more common Dungeness or snow crab (“We’re East Coast guys,” explains Parkinson), the cakes contain ancho chiles and roasted corn, and they lay atop a polenta square made with housemade barbecue sauce, roasted onions and crawfish tails. The ensemble is dolloped with smoked-bacon rémoulade, drizzled with barbecue sauce and, finally, adorned with a thatch of Tabasco-marinated fried onions.

The must-try menu item at East Sacramento’s Español Restaurant (which features Italian, not Spanish, cuisine) is the minestrone. “Everyone raves about it,” promises owner Karen Zito. The hearty soup, made daily from scratch, is chock-full of vegetables, barley, pasta and beans. Zito says it is also very popular to go—“people come in for a quart or two and just take it home,” she explains. “We make a tremendous amount of soup around here.”

At Bailie’s Restaurant in Folsom, patrons clamor for the Asian skirt steak, which is marinated for three days in a hoisin-ginger-soy glaze before being cooked. “People tell me if I take it off the menu, they’ll hunt me down and shoot me!” quips owner Vince Barton, who considers the steak his restaurant’s signature dish. “Folsom,” says Barton, “is a meat town, and people here love their steaks—and they want ’em with lots of flavor.”

A trip to Roseville’s Bacchanal Bistro & Wine Bar, according to owner Kirk Pearson, should definitely include the restaurant’s pan-seared ono with cilantro pesto and tequila lime butter. The fish comes with fontina polenta and is “one of the more creative and presentation-driven items we have,” says Pearson. “People love the mixture of flavors and textures.”