Riva Gold River’s Bar & Oven

By Gloria Glyer

It was just another day in paradise for the Dining Divas and guests. There we were at Riva Gold River’s Bar & Oven in Gold River, forks in hand, ready to experience new delights. The restaurant was hustling and bustling. In fact, we may have been responsible for the H&B factor—I hope our large group wasn’t too boisterous, but maybe our high spirits spread to neighboring patrons.

Finding the right words to describe Riva is challenging. Upscale coffee shop? Bistro? Neighborhood hangout? The open kitchen gives the crew a look at who is eating what, but it works in reverse, too: Diners can see what the staff is doing.

As for the food, think Cal-Ital. The menu changes seasonally—a polenta appetizer I enjoyed in March was not available in June.

Just for Lunch

Diva Bernice Hagen selected Artesa 2002 Chardonnay Carneros for the white and treated us to the red: Mount Eden Vineyards 2001 Pinot Noir, from the winery she owns with her husband. The Pinot was wonderfully pleasing, gentle on the palate and delightful. Diva Peg Tomlinson-Poswall declared it “beyond fab!”

We ordered all seven appetizers on the lunch menu, because each had something special going for it. For instance, the grilled prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with chopped egg salad verde was an excellent example of chef Christian Palmos’ imaginative cooking style. The prosciutto provided a lovely contrast of flavor and texture to the asparagus.

We needed two orders of the barbecued rock shrimp for our large group, but it was worth it, especially for the garlic and herb sauce that seemed to say, “Take bread, dip, devour.” Another winner: a generously sized, perfectly prepared piece of ahi tuna. Its seared sesame-seed crust hid a fresh, pink interior; the fish was served atop mixed greens with avocado, pine nuts and soy vinaigrette.

We also swooned over a bowl of oven-roasted clams prepared with garlic, serrano chiles and chorizo—a plethora of flavors, but friendly to each other and to the diner. (Another call for a crust of bread to dip into the sauce.)

The bruschetta topped with artichoke-heart tapenade was overly toasted, and the endive leaves stuffed with artichoke hearts, housemade sausage and Vidalia onions was a disappointment, although I would have appreciated some of the sausage on its own. Another miss was the smoked-salmon pizza with its dry, tough crust—almost uncuttable.

Many of the Divas love beets, so we had to try the roasted-beet salad. When it arrived, the first question was: Where are the beets? They were hidden beneath a mountain of frisée. The beets in various colors were delicious, and they were nicely complemented by the goat cheese and walnuts in the salad.
Diva Commentary

Riva is a bar and oven, which means pizza is one of the highlights. The menu lists seven, ranging from the traditional to the exotic. We sampled one made with sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, caramelized onions, goat cheese and mozzarella. The crust was thin, tender and crispy, and the topping was enhanced by the flavorful kalamatas.

Several items on the menu would work for vegetarians. We ordered the grilled asparagus sandwich with sweet peppers, red onions and Jack cheese on ciabatta bread, served with hand-cut fries. It was messy and too bready, but the combination of veggies and Jack was interesting and colorful, and the fries were perfect.

The day’s special was linguine with soy-marinated flank steak, snow peas, carrots, scallions, Napa cabbage, ginger, garlic and red bell peppers. What a combo! And light: no heavy sauce, no abundance of cheese and cream, just all the veggies and thinly sliced steak. The soy was difficult to detect, however. Without the steak, it would work as a vegetarian dish.

Bella Bru supplies Riva with all the desserts except for ice cream and sorbet. We had the coffee ice cream and raspberry sorbet; while the sorbet was delightfully refreshing, I would have enjoyed both frozen desserts more if their flavors had been more intense. We also ordered tiramisu, “chocolate torture” cookie, mixed berry cheesecake, lemon raspberry chiffon and biscotti. The chiffon—sponge cake with raspberry jam and lemon chiffon cream—was the most interesting of the bunch, with an intense lemony flavor that contrasted nicely with the raspberry jam.

Donalynn Davis, our server, was ever observant of when to bring the next dish and when to remove the empties as well as replenish plates and utensils.

FOR THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE, PICK UP A COPY OF SACRAMENTO MAGAZINE’S SEPTEMBER ISSUE.