Ella Dining Room And Bar
1131 K St
Sacramento, CA 95814
Ella, a component of the Selland's empire that handles The Kitchen (among other things) recieved a whole bunch of press recently as Sacramento's hot new restaurant, able to stand up to the slings and arrows of the San Francisco gastronomic scene. Suprisingly, Ella suceeds in almost all respects: gorgeous interior, gracious service, and generally excellent food.
We were ushered to our seats and led past the impressive raw bar, featuring glistening slabs of squidi, heaps of ceviche, and oysters from far and sundry locales. Ella's interior is rather lovely: an almost heavenly white color motif, with lots of interesting and delicate accents. It's classy without being over the top, refined without beating you over the head with the notion that You Are Dining In A Fancy Restaurant.
First up was the beet salad with pistachios, watercress, and olive oil (8.50), featuring an attractive presentation of red and yellow beets with an artistic accompaniment of watercress. The earthy, full flavor of the beets worked very well with the spicy watercress and the buttery pistachios, although I could have done with slightly less olive oil.
I'm a huge sucker for ceviche, so I chose the halibut, shrimp, and scallop ceviche with wild arugula and yucca chips (13.00) as my starter. The fresh-fried and glistening yucca chips were ethereal and delicious, and I enjoyed the citrusy snap of the seafood, offset with a little bit of red onion. It's not a particularly glitzy or inventive dish, but it is refreshing and tasty - although I've experienced bolder versions at podunk Mexican taquerias.
We also sampled the calamari salad with spicy lime dressing and red cabbage (13.00) which was a pleasant surprise: thinly sliced and perfectly cooked calamari steak dressed with a simple hit of lime and chili, with a little bit of cabbage crunch. I've never had calamari prepared in precisely this way - a stand out dish.
Our main courses arrived quickly - timing is definitely not an issue at Ella. I will do any number of things for a zucchini blossom, so I chose the domestic lamb loin with summer squash, with an accompaniment of squash blossom stuffed with eggplant and (yet more) braised lamb. The lamb loin itself was prepared to my liking but rather uninteresting - the kind of thing we could easily grill up at at home - and the summer squash was just as unexciting,. However, the zucchini blossom was absolutely delicious, a paper thin tempura batter concealing a decadent and meaty filling. Our server agreed: the chef really needs to add these to the menu as a starter. They are rather sublime - almost like a jalapeno popper for food snobs.
My mom selected the hand cut pasta ribbons with Wagyu beef bolognese and Argentine sardo (15.00), which was a winner: she proclaimed it almost as good as her own bolognese which you can presume is a winning endorsement. Super-light pasta melded nicely with the rich and complex Bolognese - your momma's Sunday night Bolognese on luxury steroids.
My dad went with the crispy skin duck breast with braised duck risotto and orange honey glaze (26.00), which was equally successful: the duck was cooked to perfection and retained an excellent citrus-infused crispy crust. The risotto was also tasty, reflecting the fatty and rich flavors of the duck back upon itself.
Following in the rather diabolical new restaurant custom of selling sides seperately, I selected the roasted broccoli rabe with garlic, chili flakes and parmesan, as I love any kind of funky vegetable. The broccoli rabe retained its characteristic delightful bitterness, which worked nicely with the chilis spice - and I also enjoyed the ample shavings of parmesan sprinkled on top.
Ella's dessert menu features an enticing selection of sorbets and ice creams made in house, but I zeroed in on the local strawberry and peach organic cream tart (8.00). This was highly seasonal to make the hippies happy and incidentally delicious: a buttery and crispy crust filled with fresh juicy fruit and topped with an ample dollop of tangy, fresh cream. Fresh, not too heavy, and a great way to end a summer meal. There is no photo because we messily devoured it before I could whip out my camera. Sorry.
Service was attentive and on the ball, with a chatty style that offsets what could be a rather stuffy dining experience. I especially liked our servers frankness - he was willing to steer us away from stuff he wasn't particularly fond of and knew the menu backwards and forwards, which is wonderful to see. The dining area is lovely (I especially love the old shutters that line the ceiling), although Ella deserves quite a few demerit points for setting the water in the ladies' bathroom to SCALDING HOT temperatures. I do not expect to have to jump back and squeal when I wash my hands at a Nice Restaurant. Especially when I'm wearing silly shoes.
Did Ella blow me away? Not really - I was expecting slightly more innovative and gutsy cooking - but it does do an excellent job turning out fresh and high quality cuisine to an appreciative foodie audience. I'd like to come back and do a culinary sort of amble through the cold plates section, and it'll be interesting to see what Ella comes up with as the seasons change. Certainly it's an excellent choice for solid, local, and fresh fine dining in the Sacramento region (can we finally get over our San Francisco envy please.)