I’ve been in Sacramento for a long time and I can remember the ‘good old days’ of heading to Del Paso Blvd to ice skate at Iceland. Those days have long passed for several reasons, mostly because my courage to place my oversized frame on 2 skinny blades while flying across the ice has simply diminished. Unfortunately, Iceland no longer exists either…however; I just found a new reason to head back over to the corner of Del Paso Blvd. and Arden Way, over and over. If you have been following my articles you will notice that although I like to write about fine dining, here in Sacramento I usually have to write about more than traditional ‘fine dining’. I will confess to you about my love of the wine and cuisine of places like Napa, LA, Las Vegas, New York and more, and my friends and family have heard me repeatedly wish for some great food and wine here in Sacramento. I’m very happy to say that I found a place you have to try…sure it may not be located where you might expect, but if you don’t give them a try, then you’re just missing out! What is this must see? Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar. I’m excited to write this article for 2 reasons. First, the food is amazing and carries the vision of fresh and clean flavors that excite the palate. Along with the food, the wine and service is also very nice. Second, Enotria offers fresh and seasonal options on their menu…literally, menu selections that will be determined by what ingredients will be available to them; everything from seafood to vegetables. If you read my last article on Francis Ford Coppola Winery and their restaurant Rustic, then you will know that their approach was to have a set menu and to source the best ingredients from there. Enotria works in a slightly different fashion; they get the ingredients and create the menu from what is available to them. More about the food in a minute.
Enotria is set up in 3 very distinct styles. When you first walk in (closest to the corner of Arden and Del Paso) there is the Wine Bar. The Wine Bar is casual but elegant featuring a beautiful bar and casual tables and even an outdoor patio. The culinary menu of the Wine Bar features a nice array of small plates and appetizers including flatbreads and a daily fish special. Enotria also has a fantastic patio where you can enjoy white linen service for lunch or dinner on a daily basis. Then there is the restaurant. White linen, a very elegant wine cabinet which features much of the over 400 various selections of wine offered by Certified Sommelier, Jeremiah Morehouse. The kitchen is open for viewing and although the restaurant is stunning and elegant, it did not feel stuffy and overbearing. It was easy to relax and enjoy the experience. Enotria also has solid accommodations for events, everything from the patio which can hold up to 200 to their loggia (a separate room adjacent to the dining room which is indoors and can hold up to 45 people. I sat down with the Executive Chef of Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar, John Komotos and was able to get a nice feel for his philosophy. He is a graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts campus in Austin, TX. From culinary school he worked at Lake Austin Spa, at Bistro Montage in Des Moines, and restaurants in Vermont and Vale, CO before finding himself here in Sacramento. He is relatively new to Enotria but then you can say that everything at Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar is new. The last time I set foot in the Restaurant before my meeting with the Chef was last winter and I was walking through construction dust and sheetrock, but this restaurant has cleaned up nicely. The patio, loggia as well as the Wine Bar is all brand new and let me assure you that even the restaurant is completely renovated. Chef John mentioned to me that what he loves about being in California is that he has such great access to local, Northern California Farms and that he gets daily shipments of seafood from Oregon, Hawaii, Washington as well as the California coast. These fresh ingredients give him inspiration for special creations on the menu. It’s not only the Chef that holds this vision, but in speaking with General Manager Michael Coyne I found that the whole team has made a commitment to a ‘live’ menu (a menu that will continue to adjust based on ingredients that are available). They are truly focused on bringing the level of expectation to a higher level, in fact when I told the General Manager, Michael Coyne that I felt the restaurant would hold its own in Napa he said; “But we’re here in Sacramento” and I have to agree, it’s great to have a place like this right here. Let’s talk about the food and what made me so excited to have a restaurant like Enotria here in Sacramento.
Those of you who read my articles will clearly remember that when it comes to food, I love contrast…flavors, textures and temperature. The first appetizer that Chef John sent to us was Fried Oysters. Now I’ve eaten a New Orleans ‘Po Boy’ and this was nothing like what you might think. The breading was very light, a mix of corn starch, tapioca flour, polenta and spices. The oysters were perched on a bed of slaw that was very bright and lightly dressed with a mildly spicy aioli (spicy mayonnaise). As I cut into the oyster I could tell the breading was very light and the oyster was still fresh and bright, not over cooked, in fact the oyster was just slightly warm in the center and the slaw was nice and cold…perfectly executed. The next appetizer was a braised short rib, just a bite and what great bite it was. This dish was very high in umami, that savory flavor that is tough to describe. The short rib is braised in stock and also has a touch of Riesling (see more about wines in the Concierge Corner at the end of this article), a crisp and fruity white wine that offers a touch of brightness to the flavor profile. The dish was plated with some thinly shaved and fried potatoes (or pommes frites) as well as a tamari reduction (tamari is similar to a soy sauce but is thicker as it is typically made by thinning out a miso paste – gluten free options are also available as there is a process to rice in the manufacturing process as opposed to wheat). The rich and hearty nature of the short rib and the dark elegance of the sauce when combined with the playful natures of the potatoes made for a very enjoyable combination. We next tasted the mussels which arrived that day from Prince Edward Island and they were still in the shell which always makes for a nice presentation and they came with this broth that was fantastic. He made the broth with San Marzano tomatoes which may have actually originated in Spain or possibly Peru but are certainly most famous as being from Naples in Italy. Whatever the history, I certainly understand the buzz since there is a delicate sweetness that the tomatoes contribute. The broth also has garlic, shallot, Spanish chorizo and is all simmered together for hours to create a rich and slightly sweet broth with a hint of spice. The final taste we had before the entre was of all things a beet salad. Now some of you might be thinking, “Really!?! A beet salad, are you kidding?” I guess there may have been a time when the only thing related to beet that would come from me was a misspelled “Beat Michigan”…but really my confidence was riding high from the first few dishes so I thought to myself, ‘why not’? And I’m glad I did! This was a very nice salad, spinach that was bright and fresh along with the creamy texture of the goat cheese and the crunch and touch of sweetness from the candied pecans. The beets were fresh and colorful and I can only describe this dish in 3 words: fresh, fresh, fresh! The bite was complex but nicely balanced.
During the course of tasting these delectable items we ordered some wine. Enotria offers flights so that you can have a few to taste, or the basic choices of ordering a glass or bottle are available as well. For the evening, our choice was a flight (3 small glasses) of Pinot Noir. I’ll talk about pinot noir and other grapes at the end of this article but I am very glad that Jason (our Server) recommended the pinot. We had the 2005 Macedon Ranges from Victoria, Australia (mello and fruity with the taste of cherries but not very tannic, some vanilla and a hint of spice on the finish), the 2009 Eola-Amity Hills from Willamette Valley, Oregon (more of a medium body, slightly more sexy and settled a balanced fruit and almost a buttery or silky texture) and finally the 2008 Santa Lucia Highlands from Monterey, CA (definitely the fullest of the 3, the dense fruit of dark berries with more of the oak and spice – perfect for the lamb that was on its way).
I had the opportunity to taste 2 of the night’s entre selections. The first was the special, California King Salmon served with haricot verts and radish. Radish is admittedly something I don’t eat…like, ever! The closest I’ll come is the creamy cut horseradish that goes with a Friday night prime rib. I was really being adventurous when I put some freshly grated horseradish into my mashed potatoes a few months back. But at Enotria, I was eating radish…and enjoying it! They first blanch the radish and this gets a little bit of the bitterness out and then they roast the radishes with salt, pepper and some butter and they are delicious. I’ve talked about haricot verts before in my article about Bistro La Petite France in Granite Bay. These were cooked very nicely, still having some texture and yet amazing flavor. But the fish ruled this dish, and yes I meant to say that! The California King Salmon was the rockstar that craved attention and deservedly so. The fish is lightly grilled and then coated with Chef John’s version of a blackening spice which is very unique to what I have tasted before. He used Garam Masala which is a blend of dry-roasted and then ground spices such as clove, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, fennel, dried chilies and possibly more. In addition to the Garam Masala he used Sumac (a small tree that commonly grows in the Middle East and a little bit here in North America and flowers and grows these clusters of fruit that is dried and then ground into a powder). Sumac usually includes some salt but together with the Garam Masala the flavor profile of the ‘blackening’ spice was deep and full. The fish was cooked perfectly, medium rare and was tender and flakey. The elements of the dish together created a very nice contrast, the rich spice of the fish is paired with the buttery richness of the green beans and then the slightly tart but tender radishes all worked together very nicely.
The second of the entre selections was the lamb prepared 2 ways. The preparation was very nice and it allowed the lamb to be highlighted, the tender braised lamb was melt in your mouth yummy and then there was the ‘kabob’…grilled on a stick. The dish also came with rice which was delicate and nicely seasoned as well as with some kale. You’ve seen the stereotypical kale garnish…the green leaf that the local ‘diner’ will throw on your plate for color; well this was much more than that! The kale almost stole the show from the lamb! Almost, but yes, it was great…that bright pop of acidity and slight crunch was a nice contrast to the hearty lamb. I’ve had lamb many times but never the kale, so this was a new experience for me. This got me thinking about why we eat so much spinach, arugula or other types of greens but never kale…maybe our folks tried and didn’t like it (or couldn’t cook it) so we didn’t come up looking at kale as anything beyond a garnish. I promise you that without the kale this dish would not have been quite at the same level. Not that every dish needs kale, but the lamb is so rich and hearty that the substance of the kale gave a very nice balance and the bright acidity was the perfect touch. Are you full yet? Yes, so was I but they really wanted us to try at least one of their dessert offerings.
They have numerous items from which to choose but the selection of their pastry was equal to the level of the dinner menu. They feature several flavors of house made gelato, including vanilla bean and salty caramel. Often we may not know the difference between gelato and ice cream but there are a few definite differences – 1. Gelato does not have air incorporated into the mix whereas ice cream is as much as 50% air (more expensive/high quality ice cream may only have 20% air) and so the flavor of gelato is richer and much creamier. 2. Gelato is served warmer than ice cream..it is still frozen but tends to be served at 10 degrees warmer which means that when it melts in your mouth it brings a bigger flavor to your palate…and brings that flavor quickly. 3. Another difference is that gelato has less butterfat content than does ice cream. Ice cream is generally between 18-26% butterfat and gelato is in the realm of 10-12%. What this means to you is that gelato has a less solid freeze and combined with the lower fat as the frozen treat hits your palate it melts more quickly and the flavor is released almost immediately and you get a more rounded impact of the flavor. We tasted the salty caramel and this not only salty and caramelly but was also rich and creamy. I was very impressed that this was made in-house and they have done a great job. But there was yet one more dessert to try, the crème brulee napoleon. Like I say, I love texture and this dish had it in spades. On the plate sat a crisp of phyllo which somehow tasted almost like a cookie with hazelnuts and was nice and crispy. On top of that was cold vanilla bean custard that was holding its shape as a square with another crisp on top of that then another layer of custard topped with a final crisp. There was a nice drizzle of caramel on top but surprisingly enough this dish was not overly sweet. In fact the balance was so even that you might say that this was the perfect end to a meal fit for any food city in the United States.
You might consider Enotria for your next celebration dinner or just a casual lunch…but the price of the entrees on Enotria’s menu is anywhere from $18-27. The flight of Pinot Noir was $13.50, the appetizers or ‘small plates’ run from $9 up to $25, which is a really good price for a dozen raw oysters on the half shell. The food is top notch and the service is excellent as well as their wine selection, but you will not need to get a 2ndmortgage to have a nice evening. Take a night out, because there’s always time to ‘Wine and Dine’.
Concierge Corner: Often when we buy wine we can become confused as to what wine matches a particular food or what exactly is the wine in the bottle. For example, if you are having a light fish dish you wouldn’t order a Burgundy would you? Well, why not? What do you like? More importantly, what is a Burgundy wine? Most people are thinking of a red wine, but the truth is that wine from the Burgundy region of France will be called Burgundy but does not have to be red. In fact, chardonnay is the leading wine of Burgundy…accounting for 70% of their wine production. The other grape of Burgundy is pinot noir. What we love about pinot is that the wine has such a subtle intrigue and tends to be very easy to drink. I noticed by tasting 3 different pinots from different regions and different winemakers that even among the grape itself the development can vary greatly as they craft their luscious wine. Pinot noir is one of the leading grapes for red wines and there really isn’t much of a way around it, this is a sexy wine. Soft and silky, most will find pinot easy to drink and flexible enough to go with various types of food. Other wines that tend to be know more by the region than the grape would be Bordeaux, Champagne and Chianti (a region in Tuscany). Much of this is due to laws and regulations. The AOC (a controlling body in France) is very strict with the labeling for their wines and trust me, this gets extremely complicated. Nevertheless often you would buy a region and may not know what varietal (grape) is involved in the process. Burgundy is pretty easy as they mainly feature just 2 grapes as we mentioned. Bordeaux has a few others involved but much of their red includes cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot. The whites of Bordeaux are mainly Sauvignon Blanc (a more herbal and floral wine) and Semillon…and usually they blend these together and may also include minor grapes like Ugni Blanc or Muscadelle. The rules of the country of France are only surpassed by those of the region.
Many people may not know that Germany has been very high on the scale of excellent tradition in winemaking. The leading wine of Germany is Riesling which Chef John used as one of the elements in his braising of the short rib. We do not use grow much Riesling here in the States (upstate New York being the exception) but it definitely has a place. It works very well in cooking because it is high in acidity and sugar, with a big fruitiness. This is a great complement for dishes that are rich and/or spicy.
With all this said, what wine should you order? If you mainly prefer a white then that is ok, even within white wines you will see tremendous variety. Sauvignon Blanc will be much brighter and herbal whereas Chardonnay is fermented and often aged in oak barrels for a short period of time and can bring a richer and deeper texture that is almost complex. If you feel that reds are overbearing then you might try pinot noir or even some merlot wines as these can often be softer and more subtle. Another tip is to cool your red wines a little bit, even just 3-5 degrees cooler can soften the wine. Just try to avoid cooling it too much as it will lose more of the complexity that make it special (the best way to cool wine is to get a bucket and fill it half with ice and half with water…10 or 15 minutes tops will do the trick). Ultimately, you should feel comfortable to drink the wine you enjoy with the food you enjoy. Just push to broaden your exposure so that you can truly have a breadth of experience from which to choose.