Review of Dine Downtown

REMINDER:  Only 2 days left to experience Sacramento’s Dine Downtown – a great way to try a new restaurant/cuisine on the grid.

According the organizers, Sacramento Downtown Partnership, this year is seeing great results:  participating restaurants are reporting a significant increase in business since the restaurant week started on January 8.

And with time running out, GOTGer’s review their experiences this year – Bon Appétit!

Rachel Michelin – Esquire Grill

Let me start by saying I have not always been a big fan.  When they first opened they were the place to be, but over the years they got boring – the menu never changed and I thought they were a little over priced.  It has been awhile since I had been there so I was pleasantly surprised by the food and overall experience.  First, Esquire is and always has been the place to be seen.  I saw three members of the Legislature and a number of high-powered lobbyists.  It is funny because everyone wants to sit facing the door so they can see who is coming in!  I had their Cobb Salad and hot tea – the salad was not bad.  Pretty good for a Sacramento area Cobb and the price was pretty good too – under $15.  I can’t complain, but it still did not overwhelm me.  Would I go back – probably.  For the most part the food was good and you always get great service.  They have updated their menu to keep it fresh and I appreciate it.  Esquire is, and always will be, a downtown staple.  It is a go to restaurant where you know the food is good, the service is wonderful and you will dine with the movers-and-shakers of the Capitol area.

Robin Swanson – 58 Degrees

Dining at 58 Degrees and Holding was a good reminder that this establishment, though known for their wine, actually serves pretty phenomenal food.   Most of the time, I just order their “trio of bruschetta,” (their fig compote is out-of-this-world) to compliment whichever new adventurous wine I was tasting, but with 3 courses for $30, tonight was all about the food.   Along with a partner-in-crime, we each ordered different variations of the “Dine Downtown” menu, and in an ironic twist – though the food was to-die-for, the wine-pairings (for an additional $15) were a bit disappointing.    The wine was good, but unremarkable, and surprisingly predictable, for their pairings. And while I felt like the food was a really good value, the 3 different 3-oz pours didn’t feel like a bargain for $15.  I think I would’ve done better to order wine on my own from their extensive collection, to accompany my meal.

Lisa Page – Frank Fats

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into Frank Fat’s downtown restaurant on a sleepy Sunday evening. I wouldn’t have been surprised to walk in and be one of only a few people dining there, but I was delighted to see the first two sections of the restaurant about 60 percent occupied – the majority partaking in the special menu.  Chinese food isn’t usually my first dining out pick, but it’s where the second half of our double date (my parents) wanted to eat. The special menu requires the participation of at least two in your party, which didn’t matter to us because that’s why we were there. We were seated immediately and then it only took a few minutes for the waiter to stop at our table. It probably wasn’t more than 5 minutes after that when the first course, appetizers, arrived. The minced chicken in lettuce cup was okay but a little bland. The pot stickers, however, more than made up for the lettuce cups. They served two per person and they were stuffed full and plump with great flavor (the opposite of the frozen pot stickers you get at Costco).  Next up were the entrees. The steak in the black pepper ribeye steak kew was juicy and tender and was a great match with the black pepper honey sauce. I was thrilled that one of my favorite Fat’s dishes was on the menu – honey walnut prawns – it’s like dinner and desert in one. There was not a prawn or walnut left when we were done with the dish. Not because it wasn’t enough food, trust me, it was plenty. We just couldn’t let it go to waste. Plus, the entrees were rounded out with fresh, crunchy garlic green beans and young shew fried rice. It was the best fried rice I’ve had in awhile – tasted fresh and not greasy – which is hard to find with fried rice.  And saving the best for last, Fat’s famous banana cream pie was the dessert on the special menu. I was reminded again of why it’s my favorite desert in town.  After eating all of this food, we were surprised to look down at our watches and realize that we’d only been there for one hour! The service was just so fast AND friendly. I was most impressed by the amount of food provided. It’s definitely not one of those prix fix menu where you’re served small portions and walk away hungry. No complaints! I’d go back again next time.

Amelia McLear – Grange at The Citizen Hotel

For this year’s Dine Downtown, a group of seven friends and I decided to check out Grange at The Citizen Hotel.   We’ve all been there a few times since the restaurant and hotel opened in November 2008, but hadn’t been there in awhile so we thought the Dine Downtown week was the perfect opportunity to give this restaurant another try.  For the first course, they offered a choice of Caesar salad or white bean soup with house-smoked pork.  The second course was a choice of mushroom risotto or grilled hangar steak with chimichurri and roast fingerling potatoes.  The third course, dessert, was a choice of warm apple strudel with vanilla ice cream or warm Guinness ginger cake.   Sadly, we found the food on Grange’s Dine Downtown menu overall disappointing, tasteless and uninspired.   For the first course, I ordered the Caesar salad, where the dressing was extremely light or nonexistent and the anchovies the menu said were included were nowhere to be found.  It was literally 6 pieces of romaine hearts and a shave of parmesan cheese. In general, a Caesar salad should have bold, strong flavors but this was a very wimpy interpretation.  For the second course, I ordered the daily vegetarian risotto, which the night we went was a mushroom risotto.  Now, risotto is hard to make – it demands much stirring and a careful eye to make sure the pasta doesn’t overcook, thus turning the texture gelatinous.  Unfortunately, that’s what happened in my case.  I received a large helping of lukewarm pasta, texture verging on the gelatin, and with only three pieces of chanterelle mushrooms.  Other friends at the table ordered the grilled hangar steak, which they described as “tough.” And we all asked for salt and pepper.  For the third course, our server generously allowed us to order any dessert from the dessert menu, not just the apple strudel or warm Guinness ginger cake.  We all ordered the apple strudel with vanilla ice or another dessert from the menu, as the server strongly dissuaded us from the warm Guinness ginger cake, saying it tasted “like a muffin.”  I ordered the apple strudel with vanilla ice cream and it was tasty, but not spectacular.  On the positive side, I must note we enjoyed the calamari appetizer and my friend liked the fish she ordered from Grange’s regular menu.  Our server and the rest of the wait staff were fantastic – very thoughtful and managed the back and forth with our group.  But overall, the food choices on their Dine Downtown menu were bland and lacked flavor.  The unfortunate thing is that we all WANT to like Grange.  It’s a hip place with a cool vibe, has a diverse and delicious drink menu, and the staff is generally friendly and on their game – and of course we want to support a business that is trying to bring life to what is a very lifeless part of downtown.  But Grange is a restaurant that claims to be in the same realm food-wise as Ella, Mulvaney’s and Waterboy, so when it came to the food on their Dine Downtown menu, we expected more.

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