Dine Downtown 2013: GOTG Reviews

dine downtownBy the Editors

Ok Sacramento, you’ve got two more days to experience Dine Downtown, an event by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership and Sacramento Magazine where local chefs  create three-course dinner menus for only $30/person (minus booze, tax and tip).

Still not sure which restaurant you want to try? Below is a sampling of GOTG’s experiences and reviews – Bon Appétit!

Aimee – Tuli Bistro (2031 S Street)

After 2 friends said good things about Tuli’s Bistro I added it to my running list of restaurants to try. With a nudge courtesy of Dine Downtown and a little help from my mother and grandmother, my gastronomic touchstones, I checked it off on Wednesday. My grandma loves to eat out on the town so she treats my mom and I and others to dinner almost every week. I have a list of all the restaurants in the area that serve oysters. Since I’m lucky enough to often taste exquisite cuisine, predominantly seafood, I might as well pay forward the experience through GOTG. I am an total amateur foodie but I will say that while I don’t expect to like everything I usually expect to like what I order.

I hoped to order Dine Downtown’s prix fixe menu, but told myself I would only get it if I would have ordered it anyway. The Dine Downtown entree was a glazed pork chop with potatoes and broccoli. Seeing as I don’t love pork chops (they are usually too dry for me) and I didn’t see the vegetarian option in fine print, I opted for the clam and spicy sausage pasta instead. Luckily my mom does like pork chop so she chose the DD meal which she kindly agreed to advise me on (an open-ended offer) and let me sample it. The DD menu started with a winter salad of kale, beets, radishes and herbs and a blood orange panna cotta for dessert. I love veggies, but I’m not a huge fan of bitter ones so this salad wasn’t up my alley in the first place*. But my sample group liked it; my mom gave it a 10/10 for interest.

The daily menu is limited in number but not interesting seasonal combinations. I prefer quality over quantity any day and as indecisive as I am it still took me a good 10 minutes to decide. The authentic menu descriptions, for example Branzino, i.e. see bass and Hot Soperssate pizza, read sausage pizza didn’t hasten the process. Luckily my dinner companions know their fair share of menu monikers, but it’s nice when they throw in a laymen’s term for specific varietals.  The pork chop was moist and the sweetness in the pecans played well off of the scrumptiously seasoned  vegetables. The entrees were STELLAR. My pasta was tastefully mild and light on the sausage to keep the heat level at a medium per my request**, the delicate mountain of tiny Manila clams more than compensated. According to my grandma her beet red glazed scallops atop red and white quinoa were cooked perfectly; a high compliment from a seasoned seafood lover. We ended dinner with blood orange panna cotta: a custard (creme brûlée minus the brûlée) with intense vanilla flavor and just enough orangutanginess and supreme orange sections. Every time I eat custard I can’t help but think that it is room temperature ice cream.

Necessarily, Tuli’s well-insulated patio has heaters over every table. A covered patio doesn’t compare to dining al fresco, but it’s comfortable which is good because this cozy bistro stays true to its name. A “bar” and a 2 bistro tables comprise the indoor seating. The bar-style seating made for an attractive alternative. Facing the open kitchen, you could literally watch the chef prepare each course then hand it to you, probably a great spot for a date. Overall, a great meal with the most important ingredient great company.

*When I simply do not like an ingredient I will address it, I’m allowed to do that. Moreover I will rave about it when said ingredient is prepared deliciously.

**Don’t get me wrong I like spicy food, just not so hot that it overpowers the over flavors. Spiciness is a personal preference and personal for the chef so I like to ask how hot is hot?

Kelly – The Grange (926 J Street)

When you look at the regular menu for Grange and realize that the vegetarian option is $23 by itself, it makes Dine Downtown an even sweeter deal. Three courses at a swanky restaurant for $30 is enough to make this penny-pinching girl swoon, and especially when it comes with such creative and tasty dishes.

Let’s start with the fact that their featured cocktail on the Dine Downtown menu was a Johnny Walker concoction that tasted like the Caribbean in a less fruity (more smoky) way. I’m a fan of the whiskey family, so this was right up my alley, though maybe a little too girly for my scotch swilling fiancé. To make up for it, he ordered sweet potato chowder that had a distinctly smoky bacon taste and a hunk of pork so fancy and tender that it melted off the bone the second he touched it with his fork. And despite the budget menu, the meat portion was big enough to bring home leftovers.

On the meatless side of things, the kale salad was incredible. Shredded, chewy kale with smooth ricotta cheese, sweet dried cranberries, and some kind of magic citrus dressing. Each flavor and texture contributed to a super interesting and tasty dish! Similarly, the carrot risotto was topped with fennel and trumpet mushrooms to give you a little bit of crunch, a little bit of chew, and a lot a bit of flavor. Even though the color looked a lot like boxed mac & cheese, no flavor was too overpowering and creamy risotto is always a good pick for a cold night.

Dessert was slightly disappointing. The caramel apple cake was a little dry and more flour than caramel or apple. But it was airy and lightly sweet and we ate the whole thing anyway. If you’re a chocolate lover, the pots du crème is pretty great. Very sweet and smooth and so rich that I had to leave the last couple bites. I’m no food critic, but I think the Grange is innovative and delicious and worth it just to feel like a part of high society for the night.

Lisa (Frank Fat’s – 806 L Street)

We hit up Frank Fat’s on Sunday night for a combined Dine Downtown outing and to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We picked it over other spots for two reasons: my two-year old loves Chinese food and the guaranteed fast and friendly service. I

’m embarrassed to admit that as I started to write this blurb and went back and looked at previous Dine Downtown reviews like this one, I realized that I ate at at Fat’s a few years back for Dine Downtown. I know…boring, right? Rest assured – I do venture out and try new restaurants – it’s just a coincidence. Plus, as referenced earlier, I have limited options these days when the toddler is in tow and it’s not a date night.

The good news is that my two favorite items were on the menu again this go round: honey walnut prawns and banana cream pie. The garlic green beans, also a fan favorite, were included. The beef selection was the immigrant’s beef, which was disappointing compared to other beef I’ve had at Frank Fat’s. Some of the pieces were more tender than others (aka some pieces were chewy), but the asparagus was definitely under cooked. I also wasn’t super excited about the Hunan Chicken Chow Mein from the get-go because of the crunchy noodles, but I liked it better than past versions thanks to the jalapenos and bell peppers that gave it a sweet and spicy kick. Overall, I can’t ever complain about Fat’s because it’s always going to be good.

Even if I enjoyed a previous menu more than this one, I’ll be back. I also love the fact that the food is served up family-style, and we had leftovers to bring home. Plus, we didn’t even have to pay for our little guy’s dinner since he just ate some of ours…making this Dine Downtown spot even more of a bargain.

And for more DD coverage, check out our past articles here.

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