Empress Tavern Impresses
By Aimee Darville
Empress Tavern, an American Carvery in the heart of Downtown Sacramento, opened last Thursday to the public. The entryway (located at 1013 K street) is tucked away and adorned with a gorgeous container garden of succulents and water wise plants, designed by Shannin Stein, Empress Tavern’s General Manager and Len Peterson, the bar manager.
When I arrived, a host greeted me and held the door to a grand staircase leading down to the restaurant which has been converted from the basement of the historic Crest theater. The open space features brick arches and a bar wrapped around the center. Recessed lighting and fanciful wallpaper brighten up the space so much you’ll forgot that you’re in a basement.
Across from the staircase an open kitchen showcases a shiny new Rotisol rotisserie that Chef/Owner Michael Thiemann and Co-Executive Chef Matt Masera can monitor and adjust remotely! Empress is located just steps away from popular vegetarian restaurant Mother, co-founded by Thiemann. Empress is a marked departure from Mother; the menu highlights proteins in a contemporary and approachable way, including a number of veggie options with snacks and sides for only $5 and $6 respectively.
The opening night energy was palpable as servers in blue bowling shirts buzzed between tables and a photographer from SacTown magazine snapped shots of diners. No reservations are required at the bar so I started with Bike Dog’s San Dog IPA and we were seated before I finished it.
I only eat meat occasionally so I was a little nervous, but I decided to embrace my inner carnivore…when in Rome! At the bar I snacked on a chicken heart smothered in herbs that tasted, well like chicken. I’ve never tried bone marrow before and it did not disappoint. Served on a pesto panzanella, it was like a rich meat butter. We also dug into a couple of delicious fish options: fried smelt and smoked salmon dip served with crispy potato chips.
One more side, the potato dauphinoise, a scalloped potato gratin and the prime rib cooked perfectly medium rare rounded out the meal. Thankfully I saved room for (a few bites of) dessert, because the peach pie, swimming in peaches and served from a dessert cart a-la-mode with buttermilk ice cream, was seriously good.
After a long awaited opening, Empress Tavern definitely delivered on flavor and creativity. Be careful though, the chicken spinning on the rotisserie is hypnotizing. I know what I’ll be ordering next time!
(All photos courtesy of Empress Tavern)