Bee staff

Skuna Bay salmon and fresh asparagus, a good choice at Hock Farm.

First Impressions: Uneven ground at Hock Farm

Published: Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 31TICKET
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 28, 2013 - 9:54 am

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at brobertson@sacbee.com.

Hock Farm Craft & Provisions

1415 L St., Sacramento

(916) 440-8888

If you hadn't been to Spataro in a while, you're not alone. That explains why the Paragary-owned restaurant has been put out to pasture, the interior completely gutted, the menu reconfigured and the marketing approach updated in an assertive and au courant way.

Sacramento is fast becoming the farm-to-fork capital, according to Sacramento. Hock Farm Craft & Provisions jumps on the bandwagon with a menu that not only lists the supplying farms, it maps where the food is grown.

The kitchen is headed by executive chef David LaRoche, who has run the Spataro kitchen for the past several years. The room is very different, very impressive, very contemporary and, for now at least, very state Capitol and not very midtown.

According to the menu, the name of the restaurant "pays homage to John Sutter's Hock Farm," established in 1841.

Menu: Our server let it slip that plenty about the menu was just like what they were doing at Spataro, with new touches here and there. Fine with us, as the food at Spataro was often impressive, especially the Neapolitan-style pizza. Expect the menu to change with the seasons.

The menu is divided along traditional lines. There are "bites," or appetizers, which could rightfully be called rations for anorexics. Most interesting was caramel corn with candied bacon, which may or may not pay homage to John Sutter's sweet tooth. There are five kinds of pizzas, four salads and one soup. Then there are small plates, mostly under $10, including mac and cheese and chicken tacos. The full plates are relatively mainstream, including spaghetti carbonara, salmon and asparagus, roasted chicken and steak frites and a gourmet hamburger. Dessert choices include a chocolate-caramel tart and strawberry shortcake. The wine is California-centric, except for a riesling and a few Champagnes.

Price point: The bites are $5 and $6, a bargain until you see the portion size. The salads are from $6.50 to $11. Most of the pizzas, suitable for one or two people, are a reasonable $12. All of the main entrees were under $25, suggesting the restaurant is working hard to be competitive. A good portion of the wine list has bottles under $50.

Ambience: Hip, modern, open and a tad derivative with its glistening concrete floor, Hock Farm is very different from Spataro. The energy was lively, and there was just the right amount of noise. The tables were well spaced. There are several booths made with what appeared to be exposed plywood – very right now.

Drinks: There's an emphasis on quality cocktails and California wine. The smallish craft beer list also features California, though there were no beers from Sacramento.

Happy hour: We missed it by 8 minutes and were told that the kitchen said "no can do" on happy hour "provisions" like the $3 polenta cakes or $4 parmesan fries. If you want happy hour, (3-6 p.m.) be prompt or be disappointed. There's also a highball for $4 and cans of domestic beer for $3, among other deals.

Service: Casual, friendly, but not as polished as we were expecting. Questions about specific farms and seasonality were met with an I-have-no-idea look. If you're farm-to-table, you really should own it.

First impression: The bites were a disappointment. The three tiny deviled eggs were heavy on a mustardy flavor, overly tart and jarring to the palate. Salmon croquettes were perfectly fried but unexceptional in flavor. The beet salad was light on the beets, which were firm and tasty, and heavy on the lettuce. The salmon and asparagus was very good, including creamy and refined mashed potatoes with green garlic. The tender and juicy roasted half chicken came with delicious wilted dandelion greens. The half-pound burgers are served with buns from Paragary's Bakery. From their excellent pizzas, try the basic but tasty Margherita, with its tender, chewy and delicious thin crust.

The desserts were mixed. The chocolate caramel tart with a sprinkle of sea salt did not come with provisions from any local farm I know of, but it was elegant, balanced, tender and flavorful. The strawberry shortcake just didn't work as a dessert on any level. It wasn't sweet. It wasn't tasty. It wasn't any fun.

Despite that less-than- happy ending, repurposed and re-positioned Hock Farm is staking a claim as a serious player in the new and more competitive local dining scene. It will have to do more – and do it better – to be taken seriously alongside farm-to-table stalwarts like Ella, Mulvaney's, Magpie Cafe, The Waterboy and newcomer Hook & Ladder.

Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

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