First Impressions: The Rind looking to become Sacramento's big cheese

06/07/2013 12:00 AM

06/07/2013 1:41 PM

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 taste@sacbee.com

The Rind

1801 L St., Suite 40, Sacramento

(916) 441-7463

www.therindsacramento.com

Hours: 11 a.m to 10 p.m. Wednesday; 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Here's the good news for The Rind, Sacramento's first cheese bar: Nearly every sensible person around loves cheese.

It's visceral. It's intellectual. And don't get us started about what happens to sensible people when cheese melts.

The Rind is a place to stop in, nibble some cheese and perhaps go through the stimulating exercise of finding the right pairing with wine or beer – or both.

Nestled in the 1800 block of L Street, The Rind is in the thick of midtown and a welcome addition to what's becoming known as the Handle District.

During my visits, I spotted several cheese-obsessed folks stopping by for a look – and a fix. I also saw two men checking out the menu on the window. One of them frowned and said, "It's all cheese," before walking off.

So perhaps it's not for all of the people all of the time. But is it for some of the people some of the time? Indeed it is, though some of those people may flinch at the prices.

Menu: The options here are flexible. You can follow the lead of the owner, Sara Arbabian, and go with pre-determined cheese boards for $12-$14, complete with items such as honey, cornichons and, ahem, bread (more on that in a moment). Or you can explore the styles available and create your own cheese board. Think of this as a snack, not a meal.

The affable and knowledgeable Arbabian is there to give details about the cheeses and provide pairing suggestions. I'm agnostic when it comes to pairing cheese with wine or beer. There's no single right – or wrong – answer. Different palates react differently, so feel free to dabble.

There are five artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches, each costing $11, and a smaller one for $6. This raises several questions. Most important, is it really worthwhile to put high-priced cheese in a melted cheese sandwich? Mellower cheeses can get lost in the mix. Powerful ones tend to stand out and make for a more dynamic eating experience.

With the "Cowgirl" grilled cheese featuring mild and creamy Mt. Tam and the pleasingly bitter Morbier, serving it this way washed out the compelling notes of each cheese.

Then there's mac and cheese – two kinds for $11 each. My baked mac and cheese featured tasty, salty cubes of prosciutto and a four-cheese blend that included Gruyère and Rogue Creamery's Crater Lake Blue. Topped with breadcrumbs, it was a decent, straightforward version.

There were two kinds of soups: a mild, peppery tomato; and a spicy, exciting (if slightly overwhelming) gazpacho.

Price point: When I asked my Twitter followers what they thought about an $11 grilled cheese, many reacted with a thumbs-down. When I invited one of those skeptics to join me at The Rind, he changed his mind, once he tasted the sandwich and factored in the overall experience of the place.

Drinks: The wine list could use a tweak. The least expensive glass when we were there was $9. And my $13 glass of pinot noir was served too warm – it's better at 62 degrees than 75 degrees. With just a few beers on tap, we applaud their selections of local craft beers, including the new and very good Gilt Edge lager by Ruhstaller, which paired well with the grilled cheese.

Ambiance: We love the location and are impressed with the room. It's small, refined and cozy – a little slice of Paris. The big windows are great for people-watching.

Service: It's a small room and the servers were friendly and relaxed in their approach. Did they know all the answers to our cheese questions? No, not yet. But they probably will soon.

First impression: The grilled cheese sandwich and mac and cheese were tasty but could use a touch more sophistication.

The cheese board was excellent. Clearly, Arbabian is passionate about her cheese. But she may need to think about the accompanying French bread. Slicing it well ahead of time and leaving it out in the open air turned it into would-be croutons. Way too dry. It was a distraction and impossible to enjoy.

The Rind is off to a promising start. With a few price tweaks, attention to detail and a gradual cooking upgrade, this place could become a gem for more of the people more of the time.

Try it if: You appreciate the complexities and flavors of fine cheese and want to taste new ones.

Forget it if: The concept feels a little too frou-frou.

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

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