Over the past year, there have been major restaurant, bar and brewery openings, significant closings, changes of ownership, a good bit of revamping, some noteworthy expansion and, yes, plenty of delays.
In fact, because some of the most noteworthy openings were a long time coming, you might say that 2015 was the year of the “watched pot never boils.” And our anticipation for hot spots promises to carry well into 2016, especially for the relocation of Kru, the acclaimed Japanese restaurant, and the opening of OBO Italian, both in a divided 11,000-square-foot space that once housed Andiamo Restaurant and Bar, and before that, the Rosemount Grill for 45 years.
While timing is critical when it comes to cooking and serving, it is much less precise for hammering and sawing and getting things built.
By this time last year, we were supposed to have already witnessed the launch of the much-ballyhooed Empress Tavern, led by culinary wiz Michael Thiemann, who for months insisted that his cavernous, subterranean restaurant beneath the Crest Theater would open in time for a New Year’s Eve shindig. That didn’t happen. Neither did it by Valentine’s Day nor Mother’s Day.
When Empress, a sophisticated take on an old-school meat carvery, finally opened to the public, it was September, nine months past projections.
By many accounts, it was worth the wait. The place is packed nightly and Carla Meyer, The Bee’s restaurant critic, awarded Empress four stars, the paper’s highest rating.
To a lesser extent, foodies were eagerly awaiting the new location of Shoki Ramen House at the site of the old Trails Restaurant, which had fallen on hard times before its owner sold the building to Shoki proprietors Yasushi and Kathy Ueyama.
The new Shoki was supposed to open in April. By June, the owners said they would be serving ramen within two weeks.
Not so fast, said inspectors with the county health department. Months and months passed and now we’re told the new Shoki, which had to resolve a long list of issues related to the functionality of the aging building, is only days away from serving ramen – nine months later than projected.
While we’re waiting for Shoki, Kru and OBO to get rolling, our attention is sure to turn to the relocation of the much-celebrated The Kitchen, the $175-per-person (with tax and gratuity) performance-style restaurant owned by the Selland family. In addition to replacing its short-lived head chef with former Ella Dining Room and Bar executive chef Kelly McKown, The Kitchen made news in April by purchasing a building on Broadway. Projected to open in late 2016, The Kitchen will move from its longtime digs on Hurley Way at Howe Avenue. If the award-winning interior at Ella is any indication, the new spot could set a standard for Sacramento restaurant design.
City Councilman Steve Hansen, a foodie himself, called the development “the needed spark that will catalyze the revitalization of Broadway and spur other kinds of investments in this historic commercial corridor.”
Empress and Shoki/Trails looked absolutely fast-tracked compared to Twelve Rounds Brewing in East Sacramento, where husband-and-wife owners Dan and Elle Murphy spent three years trying to navigate building permits, a substandard electrical system and a spate of other issues. They even hired a brewer who never got to brew a batch of beer before moving on to another job. They finally got the doors open and are brewing beer with Scott Cramlet, the longtime brewer at Rubicon who was looking for a new challenge.
In many cases, openings in 2015 meant the expansion of well-regarded local brands. Hawks, the superb big-ticket restaurant in Granite Bay, opened Hawks Public House, a more casual pub-style eatery on Alhambra Boulevard. The owners of Aïoli Bodega Española, the long-running tapas restaurant in midtown, opened Brasserie Capitale on K Street in the high-profile space occupied previously by The Broiler. While the French cooking was very good, The Bee’s Meyer opined, the wait for it could seem interminable.
Shady Lady, the restaurant and bar on R Street, expanded its presence on the grid by opening B Side, a modern take on a dive bar. That’s right, we’ve been watching and waiting for this opening for more than a year, especially since the folks at Shady Lady make some of the best cocktails in town. But the anticipation for B Side could seem like nothing compared to Shady Lady’s new R Street venture, Amaro Italian Bistro & Bar, in a three-story historic building that has been saddled with construction challenges. We’ve been telling you about that one since May 2014.
Paragary’s Bar & Oven, a midtown institution beloved for its patio dining, spent $1 million and 15 months updating the restaurant at 28th and N streets. Initial projections? Eight months. East Sacramento also got its own whole animal butcher shop called V. Miller Meats, which opened to plenty of fanfare – after many months of anticipation and delays.
All these building permit and construction headaches might make the simplicity of owning and operating food trucks seem like easy street. In fact, 2015 saw the Sacramento City Council pass laws that eased restrictions on the ever-growing fleet of food trucks. Still, you might say the “watched pot” theme applies to lawmakers, who have been contemplating changes in the ordinance since 2012.
The reality is that food trucks are, indeed, leaner and easier to get up and running than their brick and mortar counterparts. But it isn’t always quick and cheap. A permit to have more than one truck operate on private property costs $5,000 and involves a wait of three to six months. For one truck, it’s $2,000 for an annual permit and about a month’s wait.
But the relative ease of operation and additional exposure are some of the reasons why established restaurants such as Buckhorn Grill, Chando’s Tacos, Squeeze Inn and Willie’s Burgers now have food trucks. Among the break-out trucks of 2015 is Cluck N Chuck, which sells supersized chicken sandwiches and burgers. Another popular truck, The Culinerdy Cruzer, owned by chef Keith Breedlove, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant by summer. In the restaurant business, summer might be Latin for “who knows when.”
As brand expansion goes, Kru owner/chef Billy Ngo branched off into Fish Face Poke Bar, the instantly popular casual eatery on R Street inside the mixed-use Warehouse Artist Lofts (WAL). There will be another Fish Face in Carmichael at the highly anticipated foodie-centric Milagro Centre, a repurposing of a failed strip mall that’s expected to redefine a stretch of Fair Oaks Boulevard that had never been considered a culinary destination.
One restaurant signed on to open at Milagro is the Broderick Roadhouse, best known for its Johnny Cash burger and banh mi fries at its West Sacramento site. Broderick’s owners had a busy and challenging year. They opened a second location that never caught on in midtown on L Street in the space previously occupied by a Wahoo’s Fish Tacos. Broderick also pulled the plug on two other restaurants, the pizzeria Trick Pony and the casual eatery and bar Capital Dime. Trick Pony became Localis, which has won raves from foodies and whose farm plate topped the list of Meyer’s 10 best dishes of the year.
We’re still waiting for Saddle Rock, the successor to Capital Dime, to be helmed by Kevin O’Connor, best known for his private fine dining pop-up enteprise called the Tree House. When will it open? Initial reports said June 2015. Now that it’s 2016, add it to the list of highly anticipated openings in the months to come.
There was one dining experience in 2015 for which delays of any kind – the click of a mouse or flubbing of credit card digits – meant you could be on the outside looking in. Yes, despite the snail’s pace of numerous restaurant, bar and brewery openings, the Tower Bridge dinner has become an instant local classic.
Tickets for the $175-a-person gala dinner on the bridge, seen as the centerpiece of events celebrating Sacramento’s self-branding as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” sold out online within 15 seconds. The 2,000 or so folks who failed to snag a ticket did a slow boil.