Let’s start with the name. In the weeks before this new restaurant and bar opened, Noah Zonca, the chef and partner, told me it would be called The Dime. OK, maybe the official name on the business license would be Capital Dime, but everyone would call it “The Dime.” It hasn’t really turned out that way. If I had a dime for everyone who called it The Dime, I would be dimeless.
Nomenclature notwithstanding, Capital Dime has become the new hot spot in town since it opened a few weeks ago. It’s urban. It’s hip. It’s stylish. It’s noisy. It’s filled nightly with people who are stylish and noisy. And everything on the compact menu is $10. Except when it’s not $10.
Will this budget-meets-quality-cooking concept be enough to keep people interested after the novelty wears off? And more importantly, do midtown restaurantgoers actually give a hoot if something costs $10 or $8.50 or $12.95, as long as it’s good?
How do we explain the enviable crowds and enthusiasm? For one thing, Zonca has a lot of restaurant street cred. He was the chef de cuisine at The Kitchen, where the concept is blow-your-budget-on-super-quality-cooking (a meal for two with wine and tip, and maybe an extra splash of sake, can easily set you back $450).
In other words, Zonca, 37, spent his formative years blowing people away at the most expensive restaurant in the city. Once founder and culinary impresario Randall Selland stepped away from the spotlight following a skiing injury, Zonca stepped up and became the star at this performance-style restaurant.
Capital Dime is supposed to take Zonca’s smarts, his palate, his contacts with purveyors, then pare them all down to make New American cuisine that’s seasonal, accessible, tasty and affordable. He’s no longer onstage. There are no one-liners and no hefty bills. Nearly everyone can afford to visit.
Our experiences so far have been a mix of hits, misses, home runs, ho-hums and flubs. Hey, it’s brand new, and this joint has plenty of moving parts that need fine-tuning. One thing is certain: Zonca knows how to season his food. Bland is not an option here.
The restaurant’s identity is still taking shape. For instance, will it become an after-work meeting place? Is it the spot for quick and easy lunches? Dinners with creative flourishes and artisanal touches? A bar for hanging out with friends?
The one-page menu is divided into easy-to-comprehend parts, including $10 “Dime Plates,” which are generally small plates or starters suitable for sharing; $10 “rabbit food,” including a superb panzanella salad made with heirloom tomatoes; $13 sandwiches (and the burger) that include choice of fries, salad or soup; and $15 “plates” offering salmon, chicken and pasta.
We asked about dessert and were told the chef ain’t going there, not with Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates, Trey-B-Cakes, Yogurtagogo, and Devine Gelateria close by. So, when we want something sweet and want to keep this party going, we’re supposed to leave and spend our money elsewhere? Perhaps not the best damn business idea.
Conversations can be stressful if you’re sensitive to noise. We sat near a large table of friends and found the noise jarring at times. The setting is otherwise wonderful, showcasing midtown Sacramento at its energetic best.