First Impressions visits dining spots that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? E-mail us at email@example.com
A new banner hangs over the entrance to a midtown Sacramento restaurant known, variously, for its wood-fired oven, patio dining, culinary ambitions and turnover rate.
What was Tuli Bistro and then Trick Pony (and then the announced-but never-opened Piccola Citta) has become the month-old Localis, which emphasizes its partnerships with local farms and ranches and its five-course, $77 tasting menu.
The name, Latin for “local,” also plays off the idea of “what local is,” executive chef Christopher Barnum said. Though some believe boundaries should be 30 miles out, Barnum said, he defines local as 150 miles from Localis, which sits on the corner of 21st and S streets.
Barnum, a Placer County native who previously steered the kitchen at Roseville’s Cibo 7, works closely with Kathryn MacRoberts of Laughing Duck Farm in Newcastle. MacRoberts even manages the planters, situated just outside Localis’ patio, that hold nasturtium and pineapple sage Barnum uses in dishes.
Barnum gets beef from Masami in Tehama County. Barnum said relationships still are developing between local purveyors and Localis, part of the fast-growing restaurant group headed by Chris Jarosz and Matt Chong of West Sacramento’s Broderick Roadhouse. The team just opened a second Broderick, on L Street in midtown Sacramento, and plan to debut the farm-to-fork-centric Saddle Rock in a few months in the former Capital Dime space on L.
At Localis – a fine-dining restaurant in theory if not in seating, which is confined to a bar space and open-air patio – one is more likely to find beef carpaccio (a tasting-menu item last week) than the burgers on which the Broderick team built its reputation. Though Localis serves a la carte dishes, Barnum encourages diners to try the always-changing, chef’s choice tasting menu, and to bring an adventurous outlook.
“I don’t want people to get comfortable coming in and ordering one thing all the time,” Barnum said. The restaurant’s motto is “trust us to feed you well.” The diner does retain some control of what she or he is eating, however. Though Localis does not list tasting-menu offerings on its menu, servers do ask those who order the tasting menu whether there is any food the diner should not or will not eat. (People with serious dietary restrictions should call ahead; Barnum can work up special tasting menus – such as vegan or pescatarian – with enough advance notice, he said).
Menu: Localis offers one steak-and-potato dish. Otherwise, proteins run toward small game (rabbit, duck, quail) and large tentacles (octopus). The tasting menu I tried included a saffron seafood stew (with mussels), beef carpaccio, buttermilk-fried rabbit leg, jerk quail, chili-verde braised lamb belly, and a side of gout (we kid!).
Price point: At $77 for food, plus $40 for wine pairings, per person, Localis’ tasting menu is less expensive than The Kitchen’s ($135 just for food), but that hardly means it’s a bargain. Though the richness of ingredients ensures one leaves full after trying the tasting menu, portions are small. A la carte prices range from $10 for a squash dish to $25 for a steak-and-potatoes main course.
Ambiance: The place, tastefully but minimally decorated, with the open kitchen as its showpiece, looks much the same as when it was Trick Pony. Barnum said the restaurant’s operators are considering installing glass doors to enclose the patio. For now, a bar seat is best, since it affords glimpses of Barnum as he assembles plates and directs his kitchen staff as they cook on a large gas range and man the wood-fired oven. The oven’s presence lends the small bar space a warm feel. Barnum personally delivers each tasting-menu dish (officially five but actually eight, when one counts the amuse-bouche of squash and quail egg, and the peach crisp and two other dessert items) to diners who sit at the bar.
Drinks: Northern California wines outnumber all others on Localis’ list – appropriate, given the restaurant’s focus. Beers on draft include Sudwerk and New Helvetia offerings.
Service: Informed and highly attentive.
First impressions: Barnum’s a talent, especially with sauces, including a buttermilk crème anglaise that calmed the spice of the chili verde lamb and a romesco sauce that had the opposite effect on the carpaccio. That carpaccio dish also held cherry tomatoes, dressed in a foie gras vinaigrette, that flirted with best-thing-I-ever-tasted status. More seafood and/or vegetables, and less game, would have been welcome in the tasting menu. But the meal tasted special and thought-out, and Barnum makes a good host/chef. Friendly but low-key, he mostly lets his food speak for him.
Try it if: You seek out new tastes and culinary talents.
Forget it if: You are allergic to spending money, or you don’t want your dining-out game to involve so much actual game.
Where: 2031 S St., Sacramento
Hours: 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 5-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday