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 email@example.com .
For months, midtown foodies have been buzzing about LowBrau’s second act, a butcher-centric eatery adjacent the wildly successful midtown craft beer and sausage destination.
Block Butcher Bar opened last week in the MARRS project at 20th and K streets, headed by highly regarded chef Michael Tuohy, whose background is in fine dining but whose skill set includes butchery and charcuterie.
A recent visit after work found a full house in the stylish room that has plenty of warmth and sophistication. Many will consider it one of the most attractive bar/eatery designs in town.
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Despite the wisdom of the design, seating on crowded nights may be awkward. The several booths have room for six people, but during our visit, each booth had only two occupants. Tuohy says that in Europe, a gathering spot like this would have a communal spirit, with friends and strangers alike sharing a booth. That may be more of a challenge in America, where some urban restaurants have introduced communal tables to mixed reviews.
Tuohy, who will also take over the kitchen duties at LowBrau, designed the menu and honed the concept, which was dreamed up by LowBrau owners Michael Hargis and Clay Nutting. Tuohy says he was in the midst of creating his own pork-centric eatery concept called Porchetta House months ago when Hargis called about Block. Timing issues with an available restaurant space prompted Tuohy to put his concept on hold and he decided to sign on with Block. So far, he says he’s loving the work, the people and the food.
When Block gets fully up to speed – and special curing cabinets arrive from Italy – it will offer housemade salumi (Italian cured meats), five or six kinds of sausages (400 pounds a week) and a variety of other charcuterie.
Asked what new customers can expect, Tuohy said it will be three eateries in one – a place for salumi, charcuterie and a tapas bar “with an American-Sacramento feel.”
Menu: There are takeout and eat-in menus. Takeout is ordered at the front of the room. It’s easy and the wait is short. You won’t necessarily come here for a standard full meal. Think variety, a range of flavors and sharing. The “ABJ” – a warm panini made with almond butter and housemade bacon jam – is destined for local iconic status. Vegetarians are not neglected. The farro salad with preserved tomatoes and kale is a meatless option with flavor and finesse in mind.
Hot sandwiches are made with the panini press. The food emphasis is on cured meats and cheeses. In the near future, much of the charcuterie will be made in-house. The artisan cheeses come from California and beyond. Choose your salumi boards with eye toward sampling variety, with options for three, six or 12 kinds of meat on the board, with prices based on selections. A wide variety of cheeses are picked similarly – three, five or seven selections from cow, goat, sheep or blue cheese categories.
Price point: Tuohy emphasizes value throughout the menu. The sandwiches and salads are all $11 or less. The meat and cheese boards vary in price and can climb significantly above $10, depending on the choices. Mixed drinks are priced competitively with other midtown craft cocktail bars at about $10. For two people, with drinks, a cheese board and, say, the pig liver mousse with crackers, expect to pay about $40. If you want a full meal, it’ll cost at least $10 more.
Ambiance: It is a sophisticated, if not stunning room, with a mix of complimentary and contrasting architectural elements made of local wood, concrete and metal. Large booths for groups. A communal table. A medium-sized bar and an area in the back, sealed off with glass, where guests will be able to watch the butchering and sausage making. At our recent visit there was a professional, well-dressed crowd with a mix of ages. The acoustics are challenging. Several attempted conversation starters with the bartender went unacknowledged due to the noise.
Drinks: Emphasis is on bourbon, whiskey and scotch, with craft cocktails and a wine list of 40 domestic and international selections, including 12 wines by the glass.
Service: Table service and bartenders. For takeout, order at the host station near the door.
Try it if : You’re really into the art of butchery and cured meats and want to celebrate it in an upscale urban setting.
Forget it if: All this seems like too much meat and you’re not that into whiskey.