Appetizers

Dine Downtown: 4 recommendations to experience Sacramento restaurants

A pasta dish, soup and either beef or salmon are on a special menue at Biba as part of this year’s Dine Downtown.
A pasta dish, soup and either beef or salmon are on a special menue at Biba as part of this year’s Dine Downtown. rbyer@sacbee.com

Several of the best restaurants on the grid will set you back upwards of $100 for dinner for two. For many, that’s enough to relegate these upscale spots from to-do list to the bucket list.

But Dine Downtown, which starts today and runs through Jan. 24 gives you access to some of these culinary hotsopts, all of which are featuring customized options that are designed to be both affordable and enticing. Generally, three-course dinners in this promotion are $31 ($1 goes to the Food Literacy Center). Not every top restaurant is participating – some, because the pricing structure doesn’t work for their particular concept, others, because the promotion doesn’t attract enough customers that will return and become regulars.

But for those restaurants that are part of the line-up, Dine Downtown is a great opportunity to win over folks and expand their reach. Here are a few good bets, based on my visits (not for the latest special menus, which I have yet to try):

1. Hook & Ladder: This popular and stylish midtown restaurant and bar has an impressive line-up for Dine Dinetown, with a special menu featuring three options for each of the first two courses (I have my eye on the maple-brined porkchop for the main course, but the roasted carrot linguine also sounds terrific). Desserts offer a choice of dark chocolate and hazelnut torte or spiced Mandarin and gingerbread semifreddo (as in, semi-frozen). If you want to eat with style, go for the optional wine pairings for $15 more. I’m a big fan of chef Brian Mizner’s food, as well as the terrific drinks produced by the team of excellent bartenders led by Chris Tucker.

2. Biba, 2801 Capitol Ave.: $31 gets you a soup of the day (Biba may have the best soups in town, day in and day out), a pasta dish, and a choice of boneless beef shoulder braised in wine and tomatoes (think very tender and packed with flavor) served with Italian butter beans or grilled salmon with Umbria lentils and broccoli rabe. While Biba is known as a special-occasion restaurant, it is affordable, given the consistent quality of the cooking. If this Dine Downtown promotion doesn’t work for you, try Biba for lunch to get a sense of why so many rave about its high-quality Italian fare.

3. Grange, 926 J St.: I just reviewed Grange for the third time and can safely say it is one of the best restaurants in the entire Sacramento region. Chef Oliver Ridgeway’s creative and hearty interpretations of classic farm-to-fork fare is exciting and always delicious. Although this special menu won’t give you his kitchen’s full repertoire in one sitting, the coffee-braised Zabuton, a cut of beef so named because of its resemblance to a Japanese sitting cushion, promises to be the focal point of a superb three-course meal. The honey nut squash risotto with king trumpet mushrooms is a nice vegetarian alternative.

4. Ella Dining Room & Bar, 1131 K St.: When Michael Thiemann was the executive chef at this supremely stylish destination restaurant, he began offering a vegetarian menu for Dine Downtown. That wound up being the inspiration for Mother, Thiemann’s hit vegetarian restaurant a block away that is about to mark one year in business. As Mother has taught us, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to love vegetarian food. Ella’s prix fixe menu will surely appeal to all kinds of omnivores. The hand-cut pappardelle pasta and the sticky pudding are already making me hungry! Check out my review from last year here.

Those are just a few of my recommendations. Frank Fat’s, The Porch and the Red Rabbit Kitchen + Bar are also great bets.

My overall suggestion is to get out and push yourself to try something new. For this price, you’re bound to find something you love – and it might be enough to bring you back again and again.

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

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