Food for thought: Restaurants that might deserve a Michelin nod
For all the buzz around Sacramento earning its first-ever Michelin star, the initial statewide guide kind of neglected California’s capital.
Nearly every restaurant aside from The Kitchen would have qualified for a Bib Gourmand — reserved for places that serve two entrees and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less — yet only Mother, Frank Fat’s and Canon walked away with them.
Ten other restaurants — Allora, Bacon & Butter, Ella Dining Room & Bar, Grange, Binchoyaki Izakaya Dining, Mulvaney’s B&L Localis, Zocalo, Mayahuel and Ming Dynasty — were included in the guide as Plates, restaurants that are “very good” but fall short of the star or Bib Gourmand thresholds.
A few of these inclusions are better than just good, though, and some restaurants deserved to have a seat at the table but were ignored entirely. Here are eight places The Sacramento Bee’s dining critic Kate Washington and restaurant reporter Benjy Egel thought the Michelin guide shortchanged.
1. Ella Dining Room & Bar (1131 K St.)
Ella received a Michelin nod for the Plates category, but it could have garnered a second star for the Selland group. Meals here unfold near-flawlessly, from raw bar starters and the acclaimed bone marrow to seasonally changing entrees and desserts — not to mention excellent craft cocktails and an unusually thoughtful selection of buzz-free drinks. Soignee design and elegant service also help Ella shine with what former Bee critic Carla Meyer called the region’s “most big-city feel” in an enthusiastic 2017 review. - Kate Washington
2. Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine (3135 Folsom Blvd.)
Chef/owner Billy Ngo said he wasn’t expecting a star, and a new chef de cuisine started at Kru around the same time Michelin’s critic came through. But it was surprising to see the East Sacramento restaurant completely omitted from the guide. In addition to arguably the city’s best sushi and a rich selection of small plates, Kru doubles as the region’s best-known — if not only — omakase spot, a style Michelin critics often go for in other cities. It should have been included as a Bib Gourmand or possibly a Plate. - Benjy Egel
3. The Waterboy (2000 Capitol Ave.)
Frank Fat’s surprised many people by earning a Bib Gourmand, and The Kitchen is no spring chicken in restaurant years at 28. Other than that, the guide had little love for Sacramento’s legacy restaurants such as The Waterboy, Paragary’s, Biba or The Firehouse. The neglect of Rick Mahan’s bistro stands out among those, for Mahan pioneered the farm-to-fork and snout-to-tail movement that have shaped Sacramento’s modern culinary scene. Fresh seasonal produce and dishes like veal sweetbreads haven’t faded over the last 23 years, either, and should have been enough to fetch The Waterboy a Plate. - BE
4. The Press Bistro (1809 Capitol Ave.)
The Press Bistro — passed over for a potential Plates award — is one of those restaurants that seems to be hiding in plain sight, understated but consistently offering a high level of food and service, as onetime Bee critic Blair Anthony Robertson noted in a four-star 2015 review. Chef-owner David English is an Ella alumnus and a Davis native, and his dishes offer precise, Mediterranean-influenced flavors in a setting that’s a bit more relaxed and casual — midtown rather than downtown. Small plates especially shine here, such as grilled calamari with white beans. - KW
5. Masullo (2711 Riverside Blvd.)
Masullo shines in a competitive pizza town — former Bee critic Robertson lauded it as the city’s best in a 2012 review — and doing it with flair and at prices that could have justified Bib Gourmand or Plates recognition. Robert Masullo’s namesake pizzeria serves up wood-fired, char-blistered Neapolitan-style pizza as simple as the classic Margherita and as rich as the Jacqueline, with potatoes and bacon — plus perfect salads, mussels, a killer chocolate pudding for dessert and a tightly edited but pleasing wine list. - KW
6. Localis (2031 S St.)
Localis was awarded a Plate, like Ella. It deserved better, also like Ella. The Bee’s readers voted Localis most likely to earn a star or Bib Gourmand — above even The Kitchen — when the announcement was made, and dishes such as foraged mushroom risotto and wild salmon poke fit under the $40 cap when paired with a glass of prosecco. A rotating seven-course, $115 tasting menu is among Sacramento’s best, though probably not enough alone to vault Localis into the star discussion. - BE
7. Quan Nem Ninh Hoa (6450 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, and 8469 Elk Grove Blvd., Elk Grove)
Quan Nem Ninh Hoa sure isn’t fancy, and maybe Michelin inspectors are loath to roll their own — spring rolls, that is. But the juicy, savory grilled pork sausage, pencil-slim fried rolls for crunch and tiny packets of pickled pork add up to a riot of flavors for an almost unbelievable value. Vietnamese cuisine is one of the vibrant strengths of Sacramento’s restaurant scene, and recognition in the Plates category could have shown a deep understanding of our city’s culinary diversity. - KW
8. Pancake Circus (2101 Broadway)
Nah, just kidding. - BE