Guests were greeted with complimentary valet parking and glasses of sparkling wine. The invitation for the evening of June 11 beckoned with a “Carnivale Spectacular” theme with food, drink and State Fair-style games.
“You’re about to enter a whole different Enotria,” said the hostess, upon leading a group of guests from the wine bar to the patio.
And yes, this was a much different Enotria.
The kitchen next to the main dining room, once led by a team with Michelin-starred dreams, was vacant. The surrounding tables and booths, where discriminating diners once paid upward of $100 a head to sample some of Sacramento’s most cutting-edge cuisine, sat empty.
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All of the action was on the back patio, where a few dozen folks noshed on “corn dogs” made of prawns, funnel cakes and other fair-type foods presented with a white tablecloth touch. The festivities were to mark another grand re-opening of Enotria on Del Paso Boulevard, but this time showing off a new business model that focuses primarily on hosting events and the occasional winemaker dinners.
Enotria’s wine bar is open only on Thursdays and Fridays to the general public, with a small menu overseen by Gabriel Glasier, the talented chef formerly of Maranello and Slocum House. The main dining room is otherwise closed, save for private events.
Enotria has been through grand re-openings before, at least three by our count.
The restaurant opened at the corner of Del Paso Boulevard and Arden Way in 1995, its name translating loosely to “land of wine.” The executive chef, Jim LaPerriere, came from the heralded Mustard’s Grill in Napa. Even in the restaurant’s earliest days, wine was a focus of Enotria, with more than 200 different selections.
Enotria’s original owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1997, and its assets were purchased for $105,000 by David Hardie and his Limited Liability Corp. Enotria stayed open through the transition, and Hardie continued to oversee Enotria through its numerous changes over the past 17 years.
The restaurant closed for five months in 2010 for a $1.5 million remodel to add a new wine bar and increased space for events, among other features. Enotria was soon making serious moves to become a star of Sacramento’s dining scene. Pajo Bruich, a chef known for his meticulous approach to modernist cooking methods, was hired to lead Enotria’s kitchen in 2012.
Bruich didn’t hold back from repeating his ultimate goal, that Enotria would earn Sacramento’s first Michelin star. He organized a series of guest-chef dinners, attracting some of the Bay Area’s culinary stars, including Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn and SPQR’s Matthew Accarrino. Alums from The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood were hired to manage Enotria and instill the kind of service principles expected at the world’s finest restaurants.
But the Michelin inspector never came. And with Sacramento still very much a meat-and-potatoes kind of town, the concept never clicked with enough customers despite Enotria’s cutting-edge cuisine and top-notch staff.
Enotria shut down suddenly in January – but re-opened in March to the bewilderment of many Sacramento diners.
Bruich was out, and Enotria was re-branded as an events space and wine bar with limited hours. Glasier and his girlfriend, pastry chef Kristel Flores, would oversee the food program and use Enotria as a home base for their catering company, Chef and Baker. But the two already had plans for a spring trip through southeast Asia, in part to learn new recipes, and Enotria continued in a soft-opening mode until June.
That brings us to the latest grand re-opening on June 11.
Hardie, in between pouring wines for guests at the re-opening party, said the events business has been good. Along with all the graduation parties, summer weddings and companies’ client events, Enotria’s getting plenty of use. He remains bullish on Del Paso Boulevard, even though the area has yet to hit its stride as a bustling business district despite years of efforts.
“From almost anywhere in Sacramento, it’s only 10 minutes to get here,” said Hardie. “It’s an easy drive to get here and really not off the beaten path.”
Matthew Lewis, Enotria’s former wine director, is also holding high-end wine tastings at the spot. But as a fine-dining destination, Enotria remains in a kind of purgatory. There aren’t plans as of yet to expand the wine bar hours past Thursdays and Fridays. The current chef remains hopeful that the events business will provide all they need.
“Now, it’s time to blow up,” said Glasier.