The first thing a visitor notices about Casa Garden is that it nestles in a peaceful oasis of flowering shrubs and shady trees, removed from the sight and noise of the speed demons who terrorize nearby Sutterville Road.
The second thing is the coffee cups and saucers that are included as part of the table set-ups, an endearing touch of outdated formality in a white-tablecloth restaurant that seems to have been frozen in time since our last visit a decade ago.
Beyond the food and drink, however, the restaurant-event center serves a worthy cause. It’s operated by the Los Niños Service League, an auxiliary of the 149-year-old Sacramento Children’s Home. The 42-year-old nonprofit restaurant is a fundraising program that has funneled millions of dollars to the home, which shelters youths from abusive environments and provides family services.
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Businessman Fred Teichert was the ideal lunch pal for such an outing, as he was coming from a board meeting at a small foundation that assists elderly women. His surname is most often associated with Teichert Construction Co., but for more than a quarter-century he has run the Teichert Foundation. It helped establish the Boys and Girls Clubs in Sacramento and awards grants to arts groups of all sizes.
Fred’s philanthropic works aside, he has a knack for telling entertaining stories over lunch. One involved his quest to find just the right bread knife, leading him to the MAC knife store on Kiefer Boulevard. There, he relished the enriching conversations he shared with two master craftsman and settled for a bread/roast slicer with a 10 1/2 -inch serrated blade.
Last Thanksgiving he spatchcocked (removed the backbone) and flattened out a 24-pound turkey, finally resorting to bolt cutters to ready the monster for the charcoal grill. He seemed a bit relieved at the suggestion of having a butcher perform the operation this year.
Nearly all the staff at Casa Garden are volunteers, and one of them brought raspberry iced tea to our table, along with cups of clam chowder. It’s a deceptively tricky dish, one that shows up at most restaurants in gloppy counterfeit form. This version had a nice clam-to-potato ratio in an over-salted broth that had fine consistency. A bite of heat helped.
The angel hair pasta salad was the star of the table, shredded boiled chicken joining the noodles and a colorful array of apple, peppers, onion, cilantro, sunflower seeds and bacon bits, splashed with mild sesame-bacon vinaigrette. We liked the complementing textures and tastes, but wanted more of that tasty dressing.
A roast beef wrap looked like a brown burrito until we opened it up and discovered the sliced meat, Gorgonzola aioli and other goodies inside. “There’s so much going on in here, and it’s belied by the simple exterior,” Fred said.
Fiesta chicken was a hefty breast of fowl with Southwestern overtones, stuffed with green chilies and cheeses, rolled in seasoned breadcrumbs and baked. Salsa and Spanish rice were plate-mates.
On a related note, a surprising number of Sacramento’s newly opened restaurants have issues with their acoustics, with patrons yelling to be heard, their shouts bouncing off hard-surface walls and echoing back to bounce again. Many patrons seem to confuse such shrieking with a sense of excitement, and somehow don’t recognize loud noise for what it is – that is, “loud” and “noise.”
Casa Garden is an oasis in that regard, too. “I have become increasingly appreciative of a place that does not require me to cup my ear to hear, and to shout to communicate,” said Fred.
Where: 2760 Sutterville Road, Sacramento
Hours: Lunch is 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; diners can linger until 3 p.m.
How much: $-$$
Information: 916-452-2809, www.casagarden.org
Note: Casa Garden’s lunch menu changes weekly. An entree with dessert is $12.75; without dessert, $10.50. P.S.: Reasonably priced red and white wines are served by the glass and bottle. Reservations are preferred because they help determine how many volunteer servers and kitchen aides will be needed on a given day, and how many meals to prepare. Group dinners and special-occasion rooms are available by arrangement.