Allen Pierleoni

Barnes & Noble turns the page to food service

Grilled cheese sandwich and cream of tomato soup at B&N Kitchen
Grilled cheese sandwich and cream of tomato soup at B&N Kitchen apierleoni@sacbee.com

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 taste@sacbee.com.

Somebody needs to inform all those people flocking to the new Barnes & Noble that books are dead (along with newspapers, of course). Are those misguided folks under the illusion that reading is still a vital part of intelligent life on planet Earth?

Seriously, the traffic hasn’t let up since the technologically sophisticated, 19,000-square-foot “concept store” opened Dec. 13. It stocks more than 35,000 titles, their contents and shelf locations specified by roaming booksellers armed with “mobile engagement devices,” and by self-serve “kiosks” with digital display screens. Essentially, you can buy a book anywhere in the store without standing in the checkout line.

The bookstore is one of just three in the 640-unit national chain to have a full-service restaurant, the nine-table Barnes & Noble Kitchen. Diners can also eat and drink in the adjoining lounge area, at the coffee-wine-beer bar and, come spring, on the patio.

Menu: For a restaurant inside a bookstore, the understated menu doesn’t tell much of a story. It lacks those irresistible descriptions that make food sound so delicious you’re tempted to tell the server, “One of everything, please.” Which was our ultimate reaction.

The menu entry for mushroom ragu, for instance, doesn’t do justice to the ingredients – perfectly cooked portobello, white beechwood and shiitake ’shrooms folded into polenta made silken with heavy cream and butter, spiked with shallots and herbs, and topped with a sunny side-up egg whose yolk, when broken, enriches the dish.

Beyond that, the brief menu shows a three-item breakfast (lemon-ricotta pancakes), four starters (burrata cheese with a pistou of garlic, fresh basil and olive oil), three salads (the retro green goddess dressing makes a smashing comeback in the chopped salad), five entrees (cast-iron griddle-cooked salmon), five sides (carrots with avocado mousse) and three desserts (an assortment of house-made cookies).

B&N Kitchen emphasizes seasonality and locavorism, said general manager Jami Herman. “We want to evolve and keep up with the trends.”

Price point: Not inexpensive at $7 to $24, but the quality is there. Each of the four children’s menu items is $10.

Ambiance: Artistic use of wood, cork, sconces, recessed lighting and simple but elegant decor make the restaurant and the adjoining lounge and bar airy and comfy, while the bookstore itself beckons, “Come in and stay awhile.” All that is the doing of B&N’s partners in the project, the international design/concept firm AvroKO and the Branstetter Group of Santa Monica, a hospitality management/advisory company.

Drinks: Six craft brews on tap join nine white and 11 red wines. Do taste Turley Cellars’ Judge Bell zinfandel from Amador Country ($14). Cappuccino is the star of the many coffee drinks.

Service: Courteous, helpful and professional, with smiles all around. When we asked our server about a certain dish, she brought out a chef from the kitchen to answer our question.

First impressions: Going in, we didn’t imagine a restaurant in a bookstore would be as good or better than many of the places we reviewed in 2016, but there it was.

“This is a purist’s version, I’m back home being a kid again,” a lunch pal said of the Kitchen’s best-selling cream of tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, the classic comfort-food combo. The steaming soup arrived with a drizzle of olive oil on top; the sandwich is a combo of havarti and sharp cheddar on grilled bread from Sacramento’s estimable Grateful Bread bakery. Gooey, crunchy and fun.

Next, a dark, crisp-skin brick-cooked chicken was delectable and aromatic with tarragon and other seasonings, ideally matched with potato purée lush with tarragon butter.

The burger is a hand-formed patty of 70 percent chuck and 30 percent brisket, topped with cheddar. With it were “crispy potatoes,” a dish new to us. Start with a cold baked potato, tear it into shreds, deep-fry that and season with sea salt and coarse-ground black pepper. The result is pieces of tender potato with contrasting shards of crisp potato skin, so much more satisfying than french fries.

P.S.: The “cookbooks” section is conjoined with the “personal growth” section. Is there a hidden message there?

Try it if: You want to complement your book-browsing experience with an excellent meal.

Forget it if: You think being around people who read books might jeopardize your social media status.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

Barnes & Noble Kitchen

Where: In the Palladio at Broadstone center in Folsom, near the intersection of East Bidwell Street and Iron Point Road

Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays (breakfast is 9-11 a.m.). No reservations; bread service on request.

Information: 916-984-4407, www.barnesandnoble.com

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