Grange Restaurant and Bar — celebrating its tenth anniversary this month — was instantly lauded when it opened up in downtown’s Citizen Hotel in 2008. The concept, then and now, was to ride a piece of the biggest wave in the Sacramento restaurant scene: showcasing our local farm products and artisan food producers.
Ten years later, Grange is still offering what’s now called farm-to-fork fare in its upscale setting. Sacramento native Dane Blom has run the kitchen for about 10 months. Prior to that, he worked at Hawks in Granite Bay and later helmed Hawks Public House in Sacramento, in addition to a stint as the right-hand man of former Grange chef Oliver Ridgeway, who left to open his own restaurant.
The chef who opened Grange, Michael Tuohy, went on to prominence as the former food and beverage general manager of Golden 1 Center, where he brought an unusually local focus to arena food. Multiple Grange alumni have gone on to have an outsized impact on the regional dining scene.
Restaurants, however, cannot thrive on influence or history. They’ve got to be living, breathing entities that bring in patrons night after night. In Sacramento’s ever-growing dining scene, where newer and perhaps trendier establishments like Canon, Beast and Bounty and more are opening all the time, it can be easy for even free-spending diners — especially those newer to town — to forget or overlook the relatively sedate standbys. After 10 years, can Grange still hold its own?
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Based on my three visits, the answer is yes. I’ll confess I’ve sometimes forgotten about Grange myself — after all, my job is chasing after the new in Restaurant Land — but I regret not eating there more often. My recent meals at Grange under Blom’s leadership have been serene, celebratory, enjoyable and occasionally a little surprising.
Dining at Grange gives the firm impression of being in competent hands, from the eager-to-help greeting at the host stand to the well-trained staff to the well-executed food on the plate. Hotel restaurants often get a lot of flak, in part because the demands of running a high-volume hotel kitchen are a challenge to pair with fine dining. Happily, Grange goes above and beyond what hotel restaurants typically aspire to.
When Grange opened 10 years ago, hotel and restaurant developer Kipp Blewett told me that the Citizen was designed for out-of-towners, but the restaurant was envisioned for locals. Blom echoes that sentiment today, noting that he thinks many locals see Grange as a separate entity from the hotel.
At the same time, the hotel setting offers some distinct benefits to Sacramento diners. Most notably, it means the restaurant is open daily and offers one of the best and earliest breakfasts in town, every single day.
There’s weekend brunch, as well, with refined offerings and very good craft cocktails. The day-drinking brunch crowd skews closer to Midtown and I’ll grant that Grange feels a little more formal than easygoing. Still, the downtown restaurant’s light-drenched dining room makes for a lovely setting for avocado toast, braised shortrib hash, or a breakfast sandwich, plus good, though pricey, coffee.
There’s considerable overlap between the brunch and breakfast menus. A market omelet, filled with vegetables that change with the seasons, is on both. Restaurant omelets have many pitfalls (grease, heaviness, undercooked fillings) but the one I had at Grange avoided all these traps. With fluffy, gently golden eggs enclosing a balanced mix of goat cheese, savory mushrooms, tiny diced butternut squash and baby kale, it was the best omelet I’ve ever had in a restaurant. Potatoes alongside were crisp and golden.
The kitchen makes its own sausage, split and fried for crispy edges. It was spicy and rich with fennel, if a tad salty. Butcher craft is a focus: at lunch and dinner, there’s also a housemade charcuterie plate.
Choices at lunch skew less formal and more friendly to vegetarians than at dinner: recent options include a tuna melt, falafel wrap and carrot risotto. Note: If you’re interested in looking up a menu in advance of your meal, it can be hard to find Grange’s current website after a recent redesign. Google pointed me relentlessly to an older, unhelpful URL; go to grangerestaurantandbar.com for the updated one.
There’s also plenty of overlap between lunch and dinner in appetizers and salads like the excellent farm greens, topped with a disk of crispy cheese. The accompaniments on the salad change with the seasons. Right now, thin ribbons of celery root and pickled butternut squash add a haunting snap. Blom works closely with Pleasant Grove’s Azolla Farms for much of his produce, and thereby gets some distinctive items that aren’t seen much at other area restaurants.
A Manila clam “chowder” is also common to both services. It gets quote marks on the menu thanks to an unusual deconstructed presentation, but the tender, perfect clams, chunks of smoky bacon and dice of potatoes with a creamy broth alongside had all the flavors of the classic soup, plus tranches of garlicky grilled bread. The portion was exceptionally large, especially for an appetizer, but it was hard to stop eating.
Another appetizer, the humbly named Grange toast, was a smash hit at my table. With spring-green dill spread topped with taut pearls of steelhead roe and garnet-rich pickled beets cut in precise brunoise, it was utterly gorgeous. Contrasting pungent shavings of horseradish also elevated its savory flavors.
Sweetness and earthiness also starred in a refined, butter-smooth foie gras with a housemade tiny brioche, together with pear butter and pistachio. It’s a splurge of an appetizer, but a worthwhile one if you lean toward foie gras.
An heirloom beet salad (fall is beet season) with tangy green goddess dressing and goat cheese also had an otherworldly beauty, but I’d have liked more textural contrast than the creamy avocado provided. Better on this front was an ultra-smooth pumpkin soup, poured tableside over a crunchy curry “crumble” with coconut and sweet Dungeness crab, a dish whose subtle lean toward Southeast Asian flavors shows the influence of Blom’s family background in Indonesia.
The entrée menu is compact but well-balanced. A comforting chicken dish, with fingerling potatoes and Bloomsdale spinach, comes with a classic mustard cream sauce and juicy, intense chicken flesh under bronzed, crunchy skin.
Crunchy skin was also a hallmark of the branzino, a mild Mediterranean fish often served whole but here fileted. Its accompaniments of pumpkin sofrito, pine nuts, frisee and pickled butternut were just a touch muddled in their flavors. One less element would have served the dish a bit better.
Clearer and truer was miso black cod, not an earthshaking innovation but well-executed here, the with tender sweet shrimp dumplings and a savory dashi broth. Blom told me the dish is a tribute to a popular similar dish from Terra, the recently closed Michelin-starred Napa restaurant where he worked before returning to Sacramento.
Braised duck cannelloni with a black truffle vinaigrette swerves much richer. We’re going to need some colder weather this winter to enjoy it properly, but it packs an earthy punch with aromatic truffles and plenty of cream.
Even richer — and the most dramatic dish on the menu — was braised short rib served on its gigantic curved bone, which looked like a boomerang. The kitchen trims and ties the meat, then sears it and braises with lots of onions and garlic before adding a winey glaze. The one flaw to this method is that a lot of the fat from this very fatty cut stays in place, but the flavor is incredibly deep. I’d have liked more vegetables. The broccoli, sweet-sour Cipollini onions and chanterelles got a little hidden, literally and figuratively, behind that giant bone, but they tasted great. A special also featured short ribs, shredded this time and in an unusual but successful pairing with fish, described by our server as a Grange surf and turf.
I asked our server to recommend a glass of red to go with my dish, and she steered me to a velvety but not overblown Belle Glos Pinot Noir that complemented it perfectly — after asking if I prefer Cab or Pinot. I appreciated her facility with the list and her expert, unobtrusive pacing of our meal. Speaking of drinks, the craft cocktail menu has always been a strength at Grange and continues to be solid, especially when it comes to drinks in the whiskey family. If you like an old fashioned, get yourself to Grange; that’s my go-to cocktail and I’ve never had a better one in this town.
The dessert menu is also good. Not enough Sacramento restaurants are able to employ dedicated pastry chefs, but Grange does. Alison Clevenger (formerly of Ginger Elizabeth) offers fall-scented choices right now: apple cider beignets with bourbon cider sauce and poached pear with a moist fresh ginger cake. The latter reminded me of a dressed-up version of something my mom used to make — a perfect blend of sweet nostalgia and sophistication for any dessert to hit.
Ten years on, it’s easy to look back and see that Grange was both of and ahead of its time. It opened well ahead of the current wave of downtown revitalization and the Farm to Fork movement, and it presaged both.
Now that a decade has passed, it feels comfortable yet special and very much of its time. Grange may be 10 years old, but it doesn’t feel dated. It’s still an option well worth remembering, especially for special-occasion meals or one of the best breakfast services in town.
Grange Restaurant and Bar
926 J Street, 916-492-4450
Hours: Check the Citizen Hotel website.
Beverage options: Full bar including appealing craft cocktail list with changing seasonal ingredients, well-developed wine list, and beer.
Vegetarian friendly: A few vegetarian options are available, but the entrees focus on meat.
Gluten-free options: Yes.
Noise levels: Reasonable for an upscale dining room these days, though the open kitchen adds to the bustle.
Ambiance: Enormous windows, cushy caramel-leather banquettes, a spacious bar all help give the restaurant a warm, mellow glow. The setting is understated but elegant, as apt for a celebratory meal as for a working breakfast.
A quiet stalwart of the downtown dining scene for a decade now, Grange Restaurant and Bar is going strong after a 2016 facelift and with new chef Dane Blom at the helm, offering diners a gracious space and reliably enjoyable, seasonally driven new American fare.
Grange may not be breaking new ground in Sacramento dining with its ever-changing menu of freshened-up classics like a superlative toast with Passmore steelhead roe, miso black cod or braised short rib on the bone with chanterelles, but chef Dane Blom rarely puts a foot wrong. Diners will also find one of the most reliable breakfast services in town and a strong dessert program from pastry chef Alison Clevenger.
Servers were uniformly professional, well-informed and attuned to guests’ needs, evincing a high level of training and warmth.
With entrees running $27 to $55 and appetizers $14 to $21, dinner at Grange will never be mistaken for a bargain meal, but most dishes, conceived and served with care, justify the prices for a special occasion; that $21 starter, for instance, is a stellar foie gras plate with housemade brioche. One exception comes at breakfast, where $5 coffee and $12 granola feels a touch punitive.