Restaurant News & Reviews

You Gotta Try This: Paragary’s mushroom salad remains a classic 36 years later

‘You Gotta Try This’ mushroom salad from Paragary’s

Paragary’s Executive Chef Kurt Spataro explains how they make their mushroom salad, a beloved classic at the midtown Sacramento restaurant since 1983, on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. The dish is also available at Cafe Bernardo.
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Paragary’s Executive Chef Kurt Spataro explains how they make their mushroom salad, a beloved classic at the midtown Sacramento restaurant since 1983, on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. The dish is also available at Cafe Bernardo.

This is “You Gotta Try This,” The Bee’s series featuring one particular must-have dish at a local restaurant. Each featured dish is nominated by a reader and chronicled here. Got a menu item you want to shine some light on? Comment below or email reporter Benjy Egel at begel@sacbee.com.

Paragary’s flagship dish is a light, Italian-inspired salad that’s been served at midtown restaurant since it opened in 1983. It’s also arguably the simplest item on the dinner menu, easily replicable for any decent home cook with a little patience.

Finely chopped parsley and a single butter lettuce leaf are the only greens in the sliced mushroom salad, a tower of fungi tossed with cheese and drizzled with a basic oil mixture. The mushroom salad’s unique ingredient pairings and lack of complexity have made it a longtime favorite, said corporate executive chef and partner Kurt Spataro, who’s worked at Paragary Restaurant Group properties since 1985.

“It’s very simple, it’s refreshing. You can have it any time of year because there’s nothing really seasonal about it,” Spataro said. “It’s satisfying in a nice way, it’s light but it’s substantial. It just fits a lot of different spots.”

The $11 salad starts with 6 ounces of white button mushrooms thinly sliced on a Japanese-style mandoline, though those without the instrument can use a knife. The mushrooms can’t be prepped too far in advance, Spataro said, lest they turn brown.

Cooks shred two ounces of Jarlsberg cheese on a box grater and chiffonade Italian flat leaf parsley, then combine one tablespoon fresh lemon juice, three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and salt together for the dressing. All are mixed together with the mushrooms and piled partially atop the lettuce leaf.

Raw mushrooms, which soak up and wilt in the lemon dressing, are rarely the focal point of U.S. dishes but aren’t uncommon in Italian cuisine. All fruit and vegetables in the salad come from Produce Express; the Jarlsberg is imported from Norway. Though Spataro described Paragary’s as an “Italian-inspired bistro,” he eschewed a more traditional complementary cheese such as Parmesan for a creamier, less-salty option in the salad.

“Conceptually, it’s sort of Italian. The idea of raw mushrooms with lemon and extra-virgin (olive oil) is definitely an Italian idea,” Spataro said. “Would they put Jarlsberg in it? Never.”

Paragary’s closed in February 2014 for a down-to-the-studs renovation, reopening a year later with large, inviting front windows and a back patio that’s among Sacramento’s best. Spataro and partners Stacy and Randy Paragary starting selling the mushroom salad upon regulars’ requests at their three Cafe Bernardo locations during the namesake restaurant’s closure.

And once Paragary’s reopened, well, why take the mushroom salad off Bernardo’s menu? It’s $6.75 for a small or $9.50 for a large at the counter-service restaurant, though it’s usually ordered as part of a $12.75 three-salad sampler platter, Spataro said.

Paragary’s leaned more into a French bistro concept immediately after reopening, Spataro said, only to find customers wanted the seasonal California-ish cuisine with which they were familiar. Like many “legacy restaurants,” Paragary’s has seen its once-reliable market segment encroached upon by farm-to-fork movement newcomers over the last 10 years. But Spataro’s not complaining.

“The quality of food and restaurants in Sacramento has never been higher. The bar is raised every year, I think, a little bit. Which I think is great. It makes everyone work a little bit harder and try a little bit harder,” Spataro said. “The benefit really goes to the customer because they’re getting some really well-executed, seasonal food.

Paragary’s

1401 28th St., (916) 457-5737

Info: www.paragarysmidtown.com/

Hours: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Pro Tip: Paragary Restaurant Group lists recipes for the sliced mushroom salad and several other dishes at www.paragarys.com/blog/cat/recipes.

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
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