There’s an openness to OBO’ Italian Table & Bar that extends beyond the restaurant’s roomy, sunlit interior to the dining experience itself.
Adults bellied up to the bar look equally at home as toddlers plopped into high chairs at their parents’ tables. Though these bar patrons, and babies, together generate plenty of noise, there is enough room between seats – at the bar or at wood-topped tables arranged along the dining room’s white-tile floor – to not feel cramped by neighbors or by noise.
They’re still working on that latter element, said Randall Selland of Selland Family Restaurants (The Kitchen, Ella Dining Room & Bar), which owns OBO’, a 3-month-old, mostly counter-service Italian casual restaurant housed in part of the old Andiamo building on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento. (Kru will fill the other side this fall.) Selland already has ordered noise-dampening foam for a wall near the bar area.
OBO’ also has worked out many of the kinks in its ordering system since it opened, to gangbuster business, in June, though within the line of people that curves around from the entrance, past cold and hot deli cases to the registers, remains the least comfortable place to be at OBO.’
But the line moves quickly enough if one closes one’s eyes and thinks of Ella – and how the culinary minds behind that K Street fine-dining staple are the sames ones behind OBO’, where it’s possible to get out the door for $20 instead of $50. Plus, East Sacramentans already are accustomed to ordering food while in line through servers’ electronic order pads, then drinks and desserts at the counter, from Selland’s Market-Cafe on H Street.
As reward for standing in line, patrons pay those lower prices and also can have a “non-committal” dining experience, Selland said. At OBO’, as at the Market-Cafes on H and in El Dorado Hills (there’s also one coming to Broadway in Sacramento in early 2017), people can come in, serve themselves a glass of water and read the newspaper for an hour without anyone on the staff bugging them, Selland said.
The point, however, of any Selland’s venture is the food, which as a rule tends to be well-executed and consist of high-quality ingredients. The food at OBO’, which includes tasty pizzas, pastas and sandwiches, generally follows this rule.
You can see Selland’s “non-committal” concept at work upon first visiting OBO’, where service is nominal but also undemanding. Patrons fetch their own water from a self-serve station near the entrance, and utensils from that station or from caddies that sit on some tables.
There is little interaction with staff beyond those moments when full plates are placed on the table and empty ones removed at the finish. But there’s also nobody coming to ask – and as a result, interrupt the flow of conversation – if you saved enough room for dessert.
But if you want to field such inquiries, choose-your-own-adventure OBO’ offers that choice as well, via its 10-seat, full-service bar. Though you could throw an OBO’ pizza to me from a moving train and I probably still would like it, that pizza tastes best at the bar, where there’s no standing or fetching.
As a fan of the American-style pizzas at the Market-Cafes, I started out wary of OBO’s Neapolitan-style, dough-centric pies. But the crust, developed by Selland’s wife and business partner, Nancy Zimmer; OBO’ chef Jonathan Kerksieck; and Selland corporate chef Ravin Patel, won me over. Perfectly salted, with beer added to enhance its satisfyingly yeasty aroma and taste, this crust is solid and airy yet easy to get one’s teeth through without any pulling.
With its Calabrian chili oil, house-cured sausage and Castelvetrano olives, the Bianca pizza at OBO’ even hits the same salty/hot spot as “the Josh,” my favorite Market-Cafe pizza.
But the best pizza here is the truffled mushroom, which is packed with earthy flavor. The pie comes with fresh oyster and crimini mushrooms, but the secret, Kerksieck said, is tartufata, a purée of mushroom, truffle and anchovy, with that last element lending the pie a nice hit of salt.
OBO’ also makes a fine pepperoni pie, the traditional red sauce and mozzarella on which likely will please youngsters. Child vegetarians might object to the mildness of the margherita pizza, however. Though fresh-tasting, it lacked enough salt to tease out its tomato brightness.
But the only true disappointments were the chicken pesto campanelle, the pasta of which was overcooked, and the tough short rib.
We ordered the $12.50 short rib as part of an experiment in which we cobbled together a traditional entree of meat, starch and vegetable from a la carte selections. The $5.75, medium-size “macaroni bianca” (it comes in three sizes) and $3.75 small “market veg” side consisting mainly of squash completed the plate.
The macaroni, made with the same roux used in the yellow Market-Cafe mac ’n’ cheese, but with white cheeses including fontina, was wonderfully creamy and tangy, and the squash helped with the illusion that this meal’s calorie count was below 1,000.
I should have ordered the meatballs instead. A trio of them costs $5.50 less than the short rib, and the ones we had in OBO’s meatball sandwich were heavenly. Made with pork, beef, bread crumbs and Parmesan, the meatballs are moist, and weighty without being dense.
OBO’s tagliatelle and ravioli share an egg-yolk-and-flour-dough and stellar quality. The tagliatelle’s lemon butter sauce balances richness and acidity, the citrus element working overtime once crispy prosciutto and a poached egg are added.
Black-olive butter atop the ravioli compounds the saltiness of goat cheese within delicate yet firm pasta, with fresh green onion offsetting this dish’s fattier elements.
OBO’s Italian wine list includes a versatile, $6-a-glass 2014 Farnese Fantini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that complements tagliatelle and chocolate-crinkle dessert cookies equally well. OBO’ also offers lively craft cocktails, including a blood-orange margarita that balances sweetness and tequila bite with an aromatic sprig of rosemary.
In addition to bar-dining and dining-room options, there is the takeout – or tuna – option, named thusly because my frequent to-go orders often involve the fresh, filling tuna-and-bean “mista” salad or tuna sandwich.
The $8.50 sandwich, small in width but large in height, is a deal. Creamy-yolked hard-boiled egg tops a mix of tuna, caper, creamy lemon dressing and other savory elements. We like it on toasted Grateful Bread sourdough wheat (it also comes on Grateful Bread ciabatta or housemade focaccia).
Weekday tuna takeout visits went so smoothly – patrons knowing what to order before entering the door speeds up the line considerably – I tried a Saturday-evening takeout-pizza visit. Wrong move. The place was packed; the wait for my pizza was 25 minutes, though it seemed longer because I spent most of it standing awkwardly near the self-serve station so as not to take up a table.
This experience did not feel noncommittal. Yet it ultimately did not frustrate, either: A food runner noticed I had been waiting awhile and offered a free dessert. I did not want the dessert, but I appreciated the far more valuable acknowledgment of time spent.
Future OBO’ adventures, however, will not involve takeout at 7:30 on a Saturday night.
OBO’ Italian Table & Bar
3145 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento, www.oboitalian.com, 916-822-8720
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Beverage options: Full bar. Italian wines – sparkling, white and red, by the glass or bottle. Local draft beers.
Vegetarian friendly: Yes. There’s a separate “vegetarian” menu.
Gluten-free options: Separate “gluten-sensitive” menu
Noise level: Moderate to loud
Ambiance: A bright, open space with a convivial feel
This convenient, casual, moderately priced Italian spot offers high-quality food.
The tagliatelle, meatball sandwich and truffled mushroom pizza are exceptional, but the short rib was tough and campanelle overcooked.
Service ☆☆ 1/2
Service is highly attentive at the full-service bar, and friendly but nominal elsewhere.
It’s not the least-expensive casual restaurant in town, but several menu items, including the $10.50 tagliatelle and $8.50 tuna sandwich, are deals.