Carla Meyer

Trick Pony steps it up; Yang’s goes from good to great

A plate of spaghetti with meat sauce shows Trick Pony’s appreciation for simplicity done well.
A plate of spaghetti with meat sauce shows Trick Pony’s appreciation for simplicity done well. Bee staff

One of the challenges with reviewing restaurants is that the food world is far from static. Change can come quickly. And today’s truths might not mean much tomorrow.

These are realities we recognize. The purpose of The Bee’s star rating system is to give readers the most up-to-date assessment of what they can expect when visiting a restaurant. And when a review no longer accurately reflects what is going on, it’s time to add or remove stars.

In the cases of Trick Pony pizza and Yang’s Noodles, dramatic changes at both establishments have warranted updates – and upgrades.

Trick Pony

No need to relive past missteps. Let’s just say Trick Pony didn’t open last spring with the best public relations plan or the right chef in its kitchen.

By summer, partners in the midtown pizzeria, who also ran the beleaguered Capital Dime, had called in the sensible folks at Broderick to take over daily operations.

Trick Pony 2.0 didn’t experience overnight improvement. Certain concepts didn’t pan out as expected, including the idea that we were supposed to cut our own piping hot pizza at the table because that’s how it’s done in Italy.

However, after eating numerous pizzas, pastas and salads over recent months, I safely can declare that Trick Pony has climbed out of the doldrums and is living up to its promise of serving top-notch Neapolitan pizza. What’s more, with its cozy vibe and friendly and polished service, it’s now an appealing place to gather for a good meal and enjoy a nice selection of wine and craft beer.

Baked in a wood-fired oven in the tiny, open kitchen, the pizzas take mere minutes to cook. For this style of pizza, the crust is vital. You can make us happy for only so long with good toppings on a sub-par crust.

Chef Matteo Bonezzi, a transplanted Italian, is passionate about making authentic pizza – and it shows. He knows that crust with just the right balance between tender and chewy, requires time and patience on the front end.

Dough this style often takes two days or more to go from mixing and shaping to actual baking. As the dough rises and then retards in the refrigerator, it builds flavor and character. Those random bubbles are the result of this fermentation. You can smell it and taste it. And because Neapolitan pies are baked fast at temperatures about 800 degrees Fahrenheit, you get this wonderful blistered texture (a hallmark of sourdough bread as well) and random charring from the intense heat.

Trick Pony nails it. The dough, the crust, the toppings. It’s all there. Among my favorites are the simple Margherita, in which the crust, sauce and cheese show harmony and elegance; and the Trick Pony, featuring thin ribbons of prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, tangy Parmigiano Reggiano and a balsamic reduction with a touch of sweetness. I also loved the Funghi Misti, a red sauce pie topped with a variety of mushrooms and a drizzle of truffle oil.

Beyond the excellent pizzas are some impressive pasta dishes, including a delicious lasagna Bolognese. We had eaten the iconic version of this dish only days before at Biba, and while Trick Pony’s is not up to that standard yet, it was a very good lasagna with plenty of flavor and meaningful use of wonderful ingredients.

The spaghetti, offered as a special one recent evening, and the pasta with ragu (meat sauce), were also enjoyable. For lunch, the menu could stand some elaboration. I’m told a selection of sandwiches will be debuting soon, giving lunch-goers options beyond pizza and pastas.

The Broderick partnership of Chris Jarosz and Matt Chong is making serious progress at a place on the brink of collapse only months earlier. I can now recommend it as a very nice neighborhood eatery.

Yang’s Noodles

I had not been to Yang’s since my positive review of this Chinese noodle joint in May, when I described it as “brightly lit, slightly shabby” and with “an almost fast-food feel.”

Now that’s old news. Restaurateur and investor Jack Suh bought the place, shut it down for renovation in July, and then reopened it with a new look without losing what we loved about Yang’s in the first place – the amazing soup and noodle dishes.

Suh brought in restaurant consultant Don Dickinson, who previously served as chef at the former David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods and opening chef at the downtown Embassy Suites. Dickinson also ran the culinary program at the Institute of Technology’s Sacramento location for 10 years until it closed.

Yang’s large dining room is much improved, and the space is better utilized. Previously, there were furnishings that made little sense, including an unused buffet area and a sign that referred to ice cream, even though none was served. Now the look is crisp, clean and modern, not unlike what we found recently at nearby Thien Phu, which I recently lauded for bringing a modern, welcoming approach to its customer service.

This is a key component that’s missing at many places in Little Saigon, the exciting stretch of ethnic restaurants along Stockton Boulevard, where the food is often enthralling but the service is, to be charitable, lost in translation.

If restaurants want to broaden their customer base, they need to create a welcoming and accessible vibe without losing their appeal and authenticity. Dickinson said he wants Yang’s to attract Asians and non-Asians alike. And he’s working to bridge any potential generation gap by creating a presence on Instagram and Twitter, where Yang’s Noodles cooking videos can be found.

Dickinson and Suh are both active in the dining room these days, welcoming regulars and making newcomers feel at ease. The focus on the cuisine is largely a blend of northern Chinese and Taiwanese, meaning you can expect livelier flavors, often packed with heat. Wen Yang, the former owner who sold the restaurant to Suh, has stayed on in the kitchen, with more staffing to back him up. Now that he’s able to focus solely on cooking, the food is as good or better than ever.

Two soups served at Yang’s are nonpareil in Sacramento – the rich and deeply flavored beef noodle soup, and the scorching Szechuan boiled fish soup. For the adventurous eater, the latter is one of the greatest food experiences you can have without flying to the other side of the planet. This extra-large boil of bright reddish-brown broth is loaded with chunks of white fish and plenty of tender napa cabbage. On a chilly, rainy night, it would be my pick for a warm-me-up. And yes, the heat will blow your doors off. I highly recommend this soup for anyone looking for a serious wow factor.

The revamped menu has a brighter, fresher look. It keeps all of its best dishes while adding a Cantonese section for those seeking a more typical and mainstream Chinese food experience.

Given the improvements to the dining area and service, Yang’s is now deserving of our highest overall rating in this category.

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. On Twitter, @Blarob.

Trick Pony

2013 S St.

Sacramento

(916) 706-1025

www.trickponypizza.com

Overall

Yang’s Noodles

5860 Stockton Blvd.

Sacramento

(916) 392-9988

Overall

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