Carla Meyer

Milestone hits the comfort-food mark in El Dorado Hills

Buttermilk fried chicken consists of breast, leg and thigh pieces, plus potato salad.
Buttermilk fried chicken consists of breast, leg and thigh pieces, plus potato salad. jvillegas@sacbee.com

El Dorado Hills’ reputation as a monied enclave and fanciness bastion takes another hit with Milestone, a comfort-food spot offering hearty portions and considerable craft at modest prices.

Bistro 33 Selland’s Market-Café

Milestone replaced the higher-end Café Campanile, which rebranded itself as Café C and reopened in a smaller place closer to the theater.

Town Center’s collection of mid-range dining options actually aligns with the luxury SUVs parked along its main drag, according to Milestone co-owner Nick Dedier.

“The people who eat out up here, they eat out every day,” said Dedier, who also co-owns Aji Japanese Bistro, a more upscale yet still affordable 2 1/2 -year-old restaurant just around the way from Milestone.

Since Milestone opened, its “simple, approachable, good” food has drawn those frequent diners, Dedier said, including families who swing by after soccer practice. On our visits – two for dinner, one for a late lunch – the rustic-themed restaurant that seats nearly 100 indoors and 30 outside was at least half full, with the crowd ranging from families to young couples to groups of women in their 30s to the occasional older guy bellied up to the bar.

Dedier, an Elk Grove son with significant high-end restaurant management experience, including stints at Gary Danko in San Francisco and Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville, resists the terms “comfort food” and “ranch dressing.” He designates the prevailing cuisine at Milestone, which holds the braised and the fried in high esteem, as “Americana.” He calls his restaurant’s delicious house-made salad dressing “buttermilk vinaigrette.”

Fat by any other name is just as comforting, and Aji/Milestone co-owner and executive chef Russell Okubo and Milestone chef de cuisine Jaydel Reyes hit that spot while also finessing it. Milestone’s braised, fried and buttermilk’d dishes generally taste a bit better than they need to, given their price level.

The haddock in Milestone’s fish and chips moves from deep fryer to plate with its flesh still buttery and its outside crisped by a light panko breading. For 6 to 8 ounces of fish, a pile of subtly beer-battered fries (frozen, but so what, when they’re crispy/creamy?) and tangy, delightfully dill-heavy tartar sauce, one pays $14.50. And that feeling this salty-vinegary dish inspires, of being on a coastal boardwalk rather than a foothills patio overlooking a man-made lake? That’s free.

Sitting on the Milestone patio on a breezy evening last month, our thoughts turned to the coming summer and perhaps experimenting with a lighter dish to counteract all that Americana. The “green goddess” salad ($10.50) we ordered turned out to be the best of both worlds. It holds butter lettuce, sunflower seeds, watermelon radish, kohlrabi and a dressing that does a highly herbaceous but not entirely convincing impression of green goddess. Beneath all its fresh parsley and chive lay our beloved “buttermilk vinaigrette.”

Braising factored strongly in the ricotta gnocchi ($15.50), whose pre-prepared greens – Swiss chard and dinosaur kale – added depth and spikes of salt to a creamy mix that included earthy-tasting and slightly chewy trumpet, beach and oyster mushrooms. The gnocchi was a bit too dense but enjoyable in the context of the cream, greens and mushrooms.

We ate the gnocchi outside, though the hefty dish is likely better suited to Milestone’s interior, which is open and airy yet also solid in feel, thanks to its many wood touches, from chairs to wall and ceiling accents.

Dedier calls the design, which includes the now-ubiquitous Edison lights, “Napa country porch.” I only see Gold Country. But I’ve seen Gold Country in every establishment on Highway 50 east of Folsom since studying the Gold Rush in fourth grade. The proximity of “milestone” to “historical marker” does little to discourage such conclusions.

Plus, Gold Country is more rugged than tweezer-food Napa, and therefore more appropriate to a place that serves a $14 buttermilk fried chicken plate of breast, leg, thigh and a side of potato salad. But then bits of Napa nuance sneak in anyway, in the way Milestone’s kitchen dunks instead of soaks the bird in buttermilk, avoiding an acidic, drying effect and producing meat as juicy as the skin is crisp.

The sweet-hot chili dipping sauce we tried and liked when we had the chicken has been phased out in favor of Fresno pepper Sriracha, Dedier said. But it still covers Milestone’s tasty, perfectly cooked chicken wings, served in a stack of eight drumettes, with buttermilk vinaigrette, for $11.50.

Two items at Milestone went beyond exceptional comfort food to exceptional, period. The flourless “farmer’s veggie pie” ($12.50) comes covered with a thick crust of smoked gouda and aged cheddar that insulates a filling of eggplant, zucchini, summer squash and San Marzano tomatoes, the flavors alternating among bright, sharp and soothing.

The avocado and smoked-salmon toast underwhelms in name. Because that name has “toast” in it. But it’s a hearty, intensely flavored steal at $9.50. A French onion spread softens and flavors Grateful Bread sourdough toast before the salmon, a crème fraîche-tanged avocado spread, oven-dried tomato and pickled red onion are added. Smoke, fat, salt and acidity play into every bite.

There were a couple of busts at Milestone, including a Boston cream pie that tasted of refrigerator, and the steak Diane, which came with two dry filet medallions under a sauce that tasted as if a packet was involved. That this $25 dish was both the most lackluster and costliest we ordered poked a hole in our high-value thesis.

But only momentarily, before stellar service compensated. Dedier’s fiancée and second partner in Milestone, Alexa Hazelton, also brings a strong hospitality background to the restaurant. The couple’s influence shows in a service staff that skews rather young yet shows ample polish. Our servers were quick to freshen plates and flatware, refill water glasses and otherwise check in.

On one visit, the service staff overdid it, coming by our table a few too many times to see if everything was all right. But that might have been placement – we were seated on the path between kitchen and patio.

But it would be churlish to judge overly enthusiastic service too harshly. It’s a much better issue to encounter than its opposite number: being ignored.

Milestone Restaurant

4359 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills. www.milestonerestaurantedh.com, 916-934-0790

Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays

Beverage options: Wine and beer only, with a California-leaning list of wines on tap and by the glass and bottle. Beers on tap include offerings from Rubicon and Amador Brewing.

Vegetarian friendly: Yes

Gluten-free options: Yes

Noise level: Moderate, but a sound system playing rock and blues can be too noticeable.

Ambiance: Open and airy but also homey, thanks to plentiful wood touches. The large space was at least half-full on all our visits, with young families, couples and groups of women. The patio, which faces El Dorado Hills’ Town Center’s man-made lake, is especially pleasant.

Overall

It’s a nice space with well-crafted comfort food at reasonable prices, and highly attentive service.

Food

Milestone’s flair for the fried shows in its standout buttermilk fried chicken and fish and chips. The green goddess salad, though healthier, also hit the comfort-food spot. The Boston cream pie and steak Diane were busts, however.

Service

The service staff skews a little younger than what is typical in Sacramento restaurants, yet shows significant polish. Our only quibble is a small one: On one visit, staff members checked in with our table too often.

Value

Most of Milestone’s well-crafted, hearty dishes cost less than $20. It might be wise to stick with them, since the most expensive item we tried – the $25 steak Diane – also was our least favorite.

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