Carla Meyer

First impressions: Head for the bar at East Sacramento’s OBO’

The salad case is part of the scene at OBO’, which recently opened in East Sacramento.
The salad case is part of the scene at OBO’, which recently opened in East Sacramento. cmeyer@sacbee.com

First Impressions visits dining spots that are new or have undergone transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

Translated from the Italian, OBO’ means … a new casual Italian restaurant in East Sacramento.

Restaurateur Randall Selland (The Kitchen, Ella Dining Room and Bar) said last week that some of the many diners flocking to OBO’ Italian Table & Bar think they know the word “obo” from their travels to southern Europe. But the name’s not Italian, Selland said.

Nor is it the abbreviation for “or best offer”: Menu prices are non-negotiable at this Folsom Boulevard cafe into which the Selland group just plunked $2 million.

The name comes partly from the nickname of Owen Nelson, son of Josh Nelson, who is a partner in Selland Family Restaurants and Randall Selland’s stepson.

Selland and wife Nancy Zimmer picked the name and concept for the new venture in the former Andiamo and Good Eats space at 3145 Folsom Blvd. after traveling, and eating, in Italy. Selland said Zimmer conceived many dishes on the OBO’ menu, which is overseen by Selland group executive chef Ravin Patel.

Modeled after the Selland’s Market-Cafes in East Sacramento and El Dorado Hills, OBO’ offers salads to go and other pre-prepared dishes along with made-to-order pastas and pizzas. Diners order at the counter. Water and utensils are self-serve, except – and this is a big exception, if you don’t like fetching your own flatware – at the 10-seat bar. It’s full service, and unlike the Market-Cafe drink stations, offers liquor along with beer and wine.

Menu: Seven pastas and 11 pizzas, the latter of which are less saucy and more Neapolitan than their Market-Café counterparts. There are also hot entrees and sides, cold and hot sandwiches and side and entree salads.

OBO’ uses local ingredients and caters to the gluten-sensitive with a special pizza dough. Beside the regular paper menus stacked near the cafe’s entrance lie separate gluten-sensitive and vegetarian versions.

Price point: Pastas are $9.50-$12.50. Pizzas run $11-$16. Italian wines by the glass: $5-$16. Bottles: $24-$80. Local draft beers, including a special OBO’ lemon saison from New Glory Craft Brewery, run $5-$7 a pint or 10-ounce “tulip” glass, $18-$35 a pitcher. Craft cocktails: $7-$12.

Ambiance: OBO’ takes up 4,650 square feet, or less than half of the 11,000-square-foot building. (Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine will occupy the remainder when it moves from J Street this fall).

Yet OBO’ looks spacious on its own, partly because of its design. Sunlight floods through big windows into a space that already feels airy thanks to a light-colored honeycomb-tile floor and abundant aquamarine accents.

Ceilings go as high as they can – up to exposed rafters. From the ceiling hangs an art piece/lighting fixture, 35 feet in diameter and composed of colored pizza paddles, that adds whimsy.

The Mediterranean-evoking color scheme continues in the tables and chairs on the patio lining the building’s perimeter on Folsom Boulevard and Seville Way, site of the restaurant’s entrance.

OBO’ has classed up Seville Way, the most noteworthy attribute of which, before the restaurant opened on June 16, was the metal trash bin that sits behind the Rite-Aid and requires astute driving to avoid.

Despite the roomy feel of OBO’, things get tight in the area between the space’s entrance and cash registers. OBO’ has drawn 1,000 diners per day since it opened June 16, co-owner Tamera Baker said, prompting the restaurant to trim its weekly schedule from seven to five days a week. (Selland said the Sunday-Monday closures, meant to “give our crew a rest,” likely will last for month. “Sac has always given us great support and we want to give back the best experience we can,” he said.)

There weren’t 1,000 people there when we visited at about 5:30 p.m. on a weekday, but most seats (OBO’ holds 90 people inside, 60 outside) were taken and there was a long line, as well as some confusion about how to line up – single file or side by side – for the multiple cash registers. But the line still moved relatively swiftly, and the food arrived at our table quickly.

Drinks: Exclusively Italian wines – sparkling, white and red, by the glass or bottle. Local draft beers. Craft cocktails. House-made, non-alcoholic rosemary lemonade.

First impressions: OBO’ is lovely altogether, but especially so during off-hours (2 or 3 p.m. weekdays), when one can grab a seat at the full-service bar and sip a Boulevardier (at $12 the most expensive OBO’ craft cocktail, and worth it). Made with rye, punt e mes (Italian vermouth), Aperol and Campari, it’s alcohol-forward yet refreshing.

Or try the crisp-yet-comforting OBO’ Amaro ($8), a house-made citrus and herbal liqueur on the rocks, its clove and cinnamon components evident in each sip.

Our favorite food item thus far is the truffled mushroom pizza ($15). The crust was crisp yet airy, and the mushrooms and fontina cheese achieve a perfect earthy/tangy balance. The bucatini carbonara ($10.50) was modest in portion but rich enough to satisfy, with the pancetta’s salty punch only minimally offsetting the egg-cream-Parmesan fat quotient.

The “Bianca” sausage and olive pizza ($14) lacked enough kick, however, and a berry tiramisu ($4.50) tasted of sugar and little depth.

Try it if: You seek high-quality food in a casual setting.

Skip it if: Crowds are not your thing.

OBO’ Italian Table & Bar

3145 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Information: www.oboitalian.com, 916-822-8720

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