Monday, May 19, 2008

An Anniversary at Ella in Sacramento

Randall Selland is a much needed culinary maverick in Sacramento, Ca. He initially opened the wonderful Selland's market on H Street between mid-town and the Sac State neighborhoods. Selland's has a gourmet deli with reliably delicious prepared foods, a small grocery section and a small but impressive boutique wine shop.

Next, he spearheaded the opening of The Kitchen restaurant on Hurley Ave. The Kitchen offers demonstration dinners, with only one seating a night serving a maximum of 50 people. The Kitchen is renowned for the quality of its ingredients, the execution of its menu and the attentive and personal service. It is now considered to be the best restaurant on Sacramento, and high on the list of destination restaurant in all of California.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the night we met, the Dear Husband (DH) and I decided to dine at Ella, the third star on Selland's expanding constellation of exciting offerings in Sacramento. Ella is located downtown in the least seediest section of rundown K Street mall, right around the corner from both of Sacramento's nicest hotels, the Hyatt and the Sheraton Grand. Because I knew I was going to be in town on business for an entire week around this special date, I made the reservations more than a month in advance. We were so much more than not disappointed.

The atmosphere and decor of Ella is a cross between a Parisian Street market and the lobby of the Delano hotel in South Beach, Miami. Sheer white curtains hang from the ceiling, imparting a fresh breeziness to the open room and high ceilings.

The upper walls and ceilings are covered in purposefully shabby shutters of various dark shades. Large, stacked work tables at various places are covered with baskets of cutlery, piles of linen, and glass jars of lovely white flowers. We dined close to one of the worktables, and the heady smell of stock was a lovely late-springtime influence on the atmosphere.

To start our meal, we shared halibut, shrimp and scallop ceviche with wild arugula and yucca chips. Wonderful, light and acidic just the way a ceviche should be and well balanced by the sweet starchiness of the yucca chips. You don't see any yucca chips because the DH inhaled them.

The grilled calamari with garlic marinade and potato radicchio salad followed. The squid had some nice spice on the outside which made them ever so slightly spicy, and the potato salad was very very simple. You could really taste the potato, they were not drowned in a vinegary sauce or a heavy mayo. And the dish had a perfect tube to tentacle ratio on the plate.

On to the main event! If there is ever a side dish of artichokes anywhere near a restaurant I am eating in, I must have them. I must. I ♥ artichokes! And this side dish was delectable. Baby spring artichokes with monte olive oil, garlic, thyme and basil. There was some foam. In any restaurant worth its salt these days, there is foam. Foamy, foamy foam.

For a main curse, DH ordered the beautiful halibut. This halibut was served pan roasted with a nice crispiness, with giant rock shrimp, dill and English pea tortellini. This was just a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. I liked it very much.

I ordered the Petaluma chicken breast. I know the rule of thumb when eating at a restaurant known for stellar cuisine is to NOT order chicken. But, but, but. I love chicken. And our waiter assured me the chicken here is a sleeper hit, cooked sous vide with fava beans, English peas and wild mushrooms. It was tender, it was juicy, the accompaniments were yummy. It tasted just like chicken. Good chicken.

If you have been following my blog, you have know that I have recently eaten in some great restaurants with mixed reviews. Some important element has gone awry the last few times. Happily, Ella was firing on all cylinders. The food was breathtaking and the service could not have been more perfect. Our waiter was attentive and amusing but not overly present. He timed each course to perfection and kept the champagne ice cold and the glasses just full enough. I wish I remembered his name because I would like to write a letter to the manager telling them what great job he did and how much I enjoyed his service. It was truly a perfect evening in every way.

And the Lakers won. It doesn't get better than this.

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