A lesson in seafood
Skool on K
Sacramento, CA 95816
My server grins, like she can’t wait to say what she’s about to say.
“Do you need to study more?”
I’m at Skool on K, the new restaurant everyone seems to be talking about. I haven’t been asked if I’ve eaten at a certain restaurant yet this many times since Empress Tavern. In fact, the Skool talk beat Empress—perhaps because there weren’t months of buzz leading up to its casual opening in February.
Skool specializes in seafood and preciousness. The latter can be heard in the server lingo and seen on the menu, typed onto ruled paper and affixed with a No. 2 pencil. The former is proudly displayed everywhere: tables wear fish hooks; sea urchins dot a wall; and a giant map of a tuna and its meaty parts makes for a compelling centerpiece. Japanese touches allude to flavor profiles: water glasses once functioned as sake vessels and colorful orchids draw your eyes to the open kitchen.
At 8 p.m. on a recent Friday, every seat is taken. Hip electronica is bumpin’. It feels like where you want to be, though also a little more cramped than you’d expect at a place where you can easily drop $100 for two.
There’s a reason why Skool feels like a place for a bigger, more happening city. One of the owners, Andy Mirabell, is a Sacramento native and wanted to open a hometown version of his original Skool restaurant in San Francisco. It’s a dual husband-and-wife affair. He and Olia Kedik-Mirabell manage front of the house, while Toshihiro and Hiroko Nagano lead the kitchen.
Regardless of personal connection, it seems inevitable that more and more Bay Area restaurateurs will flock to town. Is Sacramento ready for higher prices and more daring concepts? If Skool’s first months are any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
Still, I felt mixed after my visits to Skool. There were big hits and minor misses, yet my ultimate satisfaction rarely lined up with the bill.
Its signature dishes—squid ink spaghettina ($19) and uni flan ($13)—deserve the raves. The seafood-topped spaghettina impresses in particular, with its fragrant mix of lemongrass dashi broth, seaweed butter, garlicky tomato compote, shiso and red curry. Uni’s distinct flavor is lightened up for the creamy appetizer, but it can still be quite intense for the uninitiated.
I had never seen fish ribs ($12) on a menu before, and here they’re slathered in a sweet, whiskey barbecue sauce. It mimics the experience of eating pork ribs—right down to the finger licking—but I wished I could have tasted the actual fish more. Another starter, the eryngii fries ($8), left me frustrated. The meaty mushrooms were difficult to bite into, and the cornmeal crust felt limp.
There are a few exquisitely plated dishes highlighting raw and cured seafood, or you can order a sampler trio for $28. My favorite is the namero, which has you make your own mini-hand rolls with herbaceous salmon tartare and quail egg yolk. I appreciate the other combinations in theory, such as amberjack crudo with smoky eggplant and pickled mushrooms, but the clutter of ingredients muddles the fish’s natural flavors.
For dessert, try the matcha cake ($8), a rich, flourless white-chocolate cake made uber-hip with the addition of earthy green tea. It’s the sort of thing you won’t find anywhere else in Sacramento—like many of Skool’s dishes, in fact.
Even if the prices are high and not every dish hits the mark, Skool is still a valuable addition to the local dining scene and will surely pave the way for more ambition.