A pearl of great price
Sacramento, CA 95815
Supper Club seems to be something of a well-kept secret in Sacramento’s dining scene. I heard about it from a hard-core foodie who sang the praises of chef Matt Woolston’s cooking. It can be sampled only at weekend dinners (by reservation only; call well in advance) or through catering and corporate events.
This unusual restaurant is hardly the kind of place you’d stumble over, unless you’re in the habit of strolling the outer reaches of Del Paso Boulevard on weekend evenings or patronizing the establishment across the street, which offers paycheck advances. And, to be honest, if you’re looking for a paycheck advance, you probably aren’t forking out money for dinner at Supper Club. On our visit, the prix fixe menu cost $70 per person, or $100 per person with wine pairings.
The question, as always with pricey dining adventures, is whether it’s worth it. It depends, of course, on how you like to spend your money, but Supper Club certainly offers a pleasurable evening, with food that is mostly wonderful, excellent wine pairings and an experience somewhere between that of a conventional restaurant and an exceedingly well-planned dinner party. Upon arrival, we were immediately offered wine—on our visit, a crisp Australian Riesling—before checking in with the reservationist. Knots of other guests stood around the attractive courtyard chatting and sipping as servers circulated with trays of hors d’oeuvres. These included the spicy ahi tuna in fried wonton-skin cones advertised as the first course on the menu, as well as several lagniappes. There were thin, crisp crostini with a tarragon-scented mushroom spread; an Asian-glazed duck confit in endive leaves; and well-flavored but disappointingly soggy Thai-spiced crab cakes.
After half an hour or so, we were called into the dining room and seated at comfortable and spacious tables marked with the names of the parties. The room, a makeover of what looks to be an old industrial space, is handsome and angular, done in earthy shades of mushroom and rust that complement the old brick on one wall.
Dinner proceeded at a welcome, leisurely pace with efficient and gracious service throughout, prefaced by short talks from both the chef and the sommelier. Wine pairing and education are a major focus at Supper Club, and I’d definitely recommend springing for the wines. Advanced pregnancy prevented me from doing more than tasting small sips from my husband’s glass, but they were perfect matches with the food. (Note that the menu changes monthly. Current and past menus are available on the restaurant’s Web site, at www.supperclubsacramento.com.)
A Domaine Chandon chardonnay, in particular, perfectly complemented the first plated course, sweet lobster enfolded in a fresh crepe with chives and accompanied with an intensely reduced carrot emulsion with the haunting flavor of galangal. That course, however, was preceded by another extra: vichyssoise topped with a spider-web pattern of vibrantly green sorrel puree. The flavors of the soup were surprisingly understated; in particular, the sour bite of sorrel was a bit lost.
The first of the two entrees certainly did not suffer from retiring flavors. We could smell the five-spice coating on the luscious pork tenderloin as it was being cooked, and its gingery berry-cola glaze was a lovely complement to the strong flavor of accompanying Russian kale. I appreciated the plate’s balance and the chef’s light touch with butter and cream.
The second entree course was considerably richer. The thinly sliced Kobe beef atop delicate layers of crisp toast, thin tomato slices and rich Point Reyes blue cheese was a perfect match for the deep, juicy Napa cabernet sauvignon poured with it. The meat was tender enough to cut with a fork, and though I’d quibble with the menu’s description of the bread and tomato accompaniment as a napoleon, it was nonetheless mouthwatering.
Dessert, on the patio, felt like a bit of a departure from the elegant plated courses that had preceded it, but it was a very palpable hit with guests. It featured a fountain of molten chocolate with skewers for dipping accompaniments like strawberries, truffles, frozen chunks of banana, marshmallows (where, I wanted to know, were the graham crackers?), cream puffs and even teeny little ice-cream cones. Yummy though these treats were, the effect was more that of a catered party than of a special evening out—possibly because horseplay around the fountain revealed the degree to which a couple of the guests had treated the wine program as a $30 all-you-can-drink special. There was also a very lovely cheese plate, paired with port. All of this encouraged lingering.
The convivial air at the end of dinner gave a sense of what makes Supper Club a distinctive dining experience. The food, the service and the whole experience clearly express the chef’s vision of a different type of restaurant. Dinner there is an indulgence and requires an investment of not only time and money, but also trust. It is, however, just right for a special-occasion dinner if you’re feeling unusually flush or someone else is paying. It offers well-executed food, a gracious atmosphere, and the sense that you’re getting a distinctive night on the town.