An edible identity crisis

The Pier Lounge, Bar & Grill

Good for: happy hour before a Kings game
Notable dishes: bulgogi fries, sliders and tacos

The Pier Lounge, Bar & Grill

419 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 447-7437

When you order pricey dishes made by respected restaurateurs, you hope for the best. However, steep costs and former success aren’t reliable predictors of what will arrive on your plate in a new eatery.

In sight of the arena, a monolithic block of concrete houses two levels of “the sexiest dance floors” and a restaurant. The building formerly housed the Triple Double Sports Bar and Grill, which was open for less than a month. The owners of Crab City Restaurant & Dessert bought the space to turn it into a business that lacks the simple deliciousness of their Asian-Cajun restaurant in Florin.

Nowadays, the joint that opened in October is mostly dead, except for the hours leading up to a Kings match, when basketball fans congregate for all-day happy hours before games. Come time for the ball toss, they scatter like ducks at the first shot of hunting season. Then, you’re left alone to decipher menus for Sunday brunch, lunch or dinner that present a hodgepodge of ingredients and identities—crab cake sliders and tonkotsu ramen, Sea Fries (fried squid tentacles with aioli, naturally) and Korean bulgogi everything: sliders, fries, tacos.

The most inventive of them all, the stuffed mushrooms ($14), abstracted its ingredients past the point of recognition. Four half-circles of shiitake mushrooms arrived on a long plate. They sat in their own small pools of saltless, limeless “guacamole,” surrounded by ropelike squirts of miso remoulade—an unhappy, cloying marriage of Japanese and French seasonings. A charred and brittle wall of fried batter slid against the slimy fungi. They were supposedly stuffed with crab, but I didn’t taste the seafood. It’s an overpriced appetizer.

The bulgogi sliders ($12), on the other hand, are at least a cohesive dish. Soft, warm buns and Sriracha mayo compensated for other missteps. The bulgogi beef was well cooked with its traditional sesame-and-garlic marinade. But a “kimchi slaw” simply mixed coleslaw with kimchi, making each seem strange against the other: The slaw tasted like flavorless and dry kimchi, the kimchi like a sour and soggy slaw.

The Lobster & Shrimp Mac & Cheese (a whopping $18) came with two shrimps and mealy bits of lobster. A dry net of orange cheddar cheese conjoined the large shells, which were dusted with burned panko crust. A buttery, clumpy pool of liquid at the bottom failed to meld with the cheese into a creamy and cohesive sauce. Velveeta would be roughly six times cheaper—and better.

For Sunday brunch, the kimchi scrambled eggs ($11) arrived with what looked like one-and-a-half eggs that took up about 15 percent of the plate. The kimchi tasted odd scattered among the eggs that were crumbly without enough milk to fluff them. The rest of the plate held golden, well-baked potatoes, but also two stale sticks of bread the size of cucumbers. Their rosemary seasoning clashed with the kimchi.

The saving grace of the restaurant came from its friendly servers, who were obliging hosts just trying to inspire a good time. They seemed to be catching onto their patrons’ feelings, though. My waitress came by to ask, “Is everything tasting all right?” as if she suspected it might not be. The hostess asked, “What brought you in today?” with genuine surprise and curiosity. Apparently, I did not look like a basketball fan.