Beauty in design

Wildwood Kitchen & Bar

Good for: cocktails or high-energy small plates off the grid
Notable dishes: shakshuka, tomahawk pork chop

Wildwood Kitchen & Bar

556 Pavilions Ln.
Sacramento, CA 95825

(916) 922-2858

People go out to eat for different reasons: some for the food and some for the scene.

Wildwood Kitchen & Bar, the newest venture from Fred and Matt Haines, attempts to cover both bases. Their 33rd Street Bistro and Riverside Clubhouse demonstrate a solid background in developing neighborhood spots as social hubs.

Wildwood opened in September as an anchor for the revitalized Pavilions Shopping Center. With the motto “Where the culinary arts meet the art of design” on every menu, the Haines brothers engender high expectations.

They clearly focused on design, with soft lighting, slate and wood accents and a striking moss painting on one wall. Roll-up doors lead to an expansive outdoor patio, which will hold live music in the spring.

If you go, make a reservation. Our first visits left us disappointed: parking is surprisingly scarce in the evenings, and Wildwood was too busy twice for a walk-in. Also note that the restaurant is not child-friendly.

Lunch is less busy, but less polished as well. Labeled “Brunch,” the menu reads like a mishmash of new American cooking. Upscale oysters and short rib raviolo share space with more-lowbrow andouille sausage hash. Wildwood will separate lunch from brunch soon, but for now it’s a toss-up.

We ordered the raviolo ($12.95) as an appetizer, but it arrived after our entrees as a single, rather tough-skinned disc, although the beef filling delivered on rich flavor.

As the owners of Suzie Burger, we figured the Haines brothers would know burgers. The Wildwood burger’s ($14.95) brisket-chuck blend was balanced, but wan cheese and an overly acidic spread didn’t add up. The worst issue here, though, was a mountain of cold shoestring fries. The server removed them from our plate with his hands, a shockingly unprofessional move. Hot fries arrived on a new plate, but we lost our appetite.

The saving grace of lunch was the shakshuka ($10.95), an Israeli stew of tomatoes and peppers with two soft-poached eggs nestled inside. The kitchen nailed the seasoning and heat level, but the accompaniment of naan was lukewarm.

Despite our unfortunate lunch, we fared much better at dinner. Wildwood thrives on an energetic nighttime scene. The big bar sits front and center near the glassed-in kitchen for abundant people-watching. Cocktails are well-crafted—the Sazerac ($13) may be one of the best we’ve had in town.

A starter of roasted winter vegetables ($8) comes on a bed of smoky baba ganoush. We would have liked more than carrots and delicata squash, but the eggplant dip complemented their sweetness well.

Deviled eggs ($8.95) tasted flabby and underseasoned, even with a smear of avocado puree and smoked salmon. They screamed for spice or fresh herbs.

The kitchen redeemed itself with the tomahawk pork chop ($32.95), a striking Niman Ranch chop with an 8-inch bone. On a base of squash, apple and beets, the salty, perfectly cooked pork spurred us to sop up every last bit.

A vaguely-worded tuna entree ($28.95) turned out to be two still-chilly pieces of seared fish over slightly undercooked risotto made with farro. While it was well-flavored with scallion and prosciutto, the grains and red frisee on top left a pool of oil that overwhelmed the palate.

Desserts were similarly a mixed bag, with an outstandingly moist olive oil cake ($6.95) and a butterscotch budino ($6.95) that had a chewy skin from pre-plating.

While the kitchen shows areas of excellence, the overall experience succeeds more with aesthetics than food. Your best bets are drinks and small plates. Oh, and you might want to take Lyft.