Cabernet burgers?

East End Bar & Grill’s Web site describes the place as “the restaurant Sacramento has been waiting for.” From where I sit, it seems to be the type of restaurant this city already has more than enough of. That is, it’s one of those fairly generic new places with a hip-slash-elegant look to it that serves yuppie food ranging in quality from average to good. They’re all over the place, right? The food rarely sucks but it just as rarely kicks your ass, and you always end up spending more money than it seems to be worth. Sound familiar?

But then again, if there are tons of these places, it must mean there’s a market for them, so there must, in turn, be lots of people that would really like East End. And for you, whoever you are, I will continue this review in the most objective manner I can.

East End occupies the space that formerly housed a Sacramento landmark, the original Shakey’s Pizza, and they haven’t removed the big Shakey’s sign. Which makes the place look a bit odd from afar, as the big 30- or 40-year-old sign towers over a very circa-2001, classy-looking bistro. But I suppose it’s cool to leave it up for nostalgia’s sake.

The dining room is attractively fitted with soft gray booths, a large, elegant fireplace and nice art adorning the walls. Service was carried out graciously, if a bit slowly. Our waiter seemed a bit nervous and apologized, because the place was busier than he had expected—which sounded kind of funny, as it echoed through the more-than-half-empty dining room.

We began with a platter of oysters on the half shell ($2 apiece), which turned out to be the evening’s culinary high point. These were excellent oysters: ice cold, fresh and filled with the essence of ocean. Accompanying these were a nice, shallot-laden classic mignonette, lemon wedges and an excellent house-made cocktail sauce, which was fresh and flavorful with a nice mellow burn to it—far better than any commercial sauce.

Following this, we had a salad described as “tomato, bread, buffalo mozzarella, salsa verde” ($9). While the salad was good, the use of the word “bread” led me to expect something resembling a bread salad or a panzanella. Because of this, I was a bit disappointed with the extra large and nearly rock-hard croutons that appeared. Though it’s true that a bread salad requires three- to four-day-old bread so as not to get too soggy in the dressing, using full-on croutons is unnecessary and actually robs the salad of that great, partially crispy/partially soft texture desirable in good bread salads. But the salad was still pretty good, the cherry tomatoes providing a nice, full sweetness. Perhaps the intention wasn’t to make a bread salad in the first place, but if that’s so, the menu should have been more clearly worded.

Another menu-wording problem developed with the arrival of the night’s salmon special ($17). “Pistachio crusted salmon” became merely pan-seared salmon with a few whole pistachios scattered around the plate. That said, the salmon itself was handled well; it came with a browned exterior and was medium-rare to medium inside. The accompanying potato purée was just average. While not particularly flavorful, it merely provided a bit of filler, and the advertised chard was simply one or two bites’ worth, served mainly as a garnish on top of the fillet—leaving the dish without much in the way of vegetable accompaniment.

And I can’t quite figure out the thinking behind the item my friend ordered. Advertised as a “seared Cabernet Sauvignon hamburger,” I couldn’t tell if the chef was trying to be funny or just really pretentious. We ordered it mainly because we thought it would be a funny thing to say out loud, but at $11, we were also hoping it would be impressive. It wasn’t. Not only was the burger cooked to death, it was relatively flavorless.

And so went the evening at East End. Some hits, more misses. I wonder how long they’ll last.