Crayons and cocktails
Amaro Bistro & Bar offers exciting adult food alongside a kid’s menu that’s better than most
Sacramento, CA 95811
I see them everywhere I go: People eating meals without being interrupted; enjoying cocktails without gulping. Perhaps you have, too. They don’t have kids with them.
Those of us with offspring don’t want to be relegated to the Old Spaghetti Factory, though. We want fun drinks and food with flavor—for ourselves and our children (OK, not the booze). Recently, things have started looking up for parents who like to eat well.
Amaro Bistro & Bar opened early this year in the Warehouse Artist Lofts on R Street. It’s from the Shady Lady Saloon owners Jason Boggs, Alex Origoni and Garrett Van Vleck, with partner Abe Cunningham of Deftones. For their first foray into food with drinks rather than the other way around, they’ve outdone themselves.
Amaro didn’t start out as a family-friendly concept, but Boggs has a young daughter and saw the opportunity to appeal to an underserved population. Hence, the simple but intriguing kid’s menu with a cheeky cartoon of Van Vleck as Captain Amaro.
Order the kids the outstanding spaghetti and meatballs ($7) of housemade pasta that makes you understand what al dente really means. The beef and pork meatballs are the same as adults get, with the unusual and alluring addition of lamb.
Next, turn your attention to the cocktail menu. It’s deftly designed to include Italian-inspired drinks like the aperitif wine Cocchi Americano. It brings a quinine bitterness and citrus edge to the Drunken Butterfly ($10), a mix of sweet vermouth, sparkling wine and peach bitters.
Tellingly, one of the best starters sounds mundane but tastes exciting. The seasonal mixed greens salad ($7) currently contains julienned bright-pink watermelon radish, candied kumquats, spiced walnuts and shaved fennel tossed with a bright honey-thyme vinaigrette. It highlights all the contrasts of sweet vs. bitter and crunchy vs. soft.
Saffron arancini ($9) also make an ideal appetizer to share. Fried risotto balls ooze with fontina cheese and complement a creamy tomato sauce perfumed with saffron.
Executive chef Kevin Ritchie and chef de cuisine Del Gibbs oversee the production of all the pastas except the orecchiette, which is prepared from its dried form, and the pizza doughs, including the gluten-free version.
The pappardelle Bolognese ($17) may seem scant, but it delivers a rich tangle of toothsome noodles, savory sauce and both beef and pork in the classic style. The only improvement might come from deepening the flavors of onion and garlic.
Amaro adds to the field of pizza choices in Sacramento, which have improved onentially in the last 10 years. The 14-inch pies—with chewy American-style crusts versus the cracker-thin Neapolitan style agrave; la Hot Italian—make a plentiful meal for two.
While the crusts have great texture, they don’t have a lot of flavor on their own. They’re improved by the toppings. On the prosciutto ($18), salty sheets of cured ham complement sweet caramelized onions, salty olives and melty burrata cheese. A post-oven sprinkling of arugula adds an element of freshness.
The vegetariana ($16) forgoes the usually ubiquitous bell peppers in favor of smoky mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and olives with rapini.
If Amaro has any weak spots on the menu, they lie mainly with the desserts. Both the cannoli and chocolate hazelnut Bavarian ($8 each) sounded much better than they tasted.
Quibbles aside, for such a young restaurant, Amaro hits most of its marks with style. Now that the weather is warming, take advantage of the patio to get the most authentic Italian alfresco experience—kids or no kids.