Eclectic, upscale—and unfocused

Back Wine Bar & Bistro

Back Wine Bar & Bistro in Folsom was conceived of by Gail and Jeff Back, who remedied the area’s need for a wine bar with food that pleases both the experienced palate and the occasional fine diner. Situated in the burbs on Blue Ravine Road, Back has nuzzled itself into a comfortable niche with a wine selection and an eclectic—albeit unfocused—menu that draws an upscale crowd.

On one visit, the bruschetta plate arrives with four types of toppings, two of each: goat cheese, avocado, caramelized onion and tomato. They don’t suck, but they aren’t great. The avocado bruschetta exhibits some pizzazz, thanks to a sly use of cumin, though it’s cheapened by the fact that the toast is bequeathed only a skid mark of avocado.

The ahi poke sleeps upon a tower of sticky rice, as if it were a princess trying to feel for a pea. The tuna is fresh, light and well-cut (which matters when it comes to fish). The kitchen has wittingly paired it with a Japanese farm-food classic: cucumber sunomono. Here, nearly translucent slivers of cucumber are tossed with black sesame seeds, soy sauce, sugar and vinegar. It enlivens the ahi perfectly and is smartly contrasted by a dribble of chili-soy sauce and crushed macadamias.

Along the pasta lines, the menu features somewhat of an island of misfit gnocchi. This gnocchi was too fat, this one too flat, this one too big, this one wanted to be a dentist. The summer vegetables were all prepared al dente, and the smittering (too little to be a smattering) of goat cheese added a light tang, but at least the tarragon cream sauce more than made up for the doughy gnocchi. Bottle it, sell it and somewhere along the line, that sauce will achieve world peace.

A rib-eye steak with a basil-and-tomato compound butter is served cooked to perfection. It’s a decent piece of meat with the right amount of fat and proper charring around the edges. Served with potatoes and wax beans, it’s a hearty, new American dish that is as flavorful as could be desired.

Then, there’s the chocolate soufflé. Diners aren’t warned ahead of time, but because it’s prepared to order, expect up to a 25-minute wait. When it does finally arrive, it’s with fanfare: an egg-white skyscraper that our waiter then heroically pierced with a knife and delicately filled with crème anglaise.

But the soufflé is like having a hot date and then finding out he’s a terrible kisser: greatly disappointing. The result of all this preparation and performance turned out to be a spongy, rubbery, soggy soufflé that tasted like a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles cereal that’s been sitting out for a half-hour, but with less flavor.

The vanilla pot de crème, however, is better. This is a vanilla custard so silky it has a thread count, layered with sticky caramel and a thick topping of ganache, with a dusting of salt. It tastes like a gourmet Milky Way. The lemon verbena ice cream is composed of a clean custard base, with butterfly kisses of herbal flavor. Delightful.

In the end, the food is hit-and-miss, with the misses being forgettable rather than poor (minus the soufflé). A little refinery needs to happen to make the food at Back unique enough for the average Sacramento diner to find it worth the trip, but for the Folsom diner who feels Grange Restaurant & Bar is too far, Back will do right enough.

A major plus is that wine is also served by the half-glass, a far too-ignored practice in many other restaurants, and I applaud Back for having the balls to do it. In addition, the wine selection is as strong as it is eclectic, and pairing recommendations are practical, so you won’t go wrong.