Exurban flight

Redbud Café

3275 Coach Ln.
Cameron Park, CA 95682

Sacramento’s new restaurant boom hasn’t only been in Sacramento. Interesting new restaurants pop up in not just the suburbs, but also the exurbs, which is why a recent evening found me driving miles in driving rain to sample the fare at Cameron Park’s Redbud Café. I’ve heard a lot about it over the past months, but never had pulled off the freeway to try.

Redbud doesn’t take reservations, so we headed up the hill early to try to beat any rush. We were seated in the bar area at a bistro table, giving us a good view of that half of the lively restaurant, though not of the open kitchen that overlooks the dining room. The space is, unfortunately, your basic shopping-center site, but valiant efforts have been made—mostly successful—to distinguish it, with bright art (much of local scenes), a slightly weird bas-relief of a big smiling sun adorning the pizza oven and strategic paint and lighting.

The meal’s progress was fairly speedy, thanks to an obviously practiced kitchen. I started with a salad. The Blue Cherry was a big bowl of baby greens, crisp sweet pecans, fine crumbles of blue cheese and plump marinated cherries—a tasty grouping. My husband selected crab spring rolls, which were one of a determinedly eclectic array on the appetizer menu: the “New Delhi” tandoori-chicken skewers, the “Venetian” carpaccio, Korean-inspired short ribs, “Sonoma” herb-crusted baked goat cheese. The salads were slightly less adventurous, but still varied.

There’s also a list of pizzas, infested, in my view, with too much “garlic cream sauce” and chicken topping. We took home a pizza (the Horn of Plenty with spring vegetables) and despite a creditable crust and nice bright veggies (peas, asparagus), I found the cream sauce distracting and texture-marring. The menu offers sandwiches, in addition to main courses, that veer in a slightly Italian direction (ziti with gorgonzola cream sauce, portobello mushroom with polenta), but also include Thai grilled chicken with pineapple black rice and classic steaks.

We had a flight of European white wines: four 3-ounce pours of an interesting progression of wines. I loved the presentation of the flight in sophisticated little glasses, so we could each have a taste of (in order) bracing Italian Orvieto, complex Guitian from Spain, a floral French Routas Viognier, and German Domdechant Werner Riesling. As this grouping implies, there’s an intriguing wine list—including a number of other flights and by-the-glass selections in addition to the bottle list—and bottles line the walls in the restaurant.

The last wine in the flight, with its sweetness offset by nice acidity, made a perfect pair for those crab spring rolls, balancing their salty filling. The rolls, in crisp, thin wheat-flour wrappers arrived cut on a sharp diagonal to expose the filling, with sprigs of basil (the menu’s “herb salad”) topping a mélange of shredded vegetables and crispy rice noodles and a tart, spicy dipping sauce. Our server advised accompanying the rolls with the leaves of basil—a good choice. I found the filling to be the disappointing note, as the sweet, clean flavor of crab was muddied, the texture was so fine as to verge on mushy, and the salt was out of balance.

A similar problem plagued my entrée of lobster ravioli and seared prawns, which was a nice idea (house-made ravioli, spring peas, Meyer lemon cream sauce) that came out disappointingly. Gummy, thick ravioli filled with a finely ground lobster mixture nearly drowned in the tart but too-rich cream sauce. The shrimp were firm and sweet, the cherry tomato relish on top provided a contrasting note with plenty of herbs, such as basil and dill, but the spring peas were overcooked and gray-green, and the promised “fried lemon wheels” were MIA. The sauce didn’t go to waste, though: My husband used it to dip his French fries.

Those French fries came with hanger steak, cooked just-right medium-rare (and I thank the server for exceedingly tactfully steering my husband toward medium-rare, the optimal cooking level for hanger steak, rather than medium). Also accompanying it was a mix of caramelized shallots and gorgonzola butter, plus a couple of roasted Provencal tomatoes with crispy bread crumbs. The fries could have been hotter and crispier, but the point of the plate where the high pile of potatoes met the gorgonzola and the savory caramelized shallots was completely delicious.

There’s a rather long and creative dessert menu, varying from chocolate polenta cake to an ice-cream float with Framboise. My husband settled on an apple-pecan crostada while I had the sorbet of the week, a tart, richly flavored blackberry. The menu’s promised shortbread cookies were nowhere to be found, but the sorbet was satisfyingly deep and dark. The crostada, however, suffered from undercooked apples and a pallid and less-than-tender crust, despite its honeyed caramel sauce and a nice big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Redbud Café is doing a lot right—inventive menu development, a nice wine program, great service—but a few too many of the dishes had weird concepts or flawed execution. In the end, I felt like it was worth a stop if it’s on your way somewhere else. But thanks to the boom of excellent restaurants in Sacramento these days, I’m not sure I’d make the drive just for a meal.