Ham it up
The Ravine Bar & Restaurant25005 Blue Ravine Road, Suite 140
Folsom, CA 95630
I got a tip recently about The Ravine in Folsom and resolved to check it out. Goodness knows I never would have stumbled across it otherwise; it’s about as far into the eastern reaches of Folsom as it can be, and the road there goes on and on, past tracts of houses and still-empty land. When we pulled into the parking lot, having arrived at the new-looking shopping center that houses the restaurant, my friend remarked that the clumps of houses dotted around looked like nomadic settlements on barren steppes.
I wouldn’t go quite so far as that, but I did wonder where The Ravine was drawing its support. It’s not necessarily apparent at first glance, based on the shopping-center setting, what you’ll find within: a cleverly transformed and upscale bar-restaurant full of shiny surfaces and a piano in the bar, with a small, sleek and dimly lit dining area cordoned off in the back. The windows to the parking lot have been etched to turn them clouded but translucent (in daylight, presumably), a clever way to avoid the strip-mall feel that plagues many restaurants in such spaces.
The host station was a little hard to spot at first, tucked behind a column and in the dimly lit section of the restaurant. Our table overlooked the bar, which let me eavesdrop on a cocktail waitress regaling two male customers with tales of her dropping out of cosmetology school and her ambition to become an international fashion buyer—a narrative that accorded somewhat oddly with the refined menu and atmosphere in the restaurant section.
The menu is somewhat ambitious, but there are common threads and themes throughout: Duck with plum and hoisin sauce pops up as a salad and an entrée; ham, cream, Gruyère and mustard are a flavor combination in two or three dishes; brandy is mentioned as an accent several times; and all in all the food has a rich but not overly heavy feel that’s nice for the season.
The restaurant is owned by a newly arrived English couple who also had a restaurant near London. There’s nothing obviously “English” about the food (you won’t find Yorkshire pudding), but the flavorings—and some of the menu’s spellings, like “chilli”—feel a bit different from the usual run of California flavors. The wine list is not overly long, comprising one well-filled page, but it’s divided helpfully by style of wine, and there are a lot of choices by the glass, something I always appreciate.
We started off with a bowl of the soup of the day, a carrot puree flavored with ginger and lemon grass. It was sweet and subtle. I thought it could have used a little more salt, but it had a pleasant aromatic quality.
My big roasted red pepper, slow-roasted tomato and goat-cheese salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, on the other hand, was not at all shy. I wished the slightly hard-to-handle big lettuce leaves had been torn into more demure pieces, but I loved and wanted more of the savory, punchy roasted tomato halves. Oddly, only some of the roasted red peppers had been skinned, but they were tasty all the same. I liked the dressing, but it was a little too much of a good thing, and I could have done without the stylish drizzle of reduced balsamic on the rim of the oversized salad bowl; it made it impossible to set my fork down without getting it sticky.
Decorated plate rims were also a hallmark of the entrees, with everything served on oversized china (crowding the intimate tables). My pasta with a roasted chicken breast—which was juicy and flavorful and came with the skin and a wing-segment on—had a rim dusted with paprika; my friend’s pork-loin chop with Gruyère cheese and Dijon mustard cream sauce, with braised leeks, had a sprinkling of parsley. The pork chop itself was thick and meaty, though it could have been juicier. The leeks were pleasantly flavorful, but I was really captivated by the unexpected ribbons of savory zucchini.
In my dish, the pasta was a small serving, well balanced with the chicken, with lots of the creamy sauce lacing both. Mine too had Gruyère, though I didn’t really detect its distinctive taste, and lots of brown-edged Black Forest ham. The pasta itself was silky and al dente, and a small swirl of bright pesto added a spark to the dish.
The dessert list is short: a towering cylindrical brownie that we saw going out to some other tables, a lemon-raspberry brulée, white chocolate and raspberry mousse, and a fresh fruit brulée—the latter not similar to crème brulée, our waiter told us, but more like broiled fruit. He said the lemon-raspberry brulée, on the other hand, was a bit more like crème brulée, but also “like lemon meringue.” We ordered it and found no meringue-like fluffiness, but rather a dense, lush, lemony custard studded with a few complementary raspberries and with a crackling sugar top. The latter needed a touch more browning in spots, but all in all the dessert was delicious.
The Ravine also offers Sunday brunch (the menu in the window caught my eye with its offer of a mimosa included with every brunch entrée), and they are cooking fresh food with integrity. It’s a ways to drive from Sacramento, but it’s worth a stop if you frequent the outer steppes of Folsom.