Kind of blue
The Blue Gecko1379 Garden Hwy
Sacramento, CA 95833
Happily, The Blue Gecko doesn’t go as far as it might with the theme of blueness. It’s a sprawling spot with a happy-hour vibe, a scenic river location (including a deck) and a quasi-Caribbean tinge to the menu. Sure, the specialty cocktail menu, presented on the side of a sand-filled liquor bottle at each table, has a blue this and a blue that. But, according to the descriptions, only one contains Windex-like blue curaçao. (Admittedly, one other—the Blue Rita—comes with a blue-salt-rimmed glass.)
The relative paucity of shocking sapphire drinks is a relief, because The Blue Gecko seems like the kind of place that would take a shtick and run with it. The restaurant has made the most of a stylized silhouette of a gecko in the décor. There’s not much else to set the restaurant apart from others like it, where the food is less important than the fun atmosphere on the river.
In November, however, guests are unlikely to have spent the day playing on the Sacramento, drinking in the sun and working up an appetite for anything the kitchen can make—so long as it’s fried. Still, if you can get to the restaurant while there’s daylight left and snag a window seat, the view is pretty, if more subtly shaded than it would be in summer’s glare.
The view notwithstanding, subtlety is not a specialty of the house at The Blue Gecko. The appetizers include standbys like fried mozzarella sticks and Buffalo wings. We opted instead for more-interesting-sounding conch fritters, as well as the inaptly named “toasted bread.” The latter consisted of wedges of soft, slightly crumbly focaccia topped with what the menu called a caramelized-onion spread, as well as wan diced tomatoes, basil and feta. The onions, unfortunately, were a little crunchy and even paler than the tomatoes. They weren’t cooked long enough to acquire the soft, sweet depth of flavor that characterizes true caramelization.
The conch fritters, on the other hand—deeply browned, golf-ball-sized spheres—were very enjoyable. Beautifully fried to a crunchy exterior, they were fluffy and golden and subtly flavored on the inside, studded with chewy bits of conch. They came with a sticky dipping sauce that had a nice vinegary tang and heat—delicious with the fritters.
The main-dish options included various burgers, “chicken burgers” and sandwiches, as well as big salads, ribs, fish and chips, and rather more ambitious “features” like roast chicken with orange-ginger glaze. I don’t quite trust attempts to be fancy in a casual place like The Blue Gecko, so I opted for the island pork sandwich. It had shredded pork on a soft, white bun with some slightly-too-thick slices of pineapple inside. The dryish pork was on the sweet side and seemed like it could use a little more spice and tang. I tested out my theory by adding a little of the extra dipping sauce from the conch fritters, which improved the pork considerably. (We sat upstairs in the bar, where the staff took a laid-back approach to clearing the table.) The pineapple also added to the sandwich; it was sweet, too, but juicy and acidic.
My husband opted for a Martinique chicken burger, which turned out to be a sandwich with a chicken breast—not unwelcome, but not what we expected from the word “burger.” I’m not sure why it was attributed to Martinique; it featured green chilies, jack cheese and cayenne aioli, only one of which seems even vaguely Caribbean. It tasted pretty good, though. He had asked for onion rings to be substituted for fries, but it came out with the latter. We weren’t going to say anything, but our server noticed and offered to bring a side of onions rings as well at no extra charge—a nice gesture. As it turned out, however, the golden fries were better than the thick-cut rings. The latter were everything I had feared the conch fritters would be: doughy, heavy and low on flavor.
For dessert, our server rattled off the short list of options (carrot cake, Key-lime pie and cheesecake) and very enthusiastically recommended chocolate cake. We decided to share and were confronted with an enormous, messy wedge of goo: multiple layers of soft cake (I’d bet anything it was made from a mix, based on the iridescence of the crumb), ganache-like filling, and dark frosting crusted with crunchy cookie crumbs. If things had stopped there, it would have been pretty tasty, but it also was covered in chocolate syrup and accompanied by a slumping mound of canned whipped cream—embellishments that pushed it over the edge.
If you happen to find yourself on the river and hungry, you could do worse than The Blue Gecko. It offers lunch and weekend brunch, too, so on a warm fall day you probably could have your pick of the deck or window seats. But this time of year, when the boats are docked and you’re more likely to catch a whiff of damp fallen leaves than coconut-scented sunscreen, there may not be quite enough reason to make the drive.