Legislative taste

Il Posto

1015 Ninth St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

“The days of drinking all day on the taxpayer are over,I’ll tell you that,” said a rueful voice from across the room at Il Posto on a recent Thursday night. The dining room wasn’t terribly full, and I looked around to see who the mysterious and evidently regretful politico was, but I couldn’t identify the speaker. Everyone there looked like someone who might have a state-government expense account, and not a single table had balked at ordering a bottle of wine.

Il Posto’s Italian wine list, however, is full of reasonably priced bottles that the taxpayer shouldn’t be too sorry to underwrite. I personally sipped from a smooth Barbera recommended by the owner and thoroughly enjoyed it, as I enjoyed nearly all of my meal at this downtown spot run by the owners of Davis’ well-regarded Osteria Fasulo. Open since October, Il Posto began serving dinner only in January—“when the Legislature came back in session,” our server said—and is still slowly building an audience. I’m guessing it does better business at lunch, when its proximity to state offices would be a huge advantage. But even though downtown is showing signs of life lately, with plenty of new restaurants, Il Posto’s deserted stretch of Ninth Street is rather forlorn after dark.

Inside the restaurant, however, things are surprisingly cheery and inviting, like a hip friend’s house. On walking in, you pass a waiting area that’s set up like a mini living room; there are windows into the brightly lit, unpretentious kitchen, where things look a lot more real than the average high-glam open kitchen. (I particularly enjoyed seeing one chef deglaze a pan by bringing it, sizzling hot, to a box of wine sitting on a high shelf and turning on the spigot.) The downstairs dining room’s crisp red-and-white color scheme, mod if slightly uncomfortable chairs and brighter-than-usual lighting all contribute to the sense of freshness. Il Posto may be hoping for and drawing a political crowd (the odd portraits of politicians encircling the dining room certainly indicate as much), but it doesn’t fit the clubby smoke-filled-room image of old.

The food, too, has a precision and cleanness of flavor that is not what you’d expect at a standard expense-account kind of place. The appetizer menu begins the meal promisingly. The mixed salad looked delicious in its Parmesan basket, but I was drawn instead to a more unusual plate of grilled radicchio di Treviso (a long radicchio that looks a bit like magenta hearts of romaine) with crunchy bits of pancetta. The head of radicchio, halved lengthwise, arrived plated on a crisscross of sticky, almost molasses-like reduced balsamic and white aioli and was topped with a thick shower of the well-browned pancetta. The latter could have been a touch crisper—I wondered when it had been prepared—but was certainly delicious. Conversely, I would have liked the radicchio grilled just a touch more, for a little less crispness on the inside, but the bitter flavor was a perfect contrast to the savory, salty pancetta and the sweetly tangy balsamic.

My father ordered something more adventurous and considerably richer: sweetbreads with truffle cheese, a little honey and shaved leeks. The portion was sensibly modest, and the flavors were lovely together, the earthy truffles balanced by the delicately meaty sweetbreads and the leeks’ faint crunch.

Il Posto makes all its pastas in house, and the chilly, drizzly night led me to a dish of butternut-squash ravioli. The three round, tender ravioli, tasting of the sweet essence of squash, came in an ultra-simple brown-butter sauce with sage and a restrained, well-browned scattering of finely crumbled Italian sausage. It’s evident that the cooking at Il Posto relies on a formula of finely calibrated contrasts. It’s not a method that grows tiresome: Each of the dishes had an appealing simplicity even when employing high-toned ingredients.

My father had a dish of venison chops, beautifully cooked and accompanied by what the menu called a blueberry demiglace. We both had misgivings about the sauce, but it turned out to be excellent and not at all too sweet. The sauce provided a woodsy, subtle accompaniment to the pleasant ever-so-slight gaminess of the meat. The chops topped another tangled pile of leeks, of which the kitchen appears to be taking full seasonal advantage.

The dessert menu is short and mostly relies on simple classics like house-made gelato, tiramisu and panna cotta. The one that was not like the others was crespelle con amaretti: crepes filled with lemon cream, topped with a fresh-tasting strawberry sauce and crumbled amaretti cookies. The crepes were a little thicker and more pillowy than the French type, and they were just lightly filled with the aromatic, lemony cream. This dish, too, was well-balanced and a fitting finish to a neoclassical Italian meal. The taxpayers might not stand for drinking all day anymore, but—if politicians are the ones destined to keep this appealing new place in business—I hope that legislative expense accounts extend to a number of meals at Il Posto.