Lunch, restored

Chanterelle at The Sterling Hotel

1300 H St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 448-1300

Enroll Chanterelle’s chef, James Williams, in a sun-dried-tomato recovery program. The little suckers positively infest the menu at the under-new-management, open-again-at-lunch-since-March, longtime eatery at 13th and H streets’ Sterling Hotel. They’re in the Penne from Heaven, the bodacious calamari appetizer, this day’s daily panini special.

And if they’re not sun-dried, they’re oven- or house-dried. See lunch’s Devonshire sandwich and dinner’s steamed mussels and the couscous salad. It’s a wonder there aren’t SDTs in the water glasses. (That might be cool, actually.)

Sun-dried-tomato jag aside, it’s awfully nice to have Chanterelle open for lunch again. The slightly below street level patio along 13th Street is restored to good use. A meal is burnished by sitting near the splashing lion’s head fountain, spackled with autumn sunlight, an occasional golden leaf drifting down into the promptly brought club soda with lime. Having the patio staffed by the efficient and effervescent Jessica triples the pleasure.

The sun-dried-tomato addiction works best in the calamari. Here, its zesty sweetness combines brightly with the calamari, roasted red peppers, artichoke quarters, garlic and chili flake to create a major Mediterranean mojo masterwork, bookended with pieces of grilled bread. Combine with a watercress and cucumber salad to create a well-matched lunch.

Williams knows the cast of characters in the calamari are winners, because a more varied version—scallops, shrimp and squid—is the $13 Mediterranean Shellfish Sauté on the evening menu.

In the calamari, the tomatoes don’t overwhelm, but fewer in the penne—and more pepper flakes—would be welcome. There’s a lot going on in the $11 penne, like Williams’ old SDT partners in crime, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers, along with a new best buddy, sautéed spinach. Beware the olive oil at bowl bottom, a slip of the hand leads to a shirt spattering that will stay without some serious spritzes of Spray ’N Wash.

Williams knows he’s got another winner here and lets the penne strut its stuff at dinner as well—for $6 more.

The panini special of chicken, mozzarella, SDTs and mushrooms is swamped by the SDTs. More mushrooms instead, please. On another visit, the special is chicken and prosciutto, which sounds promising but gets passed over in favor of the steak salad, punctuated by carrot shreds, quartered shitakes and leeks creatively anchored with a smoky ponzu dressing. Elsewhere in the sandwich offerings, the $12 tri-tip, smothered in horseradish cream and topped with cheddar cheese on a roll, is quite carnivore-friendly.

A bit of fussbudgetry about fries. Those accompanying the panini seem pre-fab. Paging Mr. Spud Ore-Ida. Those hunkered down beside the tri-tip are crispy, more slivered, significantly tastier. After noting this to Jessica, she says the maestro cut these shoestrings himself. There’s a reason “you can taste the difference” is a cliché.

Nevertheless, my two cents is to shit-can the whole fries-with-sandwich thing and showcase the house salad, which, at the moment, only gets a dinner-menu spotlight. Here are the facts: Fries vs. mixed greens, shaved onion, a few toasted almonds, baked chèvre, and grapefruit pieces in a mustard vinaigrette. The prosecution rests. Your witness, counselor.

Judgment is withheld on the watercress-cucumber salad, because there is an apparent run on watercress and spinach becomes the substitute. It doesn’t bond so well with the potent bleu-cheese dressing. Of the soups, the potato leek can be eaten with a fork. The smart money is to bet on Williams’ tomato monkey-on-the-back and be one with his bisque.

The interior of Chanterelle has always felt a little like taking a meal up in Cousin It’s room in the Addams Family house, which is one reason the patio is such an open-aired pleasure. But even when winter drives diners indoors, James Williams, recovering sun-dried-tomato addict, will still be delivering a broad vista of deft dishes.