Sacramento, CA 95814
The folk from Tuli Bistro in Midtown know what they’re about. They have a knack for exploiting small interior space and spacious patios. But at their core it’s about inspired food—created by Adam Pechal—served with jovial professionalism. This mode has now been imported to Thir13en, formerly Chanterelle, in the cellar of the Sterling Hotel at 13th and H streets.
A lengthy number of visits have been logged at Thir13en by this reviewer. But the Restaurant Reviewer Book of No-Nos is explicit about allowing a goodly number of weeks to pass before offering any appraisal of a new eatery. Give the team an opportunity to gel. Sea legs and all that. It’s been eye-opening and heartening to watch the metamorphosis from novice servers being trained and computer glitches wrestled into submission to a now smooth, engaging operation that, while not cheap, offers memorable lunches, dinners and fruit laden, after-work sangria.
Thir13en has given its low-ceilinged interior a pseudo-medieval feel, with gray tones and arched alcoves trimmed in Venetian brick. The wine cellar and its sturdy floor-to-ceiling grill doors—the only Chanterelle leftover—seems far more at home. Note the 13 recessed ceiling lights, the 13 variously shaped mirrors, one of which is surrounded by a corona of—uh-huh—13 different forks. There’s also a Last Supper group table with 13 seats. While less claustrophobic than previously, a shady umbrella-protected spot on the patio with the tranquil gurgle of its fountain is preferable.
From the start, the sit-up-take-notice plate remains the pork tonnato sandwich. It’s the Italian peasant spread or sauce made with tonno—tuna—that empowers this open-face masterwork. Spread on a toasted half baguette, the tonnato is the foundation upon which the pork rests. Above the pork is an awning of mixed greens, with a generous overhang, sprinkled with not enough crispy onions and paper-thin slices of pickled fennel. Fennel, in any form, is part of the holy trinity along with beets and figs. Needless to say, Thir13en’s beet salad with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar—and fennel—becomes a regular selection. From the first bite, the lively combination kicks. There’s any number of reasons this dish remains on the menu.
The same cannot be said for what was billed as a Thai-inspired squid salad. For a salad with Thai in the title, it’s remarkably bland, and the squid doesn’t lend any gravitas to the benign amalgam of clear rice noodles, carrot slivers, compressed cucumber and watercress in a chili-lime sauce that’s light on chili. Ditching the squidlings in favor of peppery medallions of ahi adds the sort of muscle the grassy, noodle-centric salad needs. Upon request, management is happy to toss in panoply of red jalapeño slices—seeds removed—to jack the heat up.
Also from the sum-is-better-than-its-parts file are the seared scallops snuggled in a hash of corn, cherry tomatoes, romano (string) beans (expecting something like canellini) and bacon.
On the dinner menu, the half chicken is nicely grilled and not too pink inside. The blue potato wedges at the bowl’s bottom get far more of the lush pesto sauce than they deserve. The accompanying goat-cheese-filled “squash blossoms” look, for all the world, like jalapeño poppers.
The watermelon soup is refreshing and carries a little zip, like gazpacho. The oysters deserve a try if only for the combination of tart Dijonaise and verdita granita, an applesauce-looking mix of peppers, cilantro and pineapple that’s both sweet and spicy, apparently used primarily to induce drinkers to swiftly pour down a fire extinguisher of tequila.
There isn’t space to wax poetic about the cordon bleu sandwich, the burger, the designer cocktails or the fizzy water from Wales. See for yourself. Very authoritative.