Mom never made this
Sacramento, CA 95816
House may not be home, but it’s certainly homier than 55 Degrees, its stark, steel-and-glass Bauhaus predecessor on Capitol Mall. House’s warm shades of brown, with a tan wood wall studded with bright yellow daisies, are inviting. The wall is topped with an enormous sculpted whisk. So inviting is House that lots of folks are dropping by uninvited, filling up the place to 15-minute wait capacity at lunch. A circumstance that no doubt delights the manager, bartender, servers and owner, Chris Nestor. All handle the heavy traffic with aplomb.
Like Cafeteria 15L 10 blocks away, the intent at House is to offer gussied-up comfort food, stuff a customer would haven eaten at Mom’s table—except dandier. Whoever the Mom is that House models itself after cuts quite the broad culinary swath. There are Italian dishes, like the seafood pasta and the recently added carbonara with chicken; Southwestern fare including a must-order-this-again salad; some Asian-influenced items, like lettuce wraps; along with the obligatory macaroni and cheese, burger, pulled pork, prime rib, chicken and steak sandwiches one expects at such an establishment.
Of the 11 sandwiches, the bartender recommends “Hot Off the Press,” a quadruple threat of ham, bacon, turkey and cheddar that would be dry if not for the large layer of tomato and blanket of red pepper mayo. Unfortunately, the tomato’s moisture causes the panini to rapidly fall apart, requiring cleanup work with a knife and fork.
Holding together longer is the achiote-marinated chicken combined with—wouldn’t have thought of this—a vinegary coleslaw. Each sandwich comes with “endless fries,” and that isn’t a lot of hyperbole. They are made tastier by substituting the nice but mellow and nonspicy barbecue sauce for ketchup.
The pace is pretty fevered back in House’s kitchen. Still shoveling the lettuce wraps—diced chicken, shiitake, celery and carrots—into the ol’ pie hole when the sandwich and its manifest destiny of fries appear. Not as greasy as many chicken wraps, there is more than plenty of filling for two persons. The black sesame seeds are a nifty accent, but a second helping of ginger soy is required.
There is no stinginess of dressing on a side salad ordered to accompany the carbonara. The happiest surprise is the handful of cornbread croutons. Dressing and croutons: peas in a pod.
And speaking of peas, they are present in the carbonara, which is chockablock with chicken spears. Usually, it’s awfully easy to pass on peas, but here they add a crunchy counterpoint to the cream sauce.
As a deviled-egg devotee, starting with a half dozen is an urge that can’t be denied. Prettily presented on a white porcelain tray with nesting for 12 eggs, the empty spaces sprinkled with paprika like the dome of the eggs. Bummer—bland eggs. More mustard. Maybe even a chipotle-flavored one. And if there are pickles in the mix, as the menu asserts, they’re indiscernible.
The best pairing is suggested by violet-haired Dezi, an ardent admirer of the Santa Fe salad. She makes me a believer-and-a-half by encouraging as an opener the corn-tamale cakes. They are a fan of three sweet, red-pepper-flecked rectangles with a salsa of corn, tomato, cotija cheese at the fan’s center and three splashes of tomatillo beneath the end of each rectangle. Way not enough tomatillo but otherwise stellar.
Then, the salad. The zippy chipotle ranch keeps on giving well after a mouthful is chewed and swallowed. The mix of frisée, chicken, corn, black beans and cotija is sprinkled with tortillas strips. Four avocado crescents radiate from its center. Mom never made anything like this.
A woman in an adjacent seat at the bar insists the drunken chicken salad—pecans, avocado, bacon and dates are also easily visible—is superior. Silently, I scoff.
Service is friendly and conscientious, making House a cozy and commendable addition to not only Capitol Mall, but also the City of Trees.