Mover, shaker, Lounger
Sacramento, CA 95814
Accuse Sotiris Kolokotronis of being a gourmand and the response is close to: “Come on, buddy. Who are you kidding?”
This despite a wine collection that would evoke interest from Ted Balestreri, owner of The Sardine Factory on Cannery Row, who has 35,000 bottles stashed under the restaurant in a space designed to look like a Gold Rush mine shaft. Being a modest investor in Lucca’s at 17th and J streets might be profitable for Sotiris, but the principal payoff is on his palate.
Sotiris is attending a thank-you-for-your-support reception hosted by SMUD director Renée Taylor at the Lounge on 20, around the corner from the two buildings he created on the 1800 block of L Street. The Lounge, at 20th and K streets, is in the eclectic MARRS building, created by another downtown developer, Michael Heller.
“A very cool dude,” Sotiris says.
Sotiris has been to the Lounge several times but never eaten there. He chats with Ali Mackani, the Lounge’s creator and former owner of the late, great Restaurant 55 Degrees on Capitol Mall.
Mackani says of the Lounge: “It’s something new. We’ll see.”
The Lounge certainly wins a truth-in-advertising award. It’s whitewashed, Jetsons-esque, exposed-pipe space is lounge first and restaurant second. Like Zócalo at 18th Street and Capitol Avenue, the high ceilings amplify the conversational buzz, which can be perilous. A background din only dims when someone, usually you, is revealing some intimate secret. “Braided pubic hair is so sexy,” for example. As the person raises their voice, the din suddenly drops away and heads quickly turn. For folks interested in sharing similar confessions, a quieter venue might be the safer ticket.
And don’t bother asking for a cup o’ joe.
There are 29 champagnes by the glass, five varieties of absinthe and 27 other wineglass-filling options, mostly in double digits, but ranging from $7 viognier to $22 ice wine from Niagara. But when Sotiris asks for coffee at meal’s end, our cheery and knowledgeable waitress Jill says no dice.
There’s talk of getting an espresso machine, Jill allows. With respect: Get one now. If only for Irish coffee, for Peet’s sake.
We sample appetizers and salads, capping them with poutine—pommes frites with oxtail gravy—and veal meatballs swimming in fava beans flecked with artichoke bits. Fare shares the Belgian roots of Luc Dendievel, the executive chef at 55 Degrees, who, Mackani says, has returned to the home country. David Boswell is the Lounge’s executive chef.
The Lounge cannot be accused of contributing to the obesity crisis; there’s plenty of unused real estate on the white plates. Still, the $99 spent on food more than filled us—and we passed on one of four fried macaroni-and-cheese rolls. These crispy $11 devils come stacked like Lincoln Logs and look like spring rolls on steroids. As if the macaroni inside isn’t cheesy enough, there’s a New York cheddar dipping sauce so rich you can feel it attaching to an artery.
Jill’s recommendations on the specials rocked. The $14 cockles are progeny of the mussels in wine and butter broth at Mackani’s former establishment. The cooked tomatoes and crispy bacon shards add zest. Porcini mushrooms gave a stewish flavor to the escargot.
Served in a mound like the escargot, the beet salad—another great call by Jill—was a sweet synergy of sherry vinaigrette, grapefruit, blood oranges and the world’s most bitchin’ root vegetable.
The do-it-yourself pear salad is a rectangular plate with a stack of Belgian endive fronds, a line of strawberry-pear salsa, a line of bleu cheese and a line of ground almonds. Stack up a frond with a splash of everything and then pop into the ol’ yap.
While Sotiris got shut out on coffee, I went the absinthe route, since it always makes the heart grow fonder. Impressively presented: A four-spigot water carafe spilling H2O that dissolves a sugar cube perched on a slotted, leaf-shaped silver spoon into the fabled licorice brew until the drinker reaches their preferred water-liquor ratio.
All in all, an appealing evening.