Not quite a slam dunk
Sacramento, CA 95814
It’s Friday night in downtown Sacramento and the hostess is surprisingly preoccupied with quickly finding my friends and me a table to sit and eat. The attention feels slightly antithetical to the vibe of the place—loud, crowded, dimly lit. Our timing fortuitous, a line forms at the door just as we are seated.
The wait for the bartender seems a little more in keeping with the indifference I'd initially anticipated from the bustling space, but my well-made “surprise me” cocktail—a whiskey sour with bright lemon, frothy egg white and its namesake spirit—assuages my impatience.
Tiger is situated on K Street just across Seventh Street from the shiny, polyhedronic Golden 1 Center, making it a prime spot for pre-game or post-concert food and libations. With no Kings game or show of note on this particular evening, it's still filled with hungry and thirsty patrons—but your dad's sports bar this is not.
Being in such close proximity to the arena, Tiger's name recalls the lion royalty of our beloved basketball team, and its dishes the team's character.
The absolute MVP of Tiger's starting lineup are the Fiery Glazed Drumsticks ($7) with crunchy blackened skin and tender meat packed with flavor. The hot sauce and jalapeños brought enough heat to satisfy, but not scare, while the lime and pickled onions had plenty of zip for the tangy-tongued, with a side of noticeable but not overpowering smoke. The drizzle of lime mayonnaise and healthy sprinkling of cotija made for the creamy, cool finish to drag your drum through. A total crowdpleaser—this was Mike Bibby at the buzzer with a three-pointer.
Another small plate worth ordering are the Totchos ($8). Exactly as it sounds, every kid's favorite crunchy potato pellet take the place of corn chips for a spin on traditional nachos. The tater tots are topped with a gooey, mild queso sauce, crumbly chorizo, pickled onions, jalapeños and sour cream. It's a little messy, but a satisfying blend of two of America's favorite comfort foods—and one that delivers equally well again the next day with a fried egg over easy.
The Prickly Ribs ($10), a plate of half a dozen baby backs covered in a prickly pear mezcal barbecue sauce, was a particularly exciting moment of the menu game. Prickly pear seems so rarely featured in California cuisine despite its abundance. Yet, while the ribs were well cooked, pulling easily off the bone with the sauce tangy and smoky, a hit of that fruity, bubble-gum sweetness I so eagerly sought felt like an air ball.
The Baby Wonton Tostadas ($9)—small crunchy corn discs topped with fresh poke, salsa bruja, avocado, onion, cucumber, mint and roasted red bells—got lost in a sea of ambiguity. The breakout star was salt, and too much of it, perhaps from the salsa. The potential is there: the fish was fresh and buttery, but a little editing and balancing would allow the individual players to shine and complement one another as a team.
All in all, Tiger holds court with some tasty moves, but is not a total slam dunk—yet. Call it a rebuilding year.