Old-school fancy pants

Cafe Plan B

Cafe Plan B

1226 20th St.
Sacramento, CA 95811

(916) 447-3300

There was a time when French food was the epitome of the upscale restaurant experience. When white tablecloths, escargot and no less than three forks at your place setting defined fine dining. Time went on, and we replaced steak frites with massaman curry, moved to glasses of locally brewed ciders instead of French wines, and strict culinary definitions started to blend like chalk drawings trapped under the rain.

Cafe Plan B, a Midtown iteration of the popular Plan B Restaurant in Arden Arcade, seems to be calling back to the kind of old-school dining that our parents and grandparents adored. This should not be read as an insult. Sure, the white tablecloths are gone, but the escargot is still on the menu, and precision French food seems to be back with a bang.

The space, a hot dog joint I was sad to see go, is now serene and modern without being sterile. It’s small, but it doesn’t feel so, except for the effect levied by the dizzying pitch that even the most hushed conversation seems to carry—never mind the kitchen’s noise. Still, the ruckus gives the space a jaunty air.

The menu runs with salads, sandwiches, mains and appetizers—however the highlight is the generous array of mussels served in both modern and classic fashion. The épicé mussels are served in a thick tomato sauce with a rumbling chili-garlic heat. Coconut-broth mussels are sweet and tangy and worth a visit. In addition, no closed bivalves made it to the table, a crime that too many other restaurants seem to commit.

Strangely, duck confit is served as an appetizer, but it could easily be a whole meal, as it comes with flageolet beans. Reader, put down this paper and go chase down that bone-sucking-good duck immediately. Exquisitely soft flesh, flavorful beans, and duck skin so crisp it puts any potato chip to shame.

A white-anchovy tartelette with shredded fennel and leek will dazzle the senses. It’s the sort of light food welcomed in triple-digit heat. The puff pastry it sits on is a means to an end. I think taking the extra step to put it on a flaky tart crust would take it up a notch, but so be it.

The steak frites were the true mystery at our table. The steak arrived perfectly cooked, and the green-peppercorn sauce so buttery and piquant, I wanted to slather it on my husband’s naked body and lick it off. Unfortunately, all this matters squat if you start with a bad piece of meat. Rough, fibrous and simply without flavor, it seems like a lot of skill gone to waste.

As for the frites? Let’s be frank: No reviewer can be completely neutral. Crisp vs. steak vs. waffle—we all have a preference. I prefer pencil-thin with more snap than an Andrews Sisters album. Plan B gets it spot-on.

The branzino cooked en papillote is a thing of beauty. Light, flaky and served with wisps of lemon and fennel. It’s a preparation you rarely see in restaurants, and I can’t help but wonder why not? It is served with a side of squash—crisp, hot and well-seasoned.

The wine selection is limited, with a mix of predictable and eclectic. However, the house white is affordable and welcome, pairing well with numerous dishes.

When Cafe Plan B opened, the restaurant used tablets to display the menus at each table. Recently, those have been replaced with the most professional and fun service staff I have ever met: Servers who are thoughtful about recommendations, knowledgeable about the food and wine, and affable (as well as able to deliver a good jab in the conversation, a trait most appreciated).

Overall, Plan B seems to be bringing French food back into style and luring Midtowners to food once thought to be too froufrou. It does seem a bit on the pricey side for a place that seems to hope for drop-ins, but then, The Waterboy, located nearby, doesn’t seem to stress about that.

Oh, and the escargot? Excellent.