Pass the salt
Cabana Winery & Bistro
Sacramento, CA 95819
Good for: a smashing lunch of soup, sandwich and chardonnay
Notable dishes: “The Robert” sandwich
Cabana Winery & Bistro is one of the few eateries on Elvas Avenue. Operated by the Smerling family, this humble East Sac spot has a loyal following from those living in the affluent area. Having heard numerous reports on the eatery—both raves and rants—I decided to see for myself what the hubbub was about.
An appetizer of chicken skewers was finely cooked in that they had a nice sear and a juicy interior. They could have been great, if not for the fact that they were unseasoned. No salt. No pepper. No anything. Just seared chicken breast tenders served with a bland peanut sauce doing all the work.
A spinach-and-artichoke dip packed full with large chunks of artichoke offered promise. It could have been great, but there were no layers of flavor to give it complexity, and a terrible case of Hot Pocket syndrome (lava hot on the outside and freezing cold on the inside) marred the dish.
The tilapia, like the chicken, was perfectly cooked. It could have been great, but sadly, the little fish was also terribly unseasoned. A perky mango salsa resuscitated the dead thing back from the white light. A white-wine-and-citrus sauce was noted on the menu, but never made an appearance.
Four neat lamb chops showed up gamey, soft and pink in the middle. They could have been great, but sadly the mint marmalade that was supposed to have sauced them never made it to the plate.
I inquired about the mint marmalade and citrus-white-wine sauce as I was curious if there was a mix-up or the menu was simply misprinted. Our waiter’s response: “That’s a good question.” He turned, I assumed, to find the answers. My mistake, as he never returned.
Both the tilapia and lamb came with a beige pile of finely cooked pilaf. (You can probably see a pattern emerging.) It could have been great, but it was terribly underseasoned.
Which leads me to plating. Here, there is none. Everything is plopped on the plate in a pile like the kitchen just got too tired to bother.
The Cabana burger is something that has obviously been built with an attention to detail. Flavors are smartly layered using Shaft’s blue cheese and seared prosciutto. It could have been great, but no one inquired how we wanted the burger cooked, so it showed up beyond well-done.
House-made potato chips are served thin with a crispy bite. They could have been great had they been salted at all.
Dessert is forgettable. We’ll say nothing more except it never had the chance to be great.
While our dinner had issues, lunch seems to be Cabana’s strong point. A sandwich of corned beef, sauerkraut and Emmentaller on rye bread was a thing of beauty beyond great, as was a silky cream of mushroom soup.
Admittedly, the wines we tasted were great. The chardonnay, in particular, was crisp as an apple and possessed none of that suffocating buttery-ness that you expect from a California chardonnay.
Service, however, is dodgy. The regulars seem to get plenty of attention, but our table in the corner struggled to get noticed and frantic waving on our part eventually occurred.
It seems to me Cabana is still working on getting its kitchen game in step with its wine game. The food simply doesn’t stand strong enough on its own, let alone pair well with the wine. There’s potential enough, but it’ll take more time to go from good to great.