Run the table
Sacramento, CA 95811
David English, formerly of Ella Dining Room and Bar and now the power behind The Press, spends a lot of time out front instead of in back. Sometimes the lanky chef is near the front door of what used to be Dragonfly on Capitol Avenue near 18th Street. Or he’s moving from table to table, hobnobbing with the dinner hoi polloi, who are sufficient in number to make the rustic interior, with its exposed brick and rough-hewn latticework of ceiling beams, busy but not frenzied.
It’s not disconcerting, exactly, to see English working the crowd, but the inevitable question arises: Who’s making the mojo backstage? Whoever it is defines “medium” for hanger steak as far more shockingly pink than the conventional perception. But that’s one of few whiffs at bat.
English has an enviable job. To get into the groove for his new gig, he was forced to take an extended trip to Europe. You know, to bone up. Work on his chops.
A look at the menu enlightens as to his itinerary. Think Mediterranean. There are flashes of Greece, such as the crisscross rows of bare light bulbs over the front patio. Or the summery small plate of stacked watermelon squares with feta and mint, a dish which co-conspirator Nancy Miller accurately describes as a “palate awakener.” Française aussi. Like potato croquettes, salmon rillette and the very traditional lyonnaise salad. And Italia, as embodied in the classic heirlooms and mozzarella or a Sicily-esque shrimp fettuccine with basil, capers, pine nuts, olives and tomatoes.
Even Italian vegetarians get cut into the action with mushroom ravioli and its corn, leek and dill triumvirate. Wherever English visited, it certainly buttressed a commitment to fresh ingredients and simple but strong flavors.
One comfortable evening on the filled-to-capacity patio, the menu’s corn soup has been scratched, according to Daniel the waiter, because English doesn’t consider the current crop of corn to make the cut. A fetching French onion is the substitute.
Another special is a colorful small plate of pepperonata—slightly-pickled-in-champagne-vinegar stripes of peppers awash in olive oil. Speaking of olive oil, it’s all that’s needed to accompany the fluffy, light focaccia, whose four rectangles come neatly stacked. Under the salmon entree rather than the tzatziki on the menu is a sweet, balsamic-imbued caponata. The beets in the eponymous salad are roasted with a splash of watercress. Snappier if the beets are pickled, but the crunch and panache of pistachios is an inspired addition.
Elsewhere on the tapas menu—three plates for $10—are an assortment of marinated can’t-stop-eating-these-damn-it olives and the aforementioned salmon spread. And, not to make a federal case out of it, while the hanger steak is way too pink, the chimichurri taste-alike salsa verde adds a vinegary dash of parsley and cilantro greenery. Presentation points for the neatly stacked squares of potato gratin.
Beth Miller, no relation to Nancy other than mutual appreciation of The Press, is a habitué. One thing that keeps her returning is the BLT with seared scallops. Hard to argue with arugula, bacon, tomato and scallops—on any kind of bread. Another draw for Beth is the caliber of service. Beth, as she notes, is “particular” about such things. “Exacting” might be more accurate. Style points certainly accrue when she wants a glass of pinot that’s only available by the bottle, and English opens a bottle for her.
The Press also has the team-waitering thing pretty much knocked. When the reliable and well-informed Daniel is elsewhere, others seamlessly take up the slack. There is some miscommunication on a scotch with water and ice, which arrives without water, frozen or otherwise. But that’s a problem easily solved by downing the mistake and reordering.
Word of caution: It’s relatively easy to run the table, as it were. A few tapas plates, an appetizer or two, couple glasses of vino, half a pasta and a $17 to $19 entree is perilously close to dropping three figures worth of coin. With that type of investment, share The Press with someone you love.