Simple, Spartan

Hads Steak & Seafood

1925 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95811

(916) 446-3118

Hads Steak & Seafood is a welcome addition to Midtown. It occupies the former home of Taki at 19th and J streets, a tipoff being the Taki sign still affixed to the upper floor of the building. Hads has a sleek interior, with silver Star Trek-worthy sconces and a line of inverted tulip-shaped lights over the rich wood bar. Dark brown accents frame the tan walls, inviting and warm. That warmth is only eclipsed by owner Julia Hadley, who appears to know a hefty percentage of patrons personally—unless she customarily uses hugs as greetings. If a diner enters as a stranger, that’s swiftly changed with inquiries about the caliber of the cuisine, the quality of the wine and the overall enjoyment of the meal. Servers Allison and, in particular, Jacob, are equally attentive.

Given the genealogy of Hads—laid out nicely in a December squib by Allen Pierleoni of The Insect—it seems there ought to be an apostrophe in the name, since it’s a tip of the hat to Julia’s dad who, alliteratively enough, is nicknamed Had. Had was a habitué of the late Fireside Steakhouse in East Sacramento, shuttered since 2008, if memory serves. The link is evidenced by the menu’s inclusion of Hads’ Fire Side Steak Sandwich.

Once the eating starts, things get a little uneven, however. The side dishes and openers seem more adventurous than the entrees, and it doesn’t feel like a dinner for two merits cresting into the triple digits, even with a couple of glasses of vino and appetizers. The website says “Simple & Classic.” In some cases, it’s a little too Spartan. Allison recommends the fillet of fish sandwich. The cod tastes undercooked and rests, unadorned, on a roll. A silver cocktail dish of tartar is nearby, as is a piece of lettuce and two tomatoes. The blandness of the fish, even smothered with tartar sauce, is disappointing.

On an earlier visit, cardamom-infused rice has a memorable, perfumey flavor that sparks an on-the-first-bite “whoa.” The cod cries out for similar creativity. Thyme? A couple of sage leaves underneath? Lemon pepper? Cumin? Basil? Yet accompanying the cod is a generous scoop of creamy, well-seasoned potato salad and a dish of spot-on tangy coleslaw, which Allison says is Julia’s creation. Yin and yang, all on one plate.

The eggplant parmigiana, while tomatoey, also could stand more, at a minimum, basil and oregano. Former chef turned union leader Terry Brennand complains that the butterflied chicken breast is not grilled to perfection as the menu promises. The rib-eye steak is a little overcooked. Irene’s Scallops are the teeny bay kind rather than the jumbos, and they are adrift in a butter and wine sauce that cries out for more capers and some addition—a pinch of curry? Some bits of onion and fennel?—to embolden the dish. And yet—the duality thing again—the green beans next to the scallops with their bacon bits, very obviously cooked in bacon grease, instantly elicit a desire for seconds, followed by thirds. The Caprese tastes a bit over-refrigerated, but the mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette are refreshing and crisp. Despite a zippy, not-for-kids sauce, the $7.95 crab cocktail seems like it should come in something bigger than a parfait glass.

More pluses: Creamy spinach soup and the beef lentil. Jacob, apparently clairvoyant, brings Tabasco with the cup, noting he enjoys it with a little more heat as well. The suggested wine pairings on the menu are informed and complementary, if a bit pricey. The large crab cakes are memorable but deserve, as does the cod, more than tartar sauce. Perhaps some other options: a spicy curry lemon aioli. Remoulade. Something with Dijon. Kinda out there, but chimichurri thickened with a little mayo.

All of this two cents stuff—no doubt worth every penny—is offered out of a desire to see Hads Steak & Seafood stick around as long as Taki’s. The service elevates the experience. And, based on each successive visit, like the Beatles say, it’s getting better all the time.