Slay the beast

I Dragoni

2724 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

On my first visit to I Dragoni Pizzeria—a new casual lunch and breakfast adjunct to Gianni’s Trattoria—I wasn’t sure whether the spot’s name referred to the twisting, green ceramic mythic beast behind the counter, or for the surly, off-putting service. OK, I admit, I wasn’t torn limb from limb or toasted like a marshmallow by a scaly winged lizard, but the servers could have been a little more welcoming.

The restaurant has tables, but on our visit, everything was served packaged to go—even, it turns out, when we asked for something to eat there. When I ordered tiramisu for dessert, I said, “We’re eating it here, so could we have it on a plate?” But it was boxed in a little plastic container. (They have stacks of plates sitting on the counter, so that’s not the problem.) Silverware, too, is not freely offered—when I asked, I was told to go fetch it from a table next door at Gianni’s. Um, OK. Why even have tables if you’re going to make people feel uncomfortable about sitting down and staying? I did manage to get my espresso served in a ceramic cup, though.

The thin crust of the pizza was crisp at the edges, but floppy and a little overwhelmed by the topping in the middle—these slices were hard to pick up, and at the center of the pizza, the sausage grease floated amid the cheese. I liked the chunks of roasted red pepper, which added sweet earthiness, and the sausage itself was tasty. (The pie, on the whole, was almost identical to one Giovanni’s combo.) The crust, however, was bland and cried out for more salt in the dough. And, can I just say that the pizzas are oddly portioned? They’re 12 inches, and I believe, six slices. This is too much for an individual portion (as in the nouvelle style of California pizza) but too little to share with a group. They work well for two, but who goes out to pizza with two people? (Well, I suppose I did, but it’s a weird size for a pizza. I’m just saying.) Among the other pizza topping combos were an onion-themed pie with leeks, caramelized onions and shallots; a simple Genoese with pesto; seafood, with shrimp, clams, calamari and goat cheese; and a multi-cheese combo with fontina, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan.

My friend had a ham and brie sandwich, requested warm—I Dragoni will make any sandwich hot (panini style) or cold. This had truffle ham, brie, apple slices, greens, red onion and mustard on a ciabatta roll, and while it was not very thoroughly pressed (only the outside of the bread was really hot), the flavors were good. I thought the use of bright-yellow supermarket mustard was on odd choice with the higher-end fillings, but it all tasted good together. A lot of the sandwich combinations are appealing: turkey with burrata (an ultra-creamy mozzarella-like cheese), tuna salad with peperoncini and capers, grilled eggplant with roasted red pepper, chicken scaloppini with basil mayo and provolone. There are also some deli salads in the cold case, but it’s a little difficult to tell what’s on offer; on my visits, they seemed to be out of a lot of menu items.

As to that packaged-to-go dessert, we got a big, hefty slice of creamy, lovely tiramisu, with an unusual but pleasant tart, lemony hit soaking into the ladyfingers and some slightly waxy chocolate squiggles over the top. The sweet mascarpone cream was flecked with little vanilla-bean seeds, a nice touch, and overall it was very good with coffee. Unfortunately, the coffee itself … not so much; my espresso (a very big shot) was weak and watery and also, bizarrely, barely warm. I am not sure how they accomplished the latter feat.

On a breakfast visit, service was less cranky, but also seemingly less competent: Of the three things we ordered, only one was correct. I asked for a frittata with smoked mozzarella, Parmesan, sausage and peppers and got a different menu item: frittata with mozzarella, mushrooms and basil; my husband got a kind of hybrid of a couple of different frittatas, with red peppers, caramelized onions and green onions. (He had asked for one with ham and red peppers.) Both were appetizing enough—little individual-sized rounds that were crispy at the edges with toasty cheese and deep savory flavors from the vegetables—so it didn’t seem worth making a fuss, but it seemed odd that they were both wrong. An order of two eggs sunny side up with toast was too simple to mess up.

I wished we had gotten a side of the soft polenta (such a nice breakfast item, but unusual on breakfast menus) or the sausage patty or another meat. Crumpets and English muffins are also available, and there’s another breakfast option presented on a white board: cold cereal (regular store brands—the boxes are sitting behind the counter), which you can get with different fruits. (That part reminded me, amusingly, of a college cafeteria.) It’s a bit of an odd lineup; the place can’t seem to decide whether it’s doing fancy breakfasts, casual lunches or a takeout business. But if they can figure that out and get the service kinks worked out, the dragon is guarding some nice egg dishes and panini.