Take these broken wings …

Blackbird Kitchen & Bar

1015 9th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 498-9224

The saying goes it takes a village to raise a child, but apparently this also applies to waiting on a two-top table. During a meal at Blackbird Kitchen & Bar, it often feels as though one’s being waited on by almost everyone in the restaurant.

There’s the bartender, for example, who comes out to my table on a recent visit to ask if it’s OK that he gave me Lillet Blanc aperitif wine in response to my order, and he brings me a taste of the Lillet Rouge, just in case. There’s the manager, who pops up like the jack-in-the-box tableside while my friend and I are chatting, simply to make conversation. There’s the sommelier, who pours me a taste of a 22-year-old Riesling and points out the notes of petrol and leather in the marvelous golden liquid.

These are largely welcome intrusions, but they also start to add up after a while.

On another visit, however, I’m seated in the expanded upstairs area, and my server forgets my forgettable grilled bread with roasted-tomato tapenade (why roast a tomato at the height of the season?) and brings the beer just as we are ready for the check. The beer, he tells us, is on the house, but we feel like jerks for being picky. I watch a server at the next table apologize to a diner for forgetting the crab in her crab soup and offering her a small bowl on the side.


Many of the restaurant’s dishes need small tweaks, as well. The mound of scallop and infant squid in the “ceviche” is lacking in citrus flavor both times I sample it. It’s oceanic and tender, but too mild to hold up against the thick corn chips it’s meant to be scooped with. The menu also promises Thai basil in this dish; I hunt high and low and find mint and baby cilantro, but no basil. Indeed, quite a few dishes on the menu play fast and loose with the listed ingredients.

I order the green-bean starter and instead get the pan-blistered shishito peppers, many of which are near raw and in need of some further blistering. After apologies, the bean dish with fried quinoa finally appears, but the beans are overblanched and the nutty, crunchy quinoa doesn’t integrate with the dish.

There are some higher points. The raw bar, heaped with ice, is the visual center of the restaurant and the strongest element of the menu. Separated from my bar-side stool by only a pane of glass, I watch a young man shuck bivalves and deftly fillet raw scallops with intensity; he even gives a surreptitious sniff to my clams before sending them out.

What a treat to find raw clams on a Sacramento menu; they are intensely briny and chewier than oysters.

Out of an array of oysters, both local and localish, the server’s recommendation proves true: The Washington-farmed Shigoku are the sweetest, with a hint of cucumber finish at the end. The poached shrimp are pricey at two bucks each, but they are elegantly served and snappy.

An entree of braised pork belly, prawns and peaches offers a challenge to the dainty diner. The skin on the pork belly outmatches my butter knife, and the oily shrimp is difficult to shell without making a mess. The prawns have a bland, floury coating that begs a dusting of salt. In contrast, the fried-chicken main course has been oversalinated and is served a bit undercooked; the dark meat is like chicken jelly, but at least the breast is cooked to perfection.

Blackbird’s wine and beer program is sophisticated, and the head bartender, Patrick O’Neill, is a sensei, but his cocktail list is oddly small—it makes little use of his many jars of pickled and infused ingredients. Best to just let him recommend something and enjoy. A delectable Gibson with house-pickled red onion is an astonishing $5 at happy hour, but after sampling every dish on the list of discounted snacks, only the oysters are worth reordering.

Here, the elements for an elevated dining experience are all present, and the talent in the kitchen and bar is apparent, but currently, this Blackbird is struggling to fly.