Taking wing


1809 Capitol Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 498-9200

Capitol Avenue was once interesting mainly for what was at either end of it: Biba to the east and the eponymous statehouse to the west. But all that has changed, and the buzz should only grow with the opening of Dragonfly, an Asian-fusion spot that has alighted at 18th Street and Capitol Avenue. From its stylish sign (a slightly abstract rendition of its namesake insect hangs outside) to the pineapple flan it serves up for dessert, Dragonfly seems likely to be a crowd pleaser.

Despite its promise, the attractive Dragonfly isn’t yet as overrun as its next-door neighbor, Zócalo. So, go while the going is good. We arrived, sans reservations, just before 7 p.m. on a recent Friday night to find a few free tables in the otherwise busy dining room. Service was friendly and efficient, and our table had drinks (including a sweet, strong mango mojito) almost before we knew what hit us. An array of appetizers arrived swiftly after we ordered them.

The hardest part was deciding what to get from the list of “Asian tapas.” I’m not sure I can get behind the vast spread of the word “tapas,” but I was certainly able to work up some enthusiasm for the choices. The menu is a bit heavy on raw or seared tuna, but there were plenty of other picks as well: steamed chicken dumplings, taro chips, house-made samosas in beef or vegetable versions, and more. And there’s good news for vegetarians, who, in these latter Atkins days, may have trouble finding non-meat options on high-end restaurant menus: The absolute standout of the three appetizers we ordered was the grilled organic tofu. It came on four perfectly rectilinear skewers, infused with smoky flavor and a savory sake-soy glaze. There was also wilted spinach and a thick, sweet soy dipping sauce. The super-firm tofu was delicious, with more flavor than most meat.

Slightly less successful were the seven-vegetable spring rolls. These fresh rice-paper rolls might have been better had the number of vegetables been trimmed to four or five. The wrappers were fresh and tender, but there were so many crunchy veggies inside that the main flavor was “rawness.” The overstuffed rolls were a little hard to eat. The samosas, on the other hand, had a soft and almost creamy beef filling. Gently spiced with curry, the filling contrasted pleasantly with the crackling-crisp thin wrappers.

In our initial excitement over the appetizers, we missed the list of sushi on the back of the menu. We’ll have to go back to taste the fancy rolls, such as the gubernatorial tribute “Kal-y-for-ñia” or the “tsunami.” The latter’s name coincided most unfortunately with a CNN report about the recent disaster in Asia on the bar’s flat-screen TV, but the restaurant redeems the name—sort of—by noting on the menu that it will donate money to the Red Cross with each roll sold.

Instead of sushi, we moved on to the other sections of the menu, where there was plenty that appealed. Dragonfly would be as good a lunch spot as it is for dinner, with picks like tofu noodle soup, noodle plates and large salads—as well as bigger options like Hunan rib eye with wasabi mashed potatoes. My husband, a sucker for fried calamari, opted for both a crispy calamari salad over greens, with kaffir lime vinaigrette; and a dish of seafood noodles with scallops, prawns, mussels and more calamari in a coconut curry sauce over tender green noodles. Although that would have been plenty for the two of us, I ordered the confusingly named (but tasty) Bombay beef, which came with rice in what the menu called a “Burmese barbecue curry sauce.”

The calamari salad was quite pleasant, though the vinaigrette could have used more punch. We both preferred the noodle dish, which revealed the kitchen’s skill and precision by including four kinds of perfectly cooked, tender seafood. Scallops and prawns overcook in seconds, and it’s rare to find a dish in which each piece of seafood is done just right. Plus, the Thai-style coconut curry sauce was delicious—fragrantly coconutty with a hint of spice—making this dish a real winner. And it went very well with my husband’s glass of not-too-sweet Riesling.

My Bombay beef was also appealing. Its darkly sweet curry sauce topped onions, cabbage, peppers and other vegetables, as well as the tender pieces of beef. The sauce mingled deliciously with the rice, though it was perhaps just a touch gritty from its high concentration of spices.

Still, it was a good dinner—and a good lunch the next day. We had so many leftovers that our server looked a bit shocked when we decided to order dessert. We did limit ourselves to sharing a single item, and we chose the pineapple flan, the most unusual of the offerings. I like flan, but it usually tends to be both bland and too sweet. This version fixed those problems with a tart infusion of surprisingly bright pineapple flavor. Though the portion was small, we were still surprised by how fast we finished it. Like the restaurant in general, it seemed to be a winner. If Dragonfly can amend its very few minor missteps, it should prove to be yet another draw on Capitol Avenue.