The people in your neighborhood
Sapor3440 C St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
One thing I miss about living in San Francisco is the wide availability of great neighborhood places to eat. Sacramento has a few, sure, but I feel it tends to have more restaurant neighborhoods (e.g. Midtown) than neighborhood restaurants.
A relatively new exception is Sapor, in the McKinley neighborhood at the unlikely location of 35th and C streets, across from the Cannery Business Park. It’s a true neighborhood place, and not just because few who don’t live in the area are going to be able to find parking. That is an issue, though; Sapor has a small parking lot, and a few spaces out front are open to the public, but the residential streets nearby ban all parking without an area permit. The restaurant’s menu recommends using the Cannery parking lot.
That aside, Sapor has an inviting, unpretentious air that fits well with the area. It’s decorated in shades of gray with some burgundy accents, and shutters do a nice job of giving it a warm and cozy feel despite big plate-glass windows. I was less favorably impressed with the large palm-like plants, but that was because their fronds frequently seemed to obscure us from our server’s view, and it seemed to be a case of out of sight, out of mind. On her first visit to our table, we asked our server for a minute before ordering, because the kitchen had run out of one of our choices. It was a full 10 minutes and three attempts to catch her eye later before we were able to order, and nearly 35 minutes after that that our salads arrived. (Other tables didn’t appear to have this problem, especially those served by attentive and friendly co-owner Monica Eickmeyer-Lewis. The other owner, Tjisana Lewis, is in the kitchen.)
By then, we were so hungry that we didn’t care that they came before the appetizer we’d ordered to start, a dish of sautéed tiger prawns with a tomato-ciabatta salad. When we did get the starter, we liked the plump prawns and bright cherry tomatoes. The bread was a bit too liberally doused in tart dressing for my taste, but its flavor was clean, and the ciabatta’s pleasantly sponge-like texture stood up to it well.
The salad I got first, however, was disappointingly small. It was a composed plate of three butter-lettuce leaves, each of which cradled a piece of honey-roasted pear, creamy goat cheese and a bit too much shocking-pink raspberry vinaigrette. I liked the tang of the latter, but the pears were a little on the mushy side, and the candied walnuts promised by the menu—which might have added a welcome snap to the dish—were entirely missing.
My husband’s spinach salad with avocado, mandarin oranges and blue cheese was more successful, a nice riot of flavors and colors. I liked the strong, musky cumin vinaigrette, though it was a surprising match with the blue cheese.
Unexpected flavor pairings seem to be a specialty at Sapor, particularly in the wine and food matches recommended by the menu. Nearly every dish has a suggested wine, a nice touch, and some of the suggestions are counterintuitive. I was intrigued by the pairing of an appetizer of garlic and cilantro curried beef with sweet mango chutney with a chardonnay; unfortunately, that was the appetizer that had run out, so I couldn’t try it. My main dish, though, was similarly interesting: sautéed salmon with bacon and leeks, lemon risotto and grilled radicchio were paired with a pinot noir. Salmon with pinot noir is a great match, but I would have thought that creamy lemon risotto would cry out for a white wine, and I wouldn’t know what to do with bitter grilled radicchio.
As it happened, the pairing was a huge success, with the smoky and savory flavors of the bacon-leek topping making a lovely bridge to the wine’s nuances. The salmon was good, too, fully cooked yet still moist. The lemon risotto was unfortunately lukewarm and very thick, like a lemon rice pudding without the sugar. The grilled radicchio, which was very bitter and would have benefited from longer grilling, still remained a puzzle with the wine.
My husband was drawn to a dish of duck breast with barbecue sauce. We both liked this casual, fun treatment of duck, which is often prepared with a French-inspired solemnity. The meat’s mild gaminess was a great match with the sweetly tangy barbecue sauce, and the fluffy, eggy corn cakes and tricolor slaw alongside enhanced the presentation.
We were determined to stick it out for dessert, especially when we heard that there was just one serving left of a chocolate mousse with chocolate truffle cookies. My husband ordered it (though we again had a long wait to order), and it was delicious. The warm, brownie-like cookies melted in the mouth. My berry napoleon had plenty of yummy real whipped cream, but its pastry tasted a bit stale, and it could have used a few more of the juicy macerated berries. Despite a few qualms, however, we left feeling satisfied, as co-owner Eickmeyer-Lewis bid us a friendly farewell and said she hoped we’d be back. We might. It’s nice to have a place more or less in our neighborhood, but next time we’ll hope not to hide behind any palms.