The seafood trade

Sail Inn Grotto & Bar

Good for: mid-level seafood and high-level drinks
Notable dishes: calamari, Lucky Dog burger

Sail Inn Grotto & Bar

1522 Jefferson Blvd.
West Sacramento, CA 95691

(916) 371-0981

Even though we’re not seaside here in the Central Valley, we are close to rivers and lakes. You’d expect to find quality seafood fairly easily, but it hasn’t always been so.

That’s certainly becoming more the case with the expansion of Sunh Fish market. Look to the recent poke trend bringing ultrafresh fish to our plates, or newcomers like Coconut’s Fish Cafe and Green Fish Co. & Juice.

Three months ago, Sail Inn Grotto & Bar resurfaced from the dark days of dive bar-dom to become a possible contender in the seafood trade. Thanks to a massive overhaul by Shady Lady Saloon owners Garrett Van Vleck, Jason Boggs and Alex Origoni, West Sacramento’s burgeoning populace has a new port of call.

Wooden pilings and rope signal the seafaring theme in the parking lot, while boat cleats for door handles and ship paintings carry it inside. It doesn’t come off as hokey, though, just nautical.

Sail Inn benefits from the Shady Lady team’s vast experience in the bar scene, specializing in tropical rum drinks without seeming too tikified. Executive Chef Kevin Ritchie’s seafood-focused menu tries to strike a balance between fried bar food and more varied fish dishes. The casual food matches the ocean-themed décor well, although not all of the dishes hit the mark on execution.

One of the best results is the calamari ($10). While squid often becomes rubbery when fried, these rings and tentacles came out crunchy and tender, nicely salted and enhanced by a side of cocktail sauce spiked with Preservation Co. Bloody Mary mix. A small, lightly dressed side salad adds freshness to the plate.

The beer-battered rock cod sandwich ($14) also shows the kitchen’s skill with frying. It’s lighter than expected, with a flavor lift from coleslaw and pickled onions. Thin french fries rival McDonald’s version.

A bit less successful are the fish tacos ($10), but not for lack of good ingredients. Doubled corn tortillas barely contain a colorful mixture of seared cod, diced peppers and onions, pineapple and sliced jalapeno. Griddled, rather than steamed, tortillas would add more authentic flavor. The filling, too, needed some oomph, though it can be quickly remedied with the side of fiery pineapple pico de gallo and a ready selection of hot sauces.

On the other hand, the Sail Inn burger ($10) surprised us with its complexity. We feared the worst when the rather thin patty arrived cooked through, but the local Lucky Dog beef held up well to lots of toppings and cheese. It turned our long-held burger criterion on its ear. The optional sweet potato fries ($1.50 extra), however, seemed to be coated with something that leaves an odd aftertaste.

The Sail Inn website mentions vegetarian options, but the only one we saw was a mixed salad ($5 for a small). Built of baby greens with pickled onions, croutons and seasonal vegetables, it suffered from too much dressing.

You can’t skip the cocktail menu at Sail Inn, with its emphasis on seafaring rum. Perfect for the searing summer months, the slushified pina colada ($10) wasn’t too sweet and boasted notes of nutty coconut and fresh pineapple. Another worthy cocktail is the Hemingway daiquiri ($8), in which fresh grapefruit and lime juice make a refreshing mixer for the rum, rather than the too-syrupy versions you find at some places.

There’s no dessert, but Whitey’s milkshakes are just down the street, or finish with an old-school slushee. It’s a fitting finish for a meal that pairs comfort food staples with slightly upscale drinks.