Apologies for a rather sneaky headline--because all 11 of these reasons can actually be found at one location. The destination-worthy restaurant is Enotria, a fine-dining haven that could easily fit into the San Francisco scene. Except that Sacramento Chef Pajo Bruich is determined to stay put, amid the bounty of Valley ingredients.
Bruich made an exception recently, though, bringing a dozen staff plus a truckload of equipment, wine and those famous ingredients to San Francisco for a special dinner featuring 11 of Enotria's iconic dishes. I was lucky enough to nab an invitation.
Chef Bruich mingled with guests as we noshed on passed hors d'oeuvres of steak tartare; house-made sturgeon chips; and oysters with horseradish "pearls." The Sacramento native grew up around the restaurant business. His mom owned a restaurant supply company, and Bruich worked there after getting a degree in fine arts and industrial design. But he became known among his friends for hosting elaborate dinners. Finally, his wife had enough and Bruich started doing catering, then pop-up dinners.
A stint as Exec Chef at Lounge ON20 earned Bruich and the restaurant kudos from Gayot.com as the number six venue for molecular gastronomy in the U.S. In 2012, he took over the kitchen at Enotria.
"People don't always think of Sacramento as having a forward-thinking culinary scene," Bruich said, "So my goal is to contribute to elevating the city's status." He's a big supporter of the local restaurant scene, and a founding member of the Sactown Dining Collective. He's also invited San Francisco chefs to come cook with him at Enotria, including Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn), Matthew Acquirino (SPQR), Mark Liberman (AQ) and Mark Pensa (Acquerello).
Bruich's art background shows in his beautifully designed plates. Flavors travel from Thailand, all the way to his Eastern European heritage. Two of the 11 plates were "bread courses," which sounds pretentious--and yet the breads, a heavenly brioche bun and a savory roll with bacon, were so warm, ethereal and perfectly executed that they deserved their own courses.
The kitchen elevated seemingly simple accompaniments, like a potato mille-feuille, to memorable status. The paper-thin layers of potato were brushed with salted duck fat, baked and then pressed overnight, to amazing results.
But Bruich's bent for molecular gastronomy also showed up in ways both visible and subtle. Several dishes had "dippin' dots" in the composition--little orbs frozen with liquid nitrogen that added a contrast of temperature and a zing of flavor.
Sous-vide, Pacojet, agar, compression and dehydration were all in use; tellingly, the menu didn't brag about it. I'm always suspicious when technique finds its way onto the food descriptions, but none of that here. In fact, the night's tasting menu edged into the other trendy trap of merely listing key ingredients without much hint of exactly what to expect on the plate.
Fortunately, the surprises were all tasty. Even the "Tongue" course, which had some diners a bit nervous, turned out to be a mild, smoked ribbon of meat, thin as a whisper. The "Chicken Liver" of another course was marinated in brandy and whipped into clouds.
With a name like Enotria, you'd expect a strong wine program, and the restaurant received the Wine Spectator "Best of Award of Excellence" for 2012. Sommelier Tyler Stacy, who's particularly fond of Rieslings, put together some winning combinations--a bit of a challenge with Bruich's complex plates. My favorite was a 2009 Chateau Giscours Margaux, which was a heroic pairing with the beef course.
The final surprise at the end of the evening was meeting Pastry Chef Edward Martinez. Tall, muscular and covered with tattoos, Martinez is the last person you'd guess to be a pastry chef (and in fact, he's a former gangbanger from Fresno, who enrolled in a pastry-making program to avoid prison).
In addition to his spectacular breads, Martinez employed dazzling molecular wizardry in his two dessert courses, bringing together temperatures, flavors and textures that could still impress nearly exhausted palates. Unfortunately for Enotria--but good news for Bay Areans--Martinez has since left to work at Mill Valley's El Paseo, where he can also be closer to his family.
If you're headed to Sacramento (or even if you're not), Enotria is well worth a stop. All these dishes appear on the restaurant's daily menu, where you can order a la carte or opt for 5-course ($75; $55 for wine pairings) or 7-course tasting menus ($105; $75 for wine pairings). Sacramento diners should count themselves lucky that Bruich is firmly committed to staying in his hometown (but let's hope he visits San Francisco again soon).
Here's the full rundown of all the courses with wine pairings--and don't miss the slide show, with photos of all the beautiful platings.
Caviar, coral, macadamia
NV Chartogne-Taillet, Cuvee Sainte Anne, Merfy
Fresno chili, jasmine, buckwheat
2007 Marc Tempe, Saint-Hippolyte, Reisling, Alsace
Flavors of Thailand
2008 Reinhold Haart, Goldtropfchen, Riesling, Kabinett, Mosel
Pistachio, plum, celery
2011 Fiorini, Corte delgi Attimi, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Emilia-Romagna
Corn, cured egg, Australian truffle
2011 Foradori, Fontanasanta, Manzoni Bianco, Dolomiti
Bacon, peach, cornbread
NV Duchesse de Bourgogne, Flanders Red Ale, Belgium
Calotte de boeuf
Potato, black garlic, radish
2009 Chateau Giscours, Margaux
Lemon, Kaffir lime, lemongrass
2003 Pfeffingen, Herrenberg, Riesling, Auslese, Pfalz
Maple, pecan, tobacco
1994 Blandy's, Malmsey, Colheita, Madeira
Enotria, 1431 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento, (916) 922-6792