16th and K, Midtown
I have always been a fan of 33rd Street Bistro (33rd and Folsom Blvd). In fact, when I moved to Los Angeles, people would ask me what I missed most about home. The answer was always mom, a couple of friends, and the Rainier sandwich from 33rd. Close second? The Oregon Blue Cheese salad from 33rd (complete with delicious boneless buffalo chicken). 33rd had a great menu, unique to most in Sacramento particularly in it's rather large selection of small plate dishes (don't miss Uncle Bum's Jerk ribs with lime creme fraiche). It was perfect for lunch and dinner, or just a drink and dessert (brunch is also well-done).
So consider my jealousy when the spin-off, Bistro 33 opened up in Davis. I heard stories - and they were intriguing. "Just like 33rd ... only better" they said. "Jazzier than 33rd" they went on. I couldn't stand it. But it's bad enough making the trek from Carmichael to Midtown for great fare - I couldn't stomach a trip to Davis. Yes, I know it's not that far. I'm lazy! Or rather, my stomach is. And because I hadn't tortured myself by looking up the Bistro 33 Davis menu online, I didn't know enough of what I was missing to make the trek. Fortunately, with Bistro 33's new Midtown location (16th and K, next to Mikuni's and PF Chang's), fortune found me.
Rather than making a decision just to go there, I was bored during lunch and decided to go online to check out the menu. Oh. My. God. Where would I start? My beloved Rainier and Oregon Blue Cheese salad were there, but there was so much else to discover anew. Lengthy list of intriguing small plates ... entrees that made my mouth water (smoked bay scallops, anyone?) ... a Grey Goose martini that bragged "time of day is the price you pay" (genius!) ... and, oh ... oh, my. For dessert? Hot Bag O'Doughnuts. Hot. Bag. O'. DOUGHNUTS. Sold!!!
I needed only tell a few people - namely, my mom and my husband, about the hot bag o'doughnuts, and they were sold. A few inspiring phone messages later over the work week ("hot bag o' dooouuuuggghhnutttss" *click*), and we hit Bistro 33 at 5:30 Thursday. Which turned out to be an excellent time of day considering the very smallness of the restaurant. So small, in fact, that it felt less Sacramento and more SF or NY. Only in either of the latter cities, they'd have abandoned the luxuriously large booth seating for small tables to maximize patronage. As it was, there are only 3 tables, the rest booths, and of those there were only roughly 6 or so. Even the bar is moderately-sized. The lack of available seating is made up for with late-night dining until 3:00 am Thurs-Sat. Smart.
I loved the decor. It was markedly different from 33rd Street. It was very French Art Deco 2006. Funky black carpet with chunks of silver mohair, silver and black sueded booth seats with large acrylic tables the color of milk. Silver mohair curtains, deep silver textured wallpaper, black ceiling, mirrored decor, and truly gorgeous black Dale Chihuly-esque (or perhaps actual Chihuly?) glass-blown chandeliers over the bar.
Since I'd lured 2 dining companions with promise of hot bags of doughnuts, we decided to forgo the traditional entree per person to indulge ourselves with a buffet of small plates.
First up, Prawns Everyway - three small dishes with two large prawns each. The first in line was simply seared, sitting on a lemon aioli. As it usually is with prawns and shrimp, the accompaniments are secondary. If the prawns are poorly cooked to chewy death, or are simply frozen too long and thus devoid of any prawn-flavor whatsoever, no sauce can save it. So first I must say that the prawns were nice and chunky, perfectly cooked and by themselves tasted pleasantly and distinctly of prawns. Thus the lemon aioli, which was delicious, was only a minimal addition because there was enough flavor from the prawns to balance, rather than drown. Second were the tempura battered versions with avocado. Again, perfectly cooked. I particularly liked the smooth tempura texture, rather than the traditional panko-breading that sort of crumbles and only contributes crunchiness. Last were the spicy, chilled versions with melon salsa. Oh, yum. While I love a traditional cocktail sauce, I think that fruit pairs particularly well with prawns, and absolutely loved this version. I'd ask for Prawns Only This Way if I could.
Moving on in the seafood area, we tried the Tempura Oysters. We were served three, huge tempura oysters, each seated back in their shells on a dollop of sweet and sour sauce, with just a smidgen of caviar topping each. Truth be told, the caviar was so minimal as to be nonexistent. But the oysters were remarkably tender and retained the perfect oyster "ocean" flavor as would a good fresh one, but with again the same smooth tempura used on the prawns. The sweet and sour sauce was very good and very strong, but I was happy to find the balance between the sweet and sour was very much equalized (usually it's a whole lotta sweet ... where's the sour?).
Why stop with only two deep fried items when you can have more? And I haven't even gotten to the doughnuts yet! (patience!) No small plate smorgasbord were complete without an order of the Crisscross Fries, or so said mom, so said we all. Personally, while I like very good fries, I can usually take or leave them. So often they are too soggy or too bland or fried to petrification. I am so happy to report that these fries were truly delicious. First, they were enormous for criss cut fries. And thickly cut, lying on a pool of lemon aioli, topped with crumbled Gorgonzola relish. Oh, heavens, yes! Golden brown and crispy with moist, but not soggy, insides. I ate more than my share, and even embarrassingly had to stop the waiter from taking my plate away at the end of our dinner because I still had half a crisscross fry yes. What? I'm not ashamed - go try them for yourself!
Amazingly, truly amazingly, my absolute favorite dish we ordered for our experimental buffet was ... the Sweet Pea salad. I can tell you now, not a day will go by that I won't crave this. Dare I say...? Yes, I will ... I loved it more than the Oregon Blue Cheese salad. I know, I can hardly believe it myself. But, oh, this salad. Beautiful, crisp sweet peas, held together with just the right amount of a creamy white pepper dressing with water chestnuts, red onion and mmmmmmm delicious chunks of bacon. Not overdone, either, just enough bacon for every few bites to meld beautifully it's salty smokiness with the crisp, sweet peas. Garnished with fresh tomatoes and snow peas. We fought over this dish. Mom proclaimed it just as good as Aunt Frans (prompting my follow up question, "Who?" and leading to my discovery of a here-to-fore unknown relative. That's how damn good this salad is).
Finally (yes, finally), the Mini Turkey Burgers on toasted brioche rolls with bel paese cheese and Green Goddess dressing. The turkey was flavored will with hints of oregano, but sadly, the dressing was MIA. Or possibly it was there, but I couldn't really taste it. Still, with two to a plate (and a few more crisscross fries on the side - yay!), it was a great option for future note. They also offer Mini Kobe Burgers (shockingly, we didn't also order that in our gastronomic embarrassment) with Gouda cheese and fried onions, and why the hell didn't we order them? I think somewhere in the ordering process we though turkey was healthier than beef, what with the prevalent "deep fried" theme of our evenings menu.
I should also mention that fueling this Olympian challenge were the Potion 33 (Cielo blanca margarita with a float of vanilla Tuaca ... smmoooootth), Raspberry Mojito (perfect summer drink) and Grey Goose Lemon Drop (very yummy, but perhaps I shouldn't mention that it was Rich that ordered this. Oops).
And now, onto the main event. The dessert. Our entire raison d'etre. Or raison de manager, to be more precise. The Housemade Milkshake! What? Oh, yeah, not doughnuts. Not yet, anyway. We thought the milkshake, especially when we were told it was white chocolate pistachio that evening, was irresistible. And trust me, we made the right move. A huge, wonderful milkshake arrived (with three straws...awwww... and the leftovers next our soda glass - yay!). It was beautiful, and delicious, almost like fresh pistachio ice cream. Complete with chunks of pistachio nuts. It was wonderful.
And finally (drum roll please), the Hot Bag O' Doughnuts. Oh, my. 10 yeast doughnut holes, hot and fresh from the deep fryer, arrived at our table in a bag with powdered and granulated sugars and cinnamon. Our waitress (who was great - in fact the whole staff was attentive, but not annoyingly so, and friendly) shook the bag up and rolled out the holes onto a plate ... and then poured the remaining sugar mixture from the bag back over the doughnuts. I almost asked her to marry me at that moment. The holes come with a side of strawberry-rhubarb compote and honey butter, but let's be honest. Are they really necessary? I think not (though they were delicious, and I'd love the compote on a crumpet or scone). But the doughnuts were everything I hoped they were. They reminded me of my Grandma Wanda, who could have put Betty Crocker and Martha Stewart to shame, who would wake me up gently in the morning with a glass of fresh OJ and the deep fryer going, ready to make homemade doughnuts for me (it's amazing I wasn't 400 lbs). These were that good, and the best addition to a restaurant menu ever.
So, to sum up, per our experience, and what seems quite incongruous, the sleek, very modern Bistro 33 Midtown is a must for Sweet Pea salad, Crisscross Fries, Homemade Shakes and Hot Bags of Doughnuts. Two of which evoked memories of relatives, both cherished, one newly discovered. Oh thank you, Bistro 33.