A meal hits the spot. A food adventure broadens horizons, introducing the customer to new dishes, cuisines and even methods of eating.
For a taste of something different, check out Haitian flavors in East Sacramento, Cambodian fare in Elk Grove or a preservation-focused restaurant in the charming farm town of Winters.
All of these reviews were first published in The Sacramento Bee’s free weekly food and drink newsletter, which lands in followers’ inboxes around noon each Wednesday.
Longtime Sacramentans are probably familiar with Célestin’s Restaurant, but might not know Patrick and Phoebe Celestin’s Creole outpost in its current form. Opened at 25th and J streets in 1983, it later moved to 1815 K St. (currently home to The Porch Restaurant & Bar) before shutting down in 2011 and reopening at 3610 McKinley Blvd. in 2018.
For all the changes to Sacramento’s dining scene since 1983, Célestin’s solid reputation and long on-and-off tenure haven’t inspired many imitators. It’s still one of the region’s only restaurants to specialize in Caribbean food, particularly dishes like griot ($13 as an appetizer or $17 with red beans, rice and a cucumber-tomato salad as an entree) from Patrick Celestin’s native Haiti.
Célestin’s griot involves marinating pork chunks in orange and lime juice before braising them with habaneros and deep-frying to form a crispy shell around the meat. The meat is served with an acidic pink Haitian hot sauce called ti-malice — add this to most everything — and a pair of tostones (fried plantains).
Gumbo ($26) is Célestin’s flagship dish, packed with chicken, wild snapper, shrimp, kielbasa and scallops (there’s an all-seafood option as well). Yet the fish was even better in the Brazilian-style Pacific snapper ($19), tender to the tooth in a piquant mix of coconut milk, tomato sauce and lime juice.
My friends and I washed it all down with margajitos ($8 a glass, $21 a pitcher), an imitation margarita/mojito hybrid actually made with white port and moscato. Muddled mint, lime juice, those sweet wines and a whole lot of ice came together beautifully for blissful summer refreshment.
A thatched interior roof, soft blue walls, a wavy white counter and nautical decor make S.E.A. Hut an oasis amid an especially commercial stretch of Elk Grove. Mora Som’s Southeast Asian restaurant at 9655 Elk Grove Florin Road, Suite 3 is the sister concept to Taste of Angkor in South Sacramento (a third sister, S.E.A. Bowl, closed in April).
S.E.A. Hut’s specialties are Lao, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Thai dishes, with a bit of American influence. Happy hour deals on loaded fries and Thai teas last from 3-6 p.m. during weekdays and all day for local students.
Som’s two surviving restaurants might be the only places in the region where one can find prahok ktis ($13), a Cambodian dip served with cucumber, lettuce and small, circular green Thai eggplant. S.E.A. Hut uses ground chicken instead of the more common minced pork, but gets lots of flavor from prahok (fermented fish paste), optional bird’s eye chilis and kroeung, a lemongrass-y spice paste ubiquitous in Cambodian cooking.
Kroeung also served as the glaze for S.E.A. Hut’s beef skewers ($10.50 for five), which were a bit tough. A Lao crispy fried rice salad called nam khao ($12), on the other hand, was bright and interesting, its lime juice and peanuts running up against pieces of fermented sausage that seemed to have strings of tripe dangling off them.
Lao soups such as khao piek ($11) are worth checking out, too. A thick, almost goopy stew with tapioca noodles, shredded chicken, fried onions and quail eggs, it might be a little heavy for super-hot summer days but would be great with a little cloud cover.
Preserve Public House
If Buckhorn Steakhouse is the restaurant that built Winters, Preserve Public House is among those leading the next generation of Yolo County’s transformation. Jay Peacock, the former chef of The Golden Bear in midtown Sacramento, deftly implements seasonal ingredients from nearby growers and cures meats in-house for owners Cole and Sara Ogando at 200 Railroad Ave.
Meals at Preserve begin not with bread but with complimentary Tajin-dusted chicharrones. A variety of small plates and sides make for a natural segue from there, like pea tendrils ($9) with squares of corned beef and fried onions in a super-acidic red wine vinaigrette.
A stellar beet salad ($17) paired soft golden beets from Winters’ own Terra Firma Farm with own ricotta, hazelnuts, shaved Granny Smith apples and strawberries from Eatwell Farm in Dixon. I appreciate balance and contrast in a salad, and this had both in droves, the crunch of hazelnuts and tartness of apples offset by sweet strawberries and creamy ricotta.
Pastas and meaty entrees tend to fall in the $30-$40 range, such as the Moroccan braised short rib ($35). Served with a piquant red chermoula over olive oil-doused Israeli couscous, the hunk of beef was every bit as tender as one would hope.
Roseville loves Tang’s Sushi, Tang Le’s restaurant that replaced Sakura Japanese Bistro & Bar at 1426 Blue Oaks Blvd., Suite 100 in 2017. Portions are often huge, prices are reasonable and the menu holds lots of innovation and diversity, as does a secret menu servers can explain.
Omakase (chef’s choice) starts at a reasonable $50 per person, but à la carte ordering is fun too with so many options. Take the Brodie’s Triple Stack ($16), a miniature seafood smorgasbord that piles maguro (tuna), sake (salmon) and hamachi (yellowtail) over crab salad with a sprinkling of wasabi peas and mustard ponzo on top.
The inside of Tang’s rolls tend to be relatively tame, with the action on top. No menu item is more popular than the Tang Lobster roll ($18), our server said, and it’s easy to see why. Mounds of baked lobster stack like little buttes on top of imitation crab salad and avocado, topped with either a miso or a creamy black pepper sauce, both excellent and with their own kind of kick.
Bento boxes are familiar but appealing, such as salmon teriyaki ($16 during lunch and $18 during dinner) caught off the coast of Scotland. Served with rice, miso soup, salad and a choice of side, the twin steaks of grilled salmon were nicely cooked and complemented rather than smothered by the sauce.