(This recommendation is by Jim Lacy as Janice has not yet eaten at this restaurant.)
I've never really challenged myself to try the many restaurants Sacramento has to offer, other than the best ever banana cream pie at Frank Fat's, or a good predictable outcome at the capitol's Morton's or Il Fornaio.
Over the last few years, however, I've heard about and seen the growth of many new venues worth trying. One about which I kept hearing was the highly regarded Ella Dining Room, just a block or so from the Capitol Building in a really great downtown corner location.
In preparation for a recent trip to Sacramento for a convention I called Ella and made a reservation well in advance. And I'm very glad I did. When I arrived on a rainy Saturday night in mid-March, Ella was completely full. You really need a reservation here!
I was impressed with the inviting and packed open bar area in the middle of the front entrance floor and the cozy yet hip feeling inside the place. The young staff was bustling and the clientele included button-down patrons and upscale rockers, too.
Ella is a big restaurant with lots of noise, steel and glass. I found the eager service staff quite personal and pretty quick.
The dishes are wonderful. My little group of convention guests enjoyed a seafood tower as a starter. It was presented "high tea style" on an elevated plate. It included poached shrimp and lobster, mussels, clams that were not overly chilled but rather just cold enough and very fresh. I ordered a Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne to wash the seafood down – a delightful sparkling wine you don't always see on California wine lists. Everyone liked it.
We followed with the roasted bone marrow appetizer. Bone marrow has become popular and maybe a little overdone at some places, but this dish included the largest femur bones I've ever seen and the hot marrow spread like a lovely Norman butter on the toasted rustic bread with which it was presented. It was savory and mouthwatering. Someone at the table had a winter beet salad with a goat cheese fritter that was outstanding. Next time I am going to try the wood oven meatball appetizer.
A heart-warming roasted lamb shoulder that cut easily with just the fork was served with spaetzle and broccoli rabe. It contrasted nicely with the brewing storm outside, which we could see through the large windows. It was comfort food on steroids and it matched well with a delicious Rhone red wine that the sommelier and I settled on.
Other entrees offered included ricotta gnocchi, double cut pork chop, and seared sea scallops with white truffle polenta. There are lighter well-prepared items, too, including pappardelle pasta with poached egg and a little crispy prosciutto. I'm interested to see how they handle the summer menu, when the weather turns warm.
Ella can be expensive if you let it. But I firmly believe you "get what you pay for." That is no less true with this outstanding restaurant. It will be a consistent stop for me on future trips to Sacramento.