Last night taught me that you can indeed prefer the wine over the food at The Kitchen, and I’m not just talking about that loud guy from West Virginia who bellowed much of the evening after tipping back a few too many. I think it was the exiting food reviewer from the Sacramento Bee who mentioned once that the problem with The Kitchen is they don’t make enough of an effort to entice the hungry who just want a good meal and they cater instead mostly to celebratory groups of people who dine out only on special occasions.
They don’t have to make that kind of an effort to stay in business, which is probably why they don’t do it. You’ve always got Uncle Joe who didn’t die yet and is still alive to burn yet another candle on the birthday cake, and Auntie Em and Dorothy who are in town from Kansas visiting and, let’s not forget, as my husband pointed out, the entire 1972 soccer team from Folsom High School. I get menus every month from The Kitchen in my email, tantalizing my taste buds with delicious descriptions, so I call to make a reservation and, of course, can’t get one.
Decided on a plan: maybe the way to go is to make a reservation for the following month, give my credit card number to hold it, which is a requirement, and then cancel if I don’t like the menu. But that didn’t work out so well, either, and we finally decided to just make a reservation and go because it’s been about a year, and we really really like The Kitchen. It’s not the all-you-can-eat concept, although it’s promoted, it’s the presentation, the delightful introduction of new foods, the preparation and the care, thought and consideration given to the menu and local ingredients.
The first time one visits The Kitchen, it’s kind of exciting to walk around the ovens, tables, prep areas, visit with the staff, check out the wine cellar, touch stuff you’re not supposed to touch, but after a few times there, I don’t know about you, but I just wanna eat. Our first selection was a scallop Ceviche, and I almost stuck my face into the dish laughing so hard. One of the staff reminded me of a guy from Spanky and Our Gang, which I pointed out to my husband, who then began his own verbal characterization of Alfalfa demanding Sterling Caviar, and he’s just funny as hell. I should have videotaped it for you but he wouldn’t allow me to replay it, so you’ll just have to imagine.
This was after my arrival wine, which was a champagne, and let’s just face it, I’ve never met a champagne I didn’t like. Even the really crappy Cooks is palatable. I chose the Reserve Flight because it seemed the most interesting. My first champagne, Fleury, was from the Aube Valley where Pinot Noir dominates. Crisp and fruity. Forget the scallops, just pour another glass of Fleury. Or let’s just skip straight to dessert and sample the A. Margaine, slightly sweeter but explosive.
The second wine tasting was a Sake from Niigata, noted as home to “the softest water in all of Japan,” which I thought was an overkill statement until I sipped. Wow. Sold me. Definitely subtle and soft, and you can certainly taste white melon. It was incredible. Jozen Sake. This is so mild that you could drink quite a bit of it before you realized your legs did not work properly anymore and you required an army of a thousand ants to cart you off to bed.
Of the next 3 wine selections, my favorite was the 2012 Boekenhoutskloof Syrah from South Africa, named after the trees in that part of the world. Forget the delicious manicotti pressed with nasturtiums, and the fat ass striped bass from the Atlantic that Chef David Chavez waved in everybody’s faces, and who cares about the Kurobuta pork chop with its itty bitty pieces of Maine lobster . . . just give me another glass of the South African wine and then roll me out the door. Who needs food when the wines are so spectacular? The chef mentioned to us that he had felt a twinge of regret when he spotted an Atlantic striped bass at the Monterey Aquarium because he had never otherwise seen the fish alive, you know, swimming around.
I asked if it was possible, in just the tiniest way, for the food to be chosen to complement the wine, but was assured by Jeremy that would not be the case. At least they’re not owning up to it at The Kitchen. If I owned my own restaurant, that’s how I’d run it. I’d showcase the wines and the food would be the complementary portion. Come for the wine, stay for the dinner. Which is probably why I make a much better Sacramento Realtor than I would being a restaurant owner.
Photos: Elizabeth Weintraub