When looking for a romantic night out or the opportunity to sample a number of chef specialties, a tasting menu is the way to go. Some people hear eight or nine courses and instantly think normal entrée-sized portions. However, this is not typically the case. A tasting menu is a way for a chef to showcase his or her best dishes and offer diners, as the name suggests, a taste of each dish. Tasting menus are quite common in fine-dining establishments, especially those serving French and Italian cuisine. Some restaurants offer tasting menus that vary by day, by week or by season. If you are looking for a tasting menu to try around Sacramento, here are several options to consider.
The Firehouse Restaurant
1112 2nd St
Sacramento, CA 95814
Price: $98 for five-course tasting menu; $130 for five-course tasting menu and wine pairings
The Firehouse Restaurant is a beloved Sacramento institution. It has won numerous wine awards and accolades from publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. In the local Sacramento Magazine’s Best of Sacramento awards, The Firehouse has been consistently voted among the top, winning multiple first-place awards. Located in one of Old Sacramento’s most historic landmarks, chef Deneb Williams offers one of the best tasting menus around. Typically, it is a five-course dinner available with or without wine pairings. Menus change seasonally but an example of a course may include a crab and avocado salad featuring fresh Dungeness crab with roasted pineapple vinaigrette, vanilla-yuzu sabayon and coconut-tapioca pearls, paired with a 2010 Flora Springs Chardonnay from Napa Valley.
2801 Capitol Ave
Sacramento, CA 95816
Price: $15 for two-course prix-fixe menu; $35 for three-course prix-fixe menu
One of the most admired chefs in Sacramento is Biba Caggiano, a celebrity chef and TV personality, who serves some of the most authentic Italian food outside of Italy. Biba offers prix fixe menus that change seasonally. You can enjoy a two-course lunch menu with soup or salad and an entree, or enjoy a more traditional Italian-style dinner with soup or salad, pasta and an entree. Potential dishes you might see include veal stew, grilled chicken, penne with tomatoes or seafood and shellfish. Biba also offers a great selection of wines that can be paired with your lunch or dinner tasting menu.
The Kitchen Restaurant
2225 Hurley Way
Sacramento, CA 95825
Price: Varies, call ahead
Like many fine-dining establishments, The Kitchen Restaurant is one you better plan for months in advance. Reservations can be hard to come by and if you are really lucky, you might be able to snag one of few reservations released to Open Table. The menu and wine pairings can change monthly so what you may see when making a reservation may be completely different two months down the line. Tasting menus are typically four courses, and an example of one course from a recent menu is the 100-mile salmon with Dungeness crab bearnaise, white asparagus flan and preserved meyer lemon. Wondering why The Kitchen is such a popular spot in Sacramento? The chef is Randall Selland, who is part of the group that also runs Selland’s and Ella Dining Room and Bar.
5530 Douglas Blvd
Granite Bay, CA 95746
Price: $90 for seven-course tasting menu; $125 for seven-course tasting menu and wine pairings
If you think midtown and downtown Sacramento are the only spots offering great tasting menus, it’s time to drive about a half an hour out to Granite Bay. Hawks is a divine spot in the upscale Granite Bay area offering one of the best chef’s menus in the area. Typically seven courses, the menu showcases some of the best in California ingredients infused with various ethnic influences. Examples of courses may include butter-poached Maine lobster, roasted Tolenes Farm quail and dark chocolate macaron with gelato. You can enjoy this spread any day but Sunday at Hawks.
Hana Tsubaki Restaurant
5006 J St
Sacramento, CA 95819
Price: Depends on budget
While tasting menus are more popular in French or western-style cuisines, Japanese cuisine does lend itself to a tasting menu if you can find the right spot. Although more popular for its sushi, Hana Tsubaki offers the option of “omakase” or chef’s choice. You can provide a budget per person and you will receive a string of dishes customized either to the chef’s specialties, your favorite ingredients or a combination of both. With omakase, it is not uncommon to try various small plates of traditional Japanese foods like miso soup, tempura, pickled vegetables, sushi and sashimi and chirashi. In addition, the chefs will create a series of dishes that they developed which may be more of a modern twist on traditional Japanese favorites or more hearty courses like tataki plates, involved seafood dishes, etc.
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Erin De Santiago is a freelance travel and food/wine writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. She is a regional membership coordinator for the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and writes for a number of publications in addition to publishing her own blogs. She has traveled to over 40 countries on five continents in search of the best food and wine around the globe. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.