This article was one of the first I did for Edible Sacramento Magazine back in Winter 07. I still love the Hidden Kitchen and still go when I can. For anyone who loves food and lives in Sacramento, it is a MUST go destination.
I wish I had been alive back during the 20’s. Getting all dressed up, talking to the right people, knocking on a beaten door in a darkened alley, speaking the secret word and being led into a jaunty bar to drink sidecars with the fabulous people also on the sly. Thank God for the next best, scratch that, far better thing. The Hidden Kitchen.
The newest in the trend of underground restaurants, which are more like secret dinner parties, has come to Sacramento via a classy married Land Park couple. Dennis is the chef, and Mary acts as sous chef; they’ve been hosting their dinners since April and their fame and renown has begun to spread like wildfire. For a suggested donation of about $45 for the cost of ingredients (a steal considering what we all ate) I had the best meal ever served to me in Sac. Mason’s, Waterboy, Paragary’s and the rest of you beware.Upon entering their tastefully chic home and being welcomed by the HK’s pooch Bocce, my dining partner and I were treated to champagne to start off the evening. We soon sat down to table set like a work of art, and began chatting with our dining companions whom we soon became fast friends with. Dennis soon came out to explain that our meal would soon begin.
The menu was fresh, seasonal, creative, and stood on its own merits without being presumptuous and haughty; a delicate balance few chefs can manager. Yet here a local couple had perfected it. We started with a delectable tea smoked duck breast. Two slivers of perfectly cooked duck breast meat with a nice amount of duck fat sat before us. The duck had been crusted in peppercorns, and smoked with earl grey tea for 12 hours in a wok, and served with a plum applesauce. Smokey, slightly gamey, with notes of citrus and the tender prick of spice… it was heaven. And this was just the beginning.
A green onion goat cheese galette was surprisingly light and a great counterpoint to the peppery arugula and watercress salad with a meyer lemon dressing. A deep musky portobello brodo with truffled ravioli soon followed, its heady aroma intoxicating us.
As he explained the beef duet you could hear the passion and pride in Dennis’s voice. The entire table moaned at the food and hung on his every word. We were engulfed in the ardor he enflamed. The slow roasted short ribs fell apart and melted in your mouth, while the strip steak was firm and juicy. This was served along a svelte n’ savory carrot puree made with some of the juices from he short ribs, and cippolini agridole with its sweet come hither introduction and bitter bite at the end. The potato gratin laced with truffle oil was bit cold, and a tad off but the earthy flavors rounded out the dish well.
Lastly a delicious meyer lemon tart was served, there was some debate about the crust’s integrity but I adored it. For me the tart filling was so tangy that I couldn’t finish. It was almost too intense, I had to force myself to stop eating half way the flavors were so powerful. A beautiful homemade limoncello was served as an aperitif. Lemon, vanilla, cream… it was ephemeral. We all asked for the recipe, and he was kind enough to provide it.
Wines were abundant as all guests were required to BYOW. This allowed everyone to have a lot of options when it came to tasting. One particular Vincent Arroyo JJ’s Blend seemed to capture many of the guests with its complexities and flavor palette.
The night was an experience. You leave with a sense of camaraderie after making friends with the other guests. You play with the memories of all that you tasted, eager to come back for more. You wonder to yourself, “Could I start my own underground restaurant?”
Ask Dennis, he did. And it is fabulous.
Update: I later went to another delicious dinner there. Grape and gorgonzola galettes and the best herb crusted lamb I ever had was on the menu. I still hold that the Hidden Kitchen is by far one of the best places you will ever eat in Sacramento. Dennis rivals places like Mulvaney's and Ella and at times beats them, hands down. There was also a strawberry version of the limoncello, which was like the smoothest and most adult version of a strawberry milkshake ever. It was comparable to all the memories of all that was good in your childhood.