The Ups and Downs of Dining in Capitol Alley (Ella - Sacramento, CA)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ella is the brand new restaurant venture of the owners of Selland's Market and famed The Kitchen restaurant. Down in Capital Alley where the the lawyers, men of buisness, ladies who lunch, and capital capitalists run the rat race adorned in power ties and days filled with martini lunches, it is THE place to be.

Ella is, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. Stunning. Gorgeous white hanging belljar lighting, vaulted ceilings, fine wood, well crafted beige tweed furniture reminiscent of the 50's but made contemporary, and long white top to bottom curtains. The bar is stunning, the all glass wine cooler is statuesque and intimidating. many surfaces have been tiled in antiqued wooden window shutters, all mottled and in an assortment of colors that stun and transfix your eyes, leading them to devour the rest of the setting. It is amazing.

As such, you should expect the prices to reflect this dining equivalent to a modern art museum. And equally as such, I have not been able to eat there on my lower middle class salary. Thank god for the Dine Downtown event, where all the nice places in Sac have a three course meal for $30 (not including tax and tip). So I gathered up a friend and we went out to Ella to steal inside and see what the buzz was about.

The potato leek soup I had was the best soup I've had in a very long time. The soup was laced with Meyer lemon zest and was silky smooth. A few bits of pan friend potato helped juxtapose the soup and made it very tasty. I plan to rip off the idea later. It was all drizzled with the most delicious olive oil. Ooo! It made me giddy and happy sipping that soup!

The steamed petrale sole with lemon caper brown butter sauce and arugula was equally impressive. Sweet, pleasantly salty and sour, it was amazing. Exactly how fish should be prepared, simply with only a few ingredients to help emphasize the fish. Delish. My god, it was the definition of what California cuisine should be.

Hand cut pasta ribbons with Wagyu beef bolognese and Argentine sardo... I actually said, "Wow, it's like half-assed Hamburger Helper. Yes, cheese burger pasta from a box would be way better than this." Pass.

The house made ice cream was decent. Vanilla, coffee, and toasted coconut ice creams. Simple and good, but if you have an ice cream maker at home, you can do the same. The brownie with chocolate chip cocoa nib ice cream, fudge sauce and toasted almonds was amazing. Very fudgy, very filling, very cocoa-coma inducing. A+ for sure. Surprised I didn't see other more innovative desserts on the menu, like the kind Shuna Fish Lydon does at Sens, considering how upscale and innovative the design of the restaurant it, but it does a fine job none the less.

There was an oddness to the evening. You see, I work for non-profit, for freelance, and for a stipend. I'm not exactly rolling in cash. So when I told them I was there for the fixed price meal and that no, I would not be having wine that night, I felt off put. Like we were left to our own devices and they would serve us as they were required to since I made a reservation. It wasn't said, it was very subtle, barely even perceptible. But still, my dining companion and I noted the vibe. We felt a bit like outsiders.

And I mean outsiders again. You see they canceled my first reservation because someone bought out the restaurant and they wrote my phone number down incorrectly, so I was never told. Had I not called the day before I never would have found out or been seated. So after talking to a manager about being seated the next day so I could participate in the special deal, they finally said no problem and they would offer some wine for having to change my reservation (they didn't).

Really, it was amazing... but I'm not sure I would go again. The portions are a bit lacking and it will take three courses to fill you. That, plus wine, for a normal dinner will break the bank for most people. Tuli will give you the same or better for much cheaper in my opinion. If you can, go to Ella to experience it. It is worth it, but only about $30 for a meal worth it.

1131 K Street, Sacramento


  1. As always, excellent review ! My husband and I like very much Selland's Market, and we've never been able to afford The Kitchen... We were planning to experiment Ella, but now, I'm a bit put off... We'll try the other restaurants you mentioned !

  2. Sorry to tag on regarding Dine Downtown. Mary and I tried to go to 58 degrees on Monday and they had a private party, no entry. Maybe someone forgot to tell them they were part of Dine Downtown? We ended up at the Melting Pot. Too much bread and cheese. Good salad and then a nice variety of meats to cook. We did have wine but the place seemed packed with others who didn't know about the 3 course meal as they all seemed to be having the big meal, as they call it.
    Here's another interesting diddy on Dine Downtown. We ate in SF on Friday night (Mary's BDay). I made my reservation at Farallon using Open Table and was sent an email confirmation saying we would not qualify for the Dine Downtown SF 3 course meal for $45. We were also seated in purgatory, or the upper level as they call it. After being ignored for about 10 minutes, we finally flagged down the wine steward who helped us make up our own pairing. The meal was great, the wine perfectly matched. You don't want to know the tab :)
    Thanks for letting me rant on your site.

  3. Marie - Hope you enjoy them!

    Dennis - Yeah Melting Pot is a bit meh. I went to the Sheraton grand last year and we had a terrible time. And always feel free to rant here, I do it all the time.

  4. I wasn't really impressed with Ella's either (I tried them on a regular night). Would much rather spend my hard earned dollars at Mulvaney's or Tuli's.

    Went to Chantrelle's for the Done Downtown...what a disappointment. Lackluster service and food that resembled Lyon's during an early bird special.

  5. Thank you! I thought I was the only one who thought the portions were small after being told they were meant to be shared.. what one bite each? Especially considering the price. We went several months ago and were not very impressed. Don't expect anything like the food at The Kitchen. For the $30.00 I would have tried it again just to see if it was any better, but nobody else wanted to go again. I don't think it's a place I'll be going back to.
    We went to Chantrelle's last year and had a good meal. There you can choose off their regular menu 3 courses.. or at least last year you could. Yes, I'd pick Mulvaney's.. great place.

  6. I heartily agree. Ella's is a detestable faux Washington DC "be seen" cathedral. Boring menu, Eastern Bloc service and prices so high I almost fainted. I can buy a WHOLE LAMB for the price of four of their lamb entrees. (And yes, I do on occasion buy a whole lamb...)

    Mulvaney's is far better, as is Waterboy. Even Spataro offers better food for better value, and it is equally glitzy.

  7. I absolutely hate rude and sanctimonious treatment like that! Great review:)

  8. We ate at Spataro's. Only one of us ordered off the "dine downtown menu"..but we had to ask to see that menu, if was not offered up front.

    We had wine for sure..the tab for 7, with tax and tip, was $547.00.

    The food was great, the company fabulous, and the service was okay.

    We wanted to go to Tommy Toy's in SF but haven't made it yet.

  9. If y'all only knew what it took for this family to get from here to there. So obnoxious, your refined palates. They always have great love in their food, that's kind of priceless.

  10. Annonymous - If only you knew how expensive it is for a student to eat out and not have a good meal. Please sign your name next time and claim your critique.


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