Dining Downtown at Ella

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Update: 3/13/10
Dad and his new girlfriend were in town and so I took them to Ella. They opted for the $50 deal - entree and bottle of wine for two. The entree for the week was beef bourguignon and included a side cheese au gratin. They enjoyed it very much. I also introduced them to the bone marrow appetizer I mention below. New for them and they liked it too. But I can't say enough about my entree. It was a lamb dish with a stinging nettles puree with other root vegetables and it was FABULOUS! It was heaven in my mouth! I am now officially in love with Ella.

Original post: 1/12/10
Every January there is Sacramento Dine Downtown week. The idea was to take a traditionally slow month and pump up the dining attendance by offering a week of three-course meals for only $30 at many of the most popular restaurants downtown. Aside from generating business, it's a great way for people to try places they've been wanting to try. It's been so successful over the last few years that they expanded it to be ten days so that it overlaps two weekends. It's also being copied by other areas of town. Roseville will hold theirs soon.

I'm always on top of it and remembered to look up the dates and the restaurant lists back in November before it got publicized and places filled up. I wanted to choose somewhere I hadn't been yet and had been dying to go to - Ella. At the time the menus were not posted. As we approached the date, I took a peek of the other restaurants and all of the now posted menus. I was happy with my selection. Most of the restaurants keep to the usual fare to appeal to the masses - salmon, chicken, pasta, beef. OK, but boring. Ella had entree choices of duck and skate wing. That's what I want - different choices!

As I entered the restaurant my first impression was good. It was lovely with muted lighting and attractive, light decor. They had a coat check by the door, which was nice amenity. But one of my favorite things about it...the noise level! Because they use a lot of fabrics and sound absorbing materials, there wasn't the loud clamor that you hear in so many restaurants today. We could hold conversations without shouting! Why can't more restaurant designers get a clue? Brick, cement, and hard wood bounce sound to create a cacophony of conversations and serving noise.

We were thrilled to be seated at one of the kitchen tables, seen above. These tables are right by the kitchen service so that you can watch the chefs and staff at work. They are also just plain, nice, big tables. I also observed their private room for special parties and it looked lovely with a lot of drapery.

We had come for the prix fixe menu but also took a glance at the regular menu. Dangerous! There were so many tempting items. But the $30 deal was good too. In the end we ordered the prix fixe menu and added an appetizer from the regular menu. Many also chose to do the wine pairing.

I must say our waiter was attentive and talented in steering selections. He was suggesting the skate wing to which Ryan whispered, "they must be running low on duck". Whether that was true or not, he did sell it well, especially since he described how it was prepared and how it was a specialty item rarely seen on restaurant menus. It created the curiosity for one to try it. He also described the wine pairings explaining that the restaurant had gotten a fabulous deal on cases of these particular wines and they were sharing the cost savings with the diners. According to him, you were getting about $45 worth of quality wine for only $15. At the end I asked Ryan how the wine had fared and he said that he had been impressed with each glass.

So let's get to the food. First I'll repeat something I've said in posts before - a restaurant gets extra brownie points for introducing me to new foods and experiences that I haven't had before. Ella scored twice!

The first new thing for me was our extra appetizer we ordered from the regular menu. It was the bone marrow served with toastettes. I have had very limited experience with marrow mostly because I don't really come in contact with large enough pieces of bone. They took a beef bone and sliced it in half. Then it was broiled and served with a mixture of seasoning, capers, and parsley to spread onto the toast. Above is how it was served, but you can't see the bone. Below is the after photo. It was delicious! And rich! I could easily go and meet friends for drinks and appetizers at the bar and be absolutely content with this.

The first course from our prix fixe dinner included a choice of soup or salad. Most of us opted for the cream of carrot soup with creme fraiche. It was quite a generous ladleful and I knew if I ate all of it I would never make it through the meal. I ate about a third and enjoyed the creaminess without really sensing that I was eating carrots. It's probably because carrots are one of the vegetables that truly do change flavor with cooking. That's a big reason why some people like raw carrots but can't stand cooked and vice versa.

When it came to the entrees our choices were a duck confit or skate wing. The waiter successfully convinced most of us to try the skate wing. It was pan roasted with a mustard beurre blanc and served with potatoes. This was the second new thing for me. I mean, really, this is not a fish that I would normally think to eat...

But it was a very delicious fish. It was mild, soft, and buttery. With the beurre blance it was very rich and delicate. Everyone was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it very much.

The dessert was choice of pear tartlet or sorbet trio. I'm not big on cold desserts in the winter time so I opted for the pear tartlet even though I don't care for pears. The pastry was nice and flaky and the caramel sauce nice and creamy. I felt that the pears could have been cooked a bit more. Ryan said he liked that it wasn't overly sweet. We all loved the thickly whipped cream.

The sorbets were delicious as well. The lightest was the pomegranate. The dark red is the blood orange, which was my favorite for just the right balance of sweetness and boldness of flavor. The last was a super tart Meyer lemon. It had a real pucker factor.

We all left feeling very content with our meals. I felt that Ella did a fabulous job presenting a varied prix fixe menu for those more adventurous diners during Dine Downtown week. Their service and food were superb and I felt that I got real value for my money. Ella has joined the top of my dining list now and I look forward to going again to try some of the other interesting menu items they offer.