Lunch Break: Ella Dining Room & Bar

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Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big fan of the Selland Family restaurants: Ella, The Kitchen, and Selland Market Cafes. You can therefore consider this a biased review if you want, especially when you add the fact that I've become friendly with Gina, Selland family member and their social media maven.

The Twitterati lunch crew (which sometimes includes Gina) were out for lunch at Ella one weekday because a few of us were wanting to have the weekday lunch special. The lunch specials are $15 and usually include an entree and a salad or an entree and a beverage. The month of April has been lamb month and so the special was a lamb sandwich and a virgin mint julep. I'm a big lamb fan, and so I had to get one sometime during the month.

Not everyone chose the lamb special, especially since it was still Lent and a Friday. We were also treated with extra dishes courtesy of Gina. I want to thank her for that because I got to try something new - more on that in a moment.

It's also been a couple of months since new chef Michael Thiemann had joined the staff. You can find his bio on their website. After having eaten there a few times, I must say that he's been a great addition to the staff and fits in with everything I expect from Ella (new, unique, quality, blended flavors, seasonal, fresh, ....). Some of Kelly McCown's dishes are still there, like the bone marrow appetizer, but there's a lot of new tastes to experience via Thiemann.

Now to that new-to-me item. Gina was gracious enough to order the table a few appetizers. One that came out was the burrata. I had never had burrata before and I fell in LOVE with it. This super soft, creamy, mild cheese came out as a fluffy pillow cloud atop a garlic toast with braised collard greens, bits of ham hock, drizzle of olive oil, and fried kale chips. The burrata was as heavenly as that allegorical pillowy cloud. Gina said that they have burrata at The Kitchen from one supplier, but Thiemann has a preferred supplier in Southern California and that is where the Ella burrata comes from. When I went home I found out that you can make burrata at home. Expect a future blog post as I experiment with that in the future.

Also ordered was a half lobster served cold (at top). You can't go wrong with fresh lobster, so what really needs to be said about that? LOL

The rest of the Twitterati crew are in love with the Shishito Peppers that are toasted in garlic, lemon, and smoked olive oil. Their past experiences have had an occassional Russian Roulette of getting one pepper in the bunch that is hot/spicy. Our platter didn't have any that day. I found them nice, but I would have liked to have found a hot one. 

I, of course, had the lamb sandwich for my entree - rich braised leg of lamb with french fries inside garlic toast with a horseradish aioli. I'm not a fan of horseradish, so I asked for it on the side. The garlic toast holding it together was crisp and generous with the garlic butter. Inside was the tender slices of lamb just dripping with the full flavored braising gravy. Gina said the recipe for the braised lamb is rather simple with few ingredients, but when you add quality lamb from Superior Farms in Dixon and cook it long and slow, you get the depth of lamb flavor that makes it so scrumptious. I tried the sandwich with and without the horseradish aioli and decided that I found it to distract from the lovely braised lamb and ate the rest of it without.

Gina had the Crab Louie Salad - dungeness crab with crisp iceberg, soft boiled egg, green beans, avocado, apple, beets and Louie dressing. I'm sure it was as lovely as it looks. Susan had it before and requested butter lettuce instead and said it was terrific with that switch.

This review started with lunch, but I'm going to end with a dinner dish. Lamb month ends shortly and I had to get one of the featured items before it ended, something only available at dinner. I went in last night to have the Lamb Sweetbreads - with Medjool dates, smoked bacon, celery, and capers. It had tiny flowers on top that I had to ask about. They turned out to be onion flowers. The waiter commented that Thiemann likes to use edible flowers a lot, which is in evidence in the dessert below too.

As a friend later tweeted me, sweetbreads are neither sweet, nor bread, but they certainly are tasty. I love them because I can't think of a more tender morsel of meat than sweetbreads that are prepared properly. They almost melt in your mouth. I liked the sweetness of the date-y sauce coupled with the tender crunch of the pearl onions and celery. So glad I got them before they disappear from the menu. And it was a definite example of Thiemann's expertise with flavor combinations.

I probably should have been good and stayed away from dessert, but the Almond Pavlova got my attention when it mentioned the passion fruit mousse and the hibiscus infused strawberries. Lovely and light, I would say that, although good, I felt it had too many flavor components going on. One bite would be hibiscus, the next was passion fruit, and then also what I confusingly thought might be rosemary. I enjoyed it, being the dessert fiend that I am, but I thought it had one flavor too many battling for my attention.

Ella is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in town and the way I manage to enjoy them is by taking advantage of their specials. Be sure to follow Gina's posts via Facebook and their newsletter. Pay attention to the $15 lunch specials. Know that there are a lot of bargain half-off appetizers during Happy Hour - like bone marrow for $8 and that burrata for $6. It makes it easier for those of us on a tighter budget to indulge once in a while.