They say that the original Saddle Rock opened as possibly the very first restaurant in Old Sacramento back in the Gold Rush era. Supposedly it was open for about 150 years before closing in the 90s. Saddle Rock 2.0 is now open in Midtown and is successfully mixing old and new thanks to Chef Matt Masera.
Now I should say that I know both the owner, Chris Jarosz, and the chef. It's my job to disclose that up front. This could lead some to say that I'm biased. Perhaps. The fact is, though, that there will plenty of reviews coming out in the following weeks that will agree with me. The menu is terrific! It's so interesting, that it will take me several visits to try everything!
The concept is to take Gold Rush era dishes and update them for today's palates. Masera is a gifted chef and was up to the challenge. I can guess how excited he was to be given this gift of a challenge. He's done an impressive job.
Take, for instance, the Sacramento Cioppino. Traditional cioppino is made with a variety of salt water seafood and a tomato based broth. Here Masera has localized it by using sturgeon, catfish, and crawdads from our nearby fresh waters and put them in an earthier sauce. Actually, the sturgeon and catfish aren't really coming from the rivers, but from Passmore Ranch's tanks, assuring the freshest and best quality fish.
Other such updated dishes include a Beef Wellington done with short rib and a Masera version of Hangtown Fry, the famed dish named after Placerville. Typically it includes eggs, bacon, and oysters. Masera's includes "dirty bacon, oysters, chive, and goat cheese".
Passmore Ranch fish is so good that I chose the Stuffed Trout, also featured. It was a nice sized fish that arrived wafting a wonderful, tantalizing aroma. When you opened up the middle you saw it stuffed with lemon slices, cucumber, and kale. On top was a layer of chimichurri. So good!
But I've totally skipped over the appetizers. We were intrigued by the oyster bread thinking there was oyster involved somehow. Not so. It's a popover served with dill butter. A popular choice is the Chicken "Skin" Biscuit served with a pine syrup butter and juniper. It does come with a crisp chip of bacon skin on top. I had a chance to try the Chicken Fried Catfish Nuggets at Bastille Day. These are served with preserved lemon, fried herbs, and summer chilis.
Note: After some differing accounts, I emailed Masera regarding the oyster bread. Apparently the chopped oysters are in the popover batter.
Masera is actually one of those chefs that does well with savory, but has made quite a name for himself with his pastry skills. That's why I always leave room for one of his desserts. Here is the Griddle Fried Bread with berries and cream. It may look like French toast, but it's not dunked in egg. Meanwhile, the chocolate cake is scooped out and served with a cremeaux and crushed sablé, giving it that nice textural crunch element.
They say that the staff were all given history lessons so they can share background information with guests. I kinda wish I had played dumb so I could have heard the spiel. Regardless, the service was very good considering it was their first Saturday night service - well paced and attentive.
I look forward to several more visits so I can continue through the menu. And mark my words, more praising reviews are soon to follow mine.