1131 K St, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 443-3772
I may be the lone voice of dissent on this restaurant, but here it goes...After all the hype, all I can say about Ella is that it failed to deliver & I walked away quite disappointed with the experience. Upon setting foot in the door, I wasn't sure if I had walked into Selland's new venture or the discarded set of an Alice in Wonderland filming. It appeared that the proprietor decided to go with an eclectic hodge podge design of white wrap-around billowing curtains that went from floor to ceiling lending an institutional look to the establishment, along with a multitude of shutters covering the ceiling...yes, the ceiling. Appearances aside, the initial impression of the service left a lot to be desired. There were two ladies working the front desk & neither bothered to look up & offer a greeting to our party of three. It wasn't until one of my dining companions finally took a step forward & advised that we had a reservation that we were acknowledged. And by acknowledged, it was a brisk , "Follow me," no "Hello, "Welcome," or "Thanks for waiting." Now granted the place was busy for a Wednesday night, I still believe when one takes the time out beforehand to make a reservation; it should merit a decent table. Instead, we were unceremoniously plopped down at a high-traffic area table that was also just a few mere feet away from the hostess stand & bar. In addition, the restaurant has a cavernous, echoic feel. My friend was sitting just on the other side of the table & I couldn't hear a single word she said during the evening without one or the other of us shouting. A lot of the conversation during the night amongst the three of us went like, "What?" "Did you say something?" "Were you talking to me?" It also probably didn't help matters, that there was a very intoxicated woman in the bar that kept yelling & clomping down her stiletto like a braying mule.
Our server, Darren, was the one of the few bright spots of the night. He was attentive, friendly & offered recommendations. We started off requesting the citrus poached prawns; however, the expeditor brought out the grilled prawns with creole barbeque sauce instead. When we pointed out the error, he smoothly advised us to keep the wrong order on the house & he would have the correct dish brought out shortly...he followed through & the citrus prawns were quite tasty. They were served cold with a sauce that appeared to have a "bite" at the finish. The Creole BBQ prawns, on the other hand, were quite lackluster and made me glad that we weren't shelling out the $13 for it. Next, we moved on to the baked oysters. Word of advice? Don't. I think we're still kicking ourselves that we didn't opt for the raw oysters in the half shell. The baked oyster starter reminded me of one of those heavy cheese covered dishes at TGI Friday's. There was so much cheese slathered on there that one had no idea what kind of mystery seafood he/she was ingesting. The lackluster oysters were followed by the heirloom tomato & burrata cheese salad...now I have no problem throwing down for a good meal but $9.50 for half a tomato? Are you kidding me? That tomato better do magic tricks.
At this point in the meal, all three of us were a bit glum that we had chosen Ella's for our night out. So far it had amounted to mediocre food at NYC prices. Maybe our fairy godmothers felt sorry for us because at this point, Darren brought out a scrumptious plate of baby beets. This was my favorite dish of the night. I was seriously thinking of ditching my dinner order and just ordering another round of the delectable beets. But as they say hindsight is 20/20. My friends both went for the NY strip & were quite content with their choices. I chose the road less traveled...but unlike Browning, I came to regret my decision. Prior to placing our entree orders I vacillated between the duck & the rack of lamb. Both sounded divine. The server assured me both dishes were wonderful, he even noted that normally he did not enjoy duck but he liked Ella's version of the quacker. So I went with the fowl. Bad choice... the most common mistake with duck is that it's overcooked and dry. Well, Ella's version was quite moist...but the dish lacked any flavor whatsoever. Our conscientious server came by & inquired about our dinners. When he got a sad shrug from me he immediately offered to replace the dish with another entree. I declined as I had eaten most of the swiss chard and figs by then and my dining companions were almost done. Moments later the mgr/sommelier came by making the same gracious offer. When I declined again, he politely advised that dessert would be on the house. Although not needed, it was a thoughtful gesture on his part. At our waiter's urging we split a chocolate & macadamia nut cake. Overall, our server did a great job of trying to iron out the wrinkles of the evening, but even his super service could not convince me that Ella's fare justifies its upscale pricing.
An update. we went to Ella's Saturday night for dinner with some friends. Setting my opinions from 10/07 aside, I really wanted to like it this go round. I love Selland's and The Kitchen, plus Ella had recently hired a new head chef so I was going in with an open mind. To avoid being seated in a high traffic area under an air vent like last time, I made reservations and requested a nice table near a window or a booth. When we arrived the hostess sat us at a nice booth in the rear of the restaurant, where it was quiet. For our starter, Mr.S. and I split the steak tartare which was delicious-it was finely minced, had a nice subtle hint of french mustard and was paired with a fresh egg and a few torn garlic popovers. Both of us liked it. For our main courses, Mr.S went with the pan seared tuna and caponata (a cooked vegetable salad made of roasted eggplants, squash, tomato and raisin caper puree). He commented that the tuna was seared perfectly (rare) but was quite a small portion for nearly $30. I had opted for the salmon which came served over a helping of succotash. The salmon was tender but the succotash was slightly mushy. Overall, we both liked our meals although they weren't anything exceptional. The disappointment for the evening was mainly concerning the service. We had three different servers that night and it was like a page from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Our first waitress (a very tall redhead) seemed annoyed that we were even seated at her table and treated us like we were an awful hindrance to her evening. She appeared to be one step away from rolling her eyes every time we ordered anything. At one point, she stepped on Mr.S.'s foot extremely hard and didn't say anything. Not a pleasant dining experience. Luckily for us, her shift ended or something to that like because we were handed off to a friendly waiter (young, African-American gentleman with glasses), he was absolutely wonderful. Super personable and on top of everything. As we edged towards the end of our meal, he checked back with us a few times but we were mainly assisted by a petite brunette waitress who was friendly. She took care of our after dinner drink orders and our check.
Later that evening, Mr.S. and I had a conversation about the dinner at Ella's and decided we probably won't go back, although we'll still continue to dine at Selland's and The Kitchen. For a $220+ meal for four, it just wasn't up to standards, we would rather spend the money at Mulvaney's or Waterboy.