3260 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95816. (916) 448-5699
Moving to new location end of May 2011- 3839 J Street
While contemplating how to articulate my first experience at Formoli's, a saying of Julia Child's repeatedly popped into my head, "You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces-just good food from fresh ingredients." Formoli's did exactly that and surpassed my expectations for a restaurant that had been open a mere ten days. Now take note, Formoli's is inconspicuously tucked away in the same strip mall as the Raven. The restaurant itself is small and narrow- more conducive for an intimate dinner than a large gathering. Despite the limited amount of room to work with, the owners have thoughtfully taken the time to make sure each painstakingly small detail from floor to ceiling is perfect and lends itself to the overall ambiance. Above you, the fluorescent lighting is masked by billowy swags of fabric and in it's place to illuminate are tasteful sconces. The warm walls are accented with various interesting works of art. Each table is outfitted with a small Moroccanesque candle and a single delicate, green cymbidium orchid floating in the water.
Upon entering, we were greeted quickly and ushered to a nearby open table. I found the staff to be both welcoming and attentive. Our server was quite knowledgeable and eager to ensure a pleasant dining experience. To start with, she recommended an excellent Tempranillo wine. I appreciated that she took the care to listen to what types of qualities I actually like in wines before selecting two that might be of interest to me, as opposed to automatically recommending the most expensive one on the list. She even brought over a sampling to make sure that I liked it before I finalized my decision, a nice touch which was appreciated- in fact, it made my dining companion decide to order a glass of the same.
We were then given the perfect amount of time to peruse the menu; which is broken up into- small plates, salad, burgers/sandwiches and entrees. The entrees section is a bit limited (I think it only listed a duck dish and two specials) but I think that worked out for the better as the small dishes are what really stand out here. Being a typical Libra, choosing what to order has always been a dilemma for me. Luckily my dining companion, Amanda, was game for ordering several small dishes and sharing. Although the stuffed dates and seared scallop dishes both sounded enticing and there was a tasty gazpacho that caught my eye, we opted to go with the calamari, yam frites, the Portabello mushroom and the ahi.
The calamari was sauteed perfectly and served tentacles and all upon a bed of greens and accented with endive leaves. The bite-sized pieces were tender, unbreaded (yum!) and not overly chewy. The yam frites were hands down my favorite dish of the evening. Cut in long thin stalks, the sweet yams were lightly sprinkled with sea salt and ground pepper and accompanied by a scrumptious paprika aioli. The paprika aioli balanced out the sweetness of the yams well and gave it a nice subtle kick of spiciness, only noticeable in the aftertaste. In fact, I contemplated stabbing Amanda with my fork to nab the last few bites of yam frites...luckily, I was able to restrain myself. The Portabello mushroom dish was okay. The Portabello was stacked pancake style and layered with (asiago?) cheese and thinly sliced domestic mushrooms, similar in fashion to a pastry. As for the seared ahi, it was the only dish that didn't wow me. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't awful and we did eat it but it was oversalted and the ahi was very tender. Additionally, the paired sauce resembled guacamole both in color and in taste and did little to enhance anything about the ahi. I ended up scraping off what I could of the seasoning and dipping the ahi in the paprika aioli that came with the yam frites. Yes, paprika aioli makes everything taste good...it's like the ketchup of the Mediterranean.
Anyhow, any regrets in ordering the ahi were soon forgotten with my first bite of dessert- a crema catalana. Our server described it as a Spanish creme brulee and the description was quite accurate, although I found it not to be as rich or as heavy as regular creme brulee and the caramelized sugar topping was slightly softer and not quite as crisp. The crema catalana satiated my sugar craving and I found the slight ginger taste to be refreshing - an excellent after dinner palate cleanser.
As we were finishing up, the chef came by to introduce himself and to check on our dining experience which was a nice touch. In reflection, I feel- the ahi aside, Formoli's definitely has it's flavors dialed in. In addition, I found their service, to be equally friendly and efficient. I'm looking forward to more enjoyable dinners at Formoli's and am curious to see what it evolves into. Hopefully, they'll find their niche in Sacramento and perhaps even push the envelope with some regional dishes that are unfamiliar to the Sac food scene or offer up some innovative creations of their own.
It's almost 3 years later and I'm still religiously dining at Formoli's. The food they put out continues to wow me and the service never fails to be friendly. The menu has expanded and changes regularly but every dish I've ordered since that first visit has been wonderful. If you can, order the scallops...the accompaniment may vary from a carrot puree to greens depending on the season, but the scallops are always cooked perfectly with a nice seared top. Also, give the whiskey burger a whirl- it's hands down the best burger in Sacramento, without a doubt. The whiskey demi-glace and habanero aioli will have you licking your fingers in an unladylike fashion.
(interior of new location)