6440 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael, CA 95608. (916) 489-8464
There are several “great” places to eat in Sacramento. Likewise, there are several “romantic” places to eat in Sacramento. But unfortunately, there are very few great, romantic places to eat in our town. So when a friend mentioned Ambience I was a bit skeptical, especially since it seemed to be located smack dab in the middle of the ‘burbs in a (gulp!) strip-mall. Yes, you heard me correctly—a high end, romantic restaurant in a suburban strip-mall. This I had to see. So back around Christmas time, when Mr. S. and I decided to embark on a little kidlet-free staycation; we booked a table for deux at Ambience and a night at the Citizen.
I’ll just skip the suspense and let you know that my first experience at Ambience was phenomenal. Our server, Shaznod, proved that customer service is not dead and the food…man, oh man, I still dream about their lobster bisque! Now, I bet you’re wondering why it took me so long to write up a review of Ambience…wellllll, I’ll be honest, I’ve been touting the restaurant to all my close friends (and even a few strangers. Guy in the supermarket line, it was a pleasure chatting with you!) but before I wrote it up, I wanted to give it one more whirl to make sure that my exemplary experience there was not a delusion. So, I booked a table for a quiet Thursday night and talked two of my food-loving friends into trekking back out there with me. Amazingly, both the food and service were spot on again. So, it was time to get writing….
Ambience is located on Fair Oaks Boulevard in a stand-alone building surrounded by a non-descript strip mall. The interior décor is a bit minimalistic. There is wood flooring throughout and two rooms with damask covered booths and white table cloths. Also, small lights are interspersed through the dining area in an attempt to give the dining room a dark, intimate vibe. In my opinion, some simple pieces of artwork would soften the stark walls and add some overall warmth. Oddly enough, both times I visited the establishment there was only a handful of patrons and the adjacent rooms (where the non-booth tables were) were closed off to seating. Service from start to finish was impeccable. I love the fact that the staff is exceptionally knowledgeable about the various wines offered and versed in the dishes that are put out.
Please note, Ambience offers a prix fixe menu only. It’s a five course dinner for a flat $45 (tax and tip not included). There are 1-2 choices offered for the first course, 5 choices for the second, 1 (a soup) for the third, 5-6 choices (entrée) for the fourth and 4 choices (dessert) for the fifth. You get plenty of options but if you’re the high-maintenance type that likes to modify everything you eat, this probably isn’t the place for you. In addition, most of the entrées feature game meat of some sort; so, if you’re adhering to a vegetarian diet, I would not suggest visiting Ambience.
On my first visit, the dinner began with a spinach and gorgonzola cream gratin with Oaxaca cheese served in a mini-cocotte. It was delicious but really needed to be served with some bread or some other accompaniment that it could be spread upon.
For the second course, I opted for the foie gras on crisp, truffle oil crostini served with a sliced cinnamon burgundy poached pear, an asian pear puree and a sweet shallot chutney. Mmmm! Each bite was pure bliss!
For the third course, we were presented with a small bite of succulent seared lobster, surrounded by a pool of creamy lobster bisque and garnished with crème fraiche. Oh-my-god, I think my eyes rolled back into my head and my toes curled when the spoon hit my lips.
I think right about this time, Mr. S. commented about how although the portion size of the three courses we had ingested so far had appeared petite, he was getting a bit full. He was right, between eating “heavy” dishes and our waiter actually spacing our courses out in the proper manner so we could enjoy each dish fully; I too, was getting somewhat full and was eating a bit slower.
For my entrée, I decided upon the boneless, young New Zealand rib-eye of lamb coupled with a yam-potato puree and a stuffed tomato and apricot-mint glaze. The plating was exquisite and the dish itself was quite tasty; however, I actually preferred Mr. S.’s seared elk steak to my own entrée. The black wild rice his dish was served with imparted a deep, chocolaty aftertaste and the sautéed chard offered a nice contrast to the herb balsamic sauce drizzled upon the tender elk.
For dessert, we ordered the apricot-mango brûlée with fresh berries and the chocolate mousse and mousse cake duo. Both desserts were really rich and satiated my sweet tooth. Although by the time we reached our fifth course, we couldn’t manage more than a bite or two.
For my second visit, my dining companion ordered us a bottle of the Sobon Estate’s 2006 “Rezerve” Zinfandel. It was a decent wine; full-bodied and heavily laden with sweet fruit undertones. It had a dry finish and would have probably been a better match for a meat dish (I had a fish dish as my entrée.)
For my starter, I elected to go with figs stuffed with goat cheese and melted with an apricot balsamic glaze. Much to my dismay, the server informed our table that although the dish was still being offered; they were unfortunately out of apricots for the evening. The figs arrived (sans apricots) with a simple balsamic glaze and were warm and delectable; however, the goat cheese was mysteriously MIA.
Second course, same as the first! (Just kidding! The Herman’s Hermits’ tune, “Henry the VIII, I Am,” popped into my head for some reason). For round two, I selected the Hawaiian ahi tuna trio served with tomato-ginger coulis, cilantro oil, pine nuts and a spicy green tobiko. The fish was fresh tasting and was a perfect follow up to the heavy figs. In addition, I was also able to wangle a taste of my dining companion’s beef tartar (topped with quail egg and truffle oil vinaigrette). The beef had a great texture to it and seemed to melt in my mouth.
Next, all three of us were served an asparagus purée as a palate cleanser. The purée was nice and light and garnished with a touch of crème fraiche; but I was a bit disappointed that they weren’t still serving the heavenly lobster bisque from my previous visit. Yes, I may have even pouted a little….
For my main course, I went with the grilled orange roughy on dill potato gnocchi and organic white corn kernels; garnished with cherry tomatoes, dill butter and white wine lemon sauce. The fish was cooked to perfection and I enjoyed the mélange of flavors on the plate.
Last but definitely not least, I closed out my culinary adventure with a superb Baked Alaska. They didn’t do the theatrics of a flambé at the table but the dessert still receives top marks in my book. I’m not really keen on decadent desserts (I’m more of a savory girl) but I ate every bite of the scrumptious meringue and creamy ice cream that night and had sweet dreams.
To sum it up, Ambience exudes a quiet, elegance that’s hard to find in most Sacramento restaurants. It focuses on perfecting the chief components of an amazing restaurant: atmosphere, courteous and attentive service, good value and impressive, flavorful food. Check, check, check and…check! Despite the location being less than desirable (I wish it was in the grid), we’ll definitely be returning to Ambience for future nights out on the town. Hope to see you there!