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August 06, 2009

The Waterboy

Tuna, Yellowtail and Scallop Crudo Dominic Armato

And now, a trip through the wayback machine. Back in the first week of January (did I mention I have a bit of a backlog?), my ladylove and I took a trip out to Sacramento to check out a position she'd been offered. We had three rare nights to ourselves and three very good meals, so despite the fact that I got sidetracked a bit, I hate to let them slip into the ether. As such, here's a quick look at The Waterboy, circa January. A write up of a dead of winter menu at the peak of summer. Let it not be said that Skillet Doux doesn't like to provide its readers with relevant information. But in my defense, the dead of winter in Sacramento could easily be the peak of summer in a lot of other cities, and the essential point remains the same.

Caesar SaladDominic Armato

My four-day opinion of Sacramento is that it's a charming, sleepy little berg, and I can only hope that its residents take that for the compliment it is. Uptown, in particular, seems to provide a particularly comfortable angle on sort-of-urban life, and cute restaurants abound. In cruising the 'net, however, one name kept coming up: Waterboy, Waterboy, Waterboy. To say that chef/owner Rick Mahan's restaurant is locally beloved would be putting it mildly. In fact, I couldn't find an unkind word about the place. So, close to the hotel and sounding like a sure thing, The Waterboy was where we went our first night in town. It's a fairly casual, bustling little joint, with great local wines on the wall (surprise) and a menu that hits both straight-up traditional and California-influenced French. It's a compelling little menu, and traditional or non-traditional was really the only question.

Sweetbreads with PeachDominic Armato

We started out sharing a tuna, yellowtail and scallop crudo that was absolutely beautiful, both from a flavor and presentation standpoint. There wasn't much to it -- couple slabs of fish and a handful of small scallops simply dressed up -- but pristine ingredients, beautifully balanced and composed are generally unimpeachable and this was no exception. Fresh greens, sliced avocado, a bit of diced lemon with peel, a touch of caviar, a drizzle of great oil and the fish is still at center stage. I have a hard time getting excited about raw tuna unless it's the exceptionally fatty variety, but the yellowtail was flavorful and buttery, and while I'm a sucker for raw scallops, these were some of the best I've had in recent memory. Lovely simple dish.

Pot au FeuDominic Armato

My ladylove had a caesar salad that was notable only for the fact that it was unusually good. No frills, no twists, just an excellent caesar. Meanwhile, I went for the item that my internet browsing had made a must-order. Universally lauded were Waterboy's sweetbreads, in whatever format, so I took the format of the evening, in a marsala reduction with mushrooms, capers, fresh herbs and peaches, of all things. And while it may have come across on the menu as something of a hodgepodge, it worked far more harmoniously than I expected. Since marsala can go sweet or savory so easily, it kind of married the sweet peaches with the salty capers and earthy mushrooms. It just worked. And though crisply fried seems to be the most popular way to make sweetbreads acceptable to a wider dining audience (what doesn't taste good when it's crisply fried?), these were confident enough to skip the safe route and still come across as light, fresh and almost creamy in flavor. This is how you sell the skeptical on sweetbreads.

CassouletDominic Armato

For entrees, we couldn't have possibly gone more traditional. My ladylove ordered what turned out to be a shockingly simple pot au feu, again, notable for the fact that it was perfectly executed. Huge, tender chunks of beef, lovingly trimmed root vegetables, crusty crouton, intense broth and a small dish with a tiny amount of mustard, horseradish and sliced cornichons for garnish. If anything, this is the one dish that I felt could have used a little interesting twist, but when it's prepared so well, I'm not about to knock a perfect bowl of warm beef stew, especially on a bone-chilling 65 degree January night in Sacramento. For me, a favorite that I rarely order because I'm so often disappointed. I adore a good cassoulet, the crustier the better, and while Waterboy's wasn't erasing the memory of January in Paris, it made me very, very happy with hearty beans, perfect duck confit, excellent charcuterie -- I wish I could find another place that does it this well.

When we left Sacramento, we thought we'd be returning for good this summer and I was looking forward to making The Waterboy a regular stop. It didn't quite work out that way, so I'm doubly glad we got there when we did. The Sacramentans' pride in this restaurant is well-founded. It isn't flashy. It's just soulful cuisine, perfectly executed. It's the kind of place you make a regular haunt. We almost did.

The Waterboy
2000 Capitol Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95814
Mon11:30 AM - 2:30 PM5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Tue - Thu11:30 AM - 2:30 PM5:00 PM - 9:30 PM
Fri11:30 AM - 2:30 PM5:00 PM - 10:30 PM
Sat5:00 PM - 10:30 PM
Sun5:00 PM - 9:00 PM


A new baby and you find the time to write nearly every day? That kid must sleep A LOT! :-)

Heh... wish it were so.

Last night was the first night I've slept more than two hours since Saturday. It was a pretty good night. I got four :-)

(Actually, I had one good night about a week and a half ago and fired off three or four of these... just staggering them.)

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