Squash the Mid-week Drowse at Hawks Public House
I mainly came for sustenance
And not to search for poetry;
But goodness flows into the glass
Virtue lands on plate and palate:
And poetry reveals itself
To satisfy ache and hunger
Within this literary soul.
160824 . Sacramento
At Hawks Public House, a simple week night visit turns into a poetic dining experience. Last week, fellow Food and Wine Blogger friend Jamie Gall of Minnesotta Girl in the World and I decided to have dinner at the restaurant on a Wednesday night. Upon entry, the host Tom greeted us warmly and then sat us at the southeast corner of the restaurant, an area in perfect position for a beautiful bath of natural light; a perfect table for food and people photography, especially before sunset.
Soon after Jamie and I were seated, Tom momentarily leaves and returns with Esra Oktar, General Manager and Chef Justin Green. Jamie and I were both surprised, but delighted with this welcome from Esra and Chef Green. I told them that we had met Chef Michael Fagnoni1 at the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) late last month. My conversation with Chef Fagnoni was brief at the IFBC, but I was quickly enamored by his charm and celebrity Chef good looks. The bites he served, I must say, were delicious, too, and was among the reasons for visiting Hawks.
Before our conversation with Esra and Chef Justin ended, I admitted something somewhat shameful: As a Sacramento local2 who lives about seven minutes away from the restaurant’s door, I have not been until that night; fortunately, that statement is now in the past tense.
In the present tense, I state that Hawks delivers a moment-by-moment stream of beautiful dining experience. The setting is simple and unassuming: The tables are bare and reveal the beautiful wood surfaces. This simulates the rustic romance one longs for in a city without the infections of pretension. The sky light allows entrancing natural light to flow in and sets the mood for a great beginning that invites other sparkling moments to follow.
Naturally, we begin with sparkling wine – a Col De’Salici Prosecco. With the bubbles, excitement rises, as we converse and review a menu that showcases the farm-to-fork goodness surrounding Sacramento.
For our appetizers, we ordered two selections: First, the Melon Salad and for the second appetizer, we requested for Chef Green to select, himself. A few minutes after, four elegant plates arrived: the Melon salad we ordered, along with three other appetizers: Seared Hamachi, Grilled Jimmy Nardello and Shisito Peppers, and Grilled Eggplant.
The Melon Salad combines three elements of similar texture, but with varying levels of flavor explosion. The melon mildly explodes with delicate fruit sweetness and lusciousness; the summer squash pops with a a little more robust texture and tempered sweetness; and the cucumber participates with its omnipresent serenity to complete the trio in this refreshing appetizer. The burrata, which a novice palate may suspect does not belong, melts with mouth-filling creaminess to embrace and unify the trio’s similarities and subtle variations.
The thinly-sliced seared Hamachi beautifully rests on the plate with elegant fat and creaminess and is graced with the acidity and sweetness of husk cherries, shreds of gypsy peppers, and pickled onions. This dish delivers another favorite flavor package: fat and creamy with tart and sweet.
The Grilled Eggplant dish makes one reminisce of the endearing comforts of home cooking – warm, satisfying, and tasty. As I enjoyed this dish, thoughts of grandma’s kitchen modernized came to mind.
The Grilled Pepper was my favorite appetizer, and one that I slowly ate, so I could have some leftover to enjoy with the main dish and to potentially take home. As the peppers slid between my lips and tongue, I also slid back to memories of times spent in Spain in a previous3 life when I was youthful, adventurous, and idealistic. I was also reminded of the power of great food to transport one to the vivid recollection of great experiences or revive the promise of future intentions.
Just in time to bring me back to my current reality, Esra returns to our table and brings another pleasant surprise: Two pieces of goat cheese toasts with fennel agrodolce and cucumber. Again, we are seduced with the fantastic duality of sweet and savory; soft and crunchy; jagged and velvety to excite the palate even more for what is to come. Esra recommends a Rose or a Pinot Noir for the next progression of our meal. We agreed and the magical dining experience continued.
With about a square inch of available space left in my stomach, the main dishes arrive: Lobster Roll and Dill Potato Chips, St. Louis Ribs, and White Corn.
The lobster roll was wonderful as it its appearance; but the St. Louis Ribs were far beyond its physical beauty. It was another moment when I, with neither guilt, nor reservation, exclaimed how I was so happy not to be vegetarian anymore. It was the first-ever St. Louis-style ribs I have tried, and it was most delicious. The rub coats not only with smokiness and flavor, but also with earthiness and grit; and when dripped with fresh lemon juice and coupled with sprinklings of basil, the flavor fireworks sensationally explode to splatter joy on the palate; and then on your life. The Artesa Pinot Noir from the Carneros region paired perfectly with this dish.
To conclude our meal, we ordered the Earl Grey Panna Cotta and the Sweet Cream Gelato. As an added treat, Jonah served a scoop of the Coffee Gelato, which was the most memorable of the three wonderful treats.
As I hinted in the prelude, last week’s visit at Hawks was not intended to be a search for a poetic dining experience, but it certainly turned out to be. The exceptional service, fantastic intimacy of the space, and memorably thoughtful dishes captured wonder and excitement; and inspired joy. Now if that isn’t poetic, then I don’t know what is.
- Chef Fagnoni is based at Hawks Restaurant in Granite Bay, but visits the Sacramento restaurant location almost on a weekly basis.
- For about seven years now.
- Actual, imagined, and romanticized