As a Sacramento resident, you can count on many things in the summer: at least one week of unbearable heat, a ridiculous amount of news reporting on that obvious heat, a budget impasse, and fairly weak riverside dining.
When you travel to any of the riverside joints that promise great views, relaxed atmospheres, and top-notch food, you usually leave about two-thirds satisfied. Whether it’s Chevy’s, Crawdad’s, Joe’s Crab Shack, Delta King, or any of the other dozen or so eateries on the city’s riverbanks, the food is not what you’re going for.
Unfortunately, Pearl on the River lives up to the standard set by its neighbors.
Located in the restaurant space on Garden Highway, once home to Woody’s then Blue Gecko, Pearl on the River tries to take the typically casual riverside eating experience up a few pegs. And in many ways, they succeed. Upscale bar with decent wine selection and good beers on tap? Check. Separate upstairs bar with view? Check. Nice interior redesign? Check. Attentive service? Check.
Unfortunately, it falls into the trap that many restaurants fall into when they focus more on the presentation and atmosphere and less on the food itself. Menu with lots of foreign sounding words? Check. Hip, modern design that makes the place great to look at, but winds up reflecting sound like boxcar full of bullhorns? Check. Ridiculously shaped dishes that wind up dwarfing the food, making reasonable portions look minuscule? Check. A frighteningly similarly shaped urinal in the men’s room? Check.
On my only visit, a few things marred the meal: a nearly hour wait for our entrees to arrive, severely overdone shrimp in my seafood fettuccine (which otherwise was good), and the unbelievably loud group of Rotarians that took up three tables next to ours. Note to civic organizations and restaurant owners, civic groups- if you plan to have an event at a restaurant that will involve speeches, the giving of awards, drunk exchanges, group cheers, myriad applause breaks, and playground games similar to leapfrog, you may wish to ask the restaurant owner if they have a private room, or go to a casual eatery — such as the Costco foodcourt — at which no one will mind; restaurant owner, don’t book a group of 40 people if you can’t handle it.
Thankfully, our waitress was kind enough to comp us a few desserts after the rather long wait for the entrees, and they were the highlight of the meal. The simple fruit tart was spec-tac.
Here’s the good news, if any restaurant on the river has a chance to be a great dining destination, Pearl is it. With some tweaks to the food, tweaks to the servingwear, and tweaks to the kitchen, they might actually be able to bring the dining experience up to the standard already set by their neat bar and great service.
Pearl on the River-1379 Garden Highway, Sacramento
Food** Service *** Atmosphere***