Last week I had the distinct pleasure of dining at two Old Sacramento establishments, The Firehouse and Ten 22 (both restaurants owned by the same family if you didn’t know). The Firehouse dinner was a treat for Papa Eats and me, celebrating the old man’s 74th birthday. As a lifelong Sacramento guy, I figured Pops would enjoy the legendary fancy spot for a celebration. Instead, he perfectly encapsulated everything you need to know about The Firehouse in one sentence: “The food at this place is incredible, but it sure ain’t much fun.”
So true pops, so true. The Firehouse puts out some of the finest, most beautifully articulated plates of food in town. They also charge some of the highest prices in town for that food. And they do so in an atmosphere that’s stuffy at best, funereal at worst (and not new agey memorial service in a meadow kind of funereal, but Catholic-high-mass-suit-and-tie funereal). I guess there’s just somethingÂ oppressive about the gentlemen’s social club decorations, army of suited waiters, and biblically long wine list.Â Â My one quick suggestion: instead of giving every diner a wine list longer than the last Harry Potter book, how about you throw together a “top 100” list chosen by the sommelier, and only tote out the full wine hymnal if requested. It might prove a bit less intimidating for the majority of your diners who can’t dropÂ a few grand on a bottle of burgundy.
Anyway, on to destination number 2, Ten 22 that is. I’ve liked Ten 22 in the past, especially their casual fare and casual atmosphere. Lunch there has often proved to be pretty darned good. But on this particular evening, I brought along two friends who, without lifting a finger, tore the place to the ground. By mere words alone they soured every sip, spoiled every bite, and turned what was a bright and cheery little dining spot into a scrofulous pit of culinary decay.
My friends, husband and wife, we’ll call “The Crushers.” They sat in judgment of every aspect of the meal, from the plates — “You know what theseÂ trendy designer platesÂ tell me? That this place doesn’t plan to be open 3 years from now, that’s what.” — to the wine selection — “Just because people like shitty wine doesn’t mean you have to offer it to them.” — to the atmosphere — “Is it me or is this place trying to be a fancy Applebee’s”?
Don’t even ask me about the food. From the mac n cheese with no cheese in it to the creamed spinach without cream, to the beet salad so loaded with friseeÂ that it was compared to a plate of pubic hair,Â the kitchen got “Crushed” at almost every turn. Now, I was about to take this all with a grain of salt. After all, my mussels were pretty good, my comely companion’s seafood stew was acceptably tasty, and the green tomato pizza was yummy as all get out. But then Ten 22 pulled a move that sent me over to the Dark Side.
When Mr. Crusher brought to the server’s attention that the aforementioned mac n cheese was dry and rather awful, and that the creamed spinach was not “creamed” as advertised, she responded that the chef apologized but he can’t keep an eye on every dish that goes out of the kitchen. Then she charged us for both dishes.
Poorly played, Ten 22. While the Crushers might be hard to please, and while they might have abused your “no corkage” policy, and while they might have missed the toilet on purpose in your restrooms, they were dead right in that half of the food you brought to the table was subpar. Â Instead of offering a free dessert, or comping one or two of the sides, or just not making excuses, you chose the worst path: make an excuse and then do nothing to address the unhappy customer. In the words of my favorite philosopher, Homer Simpson, “For shame, Big Tony, for shame.”
The Firehouse Restaurant- 1112 2nd Street
Food **** Service **** Atmosphere **
Ten 22- 1022 2nd Street
Food ** Service ** Atmosphere ***