The Sawyer Hotel, a 250-room property that is part of the San Francisco-based Kimpton chain, opened in what’s now called Downtown Commons in 2017. At Fifth and J Streets, it’s adjacent to the Golden 1 Center and draws especially well on nights when the Sacramento Kings are playing. There are three options for dining at the Sawyer, a Steak House (Echo + Rig), a branch of the Punchbowl Social chain and a place called Revival. Echo + Rig and Punchbowl are managed by outside entities, but Revival is operated by Kimpton. We’d had lunch at the Sawyer location of Punchbowl perhaps a year ago. The food tasted good, in spite of the somewhat disconcerting sound of bowling pins falling. “What is that sound that seems to be coming from the next room,” I asked my server? “It sounds just like a bowling alley.” When she explained that Punchbowl actually did offer bowling, I realized it was a different kind of restaurant.
Diners attending Chef Patrick Prager’s Saturday night Garden Dinner gathered in the lounge of the third-floor Revival for drinks and snacks to begin our evening. The room has an indoor-outdoor feeling as its’s just off the pool. Servers passed three intriguing appetizers, as well as taking our drink orders.
Two different drinks were being suggested. I can’t remember the other option, but I went for the “Hipster Elixir.” According to the cocktail menu, this concoction was made of Espolon Tequila, yellow Chartreuse, honey, lime and cilantro. Ordering this drink probably didn’t qualify me for hipster status, but it certainly did taste good. Servers circulated with platters of three appetizers. Two were relatively traditional; the oysters on the half shell with “Negroni” mignonette and Katifi Shrimp with a Thai curry aioli. Our third offering, the cotton candied bacon, was anything but ordinary—a strip of bacon surrounded by cotton candy and topped with little petals of edible flowers. When a fellow seated on a banquette nearby asked what I thought of this cotton-candied bacon, I answered honestly. It wasn’t something that worked for me, but then I didn’t like cotton candy even when I was a kid. My neighbor had enjoyed it and gave an explanation about how he enjoyed the interplay of flavors and textures. Still not a fan of the taste, I ’d have to give this appetizer high marks for the visuals and what I perceived as a good dose of whimsy.
As the reception waned, we were invited to take the elevator two floors up to be seated for our dinner. Moving out to the rooftop garden, we were handed glasses of a sparkling Chenin Blanc. This sparkler and the other wines poured on the evening came from Silt, a winery in the Clarksburg appellation just about 20 miles south of Sacramento. This winery may be new, but the family who own it are long time growers in the area. Chenin Blanc is the signature grape in Clarksburg, but owner Phil Ogilvie brought Clarksburg-grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to pour, as well as a delightful Rosé, which was the vinous star of the evening.
Serenaded by a guitar player, we chatted with new-found friends among the attendees and admired the view. Some of us may have experienced higher perches and more spectacular vistas, but this was different—and maybe better. Only on the fifth floor, we weren’t observing a city below us from skyscraper windows. We were outdoors and right in the midst of the developing city skyline.
Guests were seated at two very long tables and food was served family style. The environment was conducive to introductions and beginnings of conversations all around—sort of like a backyard-barbecue-in-the-sky.
There was an acknowledgement of Sacramento’s status as “America’s farm to fork capital,’ but not a strict adherence to making every dish from local products. Our first course included two passed plates; one featured heirloom tomatoes and melons, the other was a green salad of "Little Gems" lettuce and shaved vegetables with edible flower petals. Those little flower petals came from the plantings that surrounded our tables. Originally planted to herbs, the garden is being reworked and the chef expects to have much more produce available from his roof garden by next season.
The second course was served family style, as well, and included platters of grilled squashes, baked beans and roasted “Rocky” chicken, done with a lavender and thyme-honey glaze. Dessert also came on platters and we passed varied little finger foods, including petit fours.
Tasty as the aforementioned main courses were, we were anticipating “Squirrel’s Spicy Clams,” as soon as we spotted this entry on the menu—ingredient details included “India Pale Ale Cream, Hot Peppers, and Oregano.” We were relieved not to find any parts of furry little critters in this dish. We learned later that our clam dish was a creation of Chef Prager’s second in command, Matt Lozano, who answers to the nickname “Squirrel” (and he did a great job in coming up with this clam preparation).
The dynamics of Revival as a pool-oriented venue has meant an emphasis on the bar and a limited food menu thus far. Music—whether live or recorded—is a big part of the attraction and the room isn’t conducive to more formal, white table cloth dining. Chef Prager’s resume reflects plenty of experience in that arena, however, and he can indulge that part of his skills at weekend brunch service and in the creation and preparation of banquets hosted by the Sawyer.
Our mid-summer Garden Dinner may have been a preview of what could become an ongoing quarterly occasion at the hotel. Prager says that an autumn dinner is likely, though the details aren’t set yet. The possibility exists that he will collaborate with a chef from another Kimpton property in San Francisco to create a second rooftop Garden Dinner sometime in October.