A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (2024)

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (1)

The Kitchen in Sacramento offers a Michelin-starred dining experience like no other.

It is like fine-dining in the middle of a rollicking three-ring circus with Executive Chef Kelly McCown its ring leader, bellowing warm welcomes, directions for the evening, and goofy jokes the entire time.

Banish any thoughts of a starred restaurant being staid, stuffy, stiff or oppressive. This is as far from that as it gets.

Earlier this fall, my husband, his nephew and I decided to check out the restaurant, paying our own way. Although my husband and his nephew grew up in Sacramento, this was the first time for all of us to The Kitchen, which opened in 1991, and has long been regarded as one of the Capitol’s best restaurants. We figured there was no time better than now, when the Michelin Guide expanded this year to encompass the entire state of California, and awarded Sacramento’s only star to The Kitchen.

Nothing quite prepares you for this singular experience, though. Dining at The Kitchen is like dinner and a show — all in one.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (2)

The dining room is taken up by the open-kitchen that has seats all round it. Around the perimeter of the room, there are more tables, all bar-height — all the better to see the kitchen that’s akin to a theater stage, only with flames and the most delicious smells.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (3)

Immediately, you’re encouraged to walk around most anywhere — through the wine cellar, into the courtyard, into the open kitchen, and into the back production kitchen.

All the while, there are snacks everywhere. But don’t fill up too much yet — because there is so very much more to come. An astounding amount, really.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (4)

The Kitchen serves only one menu per night. It’s $135, relatively modest by San Francisco standards. A regular wine pairing is $95 per person; a reserve pairing is $135. We opt to get a bottle of pinot noir instead by one of my favorite producers, Oregon’s Evening Land, co-owned by renowned sommelier Rajat Parr.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (5)

As you settle in, you may want to loosen your belt. Not only are there multiple courses, but there is an array of noshes in-between. A full-on spread between courses. It’s like a cruise ship. If there is something not on the menu that you want, the chefs will make it for you right then and there on the spot. And if you want seconds of anything, you can have it — for no extra cost.

Who does this?

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (6)
A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (7)

You have to have one charismatic chef to be the front-man before an audience the entire night. And McCown, who has cooked at such stellar establishments as La Folie in San Francisco, Fleur de Lys in San Francisco, and Martini House in St. Helena, is more than up to the task, not only cooking before a crowd, but doing it with warmth and charm.

The restaurant is in an odd location — surrounded by second-tier strip malls. McCown breaks the ice by noting how especially lovely the illuminated Ross Dress For Less sign looks tonight.

There is only one seating per night. McCown encourages you to sit back and relax, and to stay as long as you like. And he means it. He even offers to write a note to anyone’s boss if need be.

The menu is printed with the word “Playbill.” Inside, the courses are listed as “acts.”

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (8)
A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (9)

Our first seated course was pan-roasted halibut, the mild fish enlivened with a big dollop of a sweet-sour raisin agrodolce with wild pecans.

That was followed by a superb hand-made hankerchief pasta, supple as can be, rolled out with Burgundian truffle bits, and with its folds hiding celery root and mushrooms. It’s a rich, luxurious dish that I was sorely tempted to get seconds of.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (10)

Then, it was on to “intermission,” when you’re encouraged again to walk around to stretch your legs, and well, to get more food.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (11)
A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (12)
A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (13)

Outside on the patio, there was a cook shucking fresh oysters and inviting you to eat as many as you like. The couple next to us weren’t into raw oysters, so the kitchen prepared them battered and fried just for them instead. See what I mean about special requests being no big deal here?

In the back kitchen, the countertop was laden with an assortment of small bites, as well as glasses of gazpacho. Enjoy one, or all.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (14)

Then, it was time for the next seated course — roasted Sonoma County Pekin duck breast served with sweet, tangy Foothill apples, quince paste and a lively cider jus. It was autumn on a plate.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (15)

That was followed by 30-day aged prime beef “flat iron” finished with a rich beurre rouge sauce, and accented with ash-roasted squash and a tender sauerkraut pierogi. My husband and his nephew actually asked for seconds of this dish, and devoured every bite.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (16)

After the plates were cleared, McCown sidled up to our table with a mixing bowl full of whipped cream. He dunked a warm chocolate chip cookie into it lavishly, and handed it to me. It was so simple yet such a gracious act that nobody on earth could ever refuse. It was pure bliss.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (17)

And that was only the beginning. A plate of mini desserts then arrived, including hot chocolate, a macaron and a teeny ganache tart. That still wasn’t even the main dessert. Nope, that honor went to the pumpkin rum baba that was golden, tender, just boozy enough, and served with apple butter and a chai-infused fluff of chantilly cream.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (18)

We ate all of that, and shamelessly asked for seconds of the chocolate chip cookies, which the staff was only too happy to oblige.

If that wasn’t enough, the Kitchen recently added a cheese course to the dinner, at no extra charge. You’re invited to the back kitchen to learn about the cheeses featured that evening, which include Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper made with sheep’s milk, of course; and Fourme D’Ambert, a cow’s milk cheese with mushroom notes. You might only be interested in one, but the cook manning the station will generously fill a plate for you with all of the cheeses, along with accoutrements.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (19)

As you slink into a food coma, McCown thanks everyone for coming, and points out people who are celebrating a special occasion. For a couple who’s marking their fifth anniversary, he whips out a kitschy palm-sized bowling trophy and hands it to them to mark the occasion. For another couple celebrating a momentous 45th anniversary, he pulls out another trophy the size of a space heater.

And so it goes at The Kitchen — likely the most unusual restaurant in the Michelin universe.

A Visit to The Kitchen — Sacramento’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant (2024)
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