Review: McCormick & Schmick’s – Sacramento, CA

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Yesterday’s Good Friday mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (where I sing soprano in the choir) was solemnly beautiful. Weeks of rehearsing some difficult and hauntingly beautiful pieces really paid off and Rex, our choir director, invited us to join him and our guest conductor Dr. Bob Johnson to have a late lunch. As it was Good Friday we figured it would be best to go someplace seafood-oriented and since McCormick & Schmick’s is so conveniently located across the street from the Cathedral, we decided to go there.
McCormick & Schmick's - Sacramento, CA

This was my very first time at McCormick & Schmick’s. I have stood outside the restaurant several times as I waited for the light to change so I can cross over J Street, but that was the extent of my contact with the place. I’d peeked inside a couple of times and always wrote it off as Too Expensive For Poor Girl To Eat There These Days: the nice table settings, the dark wood decor, the well-dressed waiters…… I just knew my meal would cost about the same amount as one of my grocery shopping trips, so I just put it on my Someday list. I was a little apprehensive about going there because of this, but I’m a resourceful gal and figured I could, at the very least, make a meal out of an appetizer or a small salad & soup. And some drinks, of course (we choir folk like – no, NEED to unwind after big performances such as yesterday’s!).

After a quick jaunt to the ATM, Debbi and I entered through the bar and found the rest of our group. A very charming waiter stood in their midst holding a tray of heavenly desserts. I already knew that I’d A) enjoy this place, because anywhere they show you a tray of desserts before you’re even seated shares my same mindset (I tend to plan my meals around my dessert when I’m out), and B) I’d have to review the gorgeous, berry-filled chocolate concoction that instantly drew me to the dessert tray. Everything else looked just as sinful, but I cannot resist the combination of chocolate with berries, especially when it was so beautifully presented. But I’ll get to that later.

Because our group was large and we just kinda dropped in, it took them a while to get us situated. Though I was busy socializing with my fellow choristers, I didn’t fail to notice the quick, yet subtle moves of the staff trying to get our table settings & other pre-meal accouterments ready. Bussers, servers, and our hostess rushed about quietly to make sure we had everything we needed before taking our drink orders. Being a real stickler for service, this pleased me very much and I knew we’d end up having a good experience. After our drink orders were taken (dirty vodka martini w/2 olives for me, though their wine selections looked just lovely), I set at the task of perusing the menu. Printed twice daily, according to our server, this large sheet offered so many delicious-sounding choices that I felt sorry for myself and my lack of decision-making capabilities. I can’t even decide what to eat at Subway sometimes; how was I to decide between Roasted Trio of Beets with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction and things like Thresher Shark Tacos or Seared Ahi Tuna Nicoise Salad? Having to stick to a budget (though I must confess right now that Poor Girl was VERY irresponsible yesterday and spent way more than she should have. The martinis were just that good!), I knew that dishes like the Grilled Shrimp Brochette or the San Francisco Style Seafood Stew ($14.95 and $15.95, respectively) were out of my league if I was also to have dessert & drinks, so I carefully scanned the menu for less expensive options.

I let out a small cry of joy when I saw the Capitol Specials section at the very bottom of the menu. There, in a little box, were listed three very tasty sounding options for a mere $7.95! Now THAT is Poor Girl-friendly! The choices were not boring either: Atlantic Salmon Burger w/Lemon Dill Aioli on Toasted Ciabatta; Cajun Shrimp Skewers served over Mascarpone Polenta & Tomato Broth; and the Chowder Bowl, the Seafood Corn Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl served with Mixed Field Greens in a White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Anyone of these dishes would have definitely pleased me, but to know that I could have this kind of fare – at a nice restaurant, and not just at my own home – for just $7.95 almost made my toes curl! Though I’ve been craving salmon and was toying with the idea of having the salmon burger, I was intrigued by the idea of Mascarpone Polenta, and my server’s confident recommendation of the Cajun Shrimp Skewers that would be served over said polenta cemented that decision. I eagerly awaited my order as I ate their delicious bread and sipped my very well-balanced martini.

You all know how much I love beautifully presented food, so when my elegant square white plate of lunch arrived, I wanted to flog myself for not having my trusty camera with me (I normally carry that thing everywhere but hadn’t expected we’d be going out to eat and left it at home). The meal could have tasted like a stale bag of Doritos and I still would have loved it, it was that beautifully presented. Six very healthy sized shrimp, dusted with just the right amount of Cajun spices, skewered with red & green peppers and onions, lay on a pool of delicate mascarpone polenta and were generously topped with a gorgeous tomato relish. After taking a couple of photos with my phone’s camera (so unfair to the food, but it’s all I had), I set about removing my shrimp & veggies from their skewers before eating (I’m rather accident-prone and always fear I’ll poke out an eye with a skewer whilst eating, so I get them out of the way as soon as possible). The flavors were incredible and absolutely perfect for a spring meal. The shrimp were perfectly seared and the Cajun spices brought out their natural sweetness; the tomato relish added tangy pizzazz, but the mascarpone polenta was phenomenal! Light, creamy, and deliciously different, it was the perfect accompaniment to the stronger flavors of the shrimp and tomatoes. The folks at the end of my table seemed to be enjoying how much I was loving my dish, but it was because it was that good, not because I’d already had a strong martini on an empty stomach. Incidentally, I almost forgot about the 2nd martini because I was so in love with my lunch! The meal was satisfying without being overly filling, and I would definitely have it again if I knew what day it would be served.

I did notice that the rest of the food on our table was also gorgeous and looked very tasty. Jonathan had the Albacore Sashimi with Hot Chili Oil, Soy Sauce & Crispy Onions, as well as fresh oysters; Debbi had their Deep Fried Calamari w/3 Dipping Sauces (a very generous amount of calamari at that); Damien had the Grilled Tuna Steak Sandwich w/Caper Aioli & Fries; Jenn had the Atlantic Salmon, Cedar Plank Roasted w/Northwest Berry Sauce on the side; Reena had the Salmon & Penne Pasta (I think); and at the opposite end of the table, the Canadian Black Mussels Steamed in Chimichurri Broth that Rex & Dr. Bob were sharing smelled so amazing I wanted to crawl over the table to ask for one. As you can tell, none of these dishes is boring and seeing as it is all fresh seafood, you can see why I never came in before; it’s delicious, but so out of my league with my current budget! However, I have been to many seafood restaurants in my not-so-financially-strapped past, and I must say that the lunch prices (as I’m sure dinner is slightly more expensive) were very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food served.

Music-talk, more drinks, and a whole lot of laughing later, we were asked if we wanted dessert. Since Lola was sitting near Rex at the opposite end of the table, the dessert she & Jonathan had decided they’d split was all hers. He and I decided to split the Chocolate Bag, and oh! I’m so glad that we did. A delicate “bag” of white & dark chocolate was filled with a semi-sweet chocolate mousse, fresh blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries, and the freshest of whipped creams. Served on a lovely translucent green plate drizzled with a raspberry coulis, this was the perfect dessert to follow my incredible lunch. The berries were of the best quality and I was happy I didn’t have to fight Jonathan for the strawberry because he was more in love with the blackberries and the strawberry was one of the sweetest I’ve ever had. The chocolate mousse was rich, not too fluffy, and just the perfect combination of sweet & bitter, juxtaposing the sweet berries beautifully. I could not have been happier with this dessert.

McCormick & Schmick's - Sacramento, CA

I let Stewart (or Stuart… I didn’t get the proper spelling of his name), our excellent server, know that I truly enjoyed my first experience at McCormick & Schmick’s and that I’d be writing a very positive review here on PGEW. I was pleased to know that he knew of me from last month’s article in the Sacramento News & Review and he told me a friend of his was encouraging him to start his own video blog about living on a budget. I hope he does! He left to tend to other folks and I went back to the rest of my martini. A few minutes later, a very tall chef was brought to my side and introduced to me as Chef Lamar, or in Kimberland, my personal hero that day. Chef Lamar is the Executive Chef at McCormick & Schmick’s in Sacramento, and he very graciously talked with me for a few minutes, as I raved about the amazing food he had created for us. Chef Hazel is apparently the dessert chef, and I hope they let her know how much I enjoyed her lovely dessert.

It was lovely to meet the man behind the food, and after signing up for their email club ($10 discount certificate will be mine shortly!) and receiving their happy hour specials (which Jonathan had raved about earlier… 1/2 pound cheeseburger for $2.95! Flash Fried Clam Strips for $1.95! Unprecedented!), I let them know quite honestly, that I would definitely be back. It is not a place I can visit every day, of course, but it really pleased me to know that even at slightly higher-end establishments, a Poor Girl can still eat. It has taught me – and hopefully you, too, dear readers – that you cannot judge a restaurant by its dark wood and crisp white tablecloths. There are hidden gems of discounted specials everywhere if you just look hard enough (and if you split dessert with someone else). And I now know of a new treasure chest to find these gems, right in my neck of the woods.

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