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Small family-run pocket restaurant shines with simplicity
By Greg Sabin
My favorite meal of 2018 was at the newly opened pocket-sized and Pocket-located Italian restaurant, Cacio. From the skill in the kitchen to the warmth of the staff, it was a near perfect evening of dining.
Co-owners, as well as husband and wife, Katie Kinner-Kersieck and Jonathan Kersieck have created a menu and a space that warms the heart and fills the stomach.
The two met while opening Grange Restaurant & Bar at The Citizen Hotel. Katie worked front of the house; Jonathan worked the kitchen. They both went on to work at a host of other local Sacramento restaurants, including OBO’ Italian Table & Bar and Esquire Grill.
Both, therefore, have a successful track record of running kitchens, managing front of house and opening new restaurants. So, when these two Pocket residents sat down one evening at the counter at Ravenous Café to have a glass of wine, they got to talking with the owners. As the couple spun ideas about owning their own restaurant, the folks at Ravenous said, “Why not buy this place?”
Long story short, they did just that.
Now the small space, which has been home to some fine food over the years, plays host to some of the best pasta in California and some of the coziest neighborhood vibes you’ll find anywhere.
The signature dish, cacio e pepe, is as simple a dish as you’ll find anywhere. It’s the pb&j of pasta. Four ingredients that are (it almost goes without saying) greater than the sum of their parts. Cacio means cheese in Italian, and gives the restaurant its name. Pepe is pepper. Add bucatini (hearty, hollow spaghetti) and olive oil, and you have one of the best plates of pasta anywhere.
It sounds simple, but the spicy favors of bloomed black pepper, layers of pecorino cheese and the perfect blend of fruity olive oil make for an actual eating experience, not just a plate of food.
Similarly, the mushroom bolognese is a simply brilliant plate of pasta. You’ll never believe that it’s a vegetarian offering given the meaty textures, scents and flavors that Kersieck gets out of his mushrooms and cheese.
The playful strozzapreti pasta (“twisted canoes”—new to me) scoops up and cradles the rich sauce. This, again, simple dish shows a wealth of skill and maturity in the kitchen. The near perfect portioning, the easy casualness of presentation and the restraint in ingredients all speak to a clear, rewarding vision coming from this unpretentious eatery.
Sides and small plates are rewarding as well. The pork and beef meatballs are, expectedly, divine, and the brussels sprouts, tossed with balsamic and pancetta, are prepared, dare I say it, perfectly. Similarly, traditional offerings like white bean and sausage soup are on the nose, as is a straightforward Caesar salad. The ingredients and care that go into these staples show again how wonderfully focused this enterprise is.
The same compliments around focus and vision apply to service as well. Kinner-Kersieck shows a steady hand at controlling the front of house in a small space. “One of the advantages of a small space is that you can control what you’re doing in the kitchen and the dining room,” she tells me. “It allows us to be a part of every dish, and connect with every customer.”
That connection rang true on my visits. There were bright conversations and lively interactions with nearly all members of the staff, which include Kinner-Kersieck’s sister and son dropping by to help out. This “family affair” adds to the warmth of the place rather than distracting from it. It helps that each member of the family seems to be not only affable but skilled at service.
Despite a casual attitude, every dish was timed perfectly and coursed out seamlessly.
The wine list shows a playful yet knowledgeable approach to Italian varietals. You’ll find almost as many European wines as you will California offerings. The staff is more than happy to smartly recommend pairings based on your dining choices.
As far as getting a table at the petite eatery, reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are always welcome. Just be warned that, contrary to what you’d think, the earlier hours seem to be the busiest on most nights.
So, whether you can plan ahead and book a table, or come in from the cold on a late evening, you’ll find the service warm, the food outstanding and the experience one to remember.