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One Year In and East Sac Eatery Is as Ambitious as Ever
By Greg Sabin
Canon has been open for slightly more than a year. In that period, the Sacramento restaurant has played with format, menu, presentation and everything in between. A recent full menu overhaul and a whole new offering of adventurous plates means, in a way, starting anew.
Owner Clay Nutting and chef Brad Cecchi, to put it simply, aren’t phoning it in.
When Canon opened in October 2017, the first thing that told the casual observer that this would not be a run-of-the-mill establishment was the location.
Tucked away on 34th Street, surrounded by industrial space and no other evening businesses open anywhere nearby, Canon’s presence alone spoke volumes. Nutting says the location was a small corner of Sacramento that most residents hadn’t traveled to. “When people drop in,” he says, “it’s almost like they’re a tourist in their own town.”
The buildout was one of the more impressive in the recent restaurant boom. During an epoch where new restaurants are opening every day, and the “new thing in town” phase lasts less than a week, Canon’s space was something to talk about.
A high pine-paneled ceiling draws the eye up and crowns the room like some Viking hall. Dangling from that ceiling and studded on the walls are architecturally impossible light fixtures that seem like they’re from the future and the past at the same time. The walls are well adorned with modern art, including a chaotic and edgy beauty by local artist Nate Cordero, whose recent passing was quite a blow to the Sacramento art scene.
It’s no surprise that the feeling and atmosphere of Canon are more than that of a simple dining hall. Nutting has had his hand in the local art scene for a while—he was a driving force behind the ArtStreet and Art Hotel projects—and is a bit notorious for championing creative spaces that go beyond just being places and double as experiences.
Cecchi leaves the creativity on the plate. His menu looks simple enough when given a cursory glance, but the ingredients and preparations are an intricate web, drawing from all over the world.
Whether it’s the Japanese octopus on the pickle plate, or the Italian tonnato (a tuna-infused sauce) on the beef tartare, or the Tunisian harissa butter that tops the BBQ oysters, the multiple swipes through the global pantry definitely give depth and complexity to the dishes.
Each sharable dish (small and large dishes are meant to be shared) brings a host of flavors, textures and visuals. Take, for example, the wonderfully playful smoked trout tart. Now, to start off, I’m a sucker for smoked fish. You could put smoked trout on a radial tire and I’d enjoy it. Cecchi’s preparation, as you’d assume, is much better than that.
He starts with a house-made, salad-plate-size sourdough cracker and tops it delicately with gorgeous chunks of house-smoked trout, horseradish cream, caraway seed, sneakily marinated apples, silken roe and, finally, with a stunning and insightful flourish, tops off the plate with a nasturtium leaf. I think I was aware that you could eat a nasturtium leaf, but I don’t think I ever had. The flavor is earthy and luscious and perfectly cuts through the smoke on the fish, the salt of the roe and the heat of the horseradish. All in all, a beautiful plate.
The rest of the menu is just as ambitious: crispy cauliflower with candied peanuts, squash with popcorn and brown butter, roasted beets with smoked blue cheese. Dishes like these don’t come without risk, however. The grilled short rib, unlike the typical preparation that is slow cooked and gravy laden, is served dry with the rather impressive beef rib alongside. The grilled preparation leaves a bit of work to be done by the diner in the chewing department, and might not be up everyone’s alley.
The cocktail menu is a work of art with creative use of ingredients and flavors pushing the envelope of craft cocktailing. On one visit, my lovely wife chose not to drink alcohol and the bartender deftly put together a freakishly good “mocktail” without a second thought. It’s an impressive beverage experience for a Sacramento restaurant.
The minds behind Canon do not lack in ambition. Whether it’s the space, the menu or just the vision, this restaurant is a someplace. And you feel like a someone when you’re there.