Heavenly gnocchi tops new restaurant experience

By Tessa Marguerite Outland
July 2021

Mattone Ristorante is East Sacramento’s newest fine dining Italian restaurant. It’s the type of place where you have to think about which fork to use, where the salt and pepper shakers go untouched. It’s also where the truffle ricotta gnocchi makes your mouth water.

For many Sacramento natives, Mattone will not be hard to find. The location on Folsom Boulevard was home to the famed Español restaurant, which closed in 2020. The new eatery brought life back to the old building when June Chang opened Mattone in May.

Stepping inside the familiar place, I found it warm and welcoming. A simple arrangement of a vase with pink carnations graced each starched white tablecloth. Surrounded by old brick walls and low candlelight, the sound of clinking glasses and muted laughter saturated the space. The wait staff moved through the three dining rooms like actors in a play, all rehearsed and confident in their roles.

The relatively short menu—an indication of a chef who has perfected the craft—offers four sections: antipasti, insalate and la zuppa, primi piatti and secondi piatti. The dishes are written in Italian, but their descriptions are decoded in English.

The first dish on the menu is calamari fritti. The shareable plate of crispy squid is surprisingly spicy, seasoned with cayenne and smoked paprika, accompanied by a creamy tomato sauce and lemon wedges. Each bite provides a delectable crunch.

For more daring eaters, there is the spuma di finocchino con granchio, a creamy crab salad layered on a fennel mousse topped with Sterling caviar. It’s mild in flavor but elegant, buttery and smooth, served in a chilled martini glass and garnished with yellow endive.

If you order nothing else at Mattone, you absolutely must try the gnocchi al tartufo. You have not lived until you have had one bite of this dumpling. The waitress is correct when she predicts your eyes will roll back in your head after biting into one heavenly piece.

Blanketed in a rich cream sauce, the mouthwatering dish of truffle ricotta gnocchi is served with simple presentation, topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The gnocchi itself is unbelievably fluffy and smooth, like a savory marshmallow dripping with garlic and butter. The menu changes seasonally, but the gnocchi should not be missed.

Two of the three appetizing options for the secondi piatti include pollo al Mattone and pesce del giorno. The first dish is served with a graceful presentation of traditionally blackened chicken atop seasonal vegetables with a decorative drizzle of a dark, sweet sauce called vincotto. It was cooked to absolute tenderness.

The pesce del giorno was presented beautifully with a creamy walnut pesto drizzled over braised garbanzo beans and a mountain of silky cauliflower puree. All that topped with dark green arugula and a thick, juicy piece of seasoned swordfish.

The wine selection features many Italian-style vinos, including Chianti, Chianti classico and brunello.

If you manage to save room for dessert, it may be difficult to decide between a traditional affogato or cappuccino cheesecake. No doubt the reason so many families dine here together is for everyone to take bites from each other’s plate.

Mattone is a fine dining experience. It’s also a memorable place for a couple to share an intimate meal or celebrate an anniversary. Call ahead for reservations.

With its warm atmosphere, attentive staff and thoughtfully crafted Italian food, Mattone Ristorante could easily become the dining destination for locals, as well as big city folks.

Mattone Ristorante is at 5723 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 758-5557;

Tessa Marguerite Outland can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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