Mason Wong's name no longer hangs on the sign of his downtown restaurant. But you will find this restaurateur's signature of sorts when you ask for a drink. Order some water at Cafeteria 15L and it'll be served in mason jars.
Mason's Restaurant has morphed into Cafeteria 15L (15th and L streets, Sacramento; 916-492-1960), ditching its previous fine dining menu for familiar comfort foods and lower prices. Pronounced phonetically like "Cafeteria One-Five-L," the restaurant opens today and will host an official grand opening bash on April 6.
Let's get back to the name. "Cafeteria" conjures all kinds of images of lunch ladies, fruit cocktail and mystery meats. Can this have the makings for a Sacramento hot spot?
"That was the whole idea, to change people's perceptions of 'cafeteria,'" says Wong. "We're going to make it a cool name."
The restaurant's remodeling has taken five weeks, aiming for a more casual and social vibe with community tables and funky furnishings. Garage doors have also been installed into a side of the restaurant, which will open into an upcoming patio on 15th St. The capacity of Cafeteria 15L's dining room has been increased to 150, up from 105 when the restaurant was called Mason's. Wong says the remodel's price tag cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Jonathan Kerksieck, former chef de cuisine at Grange, has signed on as Cafeteria's executive chef. The menu's still being fine tuned - everything from the size of its cupcakes to the thickness of a chili - but look for plenty of comfort foods with an upscale twist. Think: tater tots with spiced ground beef, patty melt sliders and buttermilk fried chicken - and water in mason jars to wash it down.
Apart from rib-eye steak, no entree will cost more than $20 and many items are available for single-digit price tags. A series of "Blue Plate Specials" will also be offered for $16. And just like the policy at Mason's, which opened in 2006, buy dinner at Cafeteria 15L and the cover charge to the adjacent Park nightclub will be waived. With cover charges ranging from $10-$15 on weekends, it's a good dining and dancing deal.
"It was tough to get rid of the (Mason's) concept," says Wong. "We put a lot of heart and soul into that place. We'd been studying comfort food for the last few years. Plus, the economy was very tough. Typically a restaurant won't do a remodel for seven years. A lot of times you just have to roll with the punches and trust your gut."
On the Web: www.cafeteria15l.com