On the heels of a four-month stint in one of the country's most revered kitchens, Chef Scott Ostrander is orchestrating a pop-up style dinner at the Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar on Monday that could, if all goes according to plan, become the stuff of local legend.
After chatting with Ostrander by phone and then looking at the intensely ambitious menu, the dinner appears to be influenced by the likes of Rene Redzepi and Heston Blumenthal, two of the world's great culinary wizards.
Ostrander, 30, who is in town for a few weeks before starting a new gig at a restaurant in Yountville (more on that another time), worked at Alinea in Chicago, the modernist restaurant with three Michelin stars that some now consider the best in the U.S. After four months, Ostrander is ready to move on to his next restaurant.
"The room for error there was small, so you weren't allowed to make mistakes," the chef told me when I asked if the Alinea experience made him a better chef. "So my personal skills went through the roof."
Apparently, so did his ambition. His menu looks incredible - creative, soulful, edgy, risky, wild and maybe just a little insane. It's the kind of high-voltage shock to the system that the Sacramento culinary scene needs more of. He has dubbed the dinner, "Winter in Lake Tahoe: A Culinary and Libation Excursion."
If you're interested in attending, you will want to jump on this right away. The dinner is $100 per person and will be handled by Ostrander and Red Rabbit chef John Bays. It will be a 90-minute dining experience, complete with steaming rocks on each table to cook the rainbow trout, smoking cinnamon sticks, a venison leg cooked sous vide at 135 degree for six hours, even plates carved from a pine tree by Ostrander himself (the photo below left is of the pine plates curing).
Each of the five courses will be paired with an equally creative and edgy drink from the bar. The beverage menu looks amazing, too, including a "cider flip" in which "a scalding hot rod inserted into drink so it froths and bubbles, served into a teacup with grated nutmeg on top." The drinks are the work of Christopher Sinclair, Brad Peters and Matt Nurge.
I mentioned to Ostrander that the theme sounds like the kind of thing they do at Noma, Redzepi's Copenhagen restaurant (S. Pellegrino ranked it the world's best, though Michelin triggered plenty of controversy when it only awarded it two stars out of three). Redzepi is known to create menus with ingredients taken directly off the land and out of the sea (if you haven't read his book, I highly recommend it). I've often wondered why someone isn't trying to do a California version of what Redzepi does, given the bounty of food available via farms and foraging within miles of Sacramento. Apparently, so has Ostrander.
"The fact that California is the farm-to-fork capital, why aren't we all Rene Redzepi?" he replied.
It's clear Ostrander has put an incredible amount of thought and effort into this dinner. And judging from the menu, no one's going to be making a profit on this thing. In other words, even though it's $100 per person, the value is well beyond that.
Besides, this is the kind of dinner that just might be remembered for years to come. We can only hope Ostrander will find his way back to Sacramento soon and raise the stakes for adventurous and discerning diners by offering this kind of Michelin-caliber cooking on a nightly basis.
To make reservations for this dinner, contact The Red Rabbit at 916-706-2275 or email hello@the redrabbit.net. The first seating is at 6 p.m. Ostrander says he hopes to do three seatings that night. The restaurant is at 2718 J St., Sacramento, though on Monday you may be able to find it by smelling more than a few smoldering cinnamon sticks!
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.