Pajo Bruich has made no secret of his mission to provide a "Michelin-caliber" experience at Enotria, where he is the new executive chef earning all kinds of accolades. Thing is, the vaunted restaurant guide doesn't assess restaurants in the Sacramento area.
That hasn't stopped Bruich. And those familiar with the national fine dining scene at the highest levels just might be startled to discover that Anani Lawson has been hired as Enotria's new general manager.
Lawson was the sommelier at the French Laundry in Yountville, which many consider the greatest restaurant in the United States. After that, he went on to serve as sommelier at Per Se in New York, which many others consider the greatest restaurant in the country. That's two restaurants, six Michelin stars and one world-class pedigree coming to Del Paso Boulevard.
Says, Bruich: "From Day 1, my goal has been to elevate the cuisine of the restaurant and infuse it with my personality and my vision. I think we've been very successful at doing that. The addition of Anani, with his level of expertise and with him spending so much time working with Thomas Keller, it shows we want to continue to evolve and be the best - not just in the Sacramento market, but the national market."
Yes, Pajo has plenty of talent and maybe even more moxie. There are those who complain he gets too much publicity, but those naysayers don't get it. We write about Bruich because he makes things happen. He makes news. He aspires to great heights. And he wants Sacramento's dining scene to keep pushing.
"I think it shows tremendous pride in the city that we can attract someone of Anani's caliber to come and work in Sacramento," Bruich added.
Just this morning, Bruich was on his way to Passmore Ranch to cook for the entire staff of the Restaurant at Meadowood, the only other Michelin 3-star restaurant in California besides the French Laundry. That's moxie. Bruich has also started a guest chef program at Enotria, inviting Folsom product Mark Liberman, the executive chef of AQ in San Francisco to be the chef to launch the program. Last year, AQ was a finalist for a James Beard award for best new restaurant, and it's certainly in the running to garner its first Michelin star.
And before all that, before Bruich had even landed his first restaurant gig, he reached out to Lawson. He first connected with the sommelier while dining at the French Laundry. He kept in touch, forged a friendship and - here's the moxie again - joined forces with Lawson to host a high-end prix fixe wine dinner in a rented space in Sacramento.
That was three-plus years ago. The two hosted other exclusive dining events together, and Lawson kept tabs on Bruich's progress. Last year, Bruich went on a whirlwind dining tour in New York City, aided by Lawson. He dined at Brooklyn Fare, Corton, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se and others, tasting and learning and growing with each bite.
Lawson started at Enotria last week and he's aiming for the top. He already knows what that looks like. He's convinced the restaurant can deliver a Michelin-caliber experience - not one or two stars, but three.
"It's a natural progression from the projects I have done with Pajo in the past," Lawson said. "I think Enotria will be an outstanding restaurant. After we implement a few changes and are able to train our staff, we can execute at a style you would see at the finest restaurants in New York and Paris.
Does that translate to 3-stars worth of execution?
"Definitely," Lawson said. "It will be one step at a time, but that is our goal. I don't see anything stopping us. We want to be an amazing restaurant - that just happens to be in Sacramento."
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.