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Awake at the Whisk: Lounge on 20

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Lounge on 20

Just six months ago, Lounge on 20 was a mere twinkle in the eye of owner Ali Mackani. Working at warp speed, the restaurant emerged from concept to reality, opening officially in late June. The creative genius behind this upscale addition to the MARRS building bubbles at every level. Mixologists prepare innovative, succulent beverages; the menu boasts nearly 30 kinds of champagne by the glass; and Chef David Boswell, hailing from Napa, provides local, seasonal fare with an elegant sophistication.

Mackani’s passion for combining fine cuisine in a socially-focused lounge setting stems from his background as an engineer at Intel. In that role, Mackani traveled a great deal. Upon returning home to Sacramento, he would yearn for dining experiences reminiscent of those in cities like San Francisco. Rather than wait around for someone to bring the experience to him, Mackani opened 55 Degrees—and now, Lounge ON20. Mackani beams with passion as he describes his vision for the lounge, a zeal that permeates the experience visitors can expect. I certainly experienced it during a recent chef’s tasting with other local food writers. We enjoyed a fun, zestful evening filled with laughter and fine flavors.

Bathed in pure white, the lounge is sprinkled with bright red accents and blond wood backgrounds. Seating is arranged in a variety of living-room styles: large, family dining tables for groups, or intimate, leather lounge chairs and coffee tables for smaller gatherings. Mackani wanted to create an atmosphere that invites the feeling of visiting a friend’s home for a cocktail party.

Yet, I’m guessing your friends can’t cook like Chef David Boswell! The lounge offers its delicious fare in a unique small plate menu: a “taste,” which serves one or two; a “small plate,” which serves about four; or a “platter,” for groups. On our visit, we sampled the house roasted olives, which slid easily from their pits in a glistening oil with a hint of herbs. The Roasted & Salted Marcon Almonds came naked in their whiteness, but sufficiently cloaked in a shade of salt.

We tasted a sparkling Schramsberg rose—a clean, light bubbly whose color and cool fit perfectly on a warm summer’s eve. The Bella Fragola, a cocktail of muddled strawberry, basil and gvori vodka refreshed and amazed simultaneously. With no added sugar, the beverage tasted of pure, sweet summer joy—a cocktail that could as easily been gulped as sipped. Delightful! The Feminine Mystique cocktail was fit to put hair on your chest—a bit heavy on the vodka and missing the pear flavor the menu promised.

The Local Strawberry Asian Pear Salad was served in a single, crisp, red endive leave with a blend of fresh herbs and spices, including chicories—a fresh, yet pleasantly biting dish that also whispered with artisan blue cheese. The Arincini “Fried Risotto” with White Truffle Oil sent our group of food writers (an otherwise sophisticated lot) to licking our plates—literally. We couldn’t help it! The plating gave the appearance that we were being served spaghetti meatballs—and the smell wafting heavily from them made our mouths instantly water with the scent of melted cheese and tomato sauce. Yet, these were no meat balls—these were crisply crusted risotto with a divinely moist, cheesy middle. The taste was reminiscent of hash brown potatoes, because of the starchy, onion-y, comforting flavor. Move over Grandma! Chef David needs room in my heart for this dish!

Next up, a Fennel-Spiced Seared Ahi paired with a lovely Desante Sauv Blanc, California 2006. One sip of this wine sent me immediately back to the Midwestern clover and grass fields of my youth. It paired perfectly with the spicy licorice and bright salt of the tuna, and the subtle sweetness of the heirloom watermelon: all a seasonal charm.

Chef David describes his Pan-Seared Diver Scallop as his personal take on “bacon and eggs.” The sweet seawater scallop sat under a tiny poached quail egg from local, small farmers, served with a parsnip puree created to taste of cream. What a whimsical dish!—full of that “bacon and eggs” flavor, but scaled to the likes of a tea party.

We finished the evening with the mixologists, who were turning out original, inventive concoctions that made my mouth spin. My favorite: Ginger Spice topped with handmade cardamom foam, turning the icy cold beverage into a peppery, five-star chai latte—my new, favorite cocktail. They also served a Sugar Mama, which should bring Carrie Bradshaw running from New York for a taste of this better-than-a-Cosmo pink, tart drink. The lounge also works with small bottlers to provide alcohol not found elsewhere. A straight taste of their vermouth hinted with sweet notes of chocolate, caramel and vanilla—unlike anything imaginable!

All the sophistication and dress-code aside, you shouldn’t fear over-scale pricing. Drinks run between $7-14 (and higher). While small plates start at $3, you could feed yourself a “meal”-size for $9+.

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