Head east for a delicious oasis without leaving town. The Slough House Kitchen offers a haven from the hustle of city life with desert-island-worthy dishes and an escapist patio made for watching summer sunsets while sipping a glass of Amador zin.
I had no idea what a sea buckthorn berry was when I saw it on the menu at The Slough House Kitchen, aside from a vague notion that it was medicinal and/or magical, the kind of ingredient a Shakespearean witch might add to a cauldron (Eye of newt! Sea of Buckthorn!) or an ancient Ayurvedic doctor might prescribe as an herbal remedy. I am nothing if not a sucker for exotic ingredients, so this appetizer—burrata with sea buckthorn berries—struck me as a food adventurer’s must-try.
When the wide, shallow earthenware bowl arrived, dotting a generous dollop of burrata was a generous smattering of orange, heart-shaped sea buckthorn berries, pickled in apple cider vinegar (made with Apple Hill fruit) and glistening like dollhouse persimmons. The berries were juicy, sweet-tart and aromatic, providing a bright counterpart to the creamy burrata.
“I come from a tiny country in [Eastern] Europe called Moldova, and we used to make a jam out of sea buckthorn. It’s very healthy,” says chef Slavic Lisagor, who owns The Slough House Kitchen with his wife Alisa, also a Moldovan native. And while most of the vegetables on the menu, like the fresh grilled asparagus that recently accompanied the salmon, come from neighboring Davis Ranch, the sea buckthorn berries are sourced from Washington state, via a local Ukrainian grocer.
The eatery, which opened its doors last summer, occupies a wood-framed, Gold Rush-era farmhouse fronting a lazy creek and a rolling, bucolic landscape. Inside, the woody, wainscotted bar and dining room offer cool relief from swelter weather, but the sprawling, sunset-facing patio—which overlooks the creek to the rear, and a lush lawn encircled by cypress and an herb garden planted with five varieties of mint to the side—lends an even better escape. It feels like a rustic respite you might stop into during a bicycling tour of the European countryside, the kind of place with bread so good the memory of its yeasty aroma haunts you for days.
In August 2021, the couple stumbled upon the space—which originally housed the Sloughhouse Inn and had sat empty since the Meadowlands Kitchen and Bar closed two and a half years earlier—while coming and going from Davis Ranch, where they sourced vegetables for their catering business, then a thriving side project. (He was an IT professional, and she was a banker and property manager who now manages the business and service sides of their restaurant.)
Growing up, Slavic Lisagor first learned to cook from his mom—she had a culinary degree and also taught his uncle, who went on to become a chef to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin. Then at 25, he moved to Venice, where he honed the craft of making pasta and bread, a skill he’s refining to this day. “It’s our baby,” Lisagor says fondly of the family’s 10-year-old sourdough starter. “And every time we make the bread, it gets better and better.” As for the other aforementioned Italian staple, the handmade pasta dishes at The Slough House Kitchen range from Bolognese to pomodoro to stroganoff.
The Eastern European influence can be seen in Lisagor’s extensive use of fruit and pickled ingredients in the entrées. “In Moldova, we pickled everything,” he says. “Our basement in winter was full of pickled apples, cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelon. We pickled whole heads of cabbage.” Thin, well-seasoned, crusty pork schnitzel is a perfect succulent substrate for two dips that celebrate the basement tradition: a tartar sauce redolent with herbaceous house-pickled capers and cukes picked in season from Davis Ranch, and a complexly layered sweet and sour red sauce made with garlic and fermented red pepper and jalapeño, both also sourced from Davis Ranch. Rounding out the trio of sidekicks is a creamy and savory white mushroom sauce, which adds contrasting umami depth. The contrapuntal effect of the three accoutrements is that you want to keep dipping back and forth, bite after bite.
And although Lisagor’s menu is an amalgam of traditional European and contemporary farm-to-fork concepts, the chef also puts his own spin on classic American dishes. For example, his version of clam chowder is a velvety, vegetable-forward stew, where brunoise-cut carrot, red pepper and onion coddle an abundance of buttery, meltingly tender clams that are enveloped in a warm, soft blanket of bacon flavor courtesy of the sustainably farmed, house-smoked Berkshire pork belly from Wilton-based K&D Freitas Farms. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest in a seafood-crazy family (as kids my siblings and I wore ankle-skimming pants called “clam diggers,” not “pedal pushers” or “capris”), I’ve sampled chowder at all of the historic haunts up and down the coast, and this one is even better, to my palate, than its famous counterpart at Anthony’s in Washington state—and that’s saying a lot.
Meanwhile, fruit-forward sensibility shows up in the preparation of the rib eye—listed as 16-plus ounces, it generously leans into the plus—which arrives draped in a black currant sauce spiked with savory rosemary to tie the meat and the sweet together, the luscious, deep sauce rounding out the earthiness of the rare steak like an oboe softening a string quartet.
The real showstopper, though, is that sourdough bread that begins every dinner meal, served up with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic and a pat of freshly churned butter. It’s also the star of the lunchtime meat and cheese plate, an afternoon’s worth of smoked salmon, marinated seafood, olives, pickles, cheese and charcuterie—all just an existential excuse to keep pulling apart those yeasty, chewy, crystalline-crusted lobes of glutenous magic. I may live most of my life as a keto-leaning paleo-pescatarian, but for a day, I wish for this restaurant to become a desert island (as it almost did during January’s flooding rains that saw the property nearly overcome by the rising creek), where all I’d need to live on is a plate of this bread and a glass of jammy dry-farmed zin.
Speaking of which, Lisagor’s homeland is one of Europe’s most productive wine-growing regions and, as such, The Slough House Kitchen offers a couple of vintages from Moldova. But in an effort to source local, the chef derives his wine list mostly from Amador and El Dorado counties, focusing on micro-vintners seldom seen outside of tasting rooms, like Plymouth’s Story Winery (maker of said jammy zin) and Placerville’s Fenton Herriott (whose chardonnay pairs well with the burrata).
That thoughtful approach to regionality and seasonality carries on throughout the menu. It takes ingenuity to make a winter salad feel fresh, but Lisagor’s shaved roots in bright dressing were crisp and sparkly during my dinner in February, the bitter astringency of pale endive contrasting with the sweetness of mandoline-sliced carrots that were thin enough to eat like lettuce. By my spring-time lunch visit in April, my shoulder-season salad was composed of exotic baby greens from Hana Acre Farm in Wilton, their bitter bite gentled by a buttermilky dressing and pearls of potato.
A change in season doesn’t always mean a change in ingredients, however. The restaurant’s regulars, many of whom come from nearby Folsom or Elk Grove, have convinced Lisagor to keep certain favorites in the Slough House Kitchen lineup permanently, like the sea buckthorn berries and burrata. So quell your FOMO and savor each flavor explosion, knowing that you can take a different bite from the wide-ranging menu next time. Or go ahead and fill up on that sourdough—trust me, it’ll make you think that maybe you can live on bread alone after all.
12700 Meiss Rd. Sloughhouse. 279-209-6409. sloughhousekitchen.com
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