Station 16 knows its fish – and oysters, lobsters and prawns
In 2011, Trinh Le gave up his dream to become a Placer County firefighter to partner with his wife, Minnie, in opening Firehouse Crawfish Cajun Seafood restaurant in south Sacramento (“Pick your seafood, your flavor and your heat level”). The couple’s second restaurant, Station 16, opened two months ago, with a menu that’s less heat-centric but does show some sparks.
“I’ve always had a passion for spicy seafood, but ours is not hot, it’s flavorful,” Minnie Le said. “All the recipes are mine.”
Korean influences are on the menu, though the Les are Vietnamese American. “I was born and raised in Sacramento, and it’s very diverse here,” Minnie Le said. “This is the stuff we grew up eating.”
Menu: Lunch debuted Wednesday, with the addition of several Vietnamese-influenced items such as pho, banh mi and spring rolls. Also, look for weekend brunch to start in the fall.
We visited before the new lunch menu was available, but the menus we did see were extensive, the seafood supplemented with a few land-locked surprises. A recurring theme is Cajun seasoning and sides of spicy aioli.
The 18 choices on the “sharable/small plates” menu ($8 to $16) embrace clam chowder, grilled and baked oysters, steamed clams and mussels, scallops and calamari, and that dish from the 1960s that just won’t go away – chilled shrimp cocktail. Also: loaded tots (cheddar, bacon, sour cream, spicy aioli), grilled short ribs, wings and Cajun garlic fries. Seasoned prawns are the heart of the shrimp roll. There’s also a roll filled with chilled lobster salad, “Maine style,” as it’s known to purists, vs. “Connecticut-style,” which is warm lobster meat drenched in butter.
In Korean cuisine, “galbi” indicates a grilled dish of beef or pork, usually marinated in ganjang, a distinct soy sauce made from fermented soybeans. The galbi fries on the small-plates menu come with short rib, kimchi, spicy aioli and a fried egg.
The entree menu includes cioppino, lobster mac ’n’ cheese, blackened salmon, linguine and clams, and fried cod. Add a rib-eye steak, Cajun pasta and Cajun fried chicken.
The third segment of the menu stars iron seafood skillets in two flavors: roasted garlic butter and “the works” (hot). Choose from prawns, mussels, clams, and a trio of crab (snow, Dungeness and king), from $39. Mix and match.
Price point: Seafood is costly anywhere you find it. A blackboard by the entrance lists per-pound market prices, with mussels $13, prawns $18, snow crab $26, king crab $33 and Dungeness crab $42. If those prices are shocking, battered cod with corn on the cob and fries seems reasonable at $14, as does cioppino at $24. The happy hour is where the bargains reside, such as the excellent Chef’s Creek and Hood Canal raw oysters, $2 each.
Ambiance: Ultra-spacious, sleek and handsome, with high ceilings, exposed duct work, abundant natural light, thoughtfully positioned red banquettes and elements of glass and metal. One wall is artfully disguised to look like a vertical sheet of cement; we had to touch it to tell the difference.
“I designed the restaurant, and my husband helped me find the right people to do the job,” said Minnie Le.
Drinks: More than 20 taps pouring the likes of Lagunitas and Track 7 IPAs, Heretic Evil Ale and Sudwerk Zen, along with Coors Light (why?) and Stella Artois. The compact wine list is diverse, with some surprises – Scott Harvey barbera from Amador County and Orogeny Vineyards chardonnay from Napa Valley. Also: three draft cocktails and two sangrias.
Perhaps of more interest is the well-imagined cocktail list, with El Bombero (tequila, Thai chili, lime and spiced grapefruit syrup), Code Blue (lemon-infused rum, blue Curacao, triple sec, pineapple and lime) and more.
Service: Informed, friendly and conscientious.
First impressions: Station 16 is far more sophisticated than its sister restaurant, Firehouse Crawfish Cajun Seafood, and other similarly themed places where customers wear paper bibs….