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It’s a cross-cultural feast at this midtown restaurant.

By Steve Larosa

Garth Brooks, Carlos Santana, Shania Twain, Kid Rock. They’re some of the better-known crossover artists. It’s time to add to that list the name of Marie I. Mertz. Huh? That’s right, Marie I. Mertz. Diners may well be acquainted with chef/owner Mertz through her Elk Grove restaurant Todo un Poco, where she has won many “best restaurant” readers’ polls for her cross-pollination of different cuisines. Says Mertz, “Food is like art. It should always be different.” As at Todo un Poco, the major portion of the menu at Isabela’s in midtown Sacramento is devoted to Mexican and Italian dishes, but there are occasional forays into Indian and Chinese cuisine.

A few examples to illustrate the point: chicken and cilantro spaghetti. This dish is a Mertz creation featuring a creamy cilantro sauce over marinated chicken atop a bed of spaghetti, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Surprisingly good.

At lunch, Isabela’s offers a variety of personal-size 8-inch pizzas, such as the Jalisco heat pizza, with a creamy white sauce topped with cheese, chorizo, jalapeños, tomatoes, refried beans and cilantro. And you need to try the Punjabi pizza, which includes fresh cauliflower, potatoes and onions flavored with East Indian spices. Like most Indian food, this pizza is bursting with flavors.

Our favorite dish at Isabela’s is the tortilla soup. It’s a big bowl of tangy black-bean soup with feta cheese, cabbage, salsa and tortilla strips. It is delicious and comes with a side salad.

Another great entrée is the chile rojo or verde: Diners are given a choice of carnitas in a red oregano-based sauce or a green tomatillo sauce with rice and beans. The fresh tomatillos give this dish a particularly full flavor.

We also recommend the enchiladas con mole (pictured at left). This labor-intensive dish features two enchiladas (chicken or papas y rajas—potatoes and veggies) topped with freshly made mole sauce. (The sauce’s 14 spices overshadow the chocolate.)

So we’ve told you about Marie. If you’re wondering, “Who’s Isabela?” we direct your attention to the first paragraph. Hint: The I’s have it.

This article appears in the February 2004 issue of Sacramento Magazine.

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