When the Rainbird restaurant opened in 2022 inside the remodeled El Capitan Hotel on Main Street in downtown Merced, it was imagined as a high-end, dining destination featuring locally-sourced foods and presentations that paid homage to the Central Valley and its farmers. There was nothing like it anywhere in the region.
And fortunately, for the last two years, the Rainbird has remained just that.
However, with the recent appointment of new Executive Chef Evan Morrison, along with refreshed and expanded menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as expanded hours, the classy Rainbird dining experience is becoming a lot more accessible for local foodies, and those visitors who want to return again, and again, and again.
Last week, the Times and a couple standout local guests were invited to a special lunch that showcased the latest offerings, and it didn’t take long to notice a change had taken place. The dining room seemed brighter. The service seemed upbeat yet relaxed. Most importantly, looking around, people were smiling, engaged with each other’s company, and enjoying themselves.
We started off with the “Tuna Crudo” — fresh ahi tuna with a local citrus-vinaigrette, radish, cucumber, “mama lil’s peppers, pistachio and micro herbs ($18). The shared dish melted in our mouths. It was fantastic.
It was also a tough decision between ordering the Tuna and trying the “Fried Oysters” — six served with harissa aioli and local dressed greens (also $18).
There were several other specialty items on the starter list, but why ruin the surprise? You have to try the Rainbird’s new lunch vision. We would recommend that before even getting through the Soups and Salads (They had Tomato Bisque for a cold rainy day!) and onto the Entrees.
The Times was joined by Sarah Lim, the director of the Courthouse Museum; and Ryan Heller, the president of the Merced Symphony Association.
Heller did not hesitate in choosing the “Meyer Lemon-Honey Glazed Salmon” — a 7 oz. Atlantic Salmon filet with herb pesto orzo, blistered cherry tomatoes, and lacinato kale, and sumac labneh ($19).
Lim was more thoughtful as she perused the menu, but she ultimately decided on the “Grilled Chicken Souvlak” — grilled marinated chicken breast served on fresh pita with hummus, tzatziki, local greens, English cucumber and pickled red onion ($15).
Other entrees included the “Rainbird Club” sandwich, the “El Cap” burger, “Rainbird Grilled Cheese with Tomato Bisque,” and “Ancient Grain Bowl,” among others.
Later, we each received a “Guest Feedback Survey,” which we decided to use as inspiration for this newspaper review.
Here’s what Heller wrote down in his notes:
“The service was attentive, the setting was lovely and familiar, and the dishes were beautifully composed — both visually and in terms of flavor.
“The updated menu strikes a nice balance between the sophisticated and the accessible, and the price points will be well received by the community.
“As always, the dining experience paired nicely with top-notch company. I recommend a meal at this restaurant, but I highly recommend a lunch with The Times or Sarah Lim, whether here, or anywhere else.”
As for Lim, she said: “It was a delicious lunch. My dish was a good balance of flavor and color. The chicken was nicely done, and balanced with a sweet and sour salad. Everything was enjoyable.”
The Times agrees with both of them.
Make a reservation, spread the word, the Rainbird is singing a tasty tune in downtown Merced.
Located at 609 West Main Street, on the ground floor of El Capitan, the Rainbird is open daily for breakfast from 6:30 to 11:30 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m., with brunch on select holidays. Reservations can be made online at OpenTable.com.
For more information, visit the website: RainBirdMerced.com