Posted by: Sean Carter | April 8, 2014

197: Mary’s Pizza Shack

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This afternoon I was feeling hungry.  I had decided earlier in the day that I would do Mary’s Pizza Shack for dinner, so off I went.  Mary’s Pizza Shack is one of nearly 20 that are scattered around the north bay and northern CA.  I decided they were local enough to count.  Ours is located in the Nugget shopping center at Pleasant Grove and Fairway.  I had glanced over the pizzas side of the menu a little before heading out and had an idea of what I would order already.

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When I arrived at 5PM, right about on the dot, I walked over near the still-temporarily-closed Golden Dragon Buffet to take a photo of the exterior.  While I was doing so, someone inside had noticed me.  A minute later as I was heading towards the door I crossed paths with the owner, Carla, who asked what the photos were for.  About half the time when I get this question I say for fun, the other half I say for the blog.  Whatever I’m feeling at the time.  This time I said the blog to which she was very receptive.  After making a trip to her car she caught back up with me so she could get me seated herself and introduce me to the bartender, April.  She looked to be headed out but before leaving made sure to tell April and myself that my dinner was taken care of.  This was very generous.  I had always wondered if something like this would happen, especially after being on Good Day Sac and knowing there was a decent chance of being recognized.  Surprisingly though, this is the first time (with exception to the two breakfasts we had for Good Day).  Honestly it made me pretty nervous and concerned about how it would affect my writing.  I’ll get back to that later.

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I was seated at the end of the bar giving me a nice view of the entire place.  April got me going with a 22oz Lazy Daze Pilsner, one of the many beers that are brewed on site.  I was aware to a small extent that they brewed some beer here, based on their beverages menu, but I really didm’t expect it to be more than two or three.  Turns out they have a full on brewery set up which you can see through the windows in the bar photo.  The brewery itself is called Lazy Daze Brewery and they’ve got a little bit of everything.  I tasted the Dave’s Not Here Man double IPA, which was recommended by a customer sitting nearby.  I’m generally not one for hoppy beers at all, but this went down so smoothly I would seriously consider it.  At 10% it will pack a little punch too if you’re not paying attention.  I also tried the Irish Red Ale which was nice and malty with an almost velvety texture.  The pilsner was crisp, light and refreshing for this nice warm day and a big meal, just what I needed.

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The head of the kitchen, Anthony, came out to introduce himself and tell me a bit about how they do things.  Nearly everything they make in-house, and the small amount that they don’t is made per their own recipes by their vendors.  He recommended the Chicken Parmigiana (Chicken smothered in cheesy love. Breaded chicken breast topped with homemade marinara sauce and melted provolone cheese, served on a bed of
 fettuccine pasta with Alfredo sauce)[$15.50].  This had me questioning my pizza choice and he left me to study the menu and decide.  I think it was right about at this point that I started to realize that this wasn’t your average pizza joint and that the name is kind of deceiving.  It’s really closer to a proper Italian restaurant with a very casual atmosphere and a good-sized pizza selection.  The bar wasn’t something I had expected, nor the full table-service setting.  The pizza I was contemplating was a half Buffalo Chicken (The perfect combination: chicken tossed in a spicy Buffalo sauce topped with mozzarella cheese and fried onion strings. {Does not include pizza sauce.}) and half Pesto Chicken (Grilled pesto chicken, roasted tomatoes, and three kinds of cheese: mozzarella, provolone and a sprinkling of feta. {Does not include pizza sauce.}).  Prices for both of these pizza’s are: Bambino:$10.25, Small:$14.50, Medium:$18.50 and Large:$22.95.  The menu states that half-and-halves are priced slightly higher.  These are definitely on the higher end in Roseville.

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While I was deciding I received a basket of warm and toasty bread which was light and pretty tasty.  Finally, I ran my two choices by April to see which I should go with.  She had earlier agreed with Anthony that the Chicken Parmigiana was a very good option.  Despite that, she said that the two pizzas I had chosen were her favorites and encouraged me to go with them since I had being considering them before arriving, so I went ahead with the pizza and picked the small size.

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I wasn’t keeping very good track of time while I sat up at the bar, drinking my beer and listening to a few regulars chat with the staff, but I would venture a guess that the pizza took somewhere around 15 min to come out from the time I ordered it.  Up until I grabbed my first slice, as I said earlier, I was concerned about the integrity of this post.  Most of my worry was that it might not be very good and that I’d feel like a jerk for accepting a free meal and feel pressured to write about it in a nicer light than it deserved.  Once I took a bite however, all that concern faded away quickly.  This was an incredible pizza.  The crust was thin and crunchy, but also somewhat light throughout, less dense than most crusts.  It supported the weight of each slice on it’s own, just barely.  Coincidentally I had chosen two pizzas that didn’t have any pizza sauce.  Neither one seemed dry at all though.  The Pesto Chicken had a bit of pesto drizzled here and there.  The chicken was quite tender and moist itself and the roasted tomatoes had plenty of moisture in them, so no sauce really wash’t a big deal.  The flavor was intense.  Specifically, the pesto and fetta dominated, with the milder cheeses coming through at the end.  The Buffalo Chicken side was covered in fried red onion strings to the point where you couldn’t even see the cheese or chicken underneath.  I could absolutely taste them though.  The cheese was plentiful and stretched out half a foot before I used my fingers to break it off before things got out of hand.  The chicken, hiding under both the mozzarella and crispy onions, was very flavorful and had a nice heat from the rich buffalo sauce that, somehow,  did not overwhelm the other ingredients.

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I really dug both of these pizzas.  They just overtook Rosati’s for my favorite pizza in Roseville.  I love the hell out of Trademark Pizza and have been going back regularly, but they’re in a whole different category and I don’t feel like they compete for the same spot.  They are both top pizzas in my mind.  As for the service, obviously they treated me very well.  Watching the staff’s interactions with other customers however, I decided that the service I received wasn’t too far off from the norm.  I always had it in my mind that Mary’s Pizza Shack was going to be something along the lines of a Straw Hat Pizza.  I was very much proven wrong, and I’m glad I was.  For those that don’t make their way into the Nugget shopping center that often, like myself, you are missing out on this excellent restaurant hidden way back in the corner.

Mary's Pizza Shack on Urbanspoon

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Posted by: Sean Carter | April 5, 2014

#196: GK Mongolian BBQ

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As with CJF Chinese Fine Cuisine, this is an unexpected post. I saw a while ago that the Great Wall Grill sign had been changed to GK Mongolian BBQ. I wasn’t sure if it was a rebranding or if it was a new business. Today I thought I’d go find out. Whatever the case may be I figured I’d have some tasty Mongolian BBQ for lunch.

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As soon as I walked in, just after 11AM, I had a pretty good idea that it was different owners. Although largely unchanged, the wall that previously had Polaroids of customers had been redone with posters marked with the GK logo in the corners. The front-of-the-house staff all wore white t-shirts with the GK Mongolian logo on them. It had a very clean, corporate feel to it. Take that however you will, but China Run very much had that feel to it despite being a single, locally owned and operated location and I loved the place. One of the posters was a black and white photo of a cook and it said “GK Stockton 1986,” which lead me to believe there were more than just this one. After a bit of searching I was able to find another 3 or 4 locations in the Stockton/Modesto area, but that looks to be about it.

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Moving along, I was greeted quickly by the host. From here on out, the service and flow was pretty much identical to how Great Wall ran the place. He asked me if I was dining in or taking out, then ran me through the options of soup or salad (I went with the egg flour soup), white or fried rice (I passed on this) and what kind of drink (I chose a Mr. Pibb). He told me to go ahead and get started on my bowl and pointed out the booth where he would get me setup.

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The line of ingredients seemed mostly unchanged. All the usual stuff was there, beef, pork, lamb and chicken, noodles, white & green onions, mushrooms, zucchini, etc. They even still had tofu, of which Great Wall was one of the few places that carried it. The sauces, oils and seasonings towards the end were all similar, if not the same as before. I built the same bowl I typically make everywhere and loaded it up to just below the rim with mostly house sauce, a little bit of kung pao and one small ladle sesame oil. The cook went to work right away as soon as I was ready and within a couple minutes I had a steaming hot bowl in front of me. I topped it off with some fried chow mien noodles, sesame seeds and peanuts then headed to my table, where my Pibb, soup and appetizers awaited me.

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I don’t recall if Great Wall had something other than the fried wontons for their appetizers, (my photo from the time shows a darker sauce along with the sweet and sour, so probably) but this time I got a fried pot sticker in addition to them. It was damn good. Much better than the boring fried spring roll at my favorite place, Sizzle in Rocklin. I devoured the appetizers quickly. The egg flour soup I wasn’t really feeling, but that’s the case at most places to be honest. Sizzle’s is pretty good and is the only one I really enjoy, even if it’s a bit bland by it’s nature. The bowl itself was very good. Either I went with a different mix of sauces than my previous Great Wall visits or they have changed them a bit because the flavor seemed more intense than before. The bowl was cooked well and I was pleased to see that most of my additional sauce was left intact at the bottom of the bowl. Depending on where you go, some places will cut it with a bit of water while cooking, which is why I use so much sauce.

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Overall I was very pleased with GK Mongolian BBQ. I feel like they have improved slightly on what I already felt was Roseville’s best Mongolian spot. Granted, I went first thing at lunch and the place was very quiet, but the service was top notch and I had a refill moments after I had finished off the first cup of soda. The price seemed to be about the same, my bill came to just about $10. After a quick chat I learned that GK had purchased Great Wall sometime in late January, so it’s pretty new. I’m glad that, unlike China Run’s change of ownership, the quality has not declined and I can continue to recommend it.

Website (none that I could find, Facebook only): https://www.facebook.com/pages/GK-Mongolian-BBQ/116394935051184

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Posted by: Sean Carter | April 1, 2014

#195: Kusina @ Oriental Market

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Tonight for dinner I stopped at Kusina, located inside the aptly named Oriental Market on Harding Blvd.  I’ve been vaguely aware of this place for a long time but hadn’t given it much thought until about a year ago when I decided I should probably add it to my list.  Since then I’ve learned a couple things, mostly from Yelp reviews.  First, while the Oriental Market it resides in does carry a little bit of everything, it leans towards Filipino items.  Second, Kusina seems to be entirely Filipino cuisine.  Besides this knowledge, I was going in blind.  I have absolutely no clue about Filipino cuisine other than I know that adobo is a thing and looks pretty tasty, having seen coworkers at a previous job bring it in all the time.

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I arrived at about 5:30 during a break in the rain.  There were a handful of cars in the lot and the market itself was fairly quiet.  From the front door you make a right and go past the registers, then another right into Kusina which has about half of the building’s windows to itself.  The setup is very simple.  A line of tables with skirts to the left where you order, and a grid of 9 tables in the dining area.  On the tables to the left is a heated metal display case with the various items they have available.  There were some cards with item names in there but I couldn’t really tell what matched up with what, not that I recognized anything other than chicken adobo.  I was looking into the case for only a few seconds when a woman peeked around the side and said hello.  I smiled back and asked what she recommended, then mentioned that chicken adobo was the only thing I knew about.  She kind of laughed, then reached in and reorganized some things and moved the adobo card, making me think they were out of that, or that it was only available as a large take-out portion (she had repositioned and then pointed to a pre-filled carton).

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I honestly can’t remember how most of the rest of this interaction went because it was incredibly awkward.  Partially because I didn’t know what anything was, and partially because I’m not sure how much of the questions I asked was understood clearly.  She spoke decent English but I think there may have been some bits that were getting lost here and there.  She was very nice though and offered up a couple samples, both of which I ended up ordering in a 2 item combo with steamed rice [$7.50].  Also confusing during the ordering was the sign she was pointing to to help me out, the items were all referred to as sides, which threw me way off.  I made it through the transaction.  I ordered for dine in but she said she would box it to go, probably because she knew I had too much to eat it all there.  She set the container on a tray with some napkins, a fork and spoon and my bottle of Coke [$1.83] and I took a seat at a table by the window.

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One of the items I ended up getting was menudo, which I had thought, up until now, was exclusively the name of the Mexican soup.  Apparently it is also the name of this Filipino dish.  As I ate it I decided it tasted kind of like a stew.  Sure enough now that I’m home and have looked it up, that’s exactly what it is.  This had pork in it as well as onions, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and bell peppers.  It was very flavorful and quite tasty.  I initially wasn’t sure what I would do with my rice but found it to go very well with the menudo.

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The other item I ordered was noodles, also with pork.  After a fair bit of Googling I have decided that this must be Pancit, maybe Pancit Bihon?  I think that might be a brand name, I really have no idea what I’m talking about, haha.  I’m not sure what the proper name is to indicate it has pork in it.  Anyway, I really enjoyed this too.  It is made up of thin rice-noodles, pork and a small amount of veggies consisting mostly of green beans and snow peas with some carrot slivers.  I saw a red bell pepper or two in there but they may have come from the menudo.

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I’m glad I finally stopped in to see what this was all about.  I go by here almost every day and, aside from going in looking for some different varieties of instant ramen once or twice, hadn’t really known what to expect.  It’s nice to know I can grab something a little different to take home for dinner if I’m in the mood.  There isn’t much information about Kusina out there and they didn’t have a menu that I could take a photo of or take home and scan.  The market itself has a website, but it’s very basic.

Website: http://orientalmarketroseville.com

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