Posted by: Sean Carter | April 16, 2014

#198: Sakura Japanese Bistro & Bar

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We are getting down to it.  There were only two places on my list to chose from.  I chose Sakura Japanese Bistro & Bar because Pinto Thai has only been open for a couple of weeks.  Sakura is a new Japanese restaurant located on Blue Oaks and Foothills.  They opened a little over 2 months ago.  I arrived just before they opened for dinner and had to wait a few minutes.  They have a split schedule for lunch and dinner and are closed for an hour or two in-between, opening back up at 5PM.  Needless to say, I was one of the first people in (a couple were already out on the patio).  I did, however, beat one of the employees by a few steps and held the door for them.

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The inside is all nice and new, I believe they are the first tenant in this space.  It’s nicely decorated from front to back.  The bar runs most of the length of the room and I wondered up to the middle, asking “anywhere?” to the sushi chef since I didn’t see a host (turned out the person that I held the door was the hostess).  He welcomed me to sit wherever and I took a seat in front of him.  A moment later I was handed a menu by that hostess.  The sushi chef, Tang, asked what he could get started for me as he handed me a bowl of edamame.  I had to take a moment to go over everything, saying that I knew I was hungry but didn’t really have anything in mind yet.  I cruised through the two menus, looking over the beverages first.  I considered a beer but decided I’d just do a Mr. Pibb.  When the server came by I was told it was happy hour and that their draught beers were half off, so exactly the same price as a soda at $2, and I went ahead and got a Kirin.

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They have the usual selection of nigiri and sashimi.  I ordered the 5pc sake to get going while I continued to browse.  I figured I would just do a couple of rolls after that and looked over their house and special rolls lists.  Tang informed me that the house list was 50% off, which I’m not certain is due to happy hour or if it’s all the time.  Their list isn’t as extensive as some of the sushi places in Roseville but it had a good variety.  I settled on the Sakura (Torched [Spicy tuna / spicy garlic crab / Hakaido scallop] Ebi(cooked shrimp), avocado, salmon, Baked with spicy Sakura sauce)[$14] and the Cherry Blossom ([Salmon / avocado / cucumber] Tuna, tobiko, spicy mayo, light ponzu and unagi sauce)[$11 (half off so $5.50)].  While he prepared my orders, Tang told me that they used Scottish salmon and not farmed salmon.  I don’t know a thing about the different types so I have to take his word on that.  He continued to tell me that they are trying to do their own thing and lean towards more traditional sushi with less emphasis on sauces.  I can definitely appreciate that.  I mean, sometimes I’m in the mood for something smothered in flavored sauces (the Godzilla at Blue Nami for instance) but it can be overkill a lot of the time.

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In just a few minutes he handed me my plate of sashimi, with a bonus piece.  Garnished with two small lemon slices and a flower, the salmon looked nice and fresh.  It was very tasty, succulent and slightly chilled.  One of the slices was a little small, which may be why he chose to add another piece.

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About ten minutes later my rolls were ready and passed over the bar to me.  The rolls were small but long and with many pieces.  I prefer this over the short, huge rolls you sometime get which are on the extreme end of bite-sized.  As he had mentioned, the sauce on these rolls was light in comparison to others, with just a little dab precisely added to each piece.  I started with the Cherry Blossom since it seemed it would be the milder of the two.  My first bite in I was a little underwhelmed, probably because I’m used to a ton of sauce.  After a couple more though, I began to like it a lot more.  The minimal sauce allowed each individual ingredient to stand on it’s own.  I realized that I was actually tasting each one and could enjoy their flavors.  For example, unless you get something that is LOADED with avocado, to be honest I don’t think I usually identify the flavor of it but instead simply notice the texture. Here I was able to enjoy the ripe avocado along with the salmon and the crisp cucumber.  The tuna was nice as well, and it was all finished off with the now background flavors of spicy mayo, ponzu and unagi sauce.  In the end I really appreciated the change up.

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The Sakura roll was considerably more flavorful with all it’s spicy items.  The torching was light and didn’t overwhelm anything, just adding a little warmth and texture to salmon up top (which was sliced nice and thick).  The shrimp and scallop contributed to a denser interior, mixed with the softer and flavorful spicy crab.  I don’t typically use any soy sauce with rolls anymore but touched just a corner of several pieces to it which took it to another level.  Very enjoyable and lots of good flavors all around.

I thought I was done and nearly passed up on the offered dessert but changed my mind when I saw they had ginger creme brûlée (ginger flavored custard, finished with a layer of torched creme)[$5].  I’m not sure I’ve ever actually tried the ginger that is served up with sushi before and didn’t know what to expect from ginger flavored brûlée.  Indeed, it was a flavor that I am not familiar with and am ill-equipt to describe, but the shallow dish was pretty good.  It didn’t have that glass-like layer of torched sugar that I am used to with creme brûlée, but instead was a thin creamy top to the already mild and smooth custard.  It was different, but still very much in the spectrum of basic custard that I love.  $5 might be a little steep for the amount you get, but that is my only complaint here.

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Overall I was pleased with Sakura.  The sashimi was top-notch and the rolls with light sauce were a nice change-up from the norm.  Tang and the other sushi chef (can’t recall his name) were both friendly.  I had little interaction with the host and server but they both seemed nice.  Residents on this side of town and employees at NEC/HP should be happy to have a good sushi place right next door.

Bonus photo of a shellfish sashimi plate Tang showed me before sending it off to it’s table:

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Well, now that I’m down to just a single place on my list that’s open It’s going to start to get a little quiet around here.  I’m certainly not done though.  There are nearly 10 new places that are already in the works and I’ll be keeping my eye on them.  As they open I’ll give each one at least a couple of weeks to find their feet and then go check them out.  For now, feel free to browse the other places I’ve been.  I recently added some pages under Completed Restaurants which should help you find what you are looking for.  Once I exhaust the ones that are currently open I will probably put together a little summary of everywhere I’ve been so far with some notes on what I think about them in hindsight.  Feel free to subscribe by email over on the right to be notified when I post something new.  I don’t spam it, so you’ll only get a message when I make a post, that way you don’t need to check back to see whether or not anything new is up.

Sakura Japanese Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon

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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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