Last Friday evening for dinner I went to Strings Italian Cafe with my mom. I haven’t been to a Strings in well over 16 years and I didn’t remember much about it. It’s a smallish chain, primarily in northern California with just over 20 locations. Here in Roseville (As well as Sacramento) we have two. One on Douglas, in the little shopping center with Sunrise Natural Foods, and the other on Fairway across from Home Depot. For this visit we went to the one on Douglas. Much like my last post on Wong’s Garden, my impression, solely based on the outside, was that it would be a dark, cramped little place. Similarly to Wong’s, it’s set back from the road and not something you might notice unless you were actively looking to see what was in the shopping center.
We headed in at just after 6PM. As soon as you walk through the darkly tinted doors you are in a small waiting area which sits in front of the bar, which is tiny and has all of five seats. Behind it on the wall looked to be most of their red wine selection. To the left of the entryway is a few small tables with booth seating on one side and chairs on the other. To the right is the same setup but more tables expand off to the back of the building, and this is the bulk of the dining area. We were greeted right away by a couple of employees that were behind the bar. One came around and seated us at a table by the front window. The windows are dark but you can easily see through them, though they didn’t add a ton of light to the restaurant, keeping the ambiance consistent form the front to the back.
Our server, Kyle, introduced himself and took our drink orders right away. We needed a moment to look over the menu (both for drinks and food) so we just had waters at first, which he brought out immediately. I figured I’d have a glass of wine tonight. It’s not something I typically order, but I was feeling squirrely. I didn’t look over the wine list too much, so when our server came back to take the order I just waited for my mom to order and then got the same. This ended up being Fetzer Vineyards Pinot Grigio.
As for dinner, I think I’ve mentioned before the Italian doesn’t get me too excited for the most part. Whenever I look over a list of pasta dishes they all seem to blend together and look like the same thing. One thing caught my eye right away. It was on the specials board by the front door, Calamari & Shrimp. I skimmed over this very quickly as we first walked past it and then got back up later to look at it more closely before we ordered (A calamari steak lightly breaded, sauteed with garlic, white wine, capers and lemon, topped with shrimp and served with a side of pasta and fresh vegetables)[Lunch: $13, Dinner: $16] I’ve never heard of a calamari steak before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. We placed our orders and both chose a salad over the minestrone soup.
Soon we had warm bread before us. There were four pieces total, each lightly topped with some butter/oil and herbs. These were pretty decent. Nothing too noteworthy though. Arriving simultaneously with the bread were our salads. It was a mix of lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, croutons, sesame(?) seeds and raisins with a light Italian dressing. This was pretty good and the Italian dressing seemed richer than any Italian I’ve had before. It was very light and not really visible, but it tasted great. The lettuce and onions were crisp and everything was pretty fresh. I’m so out of the loop on wine in general since it’s not something I drink that often that I’m not going to delve into it too much but it was light, sweet and not at all dry. I got a good amount of it since the bottle was about empty and he just finished it off.
Ten minutes after our bread and salads had arrived is about when the entrees came out. The calamari steak did in fact kind of look like a steak. I had never considered the preparation of squid to be anything except small slices so this was really interesting to me. The light breading had a nice crispness to it without being a heavier deep fried batter that I’m used to with calamari. Slicing into I was shocked at how tender it was. It’s slipping my mind what kind of knife I had, but I’m certain a butter knife would have done the job just fine. There was not even a hint of rubbery or chewy texture, it was cooked perfectly. Overall it was incredibly flavorful. Each ingredient was detectable and delicious while leaving the calamari to do it’s own thing and not overpowering it. I did a little light squeezing of the lemon slice over top the whole steak to give it just a bit of a boost. The pasta was pretty basic with a simple red sauce. Not very exciting. I thought the big chunks of broccoli could have been cooked just slightly longer. I didn’t want them to be mush but they definitely could have been a little softer.
My mom’s Tortellini Alla Panna (meat tortellini with cream, garlic, mushrooms, Italian cheeses, smoked ham and Marsala wine)[$12] was pretty tasty, I had one of the tortellinis. She was a bit disappointed with the tiny bits of ham in it and that the mushrooms had been basically blended into the sauce. I probably would have expected there to be slices of mushroom in it myself. Overall she said it was very good though, perhaps a touch richer than needed.
Dessert was not in the cards that night as we were both full and had other plans to get to. The dessert list looked pretty typical. I was very impressed with Strings. The little bar looked nice but somewhat out of place with the rest of the dining room, which felt more like something you’d find in a Carrows. Aside from the decor, the food was very good, particularly my calamari steak, and our server was fantastic and super professional/formal for this little joint. He would fit in very well at a much higher end place.