#115: La Huaca Restaurant

Whenever I see a new restaurant that serves a cuisine that I’ve never tried before I get a little excited.  This happened not long ago when I noticed La Huaca while spending some time at the taproom Final Gravity next door (side note, do you like craft beer?  If so you’ll like Final Gravity).  It’s on Sierra College at Eureka, in the same spot that Swagat Indian Bistro, one of my first posts, used to be.  At the time I popped over to peek inside, look at the menu and ultimately order a dessert to take back over to Final Gravity.

Tonight I picked up my brother and mom and we headed over at about 5PM.  Right in the entrance way there’s a little waiting area to one side and a table/bench on the other.  The table has business cards, coffee table books on Peruvian cuisine/culture and articles about La Huaca.  We were greeted pretty quickly, in less than a minute, and seated immediately.  A handful of other tables were occupied when we first arrived and it was somewhat quiet, though there was music (Peruvian perhaps?) playing.  Our server let us look over the menu for a while before returning to take our orders.  Having no clue whatsoever about Peruvian food, I had spent some time looking at the menu on their website before heading out.  The website is quite nice in that almost every item has a photo, which helped a lot for someone inexperienced with the cuisine like myself.  Everything I know about Peru is from an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, though he did a lot more trekking through the jungle and ancient ruins than eating in this particular episode.  I mostly learned a bit about how ceviche is made and that it is apparently the national dish of Peru.

Moving along, the restaurant has seen a pretty major overhaul from when it was Swagat.  It is better lit and brightly colored in many places.  It’s a very nice place to sit in and enjoy.  The ropes that help separate the entryway from the dining area while allowing lots of light through are neat.  We placed the entire order at once, drinks, appetizers and entrees.  I went with a Pibb, my brother ordered a Peruvian beer called Cusquena, and my mom ordered a Cavit Pino Grigio.  It turned out they were out of the wine and my mom made a second choice, however the server returned with another Pino Grigio (which we think he said was from Peru, though I’m not seeing one on their website) which he mentioned they normally only sell as a bottle but he would sell by the glass since they were out of the other.  The beer and wine arrived quickly along with a basket of bread.  I had to remind him about the Pibb about the time the appetizers arrived and he was very apologetic about forgetting it.

The bread were small rolls that were very soft and tasty with a crisp top.  Served with these were three little dishes, butter, cilantro/olive oil and cilantro/olive oil/garlic.  I’m not usually a fan of cilantro but this wasn’t overpowering at all and was in fact really good.  Soon after we had each devoured a roll, two appetizers and a salad were delivered.  My brother ordered the Nikkei Salad (Green mixed salad with Nikkei vinaigrette, crisp peppers, cashews, ho-lan-tao and sesame seeds).  I had a small bite and the dressing was fairly sweet.  He ate just about all of it, and it was a good sized salad.  We ordered the Clásico Ceviche with white fresh fish.  I thought that the ceviches were a little on the pricey side when first looking at the menu, but it turns out that they are quite large.  I shared this with my mom and we kept thinking we were at the end when we would uncover more pieces of fish.  This was really tasty and the fish was plentiful and cut fairly big.  At first my mom wasn’t really into it for reasons she couldn’t quite articulate, but after a bit she warmed up to it a lot and said she could easily order this on it’s own and be very happy.  Served with it were what looked (and tasted) like giant kernels of corn.  We decided that’s probably what they were.  Also on the plate were two large slices of sweet potato, which were delicious.  The other appetizer was the De Vegetales Causa, a dish made with mashed yellow potatoes (Avocado, paprika mayo sauce, mushrooms, asparagus. all topped with cherry tomatoes and quail eggs).  This was served chilled and was fantastic.  The quail egg was delicate and tasty, the asparagus was nice and crisp and the main body was soft and flavorful despite being mostly potatoes and avocado.  I’d love to try some of their other causas.  At this point we knew that we had already ordered too much food.  These servings were looking pretty large overall and I was running out of room.

We had been finished with the appetizers for just a couple minutes when the main course came out.  The server cleared the smaller plates and asked if we wanted more bread.  Each with huge dishes of food in front of us, we declined.  My brother had the Arroz del Bosque (Soft and creamy Arborio rice cooked with a variety of mushrooms, green asparagus topped with parmesan cheese).  It was a massive dish of dark brown rice which he said tasted like mushrooms.  My mom had the Camarones Entre Lima y Pisco (Shrimp sautéed in our homemade white wine sauce then tossed in penne pasta and flamed in our homemade Peruvian Pisco liquor and lime sauce. Served with toasted garlic, red crushed pepper, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and parsley).  Also a huge dish, loads of pasta.  She said it was pretty bland and that the wine sauce didn’t have much flavor.  This was the only thing that was ordered that didn’t go over fantastically.

For my entree I chose the Spaghetti a la Crema de Pesto con Churrasco (Thinly cut grilled beef aromatized with parsley and cilantro served with our homemade cream of pesto sauce topped on a bed of spaghetti).  I ordered the beef rare.  This was pretty much mind blowing all around.  The beef was amazingly flavorful and cooked perfectly.  Each bite was full of juices and was very tender.  The spaghetti was incredible.  As I was eating it I was already looking forward to enjoying the rich pesto and pasta again for lunch on Tuesday (maybe even dinner too, considering how much I took home).

In it’s entirety with my mom’s lackluster dish this wasn’t a perfect dinner, but from my perspective it was.  Despite it, even my mom seemed to be really happy with La Huaca and I know I certainly was.  The service was great.  An interesting thing they do when they bring the bill is leave at the table a small tablet where you can enter in any feedback and submit it instantly which I thought was really neat.  I hope that they do well here in this odd location and stick around longer than Swagat, because I intend to come back.

Website: http://www.lahuacarestaurant.com/

#114: Arigato Sushi

Yesterday I met my dad for lunch at Arigato Sushi, located between AT&T and Chipotle, across from the Galleria.  They have a couple other locations, one in Sacramento and one in Santa Clara.  We arrived just before 1:30PM to a 1/3 full restaurant.  As soon as I walked in the door I was greeted by a host at the counter to my left and we were seated immediately.  Their dining room is rectangular with mostly tables, some booth seating along the side walls, and a nice looking sushi bar at the back.  The place is dark, at least when you first walk in for a while before your eyes adjust from the daylight.  The walls and ceiling are painted black.  Under the sushi bar (which has adjustable height stools, something I’ve never seen elsewhere) has moody colored lighting that rolls through the spectrum.  The tables and chairs are simple and also black and the menus were nicely bound.  My impression at this point was that they were shooting for nice, but without the flash that Mikuni or Blue Nami use in their restaurants.

I had skimmed over the long rolls list on their menu before headed over and had already picked something out.  Like almost all sushi places they do the whole “50% all rolls” gimmick.  I hate that.  Just show the price as it is, not doubled with a sign out front to lure people in.  We hadn’t been seated for long when our waitress came by to take out drink order.  I just went with a water, which arrived with two thin slices of lemon.  Just a few minutes later she returned to take our orders.  A friend had recently introduced me to the BBQ Albacore appetizer, so I got that.  In addition I ordered the Cherry Blossom roll ([Salmon, Avocado] Tuna, Special & Unagi Sauce, Tobiko) and some sake nigiri.  My dad ordered the Macho roll ([D.F. Asparagus, Cream Cheese, Crabmeat] Avocado, Salmon, Tuna, Special & Unagi & Spicy Sauce, Tobiko).

Less than five minutes later the BBQ Albacore arrived.  Big pieces of char-grilled albacore tuna sat in the middle of a big triangular plate, covered in a yellow special sauce.  This was absolutely fantastic, just as good as the one I tried at Blue Nami, if not better.  Each huge chunk was warm and practically melted in your mouth.  It’s one of the more expensive appetizers, but I can see myself getting this regularly.

We had just a couple bites left when the rolls and nigiri were delivered.  Each roll looked busy with all the ingredients rolled and layered on top of each other.  As I ate the Cherry Blossom roll, I found each bite to be just as interesting, picking up a big taste of salmon, then avocado, then tuna and the unagi sauce all distinctly and yet also at the same time in a way.  It was a really good roll that I would absolutely order again, though with as big a list as they have I’m sure I’ll try some other things first.  My sake nigiri looked to be on the fatty side (a good thing), and wasn’t the most beautiful cut I’ve ever seen, but wow was it good, buttery and delicious.  Definitely some of the better salmon I’ve had.  My dad said his Macho roll was very good as well.

Service-wise I would say that it wasn’t amazing but there wasn’t really anything bad either, it was so-so to good.  They did the job and I have no complaints.  I didn’t really know what my expectations should have been going in but I left impressed and I’m kind of thinking that they give Blue Nami (my longtime favorite sushi restaurant) a run for it’s money.  For the rating I think I would give it a perfect 5 of 5 with slightly better service, friendlier staff, etc.  Blue Nami definitely has them beat in that respect.

Website: http://www.arigato-sushi.com/



#113: The Pita Pit

Today I returned to the Stone Point shopping center on Eureka to have dinner at The Pita Pit, right across a walkway from Costa Vida.  Technically I probably shouldn’t have come here for the blog as I just discovered that it’s a pretty big chain but I didn’t realize that going in (nor had I even seen one prior to this Roseville location).  I’ll keep it somewhat short.

I arrived just after 4:30PM to a quiet and empty dining room.  Right away I was greeted by one of the two employees.  I very briefly skimmed over their take-out menu when I picked one up after eating at Costa Vida, but didn’t really have any idea what I would have.  I asked if he had any suggestions.  He recommended the Buffalo chicken, the chicken Caesar (chicken, bacon & romaine) and the prime rib.  Spicy sounded pretty good to me so I chose the Buffalo chicken.  I noticed hummus up on the menu and decided to get a side of that with some pita bread, which is just a couple bucks.  With a soda it all came out to about $11.

From here it was a bit of a deli-process, I was asked what toppings I’d like in the pita.  Grilled options were onions, mushrooms (I think) and peppers.  I went with onions and mushrooms.  White or wheat pita bread is available and I chose wheat.  For the pita bread that came with my hummus I picked white.  For toppings the have a pretty big list.  I had spinach, olives, black beans, corn, pepperjack cheese and jalapeño ranch.
The chicken was grilled up while my pita was put together, and the extra pita bread was warmed/crisped up on the grill as well.  With everything in place it was wrapped up tight and wrapped again in a paper sleeve for easy handling.  Since the hummus came in two little containers I had the option to try two different ones, so I went regular for one and red pepper for the other.

My very first bite into the pita was immediately met with big chunks of hot, tender chicken in the Buffalo sauce.  In fact most of the ingredients were present in that bite, and they were there throughout till I reached the end.  It was very well constructed and consistent.  The Buffalo sauce was quite flavorful, as was the jalapeño ranch, and with the jack cheese it was a very good combination.  It definitely had a little kick to it and a heat that built up over consecutive bites.  The hummus was great, smooth and tasty.  The warm and slightly crisped pita bread was pretty nice.  I only noticed a small difference in the red pepper variety with a slight peppery heat that, like the Buffalo sauce, built over several bites.  Perhaps it may have stood out more compared to the regular hummus with a non-spicy pita already hitting my taste buds with bold flavors.

I was happy with this meal.  All the ingredients seemed to be very fresh and flavorful, the portions were good and the employees were friendly and efficient.  This shopping center certainly has some excellent eateries.  Should be interesting to see if Bravo: A Taste of Peru and New Thai Kitchen will continue the trend.  I also noticed a little place on the opposite side of Paul Martin’s when I drove into the parking lot called Cupcake A La Mode which I’ll certainly be adding to the list.

Website: http://www.pitapitusa.com

Scanned Take-Out Menu: Click Here