#135: Claim Jumper

Tonight I finally tackled Claim Jumper. This restaurant is located on North Harding  right near Lead Hill.  I probably should have removed this one from my list as it’s a pretty big chain, much bigger than I thought.  I always knew they had a Vegas and Tahoe location, but then they also have about 35+ more.  Oh well, it’s done.  I used to come here a lot but stopped for no reason in particular.  It’s been at least a few years since the last visit.

My grandma joined me for dinner this evening.  We met up at about 5:30 and the place was packed.  That didn’t surprise me since they almost always seem to be busy, especially on Friday/Saturday nights.  The place is built to feel like a huge log cabin.  Warm lighting and lots of wood everywhere.  The entryway and waiting area is large, as is everything else.  There’s a ton of places to sit and wait, both inside and out.  Inside they have a table with wooden pieces for checkers, also a fireplace.  From here you can go left or right.  The bar is to the left.  In here there is a ton of seating that easily rivals most small restaurants.  There’s one big screen TV (though in this room it feels pretty small) over a fireplace.  There’s a least one smaller TV off to the side and maybe one more opposite of it.  The bar itself is long and fully stocked.

Despite the restaurant being busy we were seated immediately.  Others in the front were probably larger parties waiting for big tables (of which they have many).  We wound through the huge dining room past booths and tables, almost to the very back, where we were seated at a 4-person table.  Behind me and to my left were two long tables, one of them very long, seating over a dozen people each.  There wasn’t much space behind my chair once everyone was seated, and I found myself moving here and there to let people in and out.  I would have moved the table a bit to make some more room but I think it was bolted to the wall.  We were left with menus and it was a few minutes before our server came by to introduce herself and get our drink orders.  My grandma ordered a glass of wine.  I looked over the beer list but nothing was really striking my fancy tonight so I went with a Mr. Pibb.  The drought list is fairly small though they do have a bigger bottle list than I expected.

The menu is massive and daunting.  Not only is the list of items long, each one is fairly unique.  You can’t just go reading the title of a section and move along so easily.  I had a very difficult time figuring out what I wanted.  Nothing was really jumping out at me in particular.  When I used to frequent Claim Jumper years ago I would almost always get the sourdough bread bowl of clam chowder.  I wanted to do something different, but decided I did want to do a cup of it at the very least because it’s one of my favorite clam chowders.  Finally I was down to two options: a steak or the Widow Maker Burger, a massive burger that I often see mentioned when I read anything about Claim Jumper.  My grandma said she was going to try something she’s never had before, so I figured I’d do the same and go with the Widow Maker Burger since I’ve had steaks here (which were all very good).  With just the two of us I decided to skip on appetizers which, again, there are a lot to choose from.

Despite how busy they were, they were well staffed and it seemed like there was always a figure dressed in black quickly moving past our table with plates or drinks in hand. Just a couple minutes after ordering, a different server brought out my cup of clam chowder and a little bag of oyster crackers.  Keeping with the theme of everything being huge, this “cup” was much closer to a full sized bowl.  It’s a very flavorful and creamy clam chowder.  The clams and potatoes aren’t very big, but I like it that way.  I inhaled this pretty quickly.  I was surprised at how quickly our food came after that.  It might have been 10 minutes at the most from when we ordered.  Earlier, while I was working on the clam chowder, a little plate with condiments (for my burger, I assume) was delivered.

My grandma had ordered the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Sweet Potato (slow roasted sweet potato stuffed with shredded chicken, green onions, red peppers, cilantro, papaya relish, lemon and a drizzle of honey $12.99).  She’s not into spicy food that much so our server suggested to just do grilled chicken in place of the jerk chicken.  This was an interesting dish that I’ve never heard of before.  I took a bite of it and the sweet/savory combination was fantastic.

My Widow Maker Burger (smoked bacon,hand-battered onion rings, avocado, double-thick cheddar, mayo and red relish $12.99) was indeed a massive burger that seemed to live up to it’s name.  It was a tower of beef, bacon, cheese and onion rings.  Most of the avocado was tucked into the onion ring, which was nice because it kept it from falling out as I handled it.  I removed the lettuce and two slices of tomato in an effort to make it a more manageable size.  I was barely able to get a bite out of the entire thing after that.  It had some weight to it and felt very dense.  The burgers here come cooked medium-well unless otherwise specified.  I had figured I’d drop it to medium.  I think I could have easily gone medium-rare.  It was fairly well-done for my tastes, brown throughout.  The most flavorful parts to this burger were the avocado, bacon and particularly the red relish which was quite sweet, but it worked.  The rest was unfortunately pretty bland.  I didn’t really taste the cheddar at all and the beef seemed unseasoned and plain.  My baked potato with everything was fine.  “Everything” consisted butter, sour cream and chives.  Would have been nice to have a little bacon over it, especially for the extra couple bucks they charge to upgrade the standard fries to it.  I mean, it’s the exact same thing but with (arguably) less preparation.

I was stuffed so I skipped the massive desserts (both in selection and portion size).  I have to say I was somewhat disappointed in this visit, mostly due to the burger.  I really expected a lot more from it both because of it’s reputation and because I’ve generally always had very good food here.  That said, the clam chowder was still very good and my grandma said she’s definitely order the Jamaican jerk chicken sweet potato again.

Website: http://www.claimjumper.com/

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#134: Pluto’s

Pluto’s is an oddball-looking place in the Galleria that I’ve been curious about ever since it opened but never went in to check it out.  It’s located out in the promenade area near the playground, across from Il Fornaio and Ruth’s Chris.  They have about nine locations from here to the bay area and focus on fresh, local ingredients.  I met up with some family to finally try it this evening.

I arrived at about 5pm.  Outside, the mall was busy with people going in and out and there were a ton of parents with children enjoying the playground.  Inside I was surprised by how big the dining room was.  There are lots of different sized tables spread out down to the other end and against the windows.  They also have some counter seating near the front door with book holders mounted on the walls so you can read while you eat, which a woman was doing when I walked in.  I thought that was neat.  It wasn’t particularly busy, but later business picked up and there was a bit of a line by the time we left.

Pluto’s doesn’t have your typical menu.  Instead, they have a paper slip you can grab right inside the door as you head towards the counter.  On it you’ll find a list of items to choose from to create a salad or sandwich.  There are a few, apparently permanent, sandwich creations on this paper.  In addition to these things, you’ll find sides, desserts and drinks.  There is a separate kids menu near this one.  Up at the counter you’ll find a couple more menus of salads and sandwiches that change weekly.  Now up there, I could see a ton of ingredients on their side of the glass, ready to be put to use.  It feels a bit like Jack’s Urban Eats.  They even have the grill and the whole turkey right there like Jack’s.

Most of the pre-configured sandwiches and salads sounded pretty good.  I went with one called Turkey In Flight (roast Sonoma turkey on grilled foccacia with Jarlsberg Swiss cheese, crispy bacon, roasted red pepper and artichoke spread, roasted low fat garlic mayo, romaine lettuce and plum tomatoes).  My mom ordered the Mozzarella Moon (fresh sliced mozzarella cheese on grilled foccacia bread with balsamic vinaigrette, basil pesto, fresh basil leaves and plum tomatoes) and my brother went with the Shanghai salad (baby spinach, sugar snap peas, scallions, roasted almonds, radish, shredded carrots, oranges, sunflower seed~soy nut mix & zesty orange vinaigrette).

We placed our orders and was handed a paper (again, very similar to Jack’s) to take down to the register.  Here I saw a small tap with four beers and a small lineup of bottled beverages.  They also have soda, which isn’t clear if you didn’t read the paper menu, and it doesn’t actually list everything anyway.  They have a bar-style soda “gun,” so I couldn’t see any flavors on a fountain or anything.  The cashier listed them off for me, all the basics pretty much, and they had Pibb so I got one of those.  I also grabbed a brownie from a selection of desserts off to the right.  Most of the sandwiches are $6.65.  My total came to $13 or so after the soda, brownie and a side of mac and cheese.  We grabbed a table and waited just a few minutes before our number was called and I went up to get two of the plates.  My brother’s salad was brought to the table a couple minutes later.

I tore through the mac and cheese first since it was hot and cooling rapidly.  It was ok, the macaroni was soft and the cheese sauce thick and very creamy.  The cheese flavor was fairly mild.  I like a sharper mac & cheese for the most part.  My sandwich looked pretty good.  The turkey was about a half-inch thick slice.  The tomatoes and bacon were probably the best part of the sandwich.  Unfortunately, the turkey was pretty dry and the artichoke spread and garlic mayo fairly bland.  The bread was good and I think would have been great given some good, tender turkey and bolder flavors.

My mom’s Mozzarella Moon looked great, and she said it had a lot of flavor (after I mentioned my sandwiches lack of it).  It did look pretty damn good, as did my brother’s salad which was lush with deep green baby spinach.  He said the dressing was very citrus-y.  Finally I got to work on the brownie.  This was a very dense and rich brownie, I would assume flourless.  I regretted my decision to not take this home, because I immediately wanted a huge glass of milk to wash it down with.  It was pretty fantastic though.

Despite my kind of blah sandwich I sort of liked this place.  I don’t have any interest in their turkey anymore, but I actually want to come back to try a salad or the Mozzarella Moon (which is one of the permanent sandwiches).  There’s probably some good people-watching to be had sitting out on the patio too 😉

Website: http://www.plutosfreshfood.com/

#133: Leo’s Kitchen – China Bistro

Tonight I decided to get some Chinese take-out from a fairly new restaurant, Leo’s Kitchen – Chinese Bistro Restaurant.  This opened about two months ago at Foothills and Pleasant Grove.  I walked in at about 5PM to what felt like nap time in between lunch and dinner.  Two people were sitting at different tables.  One of them hopped up as soon as I was inside and greeted me at the front counter.  I had to look over the menu first, so I grabbed one of the big pink takeout menus (link) sitting there and started perusing.

Inside Leo’s Kitchen it feels like a pretty typical Chinese restaurant, although perhaps a bit on the plain side, decoration-wise.  It looked to be very clean and had several different seating options, from booths and tables that seat around four to a few big round tables that looked like they could seat eight or more.  I was the only customer at the moment, so all was very quiet.  The menu is MASSIVE.  Each page is packed with items.  There isn’t much room for dish descriptions, so the name of the item is pretty much all you get, though a lot of them are descriptive enough to give you a general idea.  I would have loved to experiment with some new dishes but you could probably spend weeks doing that, even if you ate here every day, so I figured I had better just stick to what I know for my first visit.  I settled on three items: Crispy Walnut Shrimp, Kung Pao Chicken and House Chow Fun.  I knew I would get some sort of noodle dish.  Chow fun sounded good but I only saw four different ones: Malaysia, Beef (dry), Beef (wet style) and House.  I asked what the House had in it and as I suspected it was a little bit of everything – beef, chicken & shrimp.  She asked if I wanted it dry or wet.  I’d never heard of these styles before so I asked what the difference was.  She said that the dry has bean sprouts where the wet is in a kind of gravy and has a lot of different vegetables in it.  I went with the wet, though both sounded equally good to me.  My total came to just over $30 (The shrimp was the most expensive at $13 while the others were about $8).

I sat down in the entryway and was offered a water while I waited the 15-20 minutes for my order to be ready.  While I waited, another worker arrived (perhaps Leo himself?) followed shortly by a couple customers.  My food was brought to me at about 15 minutes exactly.  The woman handed me the plastic bag, heavy with containers of food.  It was stacked really well inside and didn’t move very much on my drive home.  I don’t know what it is with Chinese take-out, but they have that knot in the handles down to a T.  It’s strong, yet pull in just the right spot and the bag opens up effortlessly.  Now opened up, I see the magic they worked with the interior structure, a piece of cardboard that gave everything a solid base to rest on.

In addition to my three items, there was a box of steamed rice, packets of soy sauce and the usual fortune cookies.  The chow fun and kung pao chicken were each packed tightly to the top and nearly spilled out of the containers as I attempted to get the first scoop out.  The crispy walnut shrimp was decently full, but nothing like the others.  The shrimp in this were huge, as were the walnuts.  This dish reminds me a lot of Bambu Asian Cuisine’s version.  The shrimp had a very light, crispy batter, the walnuts appeared candied and the whole thing was in a sweet and creamy glaze-like sauce.  It was really good overall.

The Kung Pao Chicken was a deep, yet bright red color.  This was not battered, though some pieces appeared to have a crunchy texture.  Peanuts and green onions were sprinkled in throughout.  The chicken was very tender and the flavor solid.  It wasn’t very spicy, despite the equally bright red peppers in it.  I enjoyed this one a lot, almost as much as the shrimp.

Finally, the House Chow Fun.  This was indeed packed with a variety of veggies.  I was surprised by how huge the chicken was in this.  There were a couple bites that I nearly went and got a knife for, but I managed without.  It was heavy with a good amount of the chicken, beef and shrimp as big as the ones in the first dish.  As I ate this, I realized that I didn’t come across a single noodle.  Maybe they’re all hiding at the bottom and I’ll find them in the next couple days with leftovers (UPDATE: That’s exactly what happened, the bottom 2/3rds was all noodles).  The gravy in it was pretty bland, as was the whole thing in general.  The meats were tender, the shrimp fresh and the veggies in that state where they still have a bit of crispness to them.  So everything seemed to be cooked fine, there just wasn’t a lot of flavor in any of it.

I have mixed feelings about Leo’s.  One the one hand the serving sizes were massive (a couple of them anyway), and I’ll easily get 2 to 3 more meals out of it all, which makes the price pretty good.  The chow fun was disappointing and the others were good, though not outstanding.  I have to give them props on the packing of my take-out bag.  They seem to care that it gets home intact which few places do.  I feel like it’s good Chinese food overall, but I have this nagging feeling like it’s missing something.  Perhaps that’s simply because I chose to take it home instead of having the full dining experience there.  I would put this a bit below Rose Garden, Bambu and Roseville Gourmet so far.  I still have a few more Chinese restaurants to visit.

UPDATE 12/25/2013:

A friend and I decided to see if we could find a place that was open on Christmas for dinner since we were both done with our family stuff.  We ended up here.  A few other options in Roseville that were open included Ruth’s Chris, Il Fornaio and Buca di Beppo.  Obviously, the Leo’s Kitchen staff were extremely busy with the high level of dine in and take out business, though despite that we still had pretty good service.  We had the crispy walnut shrimp, which was outstanding, maybe even better than the first time.  We also had the General Chicken which was fantastic.  Hot, crispy and full of flavor.  For an appetizer we ordered the (6) pot stickers, which were easily the biggest pot stickers I’ve ever had, and they were also excellent.  I wanted to come back and bump up the rating to 4.5 after factoring this visit in.  Leo’s is now high on my list.

(Scanned) Menu: Click Here