#147 Tap Room (Whole Foods Market)

I hadn’t intended to do a post on Whole Foods.  I had come here last Saturday because Fabio was supposed to make an appearance to promote some sort of protein shake or something, and I thought it would be a hilarious celebrity photo to have.  Unfortunately he cancelled, so no photo op for this guy.  Luckily it was not a complete waste since also thought I would check out the Tap Room while I was there.  Disclaimer: I know a couple guys that work at this whole foods and had direct interaction with both of them during my visit.  That said, the service and food I saw going out to other customers while I was there looked to be about the same as I received.

I rarely wonder into Whole Foods.  Usually it’s to buy beer or a ribeye (or both!).  As such I was completely unaware that, earlier this year, they opened this “Tap Room” on the right side of the market.  It’s basically a fenced-off area of seating with a small bar where they have craft beer, wine and a selection of pub-style food.  My friend Justin and I sat down at the bar and both had an Auburn Alehouse Shanghai Stout (served on nitro), which is my favorite year-round beer from the brewery/restaurant up there.  Today they were also serving this as a beer float, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It didn’t sound that good to me but I was handed a little 4oz sample to try out and it was actually pretty awesome.

We weren’t planning on eating there until we saw a burger come out for someone and decided it looked damn good.  Added to that, on the menu we noticed that they have a $1 corkage fee, which we asked about.  This applies to any wine or beer purchased in-store (not something brought in from outside), which basically means you have access to a much bigger selection than is on tap.  So we decided to get a good beer from the wall of cold beer on the other side of the store and bring it back to have with food there at the Tap Room.  We picked out a Darkest Hour from Anchorage Brewing Company to share.  This is a Belgian style imperial stout aged in French oak pinot noir and rye whisky barrels and is 13% ABV.  It’s a super dark, super flavorful beer with notes of chocolate, nuts, vanilla, oaky bourbon and a touch of wine.  This is right up my alley.  It was a little pricey though at I think $15 or $16 for the 750ml bottle.

We each ordered the burger & fries (ground beef, turkey or veggie burger topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickle, mayo and ketchup)[$9].  You can add bacon, avocado or chili for $1 each.  Some interesting things to note: 1. The beef is apparently from Whole Foods own meat dept from what I was told, and they have some pretty great beef.  2. Cheddar cheese is standard but they offered to see what the deli had available when Justin asked if they had Gruyere.  Purchasing some from the cheese dept and bringing it over was also an option.  He stuck with cheddar to keep it simple.  There were some fry options, garlic Parmesan or sweet potato, I believe.  It may also be possible to do onion rings in place of the fries.  We both went with regular.  I added bacon to mine and we asked for caramelized onions.

It was probably 10-15 minutes for our burgers to be cooked up right in front of us in the little kitchen.  The patty was somewhat thin and draped with a thick slice of melted cheddar.  My bacon was crisp and piled on in a good amount.  They cook their burgers to medium as standard, we asked for something below that (not sure why we were vague about it but it’s just how it went).  There was just a hint of pink to mine, Justin’s was mostly brown throughout.  The burger nonetheless was very juicy and I had to set it to the side of my plate to avoid setting the bun directly in the newly formed puddle.  It was fantastically delicious and full of flavor.  The cheddar was particularly tasty.  It’s definitely one of the better burgers in Roseville for sure.  The fries were pretty decent, though I definitely like mine crispier.  Despite their dark appearance they weren’t overly cooked, in fact some were downright limp.  They appeared to be seasoned with salt and pepper only, and did taste pretty good.  I suspect these could be excellent if I ask for them to be fried longer.

This place was not on my radar at all, but I can definitely say that I will be back.  The burger was great and the price was reasonable.  Just about everything on their small menu sounds really good (I’m eying the grilled cheese right now…).

Website: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/roseville

(Scanned) Menu: Click Here

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#146: Strings Italian Cafe

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.

Website: http://www.stringscafe.com/

#145: Wong’s Garden

Tonight I had dinner at Wong’s Garden.  This family run Chinese restaurant is located on Harding Blvd just north of Roseville Square.  It’s a bit back from the street and in a corner, so it’s not something you might notice when driving by.  This is one of the many places in Roseville that I’ve meant to try out for years and just never got around to.  I headed in at about 5:30PM.

The first thing that was interesting about Wong’s Garden was the entrance.  It’s got one of those enclosed entryways that sends you to the left or right to go through another door before you’re inside.  They have signs on each door directing you to the right.  Through that door you’ll find yourself basically in the middle of the restaurant, where they have a little counter set up.  The dining room has 3 distinct sections, to the right of the counter there is a big room with tables that can be closed off via a floor to ceiling retractable divider wall.  To the left there is a section with small square tables and a couple big circular tables.  Running parallel with that section is a couple rows of booths which have fairly high backs, enough that I only noticed the one customer in there by the top of his head.  At first it didn’t seem like there was any staff, but a few seconds after I had made it to the counter a woman came around the corner with a take out order in a big cardboard box.  She handed this to a lady that was waiting a few feet away and came back to me, asking if I also had a take out order.  I said no, that I would like to dine in, and she gestured for me to take any seat.

I took one of the little tables in the front that gave me a good view of the place.  A moment later she handed me a menu and an ice water.  From my seat I was able to just barely see outside.  There isn’t much to see if you have one of the few seats with any view out the front.  It’s pretty much the parking lot.  There are other windows but they are covered with blinds and face other buildings anyway.  The place looked very clean and well kept.  Just from my impression of the outside I had always expected it to be a cramped, dark and cluttered place, but it’s pretty much the opposite of all those things.  Looking over the menu (scanned take out menu) it seemed pretty typical, I didn’t see anything that stood out as particularly unique for a Chinese restaurant.  Prices were normal, about $7-10 for most dishes.  There was a separate lunch menu with some combos and smaller versions of the dinner plates.  My plan was to get a few items and have the leftovers for lunch/dinner tomorrow.  One thing I knew I wanted to check out was the Sesame Chicken [$7.95].  I saw a comment recently that said it’s totally different from anywhere else and that you won’t regret trying it, so I was in.  I went with Pork Chow Mein [$6.60] and Walnut Shrimp [$10.95] as my other items and ordered a Dr Pepper [~$2] to drink.

The woman that seated me took my order back to the kitchen and brought my soda back out.  The restaurant was very quiet when I had first arrived.  There was no music and just the one customer so no conversations.  A handful of customers trickled in over the next 10 minutes or so and at some point the radio was turned on, but very low.  My food was prepared pretty quickly.  It was maybe 7 minutes from order to food on the table.  All three plates and a big bowl of rice were brought out together.  I was curious to see what the Sesame Chicken would be like based on that comment, and it was definitely different.  Instead of the typical strips of breaded chicken, these were balled up, deep fried spheres of chicken pieces.  I cut one open to see what it looked like inside and found what looked like pretty much 100% white chicken in small chunks and some that looked like it was shredded.  Each piece was a little bigger than bite sized.  The batter was fried crisp.  All the chicken was covered in a dark, syrupy sauce which was tangy and a little sweet.  The chicken itself was tender and moist.  I thought it was pretty good overall.

The Pork Chow Mein was made up of little strips of soft, juicy pork mixed into a big pile of thick noodles topped with bean sprouts.  It didn’t occur to me what the green slices were until I had a couple in one bite and realized they were celery.  This was a decent dish, perhaps a touch on the salty side.  I don’t have any strong feelings one way or the other on it.  The pork was a little more flavorful than I expected and there was quite a bit of it, so that was good.  The rice was rice, nothing to really say about it.  I had a little bit with some soy sauce and it was exactly what I expected.

The Walnut Shrimp is what I keep thinking about.  I’ve had some really good versions of this dish throughout Roseville, my current favorite being at Bambu Asian Cuisine.  This one is either a very, very close second or tied with Bambu.  It was awesome, and the thing about it I loved the most was the texture (not to discount the flavor, which was superb).  Each piece had this wonderful dry crunch which gave way to the tender shrimp within.  The crunch was accompanied by a hint of walnut flavor, aside fact he fact that there are actual walnuts served with it, and of course the sweet glaze with a touch of honey to it.  I hope the ones I took home hold up well tomorrow (the leftover ones I had from Leo’s Kitchen were surprisingly good, the next day in the microwave, for being shrimp).

I was generally very happy with Wong’s Garden.  The chow mein could have been a little better, but the other two dishes made up for it I think.  The service was very good.  Both the woman that sat me and took care of me for most of the time and a guy that came out of the back after a little while were both very nice and checked on me often.  When it was time to get boxes for leftovers she offered to box everything up for me, which she did, and then tied one of those brilliant knots in the plastic bag, that I’ve never been able to wrap my brain around, so I could safely carry it with nothing more than a finger.  I think I’ll likely stop by here for take out in the future, especially since it’s very close to home for me.

I didn’t realize I had a problem…  Damn you, fortune!

(Scanned) Menu: Click Here