#150: I Love Teriyaki

Last Wednesday I went to I Love Teriyaki for dinner.  This seems to be a Sacramento area chain with over a dozen locations.  I say seems because their website, iltca.com, only shows the Roseville location on Douglas and a Sacramento location.  Google lists the same website for all the locations I found.  I picked up a menu once at the Rancho Cordova location to keep at work and I wish I looked at it earlier today because I think it shows more.  Maybe their website is horribly out of date, or more likely, it’s some silliness with “authorized” franchises that leads to varying experiences all under the same name, which is what Mr. Pickles has going on.

I have eaten at three different I Love Teriyaki’s at this point.  I visited the one on Douglas a couple years ago where I had some very mediocre chicken.  I’ve been to the one in Rancho Cordova a couple times, where the sesame chicken is decent, but the counter where I sat the last time was basically a shared space where to go orders are picked up, leading to a very annoying lunch where I was pretty much in the way the whole time because I decided to dine in.  Finally, this was my first time to the Foothills spot.

I headed in at about 6PM.  The interior is fairly small.  There are nine 4-seat tables, three of which were in use.  The menu above the register is quite simple, listing a dozen or so items under “Teriyaki Plates,” five items (vegetable, chicken, pork, beef, seafood) under “Noodle Plates” and about four items under “Tempura Plates.”  To the right are some big photos of some of the items.  In addition there was a photo of potstickers, which I did not see on the menu.  I kind of wanted some but ended up just sticking with a chicken noodle plate.  At the register I was rung up by a young guy who was polite enough but provided very little interaction, just enough to get the order, payment and hand me my cup and receipt.  As I left the register, I noticed there was a paper menu that was taped to the counter that looked like it had more than the menu up above did.  Just around the corner at the fountain machine I filled up with water and then came back to find a seat, snagging one of their to go menus (PDF) on the way.

I took a seat near the door and looked this over.  Indeed, this paper menu had a lot more to offer including noodle soups and sushi rolls.  Looking over to one of the walls I saw they had a bunch more photos, of which five were sushi rolls.  I think at first glance these can be misconstrued for decoration rather than and extended menu.  It was irritating to have missed out on over half the menu of available items.  Anyway, I waited patiently while the busy kitchen worked.  There were several people back there constantly moving around.  A steady flow of customers picking up phone orders justified the high level of activity.

In about 10 minutes my plate was delivered.  A pile of noodles, thinner than those I had at Teriyaki To Go, were mixed with slivers of carrot, sliced cabbage, broccoli, bean sprouts and chicken.  There was a good amount of chicken in the pile.  The light coating of sauce on it all was similar to Teriyaki To Go’s sauce but a little sweeter, and was a little weaker overall.   I found the chicken to be OK.  It was nowhere near as flavorful, juicy and tender as Teriyaki To Go’s, but it wasn’t dry either.  I found myself getting annoyed with the amount of cabbage in this.  Not so much cabbage in general, but the hard, thick white stem parts you would find near the core.  They lacked any kind of flavor and detracted from the rest each time I got one and had to spend a moment chewing it.  By the end I was picking these bits out and putting them in a little pile to the side.  Along with the chicken noodles was a small amount of steamed white rice.  I threw a little soy sauce over this to enjoy it.

Overall I was much less impressed with what was essentially the same dish, despite being served on a plate instead of a bowl, as I had at Teriyaki To Go.  It was fine, but much like all my other experiences at I Love Teriyaki locations, it just didn’t leave much of an impression.  The menu situation was bad.  I know what the deal is now, but that was not a good first impression.  It wouldn’t kill me to eat here again, I just doubt I’ll ever feel the need to return.

(Scanned) Menu: Click Here

#149: Wasabi Asia Bistro & Sushi Bar

Tonight my mom and I set out to try Asian Bliss only to find that they had a planned closure for this exact day.  I suggested this new sushi joint that recently opened in the Crush 29 center and we met up there instead.  This is a small local chain with a location in Citrus Heights and one in Folsom.  Roseville is their third and newest.  At first glance when you walk in it’s got a similar vibe to most of the modern sushi places in the region.  Money went into this place and it looks very nice.  After a moment we started to notice things like the light fixtures which were very unique.  There was a glass tray (which I didn’t get a photo of) on the front counter was really cool; take a moment and check it out if you ever come here.  Aside from some of these very visually interesting touches it’s fairly straightforward.  The place is divided into two sections.  The front half is all tables.  Past a shoulder-high wall is the sushi bar area and raised bar/pub type tables.  The sushi bar is a cube with 3 accessible sides.  The 4th is an opening to the kitchen.  Even this has a nice light feature built into the side.

We were greeted immediately upon entering (at about 5:30PM) and were asked if we wanted dinner or happy hour.  When asked what the difference was she told us that happy hour has a different menu and seating.  I asked to see that menu and she grabbed one from the bar.  It was quite a small selection, just one long page.  We decided to do the full dinner and we were seated in the front section.  The bar area was fairly busy throughout our entire visit.  Meanwhile, the front only ever had 2-3 tables seated.  The dinner menu (PDF) is HUGE.  The pages themselves were big, I think they may have been 11×17.  Most had dense, small font-sized white text filling the page.  Others had lots of excellent photos.  They have a noticeably larger selection of just about everything compared to other sushi places in the area.  In addition to the sushi offerings you’ll see that they have entirely additional sections like teppanyaki (think Benihana), though they must prepare those in the kitchen rather than in front of the customers as there were no grills that I could see.

For drinks, they have a sizable beer selection and a wine list that dwarfs most restaurants in general.  My mom mentioned in particular how impressive it was in comparison to Blue Nami‘s comparatively puny offering.  She ordered a glass of wine while I went with a draught Sapporo.  These came out within a couple minutes.  My Sapporo was cold, crisp and refreshing.  I was quite overwhelmed by the menu.  I probably could have easily studied it for over 30 minutes before picking out the perfect items.  Instead, I skimmed around skipping huge sections of rolls (the roll section spans 4 pages, 2 of photos and 2 with walls of text.  I counted 132 individual rolls).  We decided to get an appetizer.  My mom picked out Bacon Scallops, Mixed Tempura, Stuffed Mushrooms and Lettuce Wraps as good options.  I narrowed it down and we eventually settled on the Bacon Scallops [bacon-wrapped scallops on skewers]($7).  She had already decided on the 49ers roll ([D.F. Shrimp, Snow Crab] Avocado, Scallop, Tobiko)[$11] and I wanted to try the Pancake Shrimp (Pan-fried Shrimp stuffed with Halibut, served in sweet Brown and White sauce)[$13].  I wanted to get one more roll and finally found the Super Rainbow ([D.F. Shrimp, Snow Crab, Spicy Tuna] Avocado, Tuna, Eel, Crab Leg, Tobiko, Onion and 4 pieces Spicy Lobster)[$16].  Ordering with out server was painless and quick.

The time between ordering and the appetizer coming out was at least 10 minutes, looking at my photo times, but it didn’t feel like that at all.  There’s enough interesting stuff to look at as far a decoration/lighting, and on top of that they have 8 big, bright HDTVs on every wall (4 side by side in the sushi bar area alone), all on different channels.  Our waitress brought out little trays, one with wasabi/ginger, two regular sized plates, and a rectangular dish with the Bacon Scallops.  There were two skewers on this dish.  Each had onions, a mushroom and two bacon-wrapped scallops on it.  A brownish sauce had been drizzled over them and sesame seeds topped it all off.  These were awesome.  Every piece on the skewer was delicious.  The mushroom was great and the bacon was nice and crisp.  The scallop (I’m usually not one to order scallops) was just barely on the chewy side, but still very good.  The sauce was sweet with a little zip and a hint of teriyaki flavor to it.  I think the exact same sauce was on every other item we ordered.  I would definitely order these again.

A short time after we had finished these, the main items started arriving.  She brought out the 49ers and Pancake Shrimp first, followed immediately by the Super Rainbow.  A couple minutes later, while we were still starting to dig into everything, a final little dish came out.  This was the 4 lobster pieces.  I actually didn’t realize they would be a separate thing.  The pancake shrimp was quite a display.  8 shrimp (or 16? There may have been two shrimp in each piece) were arranged around the edge of the plate with a bursting design of brown and white sauce in the middle.  These were just as great as the Bacon Scallops.  I didn’t actually taste the halibut in it, but you could see it and feel the texture briefly in the initial bite.  The shrimp and sauce (depending how much you dipped) were 90% of the taste.  As I said, I think the brown sauce in this was the same as was on the Bacon Scallops.  Overall, very tasty.

The two rolls were somewhat similar in that they both had deep fried shrimp, snow crab, avocado and tobiko.  The biggest visual difference was scallops vs tuna laid over-top each one.  The scallops were big slices.  Unlike the appetizer these were perfectly tender.  My roll had a lot of the same flavors, but on top had a touch of heat at the end from the spicy tuna and a rich, savory note from the eel, which I never actually saw.  Each roll had a nice crunch from the shrimp inside.  Again, the sweet brown sauce was applied to each one.  Finally, the Spicy Lobster pieces.  These weren’t nearly as spicy as I expected.  They were just slightly more so than the Super Rainbow.  Whatever sauce they were served in was intensely flavorful and masked any trace of the lobster itself.  The texture was definitely right and I bit one in half revealing, surprise, a chunk of lobster meat with a bit of pink/red on the edges!  These were good, though I could have done without them and been happier with a slight price decrease on the roll.

Speaking of prices, that’s pretty much the only disadvantage Wasabi has over Blue Nami (just using them in particular as an example since they’re right across the street)  Overall the prices are noticeably higher for many things.  Just looking at the rolls, the average price is around $12 at Wasabi and $7 at Blue Nami.  Both have much higher priced, fantastical rolls.  These are the most noticeable price differences but overall most things look slightly more expensive when compared item to item.  If this were Roseville’s only top-notch sushi place it would be one thing, but we have an abundance of excellent sushi to choose from, so it’s hard not to look at the prices and think, eh, lets just go across the street.  On the other hand, Blue Nami often has a wait during peak hours.  After 6PM on a Friday night Wasabi still had plenty of empty tables.  For standard sushi items I recommend sticking to our known-good and relatively cheaper sushi restaurants.  Wasabi has a lot more to offer though, and it’s absolutely worth checking them out to try some of those more specialized items.

Website: http://www.wasabii.com/

#148: Pho Vietnam Noodle Restaurant

For lunch today I visited one of the last Vietnamese restaurants on my list, Pho Vietnam Noodle Restaurant.  I’ve mentioned before that Vietnamese cuisine has been one of the more difficult ones for me to get into.  A combination of knowing next to nothing about Vietnamese food and ordering blindly from dense menus left me unsure and wondering if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.  My Pho Hang experience got me a little closer, but I think I’m finally in now.

Pho Vietnam Noodle Restaurant is located next door to Khobkoon Thai Cuisine in Woodcreek Plaza, on the corner of Foothills and Pleasant Grove.  I arrived just before noon.  There was a couple finishing up lunch when I walked in, and someone was in and out to pickup a phone order towards the end of my stay.  Other than that I had the place to myself.  I was greeted immediately by the owner and his son (an assumption on both) and was led over to a table roughly in the middle of the good sized dining room.  They definitely have the larger of the two spaces in this building.  Khobkoon is pretty tiny in comparison.  The space is open and is nicely decorated with some plants, artwork on the walls and a curtain that hides restroom doorway with a little style.  Behind me was a large HDTV, which the owner offered to turn on for me at one point.  There was some Kenny G-esque music lightly playing, and I swear it was on repeat the entire time.  I was handed a menu (scanned PDF) and left to look it over for a few minutes.

I knew I would be ordering a bowl of pho, and I also wanted to try an appetizer.  I was considering spring rolls, egg rolls or a crepe, which I spotted a picture of while looking for information on this place before heading out.  I suspect the spring rolls would be great, as they have been everywhere so far, and egg rolls could be good but I was really curious about the crepe (Vietnamese crepe with pork & shrimp)[$5.99] so I picked that.  For my pho I kept it simple this time and chose a small with rare steak (#14, served with beansprouts, lime, basil and jalapenos)[$5.95].  Within a couple minutes I had the little plate of pho fixings already brought out.  I could hear the crepe sizzling away in the kitchen.  While I was waiting the owner came out and asked if I have ever had a crepe before, to which I replied “not a Vietnamese crepe.”  He explained that there would be a little bowl of sauce for dipping and it would come with veggies on the side.  He was extremely nice and seemed eager to explain about the food here and there throughout my visit which was much appreciated.

About 10 minutes after I had ordered, the crepe was delivered.  It was much different than crepes as I know them.  It was very crisp and much more solid in it’s form than the more common French ones.  I was easily able to lift the top portion up with just the corner of my fork to reveal everything inside, which consisted mainly of beansprouts, some shrimp and green onions.  I didn’t see any pork, but I think it was underneath the bean sprouts.  Along side it was a big pile of mustard leaves with cilantro, cucumbers and (I think) onions and carrots.  I didn’t taste them individually to confirm, but that’s what they looked like and the consistency was about right.  I was leary of the sauce at first since whenever I see sauces that look like it, it’s often a fish sauce or something like it and is super salty, overpowering, and just not my cup of tea in general.  I gave this a cautious sniff.  While I wasn’t knocked off my chair, it did seem to smell salty to me.  I first tried a bite of the crepe on it’s own.  No veggies, no sauce.  Texture-wise I really enjoyed it, but it was fairly bland.  I carefully dipped a corner of a bite into the sauce and gave it a try.  I was surprised that it was very mild.  It did add a touch of salty flavor, but also sweet, and it was not spicy.  I ended up liking it a lot and used probably half of the little cup. From a little online research, I found that this sauce is made from fermented soy beans.  After these first test bites I dug in, stuffing the crepe with most of the sides.  It was wonderfully crisp, both the crepe itself and the mustard leaves.  The beansprouts added additional crunch.  The shrimp were few, but tasty.  I didn’t really taste any pork.  I thought it was really good once I got all in with the sides.  It was a great, light starter, though probably big enough to easily share.

About 4 minutes into my crepe the pho arrived.  Despite being a small, it was a good sized bowl filled to the top with hot, steaming broth.  Just under the surface I could see a pile of the thin white noodles and some slices of steak.  Floating at the surface were sliced green onions.  The bowl was steaming a lot when it first came.  I focused on the crepe and let it cool off a bit.  Finished with that, I pulled the big bowl forward and got started.  Again, my first bites were of the bowl without any extras.  I loved it.  It was subtle and delicious, and smelled fantastic.  The steak had been fully cooked to a greyish brown color.  I think I might order this without any meat next time.  Each time I’ve found the beef to be ok.  The noodles were super slippery.  My mediocre chopstick skills notwithstanding, I was able to get a bite’s worth piled onto my spoon with some broth in it relatively easily.  Eventually I started adding some of the garnishes.  I dumped most of the bean sprouts in, ripped up one of the basil leaves, and squeezed in the little wedge of lime.  The bean sprouts added their crunch to the bowl and the little lime went a long way.  Finally, I decided to try out the dark sauce (which I later learned, from the owner, was hoisen) in the Siracha container.  The very small amount I added made a big change.  At first I kind of regretted adding it.  A rich, sweet soy saucy kinda flavor took over the bowl.  After a few bites I decided I actually liked it a lot though.  I ended up sipping all the remaining broth from the bowl after finishing off the noodles and beef.

I left feeling very satisfied and full from this good sized yet fairly light meal.  I thought the price was great. In addition, I also left already looking forward to my next bowl of pho.  I’ve even started looking at where I can go for lunch in Rancho (if you have a favorite out there, let me know!).  The very friendly service and tips provided by the owner were the best I’ve had in Roseville.  If you’re new to the cuisine like myself, I highly recommend this restaurant as he really makes you feel comfortable to ask about anything, know what you’re getting and how to best enjoy it.

(Scanned) Menu: Click Here