#158: Panda Restaurant

Tonight I finally tried out a spot that I’ve been curious about for a few years.  By it’s name alone, Panda Restaurant, I was pretty certain it was a Chinese restaurant.  It’s located in the Bel Air shopping center on Foothills at Main/Baseline.  I’ve driven by it several times while leaving the center and couldn’t tell much about it from the outside.  My family met up here for dinner at about 6PM.

The shopping center was fairly busy when I arrived with my grandmother, but there was plenty of parking near Panda.  Just inside the door is a little divider wall that we rounded to find the rest of our party, already seated around a six-seater circular table.  As we sat down the server asked us if we would like anything to drink.  I just went with a water for the moment.  As he went to get that I skipped to the back of the clearly old and a little ragged menu (PDF of the takeout version) to see what the beverages situation looked like.  It was very basic, sodas, tea, a small domestic and import selection of beers.  I ended up not ordering anything and just stuck with the water.  Everyone had pretty much already decided what they wanted to eat by the time I arrived, and almost all were ordering from the “Special Combinations Plate for One” section, so I picked something from there as well.  The rest of the menu looked to be in line with Roseville’s other major Chinese restaurants both in variety and price ($7-9 for most dinner items).  The sever was back soon and everyone put their order in while I finalized my selection.  Each combo plate comes with a choice of egg drop soup or hot & sour soup, an egg roll, cheese wonton, pork fried rice and vegetable chow mein.  I picked orange chicken and went with the egg drop soup.

Just a few minutes later our soups came out.  This egg drop was pretty decent overall.  It was not insanely hot and was sippable right away, which I like.  The usual suspects, corn and bits of carrot, were found in it.  It wasn’t mind blowing, not that any other egg drop I’ve ever had was.  It was pleasant and that’s all that needs to be said.  I was still in the middle of my soup when our other appetizers arrived.  The egg roll was of the very, very flaky variety.  I cut mine in half with my fork to see if I could get a photo of the inside.  As you can see just behind the half roll, a pile of crispy flakes was the aftermath.  I’m a texture guy so I enjoyed this more than I probably should have considering the contents, which were a little boring.  In fact I’m not really sure what was in it beyond some lettuce.  The cream cheese wonton was pretty good.  Crispy edges and warm, gooey cream cheese in the center.  It’s hard to argue with that.

Barely five minutes after the appetizers were delivered, the entrees were being brought out in twos.  My brother had ordered a dinner entree, the Szechuan String Beans (string beans sauteed in hot spicy sauce)[$6.95] and added tofu.  I tried a string bean and it had a nice, immediate kick to it with  some excellent flavor to back it up.  The beans still had a little bit of snap to them as well.  My mom had the Sweet & Sour Chicken (battered, deep-fried chicken, onions, carrots and pineapple chunks, served with sweet and sour sauce)[$8.95] combo plate.  It was a giant amount of food.  This was the case for each combo.  I had a bite of the sweet & sour chicken.  By itself I think it might have been pretty good, flavor-wise, but compared to my dish it seemed weak.  The chicken, interestingly, was a bit on the dry side.  I say that because the chicken I had from two other dishes on the table were very much the opposite.  My brother’s wife had Cashew Chicken (chicken sauteed with zucchini, celery, baby corn, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and cashews in brown sauce)[$8.95], which I thought was pretty tasty.  The chicken was very tender and in a non-spicy, savory sauce.

As with all the others, my orange chicken combo plate (lightly battered chicken sauteed with hot pepper and orange peels) [$9.75] was huge.  I’m glad it was because I was starving.  The first thing I dug into was the chow mein, which was very hot, fresh and downright delicious.  Definitely near the top of my list.  So many places can’t seem to figure out good chow mein, and knowing that, it can be frustrating to order at times.  The rice was also hot.  It was dark and pretty flavorful for fried rice, but after a few bites I found the flavor to be kind of one-dimensional and I lost interest in it.  Next to it was the big pile of very hot, intensely rich flavored orange chicken.  The pieces were pretty big, a little bigger than a comfortable bite would be.  I ended up cutting many in half with my fork (I suppose I should note that a fork was the only utensil we were given.  Perhaps they have knives on request).  The batter was very crunchy and was soaked in the dark, brownish-orange sauce.  It only had a hint of orange flavor to it, though I did find tiny slices of orange rind here and there.  It was much more of a rich, somewhat thick, savory soy sauce with a bit of sweetness underneath it all.  It was by far the hottest thing on the plate and had to abort my first bite right before committing to it when I realized how much heat it was throwing off.  The rice regained some life when I used it to soak up the excess orange chicken sauce which had pooled up underneath the pile of chicken pieces.

As far as the food went I was pretty happy overall.  The rice was a little boring, but paired up with the extra sauce was quite good.  My mom said she liked her sweet and sour chicken, but after trying everything I’d say it was the weakest item at the table.  The portions were very, very good for the price.  Most of the plates didn’t even look like they had a dent in them.  I was the only one to polish off my plate, I told you I was really hungry :).  Service-wise they were OK at best.  There was an extended period towards the end when I really needed a water refill and he just wasn’t making his rounds through the dining room.  Aside from that, the service we did receive was minimal.

I think this is probably a very solid lunch spot, where you’re in and out relatively quickly with little need for the typical full-service dinner experience.  Perhaps that and take-out are the strengths here.

(Scanned) Menu: Panda.Restaurant.Menu


#157: Nela’s Mexican Restaurant

I just returned from Nela’s Mexican Restaurant, where I had dinner tonight.  This family run Mexican joint sits on Vernon St. in downtown Roseville, just a couple spots over from Sammy Hagar’s place.  I had intended to go to an Indian restaurant nearby, called Shalimar Indian Cuisine, but they seem to have gone out of business because I couldn’t find it.

Before I dive into this one I just want to say hello to any new visitors that might see this.  Facebook offered me a little advertising credit, because I had been poking around in the ad stuff, so I figured I might as well use it.  In less than 24 hours almost 100 people have liked the Eating Through Roseville page, which was a nearly 50% increase.  Crazy.  I hope you guys enjoy the blog and find it useful!

Nela’s was Eva’s at some point.  In fact I thought it was still Eva’s up until I saw the menu.  There is practically no signage on the building.  The only things that give this place away are the Corona decals in half of the windows and a little sign that says “Mexican Restaurant” propped up against the glass from the inside.  It’s a much bigger space than I was expecting.  When I showed up and first took a picture of the outside I only included the Corona windows because I thought the other half was a different business.  It wasn’t until I walked up and realized that there was no handle on the right side door that it was twice as wide.  I headed to the left, through that door and inside.  Right at the door I passed an employee that was cleaning the windows.  There a little counter and register up front.  I missed the smallish sign that said “seat yourself” and waited awkwardly for about 15-20 seconds until the guy finished his window and asked if I was ordering takeout.  He told me to sit wherever I liked after I said I would be dining in.

The dining area is a big rectangular area that is lined mostly with booths and filled with tables in the center.  They had them arranged into a few long tables for a big group that I guess was coming in later.  Not long after I sat down they were setting them up with chips and salsa.  Nobody had arrived by the time I left about a half hour later.  My table had a couple menus there already and the guy that was cleaning windows ended up being the server.  He brought me water just a moment after I had made myself comfortable and asked if I wanted to order anything to drink.  I was looking over the drink menu and told him not quite yet.  They have a fairly typical drink selection, about 7 or 8 beers, mostly imports from Mexico, Jarritos, regular sodas and a non-alcoholic, grape flavored sangria.

Just a minute or two later he returned with chips and salsa.  I had decided to stick with water as nothing was really tickling my fancy tonight.  I still needed a few minutes to peruse the menu(PDF).  I figured I’d be getting their carnitas plate, assuming they had one (spoiler: they do), but I wanted to take a look at everything first.  It was pretty typical, appetizers, soups/salads, burritos, make-your-own combos and finally the house specialties.  I was really hungry this evening so, to be honest, a lot of it sounded pretty damn good.  Of course I eventually found the carnitas, at the very end, and ordered that up (roasted pork served with shredded lettuce, fresh sliced onions, tomatoes and avocado)[$11.95].  It included beans, rice and a small salad.

Much like my recent visit, to Cafe Delicias, I was served two types of salsa — Pico de gallo in a little cup and a salsa roja in a squeeze bottle with a dish for it.  The chips were served at room tempurature and were thicker than average.  Not quite Carmelita’s-thick, but getting there.  With their thickness and rigidity they easily scooped up as much salsa as I desired.  They could probably stand up to even the heartiest of bean dips.  They had a very nice, solid crunch to them, but not much in the way of flavor.  I found that to be pretty much in line with most of the boring chips you get around Roseville.  Texture is about the only thing that set these aside.  The cool pico de gallo seemed very fresh, was quite mild and almost refreshing in a way.  I really dug it, and I’m not that much of a pico de gallo guy.  I tend to gravitate more to the thinner, hotter salsas, such as what was in the bottle next to it.  This was very bold and had a roasty chili flavor to it, as well as an immediate kick that lingered on my tongue.  I could tell instantly that this could build quickly over consecutive scoops if left unchecked.

I didn’t get more than a few chips in and my side salad arrived.  This visit was starting to feel more and more like Cafe Delicias.  It was about the same sized little salad with just a touch too much dressing for what it was.  Again, the blue cheese dressing was plenty good and the lettuce was very crisp and cold.  They were tearing it up in the kitchen (read: plating pre-prepped food) because I didn’t even get halfway through my salad before I saw my server walking towards me with my carnitas plate.  I quickly slid a bunch of things aside to make room for it.  Again, just like Cafe Delicias, I was told that the plate was very hot and to be careful.  I was having serious déjà vu.

This plate, however, was nowhere near as hot as that other one.  The first thing that I noticed was how big the carnitas chunks were.  Instead of the typical shredded bits it was 3 or 4 big chunks.  The usual re-fried beans and rice took a good chunk of the plate and a nice presentation of tomato, onion and avocado slices atop a small pile of shredded lettuce finished off the plate.  I had a little concern regarding the pork and it being such big chunks.  I figured that there would not be much in the way of crispy edges compared to the shredded style.  In this I was right.  It pulled apart with my fork and knife pretty easily and at least appeared to be nice and moist.  Unfortunately looks were somewhat deceiving here.  I found that most of the meat was somewhat dry.  A handful of bites were pretty tender and delicious with a crispy edge to it, but they were few and far between.  I strategically used tomato slices to counter the dryness, but there wasn’t much to go around.  In hindsight I wish I had asked for some sour cream, which probably would have helped out a ton.  As for the rice and beans, I also found the rice to be on the dry side, though it was actually some of the tastier rice I’ve had in recent memory.  I mixed it into the very mediocre beans and crisp shredded lettuce after a couple bites.

The service was ridiculously fast and the guy was friendly and patient.  Unfortunately the food just didn’t do anything for me.  The best part of my meal was the salsas.  Not exactly what you look for in a Mexican restaurant, right?  So pretty disappointing overall.  Fortunately we have lots of fantastic Mexican to choose from in Roseville.

(Scanned) Menu: Click Here


#156: Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs

Following a recent discussion thread on Reddit’s Roseville sub about the best breakfast spots in Roseville, I had breakfast on the brain.  This morning I decided to act on it and give the new Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs a shot.  Peg’s is a family owned and operated restaurant with four other locations, all in the Reno area.  They opened sometime around early August and seem to be doing some solid business already.  I recall driving by last weekend just before 11 and they had a line of people waiting outside.

I opted for an earlier breakfast to beat the masses and met my parents here at 7:40AM.  There were about a half dozen tables seated and things were pretty quiet overall.  We walked through the doors with two other parties and all 3 groups were seated within a minute or so.  This is a pretty nice sized space for a breakfast joint.  The dining room wraps around an open kitchen and in front is a good sized patio that they were starting to get set up as we sat down.  Almost immediately our server came by to introduce himself, bring us water and take our drink orders.  We all said coffee and he was back within a minute and filling our mugs.  We discovered that the glass sugar container had a giant crack running through it and pointed this out to him when he stopped by to see if we were ready to order.  Hit took that away and eventually brought a new one.  I stole a nearby table’s sugar in the mean time.  The menu (PDF) is fairly small, just a single legal size sheet.  Lunch is on the back, along with a little info about how Peg’s came to be.  The main sections for breakfast are Eggs (where you will find eggs paired with things like steak, corned beef hash and salmon), Skillets, Benedicts, NY-style bagels, Pancakes & Things, omelettes and a section with Hawaiian breakfast cuisine.  I found things that sounded good in each one.  Eventually I narrowed it down to a couple of the Benedicts.

We ordered and I sipped my coffee while we waited.  I had let it sit for a while to cool off since I like my taste buds in their normal, non-burnt state.  It turned out that the coffee actually wasn’t as blazing hot as I thought it was.  It was very drinkable, temp-wise, and I found it to be excellent in strength (the stronger the better).  While we waited and talked about the other Peg’s locations (my parents had been to one of the ones in Reno) the dining room slowly and steadily filled up.  By the time we left at around 8:20 there were only a couple of free tables.  When I drove by later this morning, at about 10:45, there were a lot of people waiting outside waiting for tables.

A little under 15 minutes after ordering, our food arrived.  Our server brought all three plates out at once and asked if we needed anything.  I reminded him of a side of bacon, which I didn’t see, and he nodded as he turned back to the kitchen.  The bacon was right out in less than a minute.  Of the two benedicts I was considering, my dad and I ended up ordering both.  I went with the California Bene (turkey, avocado & tomato)[$11.99], my dad with the Chef George’s Bene (chorizo patties, topped w/chipotle hollandaise)[$11.99] and my mom chose Joe’s Special (eggs scrambled w/mushroom, spinach & onion, choice of ground chuck or ground turkey)[$10.99] with turkey.  All of us had a choice of hash browns or grits.  Both my parent with with the grits and I chose hash browns.  The grits were steaming like crazy and were a pretty good serving.  Joe’s special was heavy with turkey, so much so that at first my mom was wondering if there were actually any eggs in it.  She said it was very good, as were the grits.  My dad also enjoyed his Chef George’s Bene, with it’s reddish-orange chipotle-hollandaise.  I gave the hollandaise a taste.  It was very flavorful and even had a surprising kick to it.  I could definitely see ordering that in the future.

My California Bene was pretty much everything I wanted it to be.  The eggs were fluffy around the edges with a gooey yolk and atop small piles of thinly sliced turkey which looked, from the marks on it, like it had been heated up on a griddle.  Under that were slices of avocado and tomatoes, all of which was on an English muffin.  The hollandaise sauce was creamy and incredibly rich, maybe the best I’ve had.  There was no shortage of it either.  Down to the last bite I had plenty.  I really enjoyed this benedict.  My bacon, not as much.  I think the main reason was that it seemed to be very lean bacon, with no crispy fatty bits.  It was all very uniform, still quite greasy, though it was almost more oily than greasy.  It was kind of odd.  The flavor was ok, but I doubt I would order bacon here again if this is normal.  The hash browns were pretty good, though I think next time I would ask for them to be crispier.  They lacked the texture I love from Waffle Barn’s hash browns.

Overall I thought Peg’s was very, good, with a little room for improvement mainly with the bacon.  I would rate it up there with my top two, Four Sisters Cafe and Waffle Barn.  I read a bunch about how Peg’s is loved by it’s customers in Reno and it’s often voted the best breakfast up there.  I’m glad we have them here in Roseville, but they’re up against some serious competition from the Four Sisters for best, in my opinion.