#173: Erik’s DeliCafe

Time to get back to work!  Today I had a pretty light and early lunch and found myself very hungry when I got home from work.  I was anticipating this and had picked out Erik’s DeliCafe in advance.  This is a Bay Area chain that popped up here in Roseville sometime over the summer.  We seem to have the only non-bay area location at the moment.  This one is located at the corner of Lead Hill and Rocky Ridge, in the shopping center which is strangely quiet due to Walmart’s odd closure.

I cruised in just before 4PM.  The little strip where it’s located always seems to be busy with cars, but I bet half of them are purely employees for the handful of small businesses in the building.  I stepped inside to a dining room that was pretty quiet, save for the jazzy music that was playing.  It kinda took me back to Sim City 3000’s upbeat soundtrack.  This was originally Pasta Village.  The basic layout remained similar, but overall the whole place has undergone a complete makeover.  The colors and counters were all different, as were the tables and chairs (which more often than not seem to get reused by the next place, although if I recall, Pasta Village relocated to Lincoln rather than closing entirely).

I was greeted by the friendly cashier and told her that I had no idea what I was getting.  This wasn’t really true, but I wanted to go over the menu a bit more before ordering.  I had seen Erik’s Classic Holiday Sandwich on the website and was pretty certain it was the one.  Studying the menu again, this time in person, I noticed they had clam chowder available.  I’m always a sucker for clam chowder so I mentally added that to my order immediately.  None of the other sandwiches really jumped out at me like the holiday one had.  Erik’s Classic Holiday Sandwich is: Roasted Turkey Breast piled high and served with traditional Stuffing, whole Cranberry Sauce and Erik’s “Secret Goo” on sliced Rosemary Sourdough Bread [$7.29].  The first time I read “Erik’s Secret Goo” I kind of cringed and thought “That doesn’t sound too appetizing” in my best internal George H. Bush Simpsons voice.  I’m sure that it’s just some sort of mayo-based sauce.

Stepping up to the register, the cashier turned her attention back to me and I placed my order of the holiday sandwich, a cup of clam chowder [$1.85] and a fountain drink [$1.09].  I paid and was handed a small jar for my soda and a number to place on my table.  I filled up my soda and picked up a spoon on my way into the dining room and had just picked out a table when the cashier brought out my cup of chowder.  This was actually a cup, in terms of size, compared to the small bowls you get other places.  It was appropriately priced however and seemed like a decent value.  The appearance was just slightly on the translucent side, but other than that about what you expect.  From it’s aroma I anticipated a more authentic clam chowder flavor.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some chowders that I love, such as Claim Jumper’s, that don’t really feature clams as much as you would expect.  This one however was more on the end of the spectrum where you would find chowders served along the coast where they’re actually bringing in fresh clams daily.  I’m not going to go as far as to say it was that good, but it was a pretty solid clam chowder considering where I was having it.  I looked at a menu that was at the table and saw that they offered a sourdough bread bowl of it and decided I would probably be back to check that out.

Just four minutes into my soup, my sandwich arrived.  As with most “production” foods, this one did not look quite like the photo on their website (first image below).  It didn’t look bad though, perhaps just a bit thin.  The cranberry sauce was bright and clearly present atop a decent amount of thinly sliced turkey.  Hiding underneath that looked to be a skimpy layer of stuffing.  Picking it up I realized it was a warm sandwich.  I was totally expecting cold.  The bottom seemed warmer than the rest, perhaps the stuffing was the warmest part.  It made the bottom slice of bread a bit mushy and a slight challenge to get ahold of at first.  Once in hand I held it upside down where it felt more secure.  Biting into it, I was met with the rich and intensely flavorful cranberry sauce.  The turkey seemed to be warm, though not as warm as you’d think it should be.  It seemed a little bland in comparison to the cranberry.  In fact I found the entire rest of this sandwich to be very bland.  The stuffing really didn’t add much except heat and a little bit more bready texture.  I could see the “secret goo,” though that too was lacking any noticeable flavor.  The cranberry sauce stole the show here, and being a little on the tart side it wasn’t very enjoyable.

I had really come here hoping to love this sandwich.  I’ve not typically a fan of cranberry in most forms, to be honest, but there is one sandwich with it that I can never miss when I’m in town, and that’s The Bobbie from Capriotti’s of Las Vegas.  It’s similar in it’s ingredients and is one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.  Perhaps the standard I had set was too unrealistic.  Maybe Erik’s regular offerings are a better representation of this DeliCafe.  The soup was solid and a reason to return on it’s own.  I might give a salad a try if I come back for more chowder at some point.  The Classic Holiday Sandwich however, I cannot recommend.

#172: Ninja Sushi and Teriyaki

NOTE: Ninja Sushi & Teriyaki can now be found on Vernon street in the spot where the Sammy Hagar restaurant was.

I’ve had sushi on the brain since Sunday when I tried to go to Ninja and found they weren’t open for lunch that day.  Tonight I decided to finish that attempt.  They close for a short period between lunch and dinner, so I headed over and arrived a little after they opened at 5.  I walked in and was immediately greeted in typical sushi restaurant fashion, with all the staff saying “irasshaimase!”  There was a family seated in the corner and one person at the bar, but other than that it was just me.  One of the servers approached me and asked if I wanted a table or to sit at the bar and I chose the latter.

Ninja Sushi & Teriyaki is a continuation of the Lincoln location that closed some time ago.  Years ago I used to frequent it and enjoy music on the patio at the Beach Hut next door.  It is now owned by one of the chefs from Lincoln and re-opened here, kat-corner from the Walmart center by 65.  Apparently the Ninja Sushi Express that was next door to Habit in the same parking lot was an earlier iteration of the same business.  I know there is at least another Sushi joint with the Ninja name in the Sacramento area, though I do not know if they are related.

Taking my seat in front of the head chef, and the owner beside him, I was handed a menu and the server asked what he could get me to drink. I thought for a moment and decided to look at the menu for a moment first.  Taylor, the chef, asked how I was doing while he worked on wrapping up a roll with foil in a dragon shape and lit it on fire.  The drink options were basic.  They had six bottled beers and a couple on draught.  I went with a Sapporo and it was brought out immediately.  I took some more time skimming over the large menu (unfortunately they did not currently have a paper menu for me to scan, nor a website I could point you to and I forgot to bring my little handheld scanner, so you’ll have to use your imagination).  It’s got all the standard offerings of sashimi, sushi, rolls and teriyaki.  I decided to go with the Sushi Combo A (9 pieces Chef’s choice sashimi and 7 pieces assorted sushi) [$19.95].  This comes with a salad and miso soup.  Taylor took my order and I also added BBQ Albacore (5 pieces served with spicy BBQ sauce) [$9.95].

In just a couple minutes I had a very hot bowl of miso soup sitting in front of me.  It was fairly dark and easily one of richest and most flavorful misos I’ve had in a while.  I sipped on this a little and put is aside to cool off when the BBQ Albacore was handed to me over the counter just a few minutes later.  5 huge pieces of fish sat in the middle of this big dish smothered in the bright re-orange sauce with a white sauce to the side.  These pieces were borderline too big to be bite-sized, but I soldiered through them with giant mouthfuls.  They were a little warm and had a very light grilled texture on the surface, then tender and juicy on the inside.  The sauce had a nice heat that built over consecutive bites, enough that I took a break a couple times for a sip of the ice cold Sapporo and the mellow miso soup.

A little under ten minutes after receiving the albacore appetizer I was handed a big, rectangular plate by the chef.  I think the owner, Steve, made this plate up.  I had seen him slicing some of the items while I was working on the BBQ.  This was quite a spread, and Taylor commented as such to Steve after handing it to me.  There were a few items that I either get very rarely or haven’t had before, including Ika (squid) and Tako (octopus), as well as Hamachi (yellowtail), which I usually don’t seem to get in assorted plates though I have ordered it individually before.  I was pretty interested in trying the octopus and squid, though I did not enjoy them as much as I had hoped.  Both were not particularly flavorful and were somewhat tough.  I am glad I got to check these out anyway.  My least favorite was actually something else, the sashimi with the shiny skin, which I am taking a wild guess in saying was Saba (makerel).  It was a very dry fish, salty and the most fishy-tasting by far of any sushi I’ve ever had.  I may have had this once before, I don’t see it too often.

The rest of this combo was absolutely fantastic, with my favorites being the sake (salmon) and hamachi sashimi.  Both of these were almost creamy in texture and bursting with wonderful, buttery flavor.  All the pieces were generous portions, sliced nice and thick, and it was all chilled and quite fresh.  My salad came out just a minute or so into this, which was oddly timed.  The typical creamy and sweet dressing was over crisp lettuce, slices of tomato and carrot slivers.  Unlike many of these salads, this one actually had a proportional amount of dressing to salad instead of the insane amount that drowns the lettuce underneath.

This was quite a lot of sushi and I left absolutely stuffed and content.  Overall the quality was outstanding, rivaling any sushi restaurant in Roseville for sure.  The staff was incredible.  Everyone from the owner to the chef and servers were all extremely friendly and talkative.  I would put them, and the service as a whole, as my favorite out of all the sushi spots in town (and I’ve literally been to every one now!).  This one is a must try, in my opinion, if you’re looking for a truly excellent sushi dining experience.

#171: Taj Oven

Today I thought I’d check out a sushi joint that I just noticed in the little shopping center cat-corner from Walmart by 65 and Pleasant Grove, only to discover that Sunday is the only day that they are not open for lunch.  Crap.  Backup plan: Taj Oven, an Indian restaurant located in the same center.  I called ahead to make sure they were doing buffet for lunch and was told it was all day, so I headed over.

I arrived at about 11:40 and headed in to a pretty quiet little dining room.  There were a few tables occupied.  A moment after stepping into the dining area from the entryway I was greeted by who I believe is the owner/manager who seated me at a table I picked out in the corner.  I got started right away and headed over to the buffet to get my first plate.  The line looked well stocked, nothing was less than half filled and everything looked to be fresh.  This buffet is made up of a more typical restaurant buffet line with sectioned trays, rather than the big, space-hogging containers that sit on top of a table.  This is good because with the small size of Taj Oven they can fit more items in the limited space.

I saw a lot of the usual items, slightly varied in some cases, and also a few new ones I’ve not encountered before.  These new ones were:

  • Chaat Padhi (crunchy, tangy and sweet flavor with chickpeas, potatoes and fried bread)
  • Fish Pakora (fish dipped in a special batter and fried to a golden perfection).
  • Aloo Masala (mashed potatoes cooked with Indian spices)

I scooped up those as well as the following:

  • Basmati rice
  • Channa Masala (chickpeas, onions and tomatoes cooked in a light sauce)
  • Navrattan Korma (nine fresh garden vegetables marinated in yogurt and cooked in cream and specially blended spices)
  • Sag Masala (spinach cooked with special masala sauce)
  • Chicken Tikka Masala (boneless pieces of chicken tikka cooked in creamy butter sauce with fresh tomatoes and fragrant spices)

This was a full plate, so I would have to come back for the Chicken Vindaloo (hot and spicy chicken cooked with pieces of potatoes, fresh tomatoes and a touch of fresh lemon juice) and Goat Curry (pieces of goat cooked in mild curry).  Once I had sat down with my plate, the manager came back around to see if I wanted anything to drink besides water.  I asked for a mango lassi.  He was very nice and was even quite receptive to my photo-taking, where often I get suspicious or nervous looks from restaurant managers.

Soon after I dug into my plate, I received a basket of fresh naan and a little while later my lassi which I suspect they made fresh, based mostly on the time it took and some blending noises that came from the kitchen.  The first thing I tried was the Chaat Padhi.  This was cold and that caught me off guard.  It had some nice spice flavors to it and a little zip at the end.  It was good, though I wonder if it would be even better hot.    Next up was Aloo Masala.  This was much more like basic mashed yellow potatoes than I was expecting.  It was quite mild, which is in contrast the the rich flavors found throughout the rest of the buffet.  The Chicken Tikka Masala was pretty much the same as everywhere else, meaning very good.  The chicken was nice and tender.

The Channa Masala was kind of tangy and had a zip at the end.  It also had a nice texture with the chickpeas.  The Fish Pakora was probably my least favorite item.  It was fairly dry with decent, non-fishy flavor and some spice.  I ate both pieces but had no desire for more.  My favorites in this round were the Navrattan Korma and the Sag Masala.  Both were incredibly creamy.  The Navrattan Korma had what I’m pretty sure were big chunks of sweet potato.  Both of these dishes ended with a zing of spice, which actually seemed to be present in most of what I tried.  I didn’t have very much of the naan, mostly because I wanted to try more items and not fill up on bread and rice too quickly.  The little I had was warm and fresh, though it wasn’t was crisp as I prefer.  Based on the nice service I would guess it would be no problem to ask for that when you are first seated.  The mango lassi was one of the most flavorful and thickest lassis I’ve had in a long time.  It was a touch on the tart side and not as chilled as others.  I think this could be a top one for me if it were colder.

On my second pass I picked up more Chicken Tikka Masala and Channa Masala.  The Goat Curry and Chicken Vindaloo were new for this one.  The vindaloo was very rich and flavorful, similar to the tikka masala, but less creamy.  I lucked out on my selection of goat pieces and didn’t get any bones.  This was pretty good, but fell short in comparison of the other items.  The goat was somewhat tender and very lean.

I ended my lunch with a few pieces of Gulab Jamun (juicy, deep-fried cheese ball dipped in syrup, served warm).  I’m not sure if the description is accurate.  I’ve never heard of cheese in these, and they didn’t seem to have any.  These were fantastic as they usually are everywhere, like a warm, fresh donut hole soaked in a sweet, honey-flavored syrup.

The total with my Lassi was about $14, so I would assume the buffet was about $10-something, which is about a buck more than the lunch buffets I am used to.  That said, pretty much everything was fantastic, the variety was above average and the service was great.  This was an excellent visit overall.