#212: ASR Restaurant & Lounge

Last night I wast joined by my friend Eric to check out ASR Restaurant & Lounge.  This spot opened about a month and a half ago directly in-between John’s Incredible Pizza Co. and the Automall in a building that once was home to a Mexican restaurant, long enough ago that I wasn’t even aware of it while it was there.  They are open from 11a everyday to midnight during the week and 2a on the weekends.  They are arguably one of the more higher-end places in Roseville and has a menu rivaling Ruth’s Chris in price.

We arrived via Uber just before 7:15PM.  Both our drivers there and back mentioned that they have been taking a lot of customers to and from ASR.  The parking lot was packed.  Eric stepped inside to put our name in as I took a couple photos outside.  I learned that we had a 30-45 minute wait and we took a walk around the bar area looking for a spot.  We didn’t find anything and ended up standing in a kind of square alcove with a narrow counter for drinks lining it.  While they were definitely busy, we were the only people without a place to sit, so it wasn’t hugely crowded.

We ordered a couple of drinks from the bar, a Firestone Walker IPA [$6] and a Knob Creek neat [$9].  The Knob Creek felt slightly high in price but once I saw the bartender give a good sized pour I was happy. We stood around for a few minutes and then asked if there was room on the patio to wait.  One of the hosts checked to see and then brought us out a moment later.  There was a fair amount of people in the center of the patio, at tables, eating.  As far as the cabanas and other misc seating around the outside though, those were mostly empty.  We were shown the one of the corners where we took a seat on a big semi-circle couch.  On our way through the patio we passed a water/fire feature in the center.  The patio is well isolated from the parking lot and street and you really don’t feel like you’re sitting just off of N. Sunrise.  It’s done pretty nicely.

We were greeted by one of the three patio-specific servers, Brandon.  He saw that we were good on drinks and showed us the two other servers should we need anything.  We hung out and chatted while we waited on a table.  At one point someone checked on us and asked if we wanted waters or bread.  We passed on the water and opted for bread only.  Apparently he forgot about it because it never came.  Another server got Eric a new beer not long before the host came out to collect us to be seated.  Total wait time was just over 45min.  We were lead back inside and upstairs to one of three tables set up, each with a balcony view.  The balcony goes all the way around and is lined with booths and low tables for drinks.  We were told that they swap out these three tables with more booth seating depending on the time of day.  Also upstairs is a second smaller bar and a banquet room for private parties/events.  It was a pretty nice spot for dinner where we could see most of the place from our little balcony.

We were greeted shortly by our server Rebeca.  Another server assisted her for a little bit early on, removing the extra place settings and glasses and getting a beer menu to us.  I had just finished my bourbon and ordered a Guinness, which we shortly found out they were out of, so I went with a Newcastle [$6].  This was brought out in the bottle with a frosty glass.  Soon we ordered a couple of appetizers, the Artisan Cheese Plate (Daily selection of artisanal cheese accompanied by fresh fruit compote, candied nuts, honey and grilled sourdough bread)[$12] and Duck Egg Roll (Tender duck confit, sweet onions, brie cheese and shitake mushrooms wrapped in a crisp egg roll wrapper and served with a port wine sauce)[$12].  These took a little over 10 minutes to come out.  Shortly before them came a plate with bread and butter.  The butter was very soft and molded into a flower.  The bread was also quite soft itself, with exception of the crust which had a nice crunch.  Pretty good for bread and butter.

The appetizers arrived together just after we finished with the bread.  The duck egg rolls were really good.  Crisp and flaky shell with lots of flavorful duck.  I didn’t notice the Brie but everything else was quite good and the port wine sauce was very rich.  This goes up there with my other favorite egg roll appetizer, the avocado egg rolls at BJs or Cheesecake Factory.

The cheese plate was pretty typical at first glance.  On it was some blue cheese and, we think, a Brie, along with the toasted bread, fruit, nuts and honey.  Whle the cheese was good, we decided that the introduction to this plate was missing a great deal.  Usually when you get a cheese plate you get a little explanation of everything that’s on the plate, often with some background on the cheeses – where they are from, what kind of milk was used, etc.  That didn’t happen here so we had to guess at the cheeses.  Clearly easy with the blue, and the Brie ended up being relatively obvious.  Later, Eric jumped back into discussing the cheese plate and his disappointment with it.  He felt (and I can’t really disagree) that two cheeses do not make a cheese plate.  You should have a variety to taste and compare, and that blue cheese and Brie felt far too ordinary for a place like ASR.  Having been to House of Oliver just last week where I ordered their cheese board, these criticisms felt very valid.  Oliver’s cheese board came with 4 very different cheeses and a proper introduction and, I would add, a much lower price.  While ASR’s menu notes that you can add cheeses at $5 a pop, to match Oliver’s board you’d be spending $22 vs Oliver’s $14.  This could use some improvement.

In-between appetizers and dinner the manager came by to introduce himself (I think his name might have been Will?), see how we were doing so far and we had a little laugh as he complimented our beer vs wine pairings with the cheese plate.  He took one of the empty app dishes and also got me a new Newcastle a bit later.  Sometime before the main course they attempted to dim the lights but had a lot of trouble, almost certainly because they were using compact fluorescents.  They would dim slightly and then go off entirely (CFLs, even the dimming type, don’t really dim that far before shutting off in my experience).  We had the lights go off and on a few times before they settled on off and then brought us a candle for a little bit of additional light.  It was pretty dark.  Photos get a little rough from this point on.  They actually offered to turn the lights back on for me but I didn’t want to bother anyone else and I figured I could take a reasonable decent photo using the candle.  Recommendation to ASR: ditch the CFLs and either go LED or tried-and-true incandescent.

We only ordered our entrees midway through our appetizers as we were in no hurry, so these were about 30 minutes after we had finished the apps.  Eric ordered the pork tenderloin (Wrapped in house made bacon and served with a port wine sauce and white cheddar fritters)[$26] and I the Beef Wellington (Tender Filet Mignon wrapped Wild Mushroom Duxelle White Truffle Butter and puff pastry served on a bed of Truffle Madeira Sauce)[$36].  I’ve never had beef Wellington but it sounded ridiculous and I felt like splurging.  At this point I have to refer mostly to my own photos since my night vision never really had a chance in the dark with a bright big screen just down below in the center of the downstairs area.  Eric must have enjoyed his because he was done and the plate was gone when I was only halfway into my own.

I only had a (somewhat sharp) butter knife to work with, however the beef Wellington was incredibly tender and was quite easy to cut through.  The puff pastry was flaky, crisp and light.  Underneath was the Duxelle which was intensely rich with the white truffle butter.  The filet mignon looked to be cooked on the rare side.  I ordered medium-rare, but I’m actually very happy with rare as well.  It was wonderfully flavorful, both on it’s own as well as with some of the truffle Madeira sauce.  Served with it was some super pureed carrots, so light they were almost like a foam, also some asparagus  and what I believe was a brussels sprout and I’m not sure about the last item.  The sprout was good as was the asparagus, which had a good snap to it.  Overall I was extremely happy with this dish and would definitely order it again.

After dinner the chef came out to introduce himself and see if we enjoyed everything.  With the check we were given a couple of chocolate dipped strawberries and some sort of nut-based sheet thingy.  I have no idea what the deal was with that but it was pretty good and the strawberry was great.

ASR was a good experience.  I rarely feel the desire to dine at nicer restaurants, but it does happen occasionally.  I would consider ASR next time.  The drinks/appetizers/hang-out lounge side of things is super chill and enjoyable and dinner was very good in a cool (albeit darker than I like) setting.  Our server and all the support staff were on their game, checking on us frequently but not too frequently.  They seemed to appear whenever we needed something or when they were delivering food.  All were very professional and friendly.  While there were a few things that could use some work, notably the cheese plate but also the lighting and the patio servers never bringing the promised bread, I felt that overall the positives vastly outweighed the negatives.  I’d recommend it.

#211: House of Oliver

For dinner on Thursday night I joined my mom and grandma for dinner at House of Oliver, a new wine lounge that opened about a month ago at Douglas and Sierra College.  I rarely drink wine so this is going to focus primarily on the food.  I arrived at about 5:30, a couple minutes after the others.  Parking in this little lot is tough sometimes.  They do have a valet if you don’t feel like parking the extra 200ft away by T-Mobile.

The lounge was busy when I headed inside.  There were maybe a few small tables available.  I didn’t take much time to look around and continued through towards the back and out the side door to the patio.  This area was also fairly busy.  The angle of the sun allowed most of this to be in the shade at this time as it moved behind the next building.  A few umbrellas offer shade earlier in the day.  A trio of water fountains sit in the middle and somewhat separate the front from the back patio.  In the front it’s pretty much all little tables while the back has some comfy-looking patio chairs and couches, all under one giant umbrella.  A wall with some nice planters blocks the view of Sierra College and other parts of this shopping center.

We sat next to the fountains, as well as the door to Sumo Sushi.  My mom had been told by one of the servers that the patio area is shared by both, although Sumo customers rarely seem to use it.  He also mentioned that we were welcome to order from both.  As I was getting settled a server stopped by to see if we were ready to order drinks yet, then realized I would need a menu and went off to get a third one.  We all took a while to look over the whole thing, picking out drinks, an appetizer and eventually dinner as well.  A new server stopped by to see if we wanted to order drinks so we did so with her.  I thought she seemed familiar.  By the end of the night I was 95% sure this was the same server I had at La Provence on both of the visits I made in that post.

My mom and grandmother each ordered a flight of three white wines (California Dreaming)[$10] and I went with something from their fairly limited beer selection, a Lost Coast Alley Cat Amber (12oz)[$5].  These all came out relatively quickly.  Our server mentioned something about bringing waters but she must have forgot.  10 minutes later our appetizer showed up.  We ordered the Mixed Cheese Board (Triple Cream Brie, Humboldt Fog, Petit Basque & Aged Gouda with stuffed apricots, crackers, nuts & artisan breads)[$14].  This was lacking the breads so we had a lot of cheese to go with a pretty small amount of crackers.  We made it work though.  The triple cream Brie was definitely the favorite of the bunch.  It was incredibly rich, smooth and creamy.  Humboldt Fog is kind of a bleu cheese made from goats milk.  It was really soft and while parts of it were on the stronger side, it was overall surprisingly mild.  The Gouda and Basque were both excellent and were the only firm cheeses here.  Overall pretty tasty cheese board.  Definitely needed some more crackers/bread though.

Just before we had finished the cheese board I received the first part of my order.  I had originally intended on ordering one of their main items, but ended up deciding that neither really grabbed my attention enough to settle on.  Instead I ordered the Tomato Bisque Soup (served with a classic cut grilled cheese sandwich)[$7] and also the Delicious Warm Goat Cheese Salad (romaine lettuce & spring mix, red onion, tomato, walnuts, dates, goat cheese, crostini & balsamic vinaigrette)[$9].  The tomato bisque was what had arrived.

It was a good sized bowl of soup accompanied by a basic grilled cheese sandwich.  The sandwich wasn’t really anything too special, it seemed to simply be sharp cheddar on wheat and was a bit small.  For the price it was fine though.  It was pretty good dipped into the bisque.  The bisque itself was somewhat thin and more tomato-y than the creamy bisque you see most places and was not at all sweet.  It was decent.  I definitely prefer the creamier style though.

Before the rest of dinner came out my mom and grandma ordered a bottle of one from the flight that they enjoyed.  It was 20% off, though I’m not sure of the reason.  Might have been a happy hour thing.  This was the 2013 Mama Mia from Naggiar Vineyards [$24].

The pacing was slower than a typical restaurant, but given the lounge atmosphere and general vibe it was fine.  The last items came about 20 minutes following my bisque.  My grandma had ordered The Classic Wrap (Man-sized wraps stuffed to your delight with turkey or roast beef, cream cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion & pepperocini)[$8.50].  This thing was massive.  Bigger than a burrito at Chipotle.  Clearly half of this was going home for lunch the next day.  It looked great and she enjoyed it.  The wraps seem to be one of the best values on the menu.  My mom got the Cheese Tortellini ‘A La Milanese (Garlic, sundried tomatoes, cream, fresh basil & Parmesan)[$13].  This was served in the same sized bowl as my soup and was a solid amount of tortellini.

My warm goat cheese salad arrived last by a couple minutes.  It was a pretty good size, though the shape of the plate was a little awkward.  I definitely lost a few pieces here and there over the edge.  Overall I thought this was very good.  All the greens were nice and fresh.  Much of the goat cheese was melted over several pieces of crostini while the rest was spread throughout the salad.  It was all intensely rich.  The balsamic vinaigrette was the perfect amount to add to the salad without overwhelming it.

To finish dinner off I ordered the Creme Brûlée [$8].  This came in a little ramekin and had a nice toasted, glassy crust.  Underneath that was hiding one of the thickest custards I’ve had in a long time.  It was delicious.  A bit small for $8 though.  It came with a raspberry, on top of the same raspberry sauce that was on the cheese board, and a couple little pieces of dark chocolate.

By about 7:30 when we were heading out, a jazz duo of a pianist and saxophone player were warming up for an evening set on the patio.  With the sun set and the string of lights adding a little mood to the patio, this was probably going to be really nice.  A lot of people had cleared out by this time, but even as we we left there were newcomers trickling in.  We were all surprised to see how busy House of Oliver was.  We all thought it was pretty good and my mom and grandma said they looked forward to returning soon.  It’s definitely a chill place to have a drink and a little bite, if not full on lunch or dinner (note that the kitchen hours are limited to 11-2 & 5-9, though the lounge is open 11AM-midnight every day).

Website: http://www.houseofoliver.com

Wednesdays on Tap @ Vernon Street Town Square

It’s been a little quiet around here lately.  I’ve been traveling, sick or just plain busy for the last few weeks.  Tonight I decided I’d get back to work in a fun way, by visiting Roseville’s first Wednesdays on Tap at the Vernon Street Town Square.  This is the first of 6 continuous Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:30PM featuring a handful of breweries, food and music downtown.  For a $5 entrance fee you get 8 tickets for 2oz tastings at any of the brewery tents set up.  For another $5 you can get a glass mug that comes with an extra ticket both at the time of purchase and each week you bring it back.  You can get a full mug of beer for just $3.  All in all I think it’s a pretty good deal, mug or not.

I arrived just after 5:30 to beat the crowd and tasted one from each of the 5 breweries that were set up: Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, Lagunita’s Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Six Rivers and Vernon Street’s own The Monk’s Cellar (who should be opening by the end of the month, according to their Facebook page).  They were all pretty tasty but Six Rivers White Chocolate Grand Cru was ridiculously awesome.  I only wish I had been able to have some more but they ran out fairly quickly, maybe an hour into it.  Take a look at the schedule to see who will be there in the coming weeks.

Food options consisted of the usual Dave’s Dawgs pickup truck and one I’ve never seen before, a brick oven pizza trailer.  I opted for that and ordered their Italian Fennel Sausage pizza (sausage, sautéed mushrooms, Mozzarella, oregano & Romano cheese) [$10].  This took about 10 minutes.  I guess they were out of mushrooms because mine only seemed to have the sausage, but it was really tasty and had a great, crisp thin crust.

By the time I had eaten my pizza there had been a good influx of people.  Kids were playing corn hole, kickball and generally just running around and having a great time in the grass in front of the band while their parents enjoyed some brew and relaxed at the tables.  Large lines had formed at all of the remaining 4 booths, so I only visited 2 more to finish off my 4 tickets and got a double pour at them.  All in all it seemed to be a pretty successful little event.  I do hope they plan to have some more food vendors available, but pizza, hot dogs and beer do all work well together.

I put together a quick little video so you can get an idea of what it was like.