#256: Koi Garden

I received an in-person request this morning by a co-worker to check this place out.  Having had a small and early lunch I was more than eager to please.  I was headed out the door with my camera before 5PM.

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This is Koi Garden, an Asian Cuisine restaurant located on Roseville Parkway at North Sunrise.  Some Yelp reviews give the impression that this is a rebranded and downsized iteration of the previous tenant here, Koisan.  Although I can find no official evidence of this, I do believe it to be true because the friendly server greeted me and said “long time no see,” and she did seem familiar from my Koisan visit.

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They have split the big anchor space in two and now occupy the left half.  They are reusing the tables, chairs, and other than a new red wall and the obvious lack of a buffet, the dining room feels about the same.  The atmosphere was a little boring due to a lack of music.  The only sound came from a small TV at the front of the room, playing a procedural crime drama, at low volume and the droning of the kitchen exhaust, which actually was fairly loud in comparison.

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I had popped in here a couple weeks ago, while stopping next door for a quick Mango Lassi to-go from Tandoori Nights, and grabbed a menu, so I had already looked over everything and picked out a few items to order prior to arriving.  As soon as the server came over to see what I wanted to drink I went ahead and ordered everything – General Chicken (lightly battered chicken in a spicy sweet sauce)[$9.50], Honey Garlic Pork Chop (in a honey garlic soy sauce)[$10.95], Walnut Shrimp (lightly battered shrimp in a chef’s creamy sauce with caramelized walnut)[$12.95] and a diet coke (because I’m trying to watch my figure)[$2.25].

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It took about 13 minutes for the first dish to arrive, and the others came one by one about a minute apart after that.  Perfect timing to grab some photos of each before digging in.  I started with the shrimp, which is usually my favorite.  Lending itself to evidence that this is the same place as Koisan, I found the shrimp to be hot, juicy and generally tasty, but not particularly noteworthy beyond that.  This is especially the case when compared to the same dish from Leo’s Kitchen, Bambu or Wong’s Garden, all of which are unbelievably good and have a crispy texture that is unmatched elsewhere, including here.  The walnuts were OK, they just lacked the crunch I expect from candied walnuts.  One upside to this dish is that I received more shrimp here than at the previously mentioned places for about the same price.

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Next up I tried the General Chicken.  This was a very good sized pile of medium to large pieces of chicken doused in a thick, dark, syrupy sauce.  It was nice and piping hot when it arrived.  Now this one was special.  Flavor aside, and it was delicious, the texture of this chicken was downright magical.  It had the most delicate yet satisfying crispy shell, just underneath its thick coating of sauce, which gave way to the tender chicken within.  The sauce was very rich, sweet and with just a hint of spice that only built over consecutive bites.  I’m looking forward to my leftovers on this one for sure.

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Finally, the Honey Garlic Pork Chop.  When this was set down before me I immediately got strong aromas of sweet honey with a little bit of garlic undertones.  Interestingly, tasting it was the opposite.  The garlic was front and center and only here and there did I get little bits of honey.  This one was another excellent dish in terms of texture.  The pork was sliced thinly and the entire outside had a bit of a crunch to it.  Internally, the pork was flavorful, but not as tender as I would have hoped.  I did come across a piece here and there that almost melted in my mouth, but those were few and far between.  Most was a tad dry and chewy.  The water chestnuts did not add anything really exciting to this.

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The service throughout my visit was good.  My server checked on me regularly, offered refills just before I needed them and boxed up my leftovers right at the table.  The food was obviously a bit of a mixed bag.  My lunch experience at Koisan faired a little better than here, so they have the potential.  I think I just didn’t order quite the right dishes to experience what they have to offer.  Despite this I’ll likely be sticking to my go-to’s for Chinese (Wong’s Garden and Leo’s Kitchen) in the future.

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AM20: Alley Katz Citrus Heights

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This is a bit of a goof post to be honest.  I never would have thought to do a review of this bar, but having visited it 4 times now for Tuesday trivia over the last several months I have to share what a bizarre experience it is.

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To start, a very brief bit of information about Alley Katz and this location.  Alley Katz originated in Midtown Sacramento (and still has a location there).  They popped up in this really strange location, on Arcadia Dr in-between Rite Aid and the old Circuit City building, sometime ago – maybe a year or two?  This spot has been a number of different night clubs in the past and is quite a large space.

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The size of this bar is staggering, considering the very divey-nature of the place.  The 1st floor is the main area and contains the bar which hosts a TON of usually pretty good beer. This is the shining feature of Alley Katz Citrus Heights.  There is also another bar set somewhat in the middle towards the patio doors, but this one is completely unused.  A pool table and some arcade games are positioned along the walls on either side of this.  Upstairs you will find, get this, a second unused bar.  This area feels deserted, save for the other pool table located up here.  There are some seats, but it really feels like the staircase should be roped off and the level closed.

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I mentioned the patio, and that is a generous term.  This is an equally gigantic space that is almost completely unused.  It’s about as big as the interior.  There used to be a volley ball court here, complete with sand, but it has since been paved over and a giant chess/checkers board painted on top.  There are maybe a couple tables out here, but not much more than for smokers to step outside and use.  Finally, the bathrooms.  Actually pretty clean the couple times I’ve gone in there, they have the strangest, most upscale style sinks that I would never expect to find in a place like this.

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So, onto the food situation.  It’s a complete crapshoot every time.  On our first visit we were told that someone had vandalized their grills propane hookups so they had an extremely limited menu.  On our second visit I got a menu from the bartender and when we eventually went up to place our order I was told that all they were serving was tacos (taco tuesday) and like one or two random specials.  I was baffled as to why the guy would even bother to give me a menu in the first place.  The tacos were very blah.  On the 3rd visit I opted to eat at home prior to coming, but my teammates braved the kitchen once again and ordered burgers.  When they were brought out by a person from the kitchen they were told, sorry but they are a little cold.  That was that, no offer to replace them or anything, just, this is how it is, enjoy your cold burgers.

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This last week was probably our most successful food experience yet, not that it’s saying much!  I ordered the Alley Katz burger and added cheese and bacon (ultimately a good move since all it comes with is lettuce, mayo, ketchup and mustard).  This came out pretty quick and was surprisingly hot and pretty tasty, especially the bacon.  The odd thing about it was that it didn’t come with french fries, but instead a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips.  That was a bummer because I was really in the mood for fries.

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My friends ordered a couple sloppy joe sliders and a bourbon stout tri tip plate.  The tri tip plate was supposed to come with rice, but instead arrived with some salad with no dressing and a small dish of pinkish coleslaw.  A trip up to the bar to ask about the lack of rice yielded the response “we don’t have any rice”.  Ok then…  Ultimately, they said the tri tip was not good and that the sliders were unusual but fine.

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I was still hungry so I ordered the nachos and added pulled pork.  These come with tomatoes, jalapeños, sour cream and, of course, nacho cheese.  When it arrived the pork was somewhat warm, but the rest was fairly cool.  Given the place was chilly enough to warrant a jacket, the entire plate cooled off immediately and we ate cold nachos that were entirely too spicy.

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Given the Yelp reviews that I skimmed over, I feel that this post is a very accurate representation of what to expect here.  The service is virtually nonexistent.  I have never approached the bar and been acknowledged in less than a minute.  The only reason we continue to come here is because the trivia and it’s host are actually quite good, and of course there is always good beer to be had.  I’m genuinely curious what Friday/Saturday nights are like, but I doubt I’ll ever actually come check it out.  Have you had an experience here?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Website: none

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#255: Hop House

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Yesterday for dinner I was joined by family to check out Hop House, a new restaurant located in the Stone Point center on Eureka.  They are in the large space that was previously occupied by Early Toast (which seems to have moved over near Sierra College and Douglas behind Taco Bell).  As far as I can tell, this is only their second location; the other is in El Dorado Hills.

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I arrived at 5PM ahead of the others to grab a table and take a few photos.  It was <50ºF out which left the patio looking rather lonely, even though they had their gas heaters running. There are also some fire pit tables (not burning at the time), which will make this a really nice space to sit out on once the weather is nicer.

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I stepped in and was greeted right away and taken to a table just past the bar.  I then took a moment to check out the interior and tap list before my family showed up.  The place feels a lot more open with the removal of all the booth seating that was here before.  It is separated into two distinct sides.  The bar side has tall pub style tables and the other has normal height tables.  There is still curiously one booth, built into a little alcove near the entrance to the kitchen.

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The place is very warmly lit with Edison bulbs throughout, some of them with very intricate looking filaments.  The bar is lined with 16 taps, with a large board of signs describing each beer.  These will change frequently, in fact two of them changed while we were having dinner.  There looked to be a nice balance of different styles, including a few different stouts.

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(click to enlarge beer list)

Once everyone had arrived we ordered drinks and looked over the menu.  There are a lot of delicious sounding options, although I had already picked out a burger on Friday, after seeing a Facebook post featuring it.  Our beers arrived within a few minutes.  I had the Fieldwork Coconut Imperial Stout (10oz, 8%, $8), my dad had the High Water Campfire Stout on Nitro (10oz, 6.5%, $7) and my mom and grandma both had the Allagash White (16oz, 5.1%, $7).  Everyone enjoyed their beers and we finalized our orders soon thereafter.

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In just under 10 minutes we had our appetizer arrive, the Homemade Potato Chips & Dip (Roasted Onion Dip)[$6.99].  The chips were just out of the frier but cooled pretty quickly. They were fantastically crispy and were excellent for dipping in the onion dip without breaking.  This is impressive because the dip was very thick and dense.  There were chunks of onion throughout, so it was not completely blended to a smooth consistency.  The amount provided of this wonderfully rich dip was way more than needed for all the chips (not to say that we didn’t have enough chips, just that there was a ton of dip).

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A short 8 minutes after the chips had been delivered, our entrees followed.  3 of the 4 of us had ordered burgers.  My mom tried to set a healthier example with the Balsamic Grilled Chicken Breast (served with roasted baby carrots and Brussels Sprouts)[$14.99].

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My grandma ordered the Western Burger (bacon cheeseburger with BBQ sauce & onion rings)[$13.99] and my dad got the Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger (bacon burger with blue cheese and mayo)[$13.99].  The bun on both of these were quite large and didn’t allow the burgers to show off much other than some thick bacon sticking out the sides.

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My order was called The Exception (8oz Hop House Beef Blend with Extremely Thick Cut Bacon, American Cheese, Mayo and topped with a Sunny Side Up Egg)[$14.99].  They are not joking around when they say “extremely thick cut bacon”.  It was a photo of this burger and the bacon that caught my eye on Facebook last Friday.  The bacon is ridiculous.  Ridiculous.  I think if you set the beef patty and the bacon on two side-by-side scales that the bacon may outweigh the beef.  It was almost as thick as the patty itself.  One of the slices was close to 2 inches wide!

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I flipped the top bun over onto the burger and carefully picked it up, but before I had even taken a bite the yolk was dripping down onto my plate.  I knew this would be a bit of a challenge immediately.  A bit of a challenge became a slight understatement moments later as I made my first bite into the burger and its insane bacon.  The bacon, while fatty and tender and incredible, did not want to be bitten through so easily.  I ended up nearly pulling the one slice almost completely out of the burger on the first try, and this was my experience on every other bite after that.  With all the struggle to hold onto the bacon through the bun, it started to fall apart and I eventually had to settle for using a fork and knife.

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Difficulty of eating aside, this was just wow….amazing.  It was like having a thick slab of BBQ pork on my burger.  The smokey flavor was quite rich and powerful, it was delicious! I don’t know that the egg did a whole lot other than cause the bun to break down faster, but an egg on a burger is always fun in my book.  The egg white added some different texture in contrast to meat, meat and more meat in every bite.  The american cheese was a bit muted by the bacon, but just apparent enough to enjoy.

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I loved this insane burger, and I loved my coconut stout, and I loved the menu and all the things that I want to come back and try.  I wish I had room for dessert!  I will be back, and I recommend you check it out too!

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