#248: Garden of Eat’n

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I’ve been needing to post something lately and tonight had a sudden urge (led by my stomach) to check out a place that I just recently heard about called Garden of Eat’n.  This is a salad & wraps place located in the Creekside Town Center across from the Galleria.  I headed in at around 5:30 and was the only customer (briefly).  I was greeted right away and asked if I had ever been there.  Obviously not, as I stopped at the wrong end of the kitchen.  I was shown over to the correct end where  I now saw the menu displays.

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I got strong vibes of Jack’s Urban Eats mixed with a little bit of Chipotle.  The ingredients were numerous and looked fresh, although the chicken and some other meats were pre-prepared and kept cold with the rest of the toppings.  There was a little conveyor driven oven where they warmed up the chicken for my order.  You can choose from house recipe salads and wraps or build your own.  I opted for the Spicy Chicken Bacon wrap (lemon-peppered chicken with crisp bacon, grape tomato, romaine, in sriracha ranch)[$8] and added a Mac & Cheese [$5.50], just to try more than one thing.  To drink they had bunch of bottled beverages, a watermelon limeade in a self-serve dispenser and Stubborn Sodas on the fountain machine.  I had never heard of Stubborn before and tried out the Lemon Berry Açaí [Medium with free refills $2.75].  They us no artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup or dyes.

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I picked out the one tortilla flavor that they were out of and ultimately got the Spicy Chipotle.  They built my wrap pretty quickly and said they would bring the mac & cheese out to me soon.  I set my wrap on a table and snapped a few photos until it came out maybe a minute later.

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Both looked pretty good.  The wrap was full and almost coming apart so I had to pick it up carefully.  It wasn’t heavy though.  Most of it was romain and tomatoes, though I did get chicken and bacon in just about every bite.  The chicken was decent.  I think it could have been a little juicer and definitely could have been much hotter.  I think having it pre-prepped and stored cold is the culprit here.  I’d be willing to wait longer for fresh chicken.  The bacon had good flavor and the tomatoes were nice and ripe.  The best thing about this was the sriracha ranch.  It was delicious and even had a really nice heat that snuck up on me in the first half of the wrap.

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The mac and cheese was unfortunately extremely bland.  Texture was about the only thing going for it.  The cheese was gooey and the noodles were cooked just right.

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Probably my favorite thing about this visit was my discovery of Stubborn Soda.  The Lemon Berry Açaí was awesome.  I am still sipping it now and enjoying every little bit.  The berry flavor is actually pretty dominant, I can barely taste any lemon at all, but it’s fantastic nonetheless.  I’m going to be looking for bottles of this to pick up soon (which they do have also).

Ultimately it was a kind of disappointing experience.  The meats being re-prepped, I feel, really hurts this place and the prices are a bit high for what you get.  Jack’s Urban Eats just mops the floor with the same concept.

#229: Monsoon Cuisine of India

Last night I finally made it out to Monsoon Cuisine of India.  This Indian restaurant seems to have moved here from downtown Sacramento, taking the place of Bombay Bistro in the Hobby Lobby shopping center.  They opened back in March.  I tried to come here for dinner last week but they were closed when I arrived at around 5.  The website says they close after lunch at 3 and reopen at 4:30.  So either that’s out of date or they had some issue.

Anyway, last night I made sure to wait until later and arrived at about 7:15.  The place has had a significant makeover inside.  Gone are the carpeting, white walls and cramped seating.  The walls are now painted a bold red with black trim and the flooring is all a dark hardwood.  The seating is much more sparse.  In fact when I first walked in I didn’t think they are busy at all, but once my eyes adjusted to the lighting I realized that they were nearly packed.  Had there not been the little 2-seater table available I would have either been sitting at the one remaining huge table for a group, or waiting until someone left.  There are big gaps where there is just empty floor space.  It’s a little weird.  Decorations are limited to some colorful paintings on a couple walls and a fountain near the front door which was dry, probably due to the drought.  It’s fairly dark due to the tinted windows, however the front doors and window above them are not, so there is a bright beam of light shooting in down one side of the restaurant (where the buffet is).  If you happen to be facing that direction it’s probably a little annoying.

I was greeted within 10 seconds as I meandered up to the front desk/counter area and the host (/manager/owner?) appeared from the middle of the room to seat me.  Behind me was the buffet, sitting unused for dinner.  They serve it 7 days a week for lunch and, I think, only on Wednesday for dinner.  I looked over the menu for a minute, hoping for a saag paneer and maybe butter chicken.  Not seeing saag paneer I kind of did a flip flop and picked out a chicken dish with spinach and a paneer dish with a butter masala sauce.  These were the Paneer Butter Masala (cottage cheese cooked in butter-infused tomato sauce and dry fenugreek)[$11.95] and Chicken Palak (chicken smothered in creamy spinach sauce)[$11.95].  I got a mango lassi (refreshing mango yogurt drink)[$2.99] and a water to go with these.  Rice is not included, so I added some for $2.

The mango lassi took about 7 minutes.  It was a very light orangish-yellow color with a thick and creamy consistency.  It was more tart than sweet and was also close to room temp, which I think contributed to the tartness.  I did not really enjoy this. A couple minutes later I was served a complimentary appetizer of papadum, a crisp, seasoned cracker-like sheet, rolled up in a basket.  It was accompanied by green and tamarind chutneys.  This was very good on it’s own and even better in both of the chutneys.  I tore through this quickly.

From here it was a fairly long wait until the main dishes were brought out.  About 30 minutes.  There was a large group of 12 or more that were served sometime in the middle of that, so the kitchen may have been backed up with their order.  Anyway, once they arrived, my little table was packed with three large bowls and a big plate.  I was kind of surprised with the serving size, it was huge.  I ended up taking probably 2 more meals home with me.

The paneer butter masala was basically just the cubes of firm cheese (which were in huge supply), swimming in a thin, bight red-orange sauce.  While enjoyable for the most part, it was a bit one-dimensional.  The sauce just wasn’t very complex.  It was a good thing I had the chicken palak to go with it.  That was very good.  The spinach sauce was delicious and creamy and had a nice texture.  The chicken was tender and flavorful itself as well.

One of the servers came by and asked if I was finished, and I asked to take the rest to go and also for an order of the mango crème brûlée (rich mango custard base topped with hard caramel).  They had several delicious-sounding desserts that I wanted to try, but I knew I would always wonder about this if I didn’t check it out now.

He came back with some containers and a bag and left them at the table.  Admittedly I was a little annoyed that I had to box this up myself.  Within another minute or so he returned again with the dessert.  I thought that was awfully fast, and I quickly found out why.  They don’t torch it when you order it.  The whole thing was cold, including the caramelized top which was soft and almost leathery.  Instead of a mango flavored custard it was a pretty traditional custard with chunks of mango in it.  I was hugely disappointed with this.

Overall the food was very hit and miss.  The service was about the same as well.  Some interactions were very brief and not fulfilling, although the host/manager was very nice.  The whole experience was unfortunately lackluster.  Considering we have quite a few good Indian restaurants here in Roseville, including Mehfil just one shopping center over, I doubt I will find myself here again.

#194: Fat’s Asia Bistro & Dim Sum Bar

For dinner yesterday I was joined by several family members at Fat’s Asia Bistro & Dim Sum Bar, on the corner of Eureka and Rocky Ridge.  It’s been quite a long time since I’ve been here, well over 5 years and maybe as many as 10.  I remember Fat’s being one of the early nicer restaurants in Roseville as the growth was in full swing.  It is part of the Fat’s Family of Restaurants, a collection of four Chinese & American cuisine restaurants in the Sacramento area.  This Fat’s has a handful of various Asian dishes but the menu is primarily Chinese.

I arrived a little before everyone else to get my exterior photo and then headed in just before 5PM.  The parking lot was pretty full.  A lot of that was due to a business function going on in the back room, which we could hear throughout our dinner.  The dining room was fairly quiet, but the bar was busy with a happy hour crowd.  I took a seat near the end of the bar and was quickly greeted by a bartender.  He filled me in on the draught beers on the other end that I couldn’t see, then I chose a large Sapporo [$4 happy hour] which was set in front of me almost immediately.  The bar looked to have a nice selection, with a big wall of liquor on display.  The part directly in front of me was partially open, giving a view into kitchen.

In just a few minutes my family had arrived and I met them at a large, circular table in one corner of the central dining area.  We had 5 total and fit comfortably in here.  The table was equipped with a lazy susan, which worked out great for family-style ordering.  Soon we met our server who got our drinks going.  I already had my Sapporo but the rest ordered a bottle of Double Decker Pino Grigio [$28] and a pot of hot green tea [$3.25].  We were in no rush, took our time reading the menu and ordered a couple of appetizers soon after the beverages arrived.  He returned with a bucket of ice for the wine and just a couple of minutes later the appetizers came out.  We had the Chicken in Lettuce Cup (minced chicken with water chestnuts, pine nuts, and hoisin sauce)[$11] and Pork Shu Mei (steamed pork-filled dumpling)[$9].

The Chicken in Lettuce Cup is pretty similar to the poplar appetizer at PF Chang’s and some otter places, but the hoisin sauce is served on the side, which left the chicken looking a little dull.  As I was taking a picture of it and thinking it looked a bit like Fancy Feast, my sister-in-law pretty much said the same thing out loud, which made me laugh.  This came with a TON of lettuce, way more than we needed.  It was a nice change from having to always ask for more lettuce at PFC.  The lettuce was cold and extremely crisp.  The chicken was good though the way it’s prepared elsewhere, where I think they cook the sauce into it, is much better.  It also looks more appetizing.  The hoisin sauce was viscous and sickly sweet.  As for the Pork Shu Mei, this was the first time I’ve ever ordered dumplings.  I’ve been curious about them for years but something often looked better anytime I came across them previously.  They were served in the little wooden container with a lid.  Lifting this off revealed 5 or 6 little open dumplings stuffed with pork.  It was not quite was I was expecting, having seen only the closed type on the web and on Anthony Bourdain’s shows.  The amount that I see them raved about had my expectations quite high and, while they tasted pretty good, they were not anywhere near as good as I had hoped.  These were tightly wrapped and solid.  Cutting one in half, the 2 pieces retained their shape and left me wondering if they are prepared far in advance and reheated when ordered.  If anyone knows where I can find some truly amazing dumplings without traveling back to Asia, do tell in the comments below or shoot me an email at eatingthroughroseville@gmail.com.

We were somewhere in the middle of our appetizers when we ordered our food.  Note that this doesn’t mean our server was slacking, he was on top of things.  The appetizers had come very quickly and he was very much present regularly.  We ordered:

  • Honey Walnut Prawns (in a light sauce with caramelized walnuts) [$18.50]
  • Orange Chicken (with chili and our own zesty orange sauce) [$16]
  • Mongolian Beef (with jalapeno peppers and green onions) [$17.50]
  • Veggie Fried Rice (with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms and fresh basil) [$9]
  • Garlic Green Beans (“a fat family favorite”, so self explanatory I guess) [$10]

This all came out swiftly, within 10-15.  A different server brought it all out on a big tray and set each plate down at our table, naming them as she did so.  One item was incorrect, we were given vegetable chow mien instead of the fried rice.  We told her right then and she apologized and took it back.  Our server came by a minute later and apologized himself while refilling a water.  The replacement rice was very prompt, arriving in just 4 minutes.  Everything was hot, many of them steaming.

The garlic green beans were coated in a slippery garlic sauce, though the garlic was not very strong.  In fact there wasn’t a ton of flavor aside from the beans themselves.  They were a bit firm, while still easily chewable, and they squeaked with each bite.  They were probably my least favorite item on the table.  Some of the others agreed, but my grandma seemed to like them just fine.

The Mongolian beef was nice and tender.  It was drowning in a sweet and savory sauce and mixed in with lots of green onions and a fair amount of slice jalapeños.  Aside from the jalapeños, this wasn’t actually very spicy at all.  Even the peppers themselves didn’t have much of a kick to them.  I definitely prefer the crispier, spicier, less sweet and less saucy variety of this dish.

The orange chicken was the best thing we got.  I do recall it being very good years ago.  The pieces were good sized, crisp in their thin batter and full of delicious flavor with a zing of orange to them.  The chicken inside was moist and tasty.  The only thing that came close to this was the veggie fried rice which was excellent, both then and today as leftovers.

The last item, honey walnut prawns, are often my favorite item at Chinese restaurants.  On top of that, having had ridiculously amazing versions of them at Bambu Asian Cuisine and Leo’s Kitchen, I now have an entirely new level of expectation for this dish.  Unfortunately, Fat’s prawns fell much, much short of that level.  I would deem them as acceptable.  There were few walnuts and the prawns themselves were light on flavor.

Overall I found myself surprisingly underwhelmed with the food here at Fat’s.  I remember so long ago really enjoying this restaurant.  There are two possible reasons for this disappointment.  Back then I wasn’t nearly as into food and trying lots of different things as I am now, so I had little to compare Fat’s to at the time.  Maybe I just expect more out of restaurants these days, and/or the food has declined in quality over the years.  My mom mentioned that she too hadn’t been here in a long time after discovering one visit that they no longer had her favorite dish, orange beef.  I felt that the prices were quite high, which I guess i always kind of knew but had forgotten about.  You’re definitely paying for the nicer atmosphere, service and fancy leftover/takeout bags than you’ll get at any other Chinese restaurant around here.  The service was good, our server in particular did a great job, was very attentive, personable and had an excellent sense of humor.  Ultimately I will be sticking to the little mom & pop restaurants for my Chinese fix, we certainly have some good ones to chose from.