#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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AM18: Dad’s Kitchen

Today for Lunch I was joined by my brother, his wife, their son and my grandma at Dad’s Kitchen.  This popular Sacramento restaurant has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and fairly recently now has a second location on Sunset and Hazel in Fair Oaks (which is the one we went to).

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We arrived at about noon and were seated immediately despite it being somewhat busy.  They have a nice sized patio which had big shades drawn to keep out the blazing sun.  This early in the day it was probably very nice out there.  We were just inside in a medium-sized room with lots of seating.  They have a bar, though I did not get much of a look at it, or the rest of the place.  It is very casual dining.  Lots of neon beer signs and posters make up the decorations.

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Being the weekend we were given the brunch menu. It consisted of 1/3 breakfast options, 1/3 sandwiches and 1/3 burgers.  It all sounded pretty good.  I chose the Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs (topped with house-made gravy and served with home fries and a biscuit)[$14].  Between all of us we pretty much covered all the options which I’ll get to below.

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To drink I ordered the Chocolate Shake Porter from Boulder, which was served on nitro [$6].  They have an impressive whiskey list as well (Beer List / Whiskey List).  The beer followed waters and a soda by a minute or so and was velvety-smooth.  I’ve had this before in a bottle and it’s pretty tasty.  We ordered our food just after that and it came in a little under 15 minutes.

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My brother got the Cowboy Burger (8 oz patty with pepper jack cheese, bacon, house-made BBQ sauce, and crispy onions served on an artisan bun)[$13] and upgraded the fries to blue cheese habanero for $1.  It looked great, cooked medium rare.  He said the fries had great flavor and didn’t have excessive heat from the habanero.

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My sister-in-law ordered the Hot Blonde sandwich (Grilled organic chicken, Swiss cheese, spinach, avocado, cucumbers, tomato, roasted red onion, garlic spread, brown mustard, and Pepper Plant sauce, panini pressed on sliced sourdough and served with sea salted fries).  Since she was sharing this with my 2 year old nephew, our server offered to bring the pepper plant sauce on the side.  Good idea, because I took a whiff of the sauce and it was very peppery.

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My grandma ordered the Dad’s BLT (Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, panini pressed on sliced sourdough and served with sea salted fries)[$9].  This looked fantastic.  It has an option for avocado.  I might return to check that out.

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My plate was pretty interesting visually.  The steak was kind of curled up in a weird way that I’ve never seen before.  The home fries, which I asked for done crisp, were perfect.  Some were very dark, which is A-OK to me, I really like them crispy.  There were bits of onion mixed in there as well.  The eggs came out more over-easy than the over-medium I requested.  That’s unfortunately very common anywhere and it’s something I’ve come to expect and live with.

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The biscuit was massive and very unique looking.  It had lots of craggy surface area which was great to scoop up egg, gravy, butter or the awesome (maybe house-made) strawberry jam.  I could have used a bit more though because the biscuit was huge.  As for the steak itself, it was pretty good.  The fried batter was extremely crisp and started coming apart in pieces as I cut.  It had a very peculiar flavor to it that was something I’ve not come across before with chicken fried steak. Thinking it might have been a bit of chili powder.  I was not super crazy about it, and I would prefer a more traditional batter.

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In the end I enjoyed my dish, but I was kind of jealous of everyone else’s orders.  I can say that I will be back, but I’ll stick to burgers and sandwiches next time.  The Dad’s Burger in particular is calling my name (8 oz patty encrusted with 2 oz of bleu cheese crumbles and 2 oz of chopped up bacon)!

AM17: Fatburger

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I have another quick chain visit for today.  I’ve been listening to a podcast about chain restaurants recently called Doughboys.  The most recent episode was about a burger chain called Fatburger.  I had never heard of it before and was surprised to find one in Lincoln.  Well, to my disappointment it actually turned out to be in Thunder Valley Casino rather than in Lincoln proper, but I couldn’t get this place out of my brain for a few days so I decided to check it out for lunch.

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The last time I had visited Thunder Valley was at least 10 years ago.  One major thing that I noticed as soon as I entered the first set of doors was that smoking was obviously permitted inside.  It was thick in the air.  I didn’t actually realize it was still allowed, even in Indian casinos.  This is a huge turnoff, and I can generally handle smokers in most situations (I smoke cigars myself).  Indoors or around food is where I draw the line.

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Obviously this is a food court environment, so the service and ambience were basically non-exsistant.  I decided to go nuts with this burger, especially considering the name, and went with the XXL, a 1lb monstrosity.  All fat burgers with “the works” include mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, relish and mustard.  Taking things further, I added nearly every premium option that is available: cheese, bacon, fried egg and onion rings (the only thing I didn’t add was chili).  My combo with fat fries (steak fries – they have skinny fries also) and a large soda came to a whopping $19.02 before tax.

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14 minutes later and I had a heavy, massive burger which towered over the already largish fries next to it.  As I picked it up from the counter I overheard at least 2 separate people point it out to the person they were with.  It was a spectacle.  It was also hard to get my hands around it, let alone eat the thing.

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The fries were meh.  They definitely needed some salt.  I barely touched them though due to the size of the burger.  That by the way was, actually, surprisingly amazing.  As I was leaving and getting a refill on my soda I briefly watched the person grilling patties.  They started with cubes of ground beef and smashed them down with a flat, metal stamp-looking tool.  That beef tasted amazing, it was nicely seasoned.  It was also really freaking hot.  I had to adjust my grip now and then because my thumb, on the bottom of the burger, was actually getting too hot a few times.  Anyway, what I really enjoyed was how all the crazy ingredients somehow came through and I could taste each individual, discrete flavor.

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If this was located anywhere other than Thunder Valley, I could see myself returning to experiment with different sized burgers and combinations of toppings.  It really was that good.  I just don’t feel any desire to step back into that smokey casino again to do it.  I’m deducting 1.5 from my score just for that.

Website: http://www.fatburger.com