AM28: Melting Grill

1PM, 12/3/2022
https://www.meltinggrillrocklin.com/

I think I saw this place on Yelp or somewhere in passing recently and couldn’t stop thinking about it. This Saturday I got it out of my system with a visit for lunch. Melting Grill is a Korean restaurant located right near the Blue Oaks Century theaters, just across the parking lot. Despite the tasty dishes I had seen photos of, making this place look like a full on table-service type place, it’s more like a fast-casual cafe. They offer a bunch of small-medium plates with a modern take on many traditional dishes. They also offer a large bubble tea menu.

When I arrived and stepped inside there were just a couple customers sitting, waiting for their tea orders. The friendly woman running the front welcomed me in before I had even spotted her behind the counter. The space is medium sized but feels spacious and open. Two long and bright LED strips running the length of the dining room provided a ton of light, so much so that I was distracted by them at first and wasn’t sure where to sit for the best lighting. Once I had settled in I quickly forgot about them though. First things first, up to the counter to order.

I had looked over the menu a bit before heading over and had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I went over the entire menu once more to make sure my selections were there and see if there was anything I had missed. Honestly just about the entire menu looked like stuff I’d order, but I stuck with my earlier choices. These were:

  • Pork Belly Musubi (Slow cooked pork belly topped with Korean spicy BBQ sauce) [$5]
    • Hard for me to pass up something with pork belly. You can order one or two pieces ($5/9.50)
  • Corn Cheese (Korean style of corn cheese; sweet and savory flavor with sweet corn and mozzarella cheese, sprinkled with green onion and sesame seed) [$6.50]
  • Spicy Creamy Salmon (Salmon with spicy creamy sauce, shredded imitation crab, wonton skin chips, lemon wedge and rice) [$18]

My two appetizers arrived together in just under 10 minutes. The pork belly musubi was a pretty big chunk of rice with the belly perched on top. I must not have read the full description because I was a little surprised by the spicy BBQ flavor of the sauce. It was not a flavor I was expecting at all. At the time I had a tough time putting my finger on the exact flavor. On the menu I see a random entree, hanging out in the “Items” section (which seems like more of a sides or catchall for random misc things), called Cajun Seafood. That’s exactly what I was tasting, it was sort of a Cajun spice. It wasn’t all that spicy, but it was tasty. I had hoped for a bit more tender chunk of pork. This needed a bit of work to get a bit out, good thing I had both a fork and chopsticks to work with, because I would have struggled with chopsticks alone.

The corn cheese dish was served in a black square dish with a handle that made me think cast iron skillet, especially because she tested the bottom before setting it down on the table to make sure it wasn’t too hot. Indeed it was quite toasty and the cheese was nicely melted into the loads of corn. This was a delicious appetizer and so simple. A very nice blend of sweet and savory.

On to the main dish, which came out about six minutes after the appetizers, perfect timing. This was incredible. The imitation crab was hard to spot, covered in the orange sauce and blending in with the rice underneath it, but I could smell it as soon as I brought a scoop up to my mouth. The portions were good, although it’s hard to tell in the photo. The salmon was a good 3×4” fillet, perfectly tender. Underneath it was a heaping serving of rice. I was glad to have all of it to soak up all the delicious and creamy sauce. I didn’t really get any spiciness from this at all. The cream sauce tamped down whatever was there. Although I enjoyed the crispy wonton strips, they felt a little out of place in this dish, at least with the fork I had continued using from earlier. Probably easier to grab these with chopsticks but I just used my fingers. I inhaled this dish and picked at some of the remaining corn before the “full” signal made it’s way to my brain.

I very much enjoyed this visit and it mostly lived up to my high-ish expectations, based solely on photos of all the dishes on yelp. I could see myself coming back here for sure, there’s still much to explore on the menu.

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#279: Local Kitchens

1:15PM 6/18-19/2022

https://order.localkitchens.com/store/roseville/

A couple of months ago a co-worker recommended Local Kitchens, located on Fairway (near Kohl’s, BevMo, In’n’Out), and told me a little about it. It sounded a bit like a few food trucks got together and leased a brick and mortar restaurant space. I didn’t really have much of an idea what it would be like. Does each vendor have their own counter? Does it feel like a food court? Is it pickup only? Today I have answers to these questions and more as I just returned from lunch #2 in as many days at Local Kitchens.

Sometimes I like to go in cold, doing zero research. Sometimes this gets me into trouble, like when they are closed and I didn’t even go so far as to check their hours. Other times, like yesterday, I was delighted by a totally fresh experience. At first from outside it’s hard to say what you are looking at. The windows in-line with the building signage are totally covered up with more signage. The front door is to the left. Once inside it’s a shockingly simple setup. An open kitchen with a pickup counter sits at the back. To the right is a bare bones seating area with a few different types of tables, high and low-tops. A small counter towards the back of that area has a few basic items like napkins and plastic utensils. To your immediate left from the entrance are 3 touch screens for placing orders (you can also use their app to order for pickup or delivery). It’s honestly as if a shared Ghost Kitchen started offering dine in.

The ordering process was very smooth. I found the touch screens (iPad Pros, I think) responsive and the ordering app to be well designed, uncluttered and with a nice photo of every single item I looked through. It took me a moment of poking around to realize what “trucks” were available here. The first menu lumps a bunch of the most popular items from all the businesses together. Other menus organize the options for beverages, kids, vegan and vegetarian. Finally, each entity has their own menus. You can choose from: Sushiritto (Japanese), Nash & Proper (chicken), Senor Sisig (Filipino / Asian fusion), The Melt (burgers), Curry Up Now (Indian, burritos), Garden of Eat’n (healthy, salads, sandwiches) and Humphry Slocombe (ice cream). I’ve heard of a few of these before, most notably Nash & Proper, Curry Up Now and Garden of Eat’n (the last of which I visited back in 2016 and still has a location across from the Galleria). I was very excited to see Nash & Proper here. They are one of a few trucks I will go out of my way to try and visit when they are up here. Below is my favorite photo of their “Sammich”, their signature Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich.

Now that I’ve downloaded and looked around the app I see that this is one of a small handful of locations. All the others are in the Bay Area and have mostly the same options for “trucks” with each store seemingly having one or two unique to it.

Nash & Proper was calling to me loudly. I fought those calls off and checked out nearly everything available before the Tosilog Burrito caught my eye and I added to to the visual cart/bag/whatever. This is from Senor Sisig and consists of Filipino Sweet Pork, adobo garlic rice, fresh tomatoes and a fried egg. Served with a side of peppered vinegar. (Additional Eggs can be added). This was $13.50 + $1.75 to add a fried egg, which I did. The configuration options for this were kind of funny. First off the spice levels you choose from are No Spice, Mild, Medium, Spicy, Hella Spicy & Hella Hella Spicy. After the egg selection screen is a screen that just says “No Tomato” and has a checkbox for it. Tomatoes are sort of a love/hate thing for me so I went ahead and ticked the box. The last screen has a handful of extras you can add: Beans, Shredded Cheese, Guacamole, Sour Cream, Pico de Gallo, Adobo Rice, Cilantro Cream Sauce and Lettuce. I left all those alone, added a can of soda [$2] and checked out.

Checking out was simple with tap-to-pay on the credit card machine. You enter your name, which then shows up on a screen above the kitchen with an estimated wait time. You can also email yourself a receipt and enter your phone number for order updates.

The vast majority of customers seemed to be taking out. Most of the dine-in crowd were utilizing the outdoor seating since the weather was insanely beautiful. My order was ready in about 10 minutes and the manager, whom I spoke to briefly after ordering, actually brought it out to me (well we met about half way as I didn’t expect that). I grabbed a couple napkins (excellent, substantial and large napkins by the way, they were surprisingly noteworthy) and got to work.

What can I say other than this was a tasty burrito. It was constructed expertly and everything inside was perfectly distributed so I got a bit of everything in just about every bite. As noted in the description this came with a little cup of peppered vinegar. I cautiously took a whiff of it and wasn’t sure I would like it. It was straight up intense vinegar. Carefully, I poured a small amount into the burrito and took a bite and was pleasantly surprised. The strong vinegar flavor had melted away into the burrito and just served to enhance all the existing ingredients. I ended up using all of it by the end!

This morning, after playing video games instead of hitting the gym, I decided I would return for Nash & Proper for lunch. Little did I know that when I would get there I’d change my mind at the last second and order from Sushiritto instead. The Sumo Crunch sounded interesting and the photo was just sucking me in (Shrimp Tempura, Surimi Crab, Cucumbers, Red Tempura Flakes, and Sriracha Aioli rolled with Ginger Guac, Super-Premium Koshihikari Rice, and Proprietary Nori) [$14].

I had a decent view of the area that was making Sushiritto items. They have this crazy automated rice machine that spits out perfectly formed rice sheets ready to be rolled up. I would love to get a closer look at how the hell that thing works on the inside (Science Channel, let’s get together on a mini “How It’s Made” with stuff like this!)

My order was ready once again in about 10 minutes. This was a bit messy and slightly less crunchy than the name implied, though quite a visually interesting item with the red tempura flakes. The nori was fairly easy to bite through, although I wonder how well it would hold up if you had it delivered or were taking it to go. It did seem to get slightly chewier as I got to the end.

Overall I was really quite pleased with this place and it’s concept. These businesses all have something interesting to check out and it’s nice that you can get them all in the same order. A couple of thoughts I had on how they could make this even better:

  1. Shrink some of the items and sides down or offer different sizes, so you can try more variety in one visit without having leftovers or spending a small fortune.
  2. Liven up the dine-in option some more, it’s incredibly basic – amounting to the indoor equivalent of picnic tables and little else. Serve up some local beers!
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AM22: Ramen 101

11:35AM 3/5/2022
https://www.ramen101.net/

On Saturday I visited Ramen 101, located right next door to Century Theaters at Blue Oaks and Lonetree in Rocklin. This was my first time visiting since May of 2020. I remember sitting at a table outside and it was so surreal. The normally packed parking lot was basically empty and there was barely a sound aside from the light traffic on Lonetree and some birds (see video below). I had found the spot and eaten there early in the month and visited one more time a few weeks later. Today marks visit #3. I have been eagerly looking forward to this one, since in the mean time I had discovered Fukumi and have wanted to compare the two.

Silent, Deserted Parking Lot – May 2020

They have about 15 locations, of which 3 are in the Sacramento area and the rest are all in the Bay Area. The nearby locations are in Rocklin, Sacramento and Elk Grove. Sounds like there might be one coming to Rancho Cordova soon as well, according to a co-worker. Coincidentally interesting factoid – the Antioch location is located on a street called Lone Tree, much like our Rocklin location on Lonetree. Conspiracy? Maybe. I’m willing to accept that a time-traveling Delorean ran over a second tree on each of these roads in the past. But I digress, on with the post!

I arrived just after 11:30am to a nearly packed house. It was only during a few brief moments during my visit that everyone cleared out, I got my opportunity to snap a photo of the dining room, and then it filled back up again almost immediately. The place seems to have a following. I waited in line for a few minutes behind someone and skimmed the menu. My target was a Tonkatsu-style ramen to compare directly with my favorite bowl from Fukumi. And there it was, simply named “Tonkatsu Ramen” (roasted pork, boiled egg, Kikurage Mushroom, bamboo shoots, fresh green onion, sprouts, fish cake)[$12.95]. I picked that out and added corn [$1] and roasted garlic [$0-1?] to get a bit closer to what my Fukumi bowl is typically like. Note: the menu showed that the garlic add on should be $1, however on my receipt the line item showed $0. Also, they were out of bamboo shoots today.

On my first visit I had also picked out the Unagi rice bowl to check out something additional (photo at end). Today I went with the Rice Masubi [$5.95]. Interestingly, they also offer a bunch of Hawaiian BBQ options, which I completely missed on my previous visits. I might have to return and check some of these out later. I finished my order off with a fountain drink [$2.95] (they also have a small handful of bottled options including beer, tea and sparkling water).

I snagged a table and filled my cup at the soda fountain. I had barely sat down and organized my now slightly ridiculous collection of gear (for those interested, I just added a page with info on what I use here) when my ramen was brought out. The Spam Masubi followed about 4 minutes later.

Visible at the top of my bowl was green onions, bean sprouts, roasted garlic, pork chashu and the Kikurage mushrooms. A tiny bit of corn was peaking out and the tip of 2 fish cakes were also just above the broths surface.

I love that they roast entire cloves of garlic here. I was struck by the visual difference in the chashu compared to Fukumi and it led me down a small rabbit hole googling if all Chashu are created equally. Seems that it can be pork belly or shoulder. Fukumi is clear that their chasu is pork belly. Ramen 101 simply calls it Roasted Pork Chashu. This pork was delicious, if not quite as melt-in-your mouth tender as Fukumi’s chashu.

The Kikurage mushrooms stood out to me as well. I recently had these mushrooms, also known as Wood Ear Mushrooms, for the first time when I made a Korean dish called Japchae and had to seek them out at KP Market in Rancho Cordova. I’ve never actually seen them in a restaurant before today. They have a slightly rubbery texture, but not chewy, and not a whole lot of flavor. Not the most appetizing description, I know, but I do think they’re an interesting addition to this bowl.

Getting into it, the bowl was nice and hot and filled with noodles just below the surface. The noodles were al dente, compared to Fukumi’s noodles which are noticeably more tender. The broth was savory and a little salty. Considerably less intense than Fukumi’s, but still quite good. Down towards the bottom I found the whole soft boiled egg. The fish cakes were an interesting little treat. I’m not actually sure if I’ve ever had these before. They were very similar in texture to the boiled egg white, soft and tender. What flavor they had was totally overwhelmed by the rest of the bowl though. I will note that you have a selection of spice levels for the bowls. I selected spicy but there was only a tiny hint of heat after several consecutive bites.

The spam masubi consisted of two large pieces of rice with a thin slice of spam, lightly seared, and wrapped in nori with a bit of teriyaki sauce in-between. These were simple and tasty.

Ramen 101’s name is on point. It’s a great introduction and has lots of options and non-overwhelming flavors. I love that they also have the Hawaiian BBQ options as well. The service I’ve experienced has always been fast and friendly and the space is bright, clean and well kept. Pricing felt reasonable. For the ramen my taste buds prefer Fukumi’s flavors. Maybe yours will prefer Ramen 101’s.

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