AM26: Iron Horse Tavern (SMF)

5AM / 10/06/2022

https://www.ironhorsetavern.net/

Thursday morning I was off and up out. I thought it would be a nice opportunity to finally visit a restaurant in Terminal A at SMF. Almost six years ago I checked out Cafeteria 15L in terminal B. Today I visited Iron Horse Tavern, which is sort of the main dining option in this original terminal. There are a couple other eateries here including Freshii and Squeeze Inn, but this early in the morning the tavern and Peet’s Coffee is pretty much your selection. Peet’s always seems to have an enormous line so it was kind of nice to just stroll on in to this place and seat myself. There is a little island of a bar directly out front of the main dining area. A worker was just getting started prepping it for the day when I was heading out to my gate.

I arrived at the airport right about at 5AM, breezed through security like a leaf on the wind (watch as I soar), and headed straight from security into the food court, which is just past the checkpoint. Despite checking the hours ahead of time, I was a little worried as I approached because it looked like they might have been closed, however once I got closer I spotted people inside.

Taking my seat, with a nice view of the tarmac, I was greeted right away by the single server working at the time. As I looked at the menu QR code on the table and started to reach for my phone she brought a physical menu and took my drink order, a cup of coffee ($3.74). I looked at the breakfast section, which consisted of 4 items:

  • Breakfast Burrito (scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, cheese, salsa, guacamole)[$16.68]
  • Breakfast Plate (scrambled eggs, your choice of bacon or sausage, red peppers, onions, served with breakfast potatoes)[$17.79]
  • Egg & Cheese Bagel Sandwich [$16.68]
  • Bacon, Egg & Cheese Bagel Sandwich [$16.68]

The menu felt FAR more interesting when I had looked at it online. The website doesn’t actually acknowledge the airport location now that I look back at it again. Just the Sacramento and Folsom locations. I don’t really blame it.

While they will customize your order a bit, the limitations are fast and firm. As I overheard the table near me attempt to order a breakfast item with a dairy-free request, the server basically explained that pretty much everything is pre-prepared. That customer ended up leaving empty handed. I ended up ordering the burrito as-is. As only assembly was required I expected this to arrive very quickly. It ended up taking about 8 minutes, a little longer than I would have thought necessary.

I was delighted by the unexpected tater tots that accompanied it. They were golden crispy but I think even these are made in a large batch and staged in a buffet type heat tray until needed. This assumption was based on the temperature, which was somewhere between warm and hot, and how some of them were a bit mangled by whatever serving utensil was used to scoop them up. They were a decent little crunchy side to have, although they weren’t terribly notable otherwise.

The burrito was fairly small, smaller than any other burrito at this price point for sure, but also smaller than most burritos in general I would say. It’s perhaps a little bit more substantial than a beefy 5-layer burrito at Taco Bell. The good: it was constructed extremely well. Every bite had a little bit of everything, the tortilla was soft yet held together well all the way to the end without getting gummy. The OK: The eggs really dominated the flavor followed by tiny amounts of bacon, which added small bursts of saltiness, which the burrito otherwise lacked. The bad: This thing was pretty bland and totally uniform in texture. I would not go so far to describe this meal as enjoyable.

My server was very busy the entire time, yet stopped by frequently enough and refilled my coffee when it was about half empty. As bare-bones as the service is here, it was good. Overall though this place was extremely disappointing, especially when compared to my Terminal B experience. It’s really just an incredibly basic cafeteria masquerading as a full service restaurant. Perhaps the lunch/dinner experience is more worthwhile.

Side note: this post was made completely on the road with an iPad, and I hated every minute of it. Serves me right for trying to travel light. Put MacOS on the iPad already, Apple!

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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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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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