#107: La Provence Restaurant & Terrace

This restaurant took me by surprise.  A while back a friend asked me if I had been to La Provence.  Thinking I knew of every major restaurant, I told him that there is no such place in Roseville, but it turned out I was wrong!  This French/Mediterranean restaurant is tucked deep in northwest Roseville, well back from the closest major road, Blue Oaks, and surrounded by houses and parks.  I’ve been very much looking forward to coming here for many months.  Finally on December 8th I ended up there with my friend, Justin.

For some time Justin had been talking up a burger that he had there and so we went for lunch so I could check it out.  Now, before you scream at your computer – don’t worry.  Keep reading.  I’m with you on this.

We showed up at about 12:45PM to a very quiet restaurant.  There were maybe a dozen or so tables already seated.  It’s a pretty good sized place.  When you walk in you can head straight back to a small bar or off to the left to a kind of gift shop/take out area.  The host took us back and to the right into the main dining area, a large room with high ceilings and a big pass-through fireplace that served another dining room beyond.  On either side of the main area were two narrow wings with more seating and there was a final room to the back with doors for private functions.  In addition to all this they have a rather large outdoor area with lots more seating, obviously more suited to summer dining.  The large park that La Provence sits next to wraps around the patio giving it a nice view.

We were seated in the main dining room and had it to ourselves for most of our time there.  They did a good job of spreading people out so that parties aren’t awkwardly sitting closely in a huge empty room, listening to each others conversation.  We were immediately served water and the carafe was left at the table.  Our server came by, introduced herself and took our drink orders.  I skimmed over the menu and the French names on it but I already knew I was getting the burger, it’s pretty much what we came for.  I did want to try something else though, an appetizer at least.  Two things popped out at me on the menu – Calamar Frites (Tender calamari, lemon wheels and peppers lightly dusted with cornmeal, fried crisp, served with a chipotle aïoli) and Escargots (Tender escargots baked in a basil garlic butter with tender spinach).  It really wasn’t a fair choice, I went with the escargots for the gross factor.  It’s not really that I think they are gross, I’ve never had them before so I wouldn’t make that assumption, but I know a lot of other people probably would, so it was a fun pick for that reason.

Once we placed our orders we were served bread and butter.  Half were slices of a French roll and the other half wheat.  The wheat was soft and…wheaty…..  The French roll was awesome.  I could eat that all day.  We ate most of it and when the server came by to drop off our little escargot forks she asked if we’d like some more for them, which were soon to arrive.  That came out with a circular dish containing 6 escargots.  Though not in the description, it looked like there was some sort of bread crumb-like topping on it, which was baked crisp.  I scooped the first one out and placed it on a slice of bread.  Honestly unless you knew what it was, you might not have guessed it.  It just looked like a conveniently bite-sized ball of spinach.  The basil garlic butter was quite a strong flavor, followed by the spinach.  It didn’t seem like there was a lot of unique flavor of the escargot itself.  The texture was interesting, I think best described as similar to a scallop or some other seafood.  All in all I was really into these and I know I will be ordering more in the future.  We finished them off pretty quickly.

The escargot dish was cleared to make way for our burgers.  We both ordered the exact same thing, the Hamburger Provençal (Charbroiled 1⁄2 lb. Angus beef, caramelized onions and Dijon aïoli on a crisp ciabatta bun served with hand-cut fries or mixed greens), cooked medium-rare and added lots of Gruyère cheese.  Justin got a cup of French onion soup and I got fries as the side.  The fries were fantastic, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and very lightly salted.  Towards the end I was still picking at them despite feeling very full.  The burger was juicy, a little pink in the middle as ordered and two slices of Gruyère was partially melted overtop.  The ciabatta bun was the weakest part of this burger.  Although it wasn’t all that bad, it was just a little plain, maybe a touch on the sweet side.  I couldn’t taste the Dijon aïoli at all, probably due to all the cheese.  I think there could have been a slight bit more of that.  I only added a bit of lettuce to the burger so I could focus on the flavor of the beef.  It didn’t seem to be heavily seasoned but stood on it’s own.  It was good quality beef that reminded me of Burgers & Brew (where my all time favorite, the spicy guacamole cheeseburger, can be found).  The Gruyère was tasty, somewhat mild.  The best part about the Hamburger Provençal was the carmelized onions.  I’ve never quite had some as good as these before.  They were incredibly sweet, but not to the detriment of the rest, they were their own distinct sweet flavor that played well alongside the savory beef.

All in all I’d say this is probably a top 10 burger for me, maybe top 5 with a different bun.  Our server was excellent, coming at just the right times to grab refills, bring things out and see how things were.  This was a good introduction, but I knew La Provence had a lot more to offer.  I couldn’t just come to this place and get a freakin’ burger and call it a post, which is why I came back last weekend for Saturday night dinner ;).

Justin joined me once again and we arrived just after 6PM.  We did not have a reservation but were seated immediately.  I have a feeling there were lots of reservations for later on because the hostess went off in advance to check that a table would be available for us.  This time we were seated off in the back wing along the main dining room.  The far back room was closed up and filled with a group celebrating a birthday.  The restaurant was at about half capacity when we were seated but filled up by the time we left around an hour later.  We had the exact same server, who greeted us and said “long time no see.”

As I started to look at the menu I reminded myself that I wasn’t leaving without having my favorite dessert, crème brûlée.  I double checked to make sure it was available, which it was.  That taken care of I went over the dinner menu, as well as the special weekend menu for the 13-15th.  That consisted of a $35 prix fixe 3-course meal consisting of Asparagus Salad (with white truffle vinaigrette) or Seafood Salmis (poached rock shrimp and scallops and simmered in a tarragon herb cream sauce and served in a warm puff pastry shell), Rack of Lamb Provençal (three-bone rack roasted then rubbed with whole grain mustard and topped with garlic bread crumbs) or Supreme du Volaille (chicken stuffed with a truffle mousseline and wrapped in crispy shoestring potatoes served with a toasted coriander sauce) and for dessert, White Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake with candied pecans.  All of these were also available à la carte.  Justin went with the Supreme du Volaille.  I ended up choosing a prix fixe meal from the main dinner menu.  Crème brûlée was one of the dessert options, as well as the entrée I thought sounded really good – Filet de Porc Rôti (roasted pork tenderloin wrapped in cherrywood smoked bacon, rainbow Swiss chard with white cheddar and potato fritters, port wine demi-glace).  That just left the starter.  I picked out the Fromage de Chèvre (warm almond crusted goat cheese, baby spinach, plumped currants, toasted pine nuts, wine vinaigrette).

Bread came, was devoured as expected and was just as good as before.  My Fromage de Chèvre came out next, a nice pile of baby spinach with a little disc of the almond crusted goat cheese.  At first I was a bit disappointed with the amount of goat cheese, but I quickly changed my mind on that.  A little went a long way.  I sliced it open with my butter knife easily.  It was warm and very soft, almost gooey, but firm enough as to not ooze into the spinach.  This was un-freakin-believeable.  I don’t remember setting my fork down once as I inhaled this entire salad.  The cheese was very rich and the pine nuts added a nice texture.  Most of the currants (similar to a raisin, I guess) filtered through the spinach to the bottom of the plate and I ended up eating most of them with the remaining pine nuts last.  I wish I was eating another one of these right now, just…wow.

About 20 minutes after my salad had first arrived we received our entrées.  Justin’s chicken looked great.  Although I forgot to ask him what he thought of it, I’m sure he liked it because he was finished as I was just getting into my own plate (as usual).  Two small tenderloins were wrapped with thick, fatty strips of bacon.  A half-dozen string beans (pretty sure they were string beans) were served in addition to the rainbow Swiss chard.  These were warm but still crisp and required a little work with my steak knife to cut down to size.  They were good along with the chard, which I’m not sure if I’ve had before, but it was a lot like spinach which I love.  The potato fritters were interesting, almost like fried dumplings.  They were a kind of a mix between potato and bread inside.  I liked these a lot.  The two yellow-orange things at the front of the plate….I have absolutely no idea what that was.  They had the most bizarre consistency, probably best described as light foam.  I went to pick up a bit with my fork to check it out and most of it slid right through.  The tiny bit that made the trip up to my mouth tasted kind of like butternut squash.  The tenderloins themselves were quite tasty, thanks to the delicious, thick bacon, which was nice an crisp around the edges.  The pork was tender and juicy, which I rarely find to be the case at most places.

Once I was finished up our server returned to see if we would be having any dessert and I reminded her of my crème brûlée.  With that she was off.  There was a somewhat long wait between then and when it came out, maybe as much as 20 minutes.  When it did arrive, I was in heaven.  A good serving size, a well caramelized top and vanilla bean  custard with some of the strongest vanilla bean flavor I’ve had.  Justin is never impressed with crème brûlée and often says it’s flavorless but I had him taste it and even he had to admit it was pretty good.

Dinner was fantastic from start to finish.  I can’t wait to come back.  If this was any indication of what to expect, I could very well say that La Provence might be my absolute favorite restaurant in Roseville as of right now.  Yeah, it was that good.

I’ll probably take the next week off what with all the craziness of the holidays looming ahead, so look for my next post sometime after Christmas!

Website: http://www.laprovenceroseville.com


#42: Johnny Garlic’s

Earlier this week I went with a friend to Johnny Garlic’s over on Fairway for dinner.  This restaurant opened in 2008 and is co-owned by Food Network’s popular host, Guy Fieri.  I’ve been here a couple times previously and remembered generally enjoying it.  In particular, I recall always having pretty great service and the servers seem to have a good sense of humor.  The last time I was here I had some leftovers boxed up to go and they decided to also give my friend his last remaining shrimp in a tiny little to-go cup.  We still laugh about that every now and then.

We arrived at about 6:45 on Thursday and the place was jammin’ (it had cleared out a lot by the time we left, which is when some of these photos were taken).  There was some room in the bar but we decided to go for the dining room.  No booths were available and the only tables left were 6-seaters so we got to spread out, which was really nice.  The place has a very open design, you can see from one end to the other no matter where you are, from the bar to the dining room to the kitchen.  The crowd conversation noise level was fairly high, enough that we had to raise our voices just a little to talk across the table.

I thought the style was kind of neat, but it’s not a very intimate setting, so maybe not a great place to bring a date.  My friend accurately described it as a classy TGI Fridays.  We both thought the bar should have been more isolated from the rest of the dining room.  One thing that was quite tacky was the “souvenir” counter, in a corner towards the back, where they have shirts and various Johnny Garlic’s and Guy Fieri branded merchandise.

Our waiter showed up quickly to take our drink orders.  I wasn’t quite ready yet and wanted to take a closer look at the beer selection, so I grabbed that menu while he went to get my friend’s beer.  Turns out I didn’t need much time though because the beer selection was kind of pathetic.  There were only 4 on draught – Stella Artois, Coors Light, Sierra Nevada & Blue Moon (they may have had a wider selection in bottles, but I didn’t look).  I ordered a Blue Moon and got to checking out the menu for appetizers.  Someone gave me a coupon for a free appetizer or dessert which came from a calendar that apparently gets sent out in the mail in Roseville, so take a look through it if you got one.  I must have thrown it out with the junk mail because I don’t remember seeing it.

A couple things that caught my eye were the key lime calamari (with cilantro-Lime aioli) and garlic fries (with parmesan).  They both sounded good, but both are pretty common appetizer orders for me anywhere, so instead I chose the Lava-Rock Shrimp (Honey Chipotle Lime Glaze + Mango Salsa [random tangent: anytime I see or hear “mango salsa” I think about this commercial]).

A bit before the lava-rock shrimp showed up, our server brought some warm focaccia bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  The bread was so fresh and delicious we had another basket brought out after we had our entrees!

The lava-rock shrimp was served in a big martini glass and looked fantastic.  It tasted great too.  The glaze was amazing, sweet, hot and with a hint of lime at the end.  I hate to compare it to Panda Express, but it reminded me the Beijing Beef, which also has a sweet and spicy glaze.  This was a lot better though!

Our entrees were delivered by a different server (dedicated food runner?), who had them backwards.  I ordered the Bourbon Buffalo Meatloaf (ground bison steak, Yukon garlic mash, seasonal vegetable,”Maui onion straws” and bourbon BBQ sauce).  My friend ordered the American Kobe Flank (14 ounce Wagyu ribeye, Yukon garlic mash, seasonal vegetable and creamed leek gratin).

Everything about my meatloaf was excellent.  The onion straws were great and added a little crisp to each bite of meatloaf.  I loved the bourbon BBQ sauce, it was very rich and a little sweet.  The garlic mash was piping hot, and was some of the best I’ve had in general.  The seasonal veggies were string beans and pretty good, but I’m not really a fan of string beans so I couldn’t say if they were great or not.  I believe my friend really enjoyed his steak as well.

Overall I really enjoyed this dinner.  The food was amazing all around and our server was quick and personable.  I’d love to give Johnny Garlic’s a 5 of 5, but the ambiance felt a little mis-matched.  I think more isolated tables and a quieter overall noise level would help out greatly.  We both also felt that some of the prices were a touch on the high side.  I would imagine that’s just due to the name that’s behind it.  These things definitely won’t keep me from coming back, but I suppose they are something to consider.


#10: Paul Martin’s American Bistro

Paul Martin’s American Bistro is located in the newish shopping center with the European theme across from Carmax.  I became interested in this restaurant after seeing some of Rachel Valley’s food shots.  Other than those photos and some random mentions of it here and there I didn’t know much about it before my visit.  I gathered a small group of friends, we made reservations through opentable.com and off we went for a Friday night dinner.  We arrived at about ten minutes early for our 8:30 reservation but were seated immediately.  The restaurant was busy but not packed.  The five of us were seated at a large round table in the middle of the restaurant which gave us room to spread out and not feel cramped as drinks, appetizers and entrees arrived.  The place is dimly lit and has a cool chill atmosphere.  It immediately reminded me of Crush 29, though it’s slightly more relaxed.

Our waiter (who reminded me of Joey Quinn from Dexter both in appearance and demeanor) was to our table quickly and took our drink orders.  There wasn’t a large selection of beers on draught, (though there may have been bottles, we didn’t ask) but they definitely had a lot of wine to choose from.  Also they clearly had a full and well stocked bar from what we could see from the table.

I went with a Lost Coast Hefeweizen.  It was not served with a lemon as all the hefes I’ve ever had usually are, but I didn’t feel like I needed it.  It’s possible they added a bit of lemon to it at the bar before handing it off to the servers.

I ordered the Town Dock Calamari (buttermilk battered with chili aioli & house cocktail sauce) appetizer to get us started.  Shortly before that arrived we were served some tasty bread and butter.  The calamari wasn’t great, but it was good.  They were very hot and the batter and flavor of the calamari itself was good, but they were not very tender.  The chili aioli sauce was awesome and made me forget about the toughness.  Mmmm…love the tentacles.

When it was time to order I realized I had been too absorbed in whatever conversation was going on and enjoying the calamari to choose something.  I panicked briefly and picked the Pitman Family Farms “Brick” Chicken  (free-range chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh herb jus).  I’m not sure what drew my attention to it.  I don’t often order chicken because I fear it will be dry or boring and that I’ll have missed out on something more exciting.  This chicken is going to make me set aside those fears in the future.  I think I might go so far as to say it was possibly the best chicken I’ve ever had.  Seriously.  It was ridiculously tender and juicy (served au jus I suppose helps out a great deal here, it was practically swimming in a lake of it’s own delicious juices).  The skin was left on which was an excellent bonus.  The mashed potatoes were hot and buttery.  Towards the end I started dowsing them with the excess juice on the plate which took them to a whole other level.

Other items ordered by my friends:

Local Corn & Quinoa Chowder (roasted corn, quinoa & amaranth, poblano pesto oil)

Butter Lettuce & Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese (candied walnuts, apples, maple vinaigrette)

Prime New York Steak (meyer ranch all natural beef, pt. reyes blue cheese butter, roasted red potatoes, sautéed organic bloomsdale spinach)

Bistro Burger (fresh ground meyer ranch natural angus, black pepper aioli and fries, plus tillamook cheddar and all natural bacon)

Marinated Skirt Steak (roasted maple-bourbon sweet potatoes and arugula, mashed potatoes substituted for the sweet potatoes)

There were positive comments from all around the table on their food.  I ended up skipping desert, but I’d like to return and have some.  The desert menu was very tempting.  We took a while ordering and also to leave but our waiter was very patient and continued to check on refills well after our bill was paid which I rarely experience anywhere, so big props there.  I’ve heard from a couple people that they felt Paul Martin’s is a bit overpriced.  It is a slight bit on the high side (~$40 for my beer, chicken and calamari), and you can easily go nuts if you try, but I felt it was worth it.  I’ll be back for sure.

Oh, and by request, a new rating system:

I give Paul Martin’s 4.5 of 5.  Tender calamari and possibly a slight price drop would make this a perfect 5.


Finally, here’s a random cool shot that presented itself when my iPhone found it’s way behind my water glass