#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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#232: Koisan (Sushi ■ Wok ■ Seafood)

Well, my plans for lunch today fell apart.  I was going to go to The Green Boheme, a raw vegan joint tucked away behind Sports Page, but apparently Saturday is the only day they are closed!  I’ll have to try again soon.  I reluctantly drove over to Koisan, a new restaurant in the cursed location that once held Tomi, Da Jung, and at least one other failed Asian/seafood buffet.  I was not excited to come here just due to the history here.  Nevertheless, I walked in a bit before 1PM.

I stepped into the entryway and was greeted after about 20 seconds of eyeing the menus set on the front counter.  I was taken in and to the exact same booth I sat at for my visit of Da Jung last time.  Not a whole lot has changed about the dining room through both Tomi & Da Jung, minus that fact that the Korean-BBQ tables are now gone.  What was the sushi bar at Da Jung has been removed and converted to a conveyer with little dishes constantly on the move.

The host showed me the menus, explained how all you can eat (AYCE) works and also told me about their special for lunch today, a bento box with a handful of different things.  It was slightly overwhelming so I took plenty of time to go over everything once he left.  It would be a few minutes until my server introduced herself and got my drink order.  So they have a full on regular menu, which also is their take-out/delivery menu, where you can order all kinds of individual Chinese dishes.  Then there’s the AYCE Lunch [$13.99] which consists of a combination of salad bar, a variety of pre-made items on the nifty little conveyor belt, and finally a menu of items that will be made to order.  Dinner is similar but with a larger menu and a bigger price [$19.99, $21.99 on Fri/Sat] to go along with it.

To be honest, I was not totally crazy about the idea of AYCA, again, mostly due to this locations past, so I skimmed over the lunch menu.  In addition to AYCE Lunch, they also had some lunch-time bento boxes where you could choose a Chinese wok item.  I eventually asked about the special once more and went with that, because it seemed like a good variety and a good value.  It was a bento box with honey walnut shrimp, broccoli chicken, rice (steamed or fried), salad, gyoza and miso soup [$10.95].  I got a soda to drink [$2.25].

Within a few minutes I had my Mr Pibb and miso soup delivered.  Both were excellent.  The Pibb was nice and strong in flavor, as was the soup which was very hot.  I had to let that cool off a bit.  I was just finishing this up when my bento box was brought out.  It was very snappy, coming just 7 minutes after the soup.

The box was a good size and had quite a bit of food in it.  I went to work.  The salad was very basic, pretty much iceberg with little shaved bits of carrot and the usual sweet/creamy dressing that sushi joints use.  It was cold, tasty and a nice way to start.  After that I jumped around.  I had chosen fried rice.  I doubt this was made to order, but it seemed more fresh than something like you’d get at a panda express or certainly any kind of buffet.  The broccoli chicken looked really boring, but to my surprise it was actually really delicious and whatever sauce it was cooked in was nice and savory.

The chicken and broccoli were both very hot.  The broccoli was cooked perfectly, not crunchy or mushy, it was just right in the vegetable Goldilocks-zone.  The gyoza was probably fried for my order as it was hot and crisp.  There didn’t seem to be any sauce for it, but I think it might have been quickly dipped in some before being plated because that saltiness was present.  It was very good.  The honey walnut shrimp was OK.  It was hot and the flavor was decent, but I didn’t find it to stand out in any way like some of the best of this dish in Roseville do (see Leo’s Kitchen or Bambu for outstanding versions of this dish).  The walnuts were not very sweet like most places have them.  Finally, the orange was incredibly ripe, juicy and sweet.  A perfect ending to a surprisingly satisfying lunch.

I definitely had my reservations coming in here but they cleared those away.  While the food was good overall, the service was even better.  The host, my main server and a couple of the other servers that I interacted with were all excellent and seemed very eager to please.  I might actually be inclined to come back and try the AYCE, both due to this initially good experience, and also because the sushi is made to order (a-la Raku Sushi), so It has some promise of being much, much better than previous businesses here.

AM5: Prime Wok Express

Hi everyone!  Apologies for the infrequent posting lately.  In addition to just being busier than usual I was just on a 3000 mile road trip.  Nothing particularly post-worthy to report food-wise, other than a taco bus in West Yellowstone, MT and more Mexican, a restaurant called the Red Iguana in Salt Lake City, UT.  Both were awesome, check ’em out if you happen to pass through either place.

Back home, tonight I wanted something quick and tasty, preferably delivery or take out so I could get back home, relax and catch up on some TV.  Prime Wok Express was the answer.  This is a fast Chinese restaurant on Lonetree Blvd at the far north end of the giant shopping center in Rocklin where you’ll find RC Willey, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Blue Oaks Century.  If you somehow can resist the aroma of unbelievably good BBQ that you have to drive through as you pass by Lucille’s Smokehouse, you will find yourself in a pretty ordinary business type area of the shopping center.  Hidden in the back corner is Prime Wok Express.  Years ago, before I started this blog, I happened upon the sign they often stick out near the entrance to the closest driveway and decided to check it out, and I’m glad I did.

I usually describe it as Panda Express, if Panda Express was really, really good, and if it was cooked when you ordered it.  When you walk into Prime Wok Express, it clearly could have even been a Panda Express in an alternate universe.  They have the heat tables and everything, they just don’t use them.  Instead they have loads of supplies such as to-go boxes, utensils, fortune cookies, etc. and they use the counter for final prep before handing you your to-go bag.  There are a lot of tables, and I’ve even eaten here a couple times, but dining in is really nothing special, this place is all about take-out in my opinion.

They have a pretty good sized menu, however if you go with a 2-item plate, as I always do, you have a much more limited selection of items to choose from.  That’s really my only gripe with this place.  Instead of the full 54 items, they have picked out 14 that you can have in the combo.  That said, they’re still good.  Tonight I went with the orange chicken and the kung pao chicken with chow mein as the side.  The guy that took my order then met me around the corner of the counters at the register to pay.  The total for this combo plate was $12.89 after tax.  That probably seems a little steep, and the first couple times I came here I thought the same thing.  When you get your food though, it makes more sense.  I received my order in just over 5 minutes on this early Friday evening.  They had 4 people working the kitchen, more than I’ve ever seen (though I often visit during off-hours), so it was a bit faster than normal, but they’re usually less than 10 so it’s pretty quick no matter what.

The standard-sized foam container is always heavy here.  I decided to weigh it this time and found that it was a fraction of an ounce shy of three pounds.  When I cracked it open the food was piled to the top and flattened out from when they squeezed it close.  You really get a ton of food here, and that’s why $13 is no problem.  This is easily 2-3 meals, which is great since Chinese food reheats so nicely.

As for the food itself, it’s easily the best fast Chinese food around.  Some of the better sit down restaurants like Rose Garden, Leo’s Kitchen and Bambu are better quality but carry a higher price (and slower service if you’re in a hurry).  With the orange chicken (and some other chicken items) you get a choice of light or dark meat.  I went with light but one day I will give dark a shot, it kind of sounds like it would be amazing.  This was super flavorful and the chicken very tender inside the still somewhat crisp shell of deep fried batter (it had about 15 minutes from being boxed up to me digging in, so it was a bit steamed on the way home, still good though).  The kung pao chicken uses dark meat and is covered in a thick, dark and rich sauce.  Big chunks of chopped zucchini, onions and a few peanuts make up this item.  Chicken and zucchini are both very plentiful and tasty.  It was not as spicy as the “spicy” warning on the menu might have you believe, but carries a nice little heat.  I’m sure you could ask for more if desired since they cook it to order.  The chow mein is one of the more delicious ones of any I’ve had, the noodles are dark and saturated with whatever dark sauce they are cooked in.  It reminds me of how my Mongolian BBQ noodles turn out with the tons of sauce I use.  Where chow mein is hit or miss at a lot of places, here since it’s freshly cooked up it’s better than most and very consistent.

Overall it’s probably one of my favorite take-out joints.  If it were closer to home I’m sure I’d go a lot more.