#225: Golden Koi Buffet

“It doesn’t end well,” Justin said as I took my first bite of the fortune cookie.  It was the perfect ending to this particular dinner.  But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Golden Koi Buffet is located in the Nugget shopping center at Fairway and Pleasant Grove.  It used to be another buffet called Golden Dragon Buffet.  The space was vacant for quite a while and sometime in the last year they swapped out the Dragon for Koi on the building and reopened (new owners?  No idea).  I was interested when I noticed it but also not really looking forward to this visit at all.  My luck with buffets is not good.  Nevertheless here we are.

Justin and I arrived at about 5:20PM.  We stepped into the shockingly big space and up to the counter where we were greeted by an extremely quiet employee.  The place only had a handful of customers, two of which were in a booth on one side of the restaurant and the rest scattered in the other half.  We were sat right next to the first couple.  It’s always so weird to me that people would sit you next to the only other customers.  A bit of space would be nice, there certainly was plenty of it.  Dinner here is $15.99.  A bit steep even for a buffet, so let’s see how they do.

The dining room is actually really nice.  Like, it shouldn’t be that nice.  We headed back to the buffet itself as our “server” got us some drinks.  It’s a pretty good sized buffet with a ton of options.  Most of them are Chinese, although there was a smattering of other things, including sushi (which I did not go for today, partly because I had sushi for lunch but also because I was a little afraid.  Some random other things were thrown in like chicken nuggets and fries, something for the kids I suppose.  I started out with some very red General’s Chicken, some Sautéed Mushrooms, Green Beans, Pepper Steak, a Pork Bun and “Dim Sum” (don’t ask me, that’s all it was labeled as).

I got back to the table and Justin was already making some comments about how the food was lukewarm.  I gave the General’s chicken a try and he was right.  The flavor wasn’t that bad, it was a bit on the sweet side.  Crisp was not a word I would use to describe this fried piece of chicken.  The sautéed mushrooms actually would have been pretty good if they were hot, and maybe had a little something with it.  But I guess you can just add whatever you want to it since it’s a buffet, and maybe that’s the point.  The green beans were probably one of the best items I came across.  Still not hot, but these had some snap to them and good flavor.  Justin was picking at his wontons and claimed that they had “age.”  That had me laughing pretty hard.  He was sure the cream cheese inside them had turned.  He also commented that the spring rolls tasted kind of mustard-y.

The pepper steak, much like the General’s chicken, was decent tasting but was very mushy and one bite downright chewy. Again, lukewarm at best.  I dissected the pork bun which looked really dry.  Indeed it was, and there were a few little morsels of OK-tasting meat inside, but I left most of it on the plate.  With the possibility of sounding like I’m repeating myself over and over, the “dim sum” was OK, and would have probably been pretty decent if it was more than just a little warm.  I don’t have a clue what was in it, it was some sort of meat wrapped up in a thin pastry-like cup.  The whole thing was warmish and soft.

I set out once more, hoping to find something that would bring me back for seconds of it.  This time I tried the Coconut Shrimp, Pot Stickers (I had to wait for a moment for them to be refilled, so these were actually fresh), some Sweet and Sour Chicken (with 10,000ºF sauce, this is where they were keeping all the heat apparently), BBQ Chicken and Jalapeño Chicken.

The shrimp somehow appeared fresh, both in the pan and even in the first moment of biting into it.  They had a crispy batter still, which is some kind of miracle because as soon as you get chewing on it you realize it’s just as old as everything else you’ve had so far, and the disappointment meter turns a bit further.  Justin had been picking at a new plate now for a little bit and abruptly announced that he didn’t think he wanted to eat anymore of it and set off for some soft serve, asking “they can’t mess up soft serve can they?” and then added, sarcastically, “the soft serve is warm!” as he disappeared back into the buffet.

Moving on from the shrimp I actually stopped and enjoyed the pot stickers for a while.  Aside from the green beans, these were definitely at the top of the list as far as best items went.  Even though they were steaming when they were being piled onto the buffet line, they had lost a significant amount of heat on the short journey back to the table.  Flavor-wise, pretty good though, at least, as good as any frozen pot stickers you might get at the supermarket anyway.  There did not appear to be any dipping sauce though, which was a bummer.  The sweet and sour chicken was pretty big letdown.  It was sort of crispy, heavy on the batter and the chicken just didn’t really have any flavor.  The sauce wasn’t all that great either.  Pretty much the same story, minus the batter, for the BBQ chicken.  The Jalapeño chicken was fried but devoid of any flavor or substance worth mentioning.  One of the two small pieces I ate was particularly tough.

Justin’s soft serve did not turn out so well.  He had me lift it to feel the weight as he described it as heavy and icy.  One thing he did find that he liked on the same trip were apple tarts, which he said was good but were “almost certainly not made on the premises.”

My desert plate didn’t go much better, although I did find a few things that were tolerable.  The pudding, jell-o and orange slice were all decent to good.  The little chocolate cake-type thing had a major skin on the top which I fought with while I grabbed a piece from the buffet.  I almost ended up with the layer from an adjacent slice.  The other cakey kind of thing which had some whipped cream-like filling and a pastry with some custard were both incredibly dry and off-putting.

Even the fortune cookie, which Justin warned me about, somehow was not crunchy at all past the first bite.  I mean, fortune cookies are usual pretty lacking, but I’ve never had one quite as bad as this one.  I knew it in my gut the entire day that this was likely to go the way it did, and now I certainly do know, literally in my gut.  I can feel it as I type this.  Safe to say I won’t return?  I’ll let you figure that one out.

Website: http://www.goldenkoibuffet.com

#194: Fat’s Asia Bistro & Dim Sum Bar

For dinner yesterday I was joined by several family members at Fat’s Asia Bistro & Dim Sum Bar, on the corner of Eureka and Rocky Ridge.  It’s been quite a long time since I’ve been here, well over 5 years and maybe as many as 10.  I remember Fat’s being one of the early nicer restaurants in Roseville as the growth was in full swing.  It is part of the Fat’s Family of Restaurants, a collection of four Chinese & American cuisine restaurants in the Sacramento area.  This Fat’s has a handful of various Asian dishes but the menu is primarily Chinese.

I arrived a little before everyone else to get my exterior photo and then headed in just before 5PM.  The parking lot was pretty full.  A lot of that was due to a business function going on in the back room, which we could hear throughout our dinner.  The dining room was fairly quiet, but the bar was busy with a happy hour crowd.  I took a seat near the end of the bar and was quickly greeted by a bartender.  He filled me in on the draught beers on the other end that I couldn’t see, then I chose a large Sapporo [$4 happy hour] which was set in front of me almost immediately.  The bar looked to have a nice selection, with a big wall of liquor on display.  The part directly in front of me was partially open, giving a view into kitchen.

In just a few minutes my family had arrived and I met them at a large, circular table in one corner of the central dining area.  We had 5 total and fit comfortably in here.  The table was equipped with a lazy susan, which worked out great for family-style ordering.  Soon we met our server who got our drinks going.  I already had my Sapporo but the rest ordered a bottle of Double Decker Pino Grigio [$28] and a pot of hot green tea [$3.25].  We were in no rush, took our time reading the menu and ordered a couple of appetizers soon after the beverages arrived.  He returned with a bucket of ice for the wine and just a couple of minutes later the appetizers came out.  We had the Chicken in Lettuce Cup (minced chicken with water chestnuts, pine nuts, and hoisin sauce)[$11] and Pork Shu Mei (steamed pork-filled dumpling)[$9].

The Chicken in Lettuce Cup is pretty similar to the poplar appetizer at PF Chang’s and some otter places, but the hoisin sauce is served on the side, which left the chicken looking a little dull.  As I was taking a picture of it and thinking it looked a bit like Fancy Feast, my sister-in-law pretty much said the same thing out loud, which made me laugh.  This came with a TON of lettuce, way more than we needed.  It was a nice change from having to always ask for more lettuce at PFC.  The lettuce was cold and extremely crisp.  The chicken was good though the way it’s prepared elsewhere, where I think they cook the sauce into it, is much better.  It also looks more appetizing.  The hoisin sauce was viscous and sickly sweet.  As for the Pork Shu Mei, this was the first time I’ve ever ordered dumplings.  I’ve been curious about them for years but something often looked better anytime I came across them previously.  They were served in the little wooden container with a lid.  Lifting this off revealed 5 or 6 little open dumplings stuffed with pork.  It was not quite was I was expecting, having seen only the closed type on the web and on Anthony Bourdain’s shows.  The amount that I see them raved about had my expectations quite high and, while they tasted pretty good, they were not anywhere near as good as I had hoped.  These were tightly wrapped and solid.  Cutting one in half, the 2 pieces retained their shape and left me wondering if they are prepared far in advance and reheated when ordered.  If anyone knows where I can find some truly amazing dumplings without traveling back to Asia, do tell in the comments below or shoot me an email at eatingthroughroseville@gmail.com.

We were somewhere in the middle of our appetizers when we ordered our food.  Note that this doesn’t mean our server was slacking, he was on top of things.  The appetizers had come very quickly and he was very much present regularly.  We ordered:

  • Honey Walnut Prawns (in a light sauce with caramelized walnuts) [$18.50]
  • Orange Chicken (with chili and our own zesty orange sauce) [$16]
  • Mongolian Beef (with jalapeno peppers and green onions) [$17.50]
  • Veggie Fried Rice (with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms and fresh basil) [$9]
  • Garlic Green Beans (“a fat family favorite”, so self explanatory I guess) [$10]

This all came out swiftly, within 10-15.  A different server brought it all out on a big tray and set each plate down at our table, naming them as she did so.  One item was incorrect, we were given vegetable chow mien instead of the fried rice.  We told her right then and she apologized and took it back.  Our server came by a minute later and apologized himself while refilling a water.  The replacement rice was very prompt, arriving in just 4 minutes.  Everything was hot, many of them steaming.

The garlic green beans were coated in a slippery garlic sauce, though the garlic was not very strong.  In fact there wasn’t a ton of flavor aside from the beans themselves.  They were a bit firm, while still easily chewable, and they squeaked with each bite.  They were probably my least favorite item on the table.  Some of the others agreed, but my grandma seemed to like them just fine.

The Mongolian beef was nice and tender.  It was drowning in a sweet and savory sauce and mixed in with lots of green onions and a fair amount of slice jalapeños.  Aside from the jalapeños, this wasn’t actually very spicy at all.  Even the peppers themselves didn’t have much of a kick to them.  I definitely prefer the crispier, spicier, less sweet and less saucy variety of this dish.

The orange chicken was the best thing we got.  I do recall it being very good years ago.  The pieces were good sized, crisp in their thin batter and full of delicious flavor with a zing of orange to them.  The chicken inside was moist and tasty.  The only thing that came close to this was the veggie fried rice which was excellent, both then and today as leftovers.

The last item, honey walnut prawns, are often my favorite item at Chinese restaurants.  On top of that, having had ridiculously amazing versions of them at Bambu Asian Cuisine and Leo’s Kitchen, I now have an entirely new level of expectation for this dish.  Unfortunately, Fat’s prawns fell much, much short of that level.  I would deem them as acceptable.  There were few walnuts and the prawns themselves were light on flavor.

Overall I found myself surprisingly underwhelmed with the food here at Fat’s.  I remember so long ago really enjoying this restaurant.  There are two possible reasons for this disappointment.  Back then I wasn’t nearly as into food and trying lots of different things as I am now, so I had little to compare Fat’s to at the time.  Maybe I just expect more out of restaurants these days, and/or the food has declined in quality over the years.  My mom mentioned that she too hadn’t been here in a long time after discovering one visit that they no longer had her favorite dish, orange beef.  I felt that the prices were quite high, which I guess i always kind of knew but had forgotten about.  You’re definitely paying for the nicer atmosphere, service and fancy leftover/takeout bags than you’ll get at any other Chinese restaurant around here.  The service was good, our server in particular did a great job, was very attentive, personable and had an excellent sense of humor.  Ultimately I will be sticking to the little mom & pop restaurants for my Chinese fix, we certainly have some good ones to chose from.

#190: CJF Chinese Fine Cuisine

This is kind of an accidental posting.  I went to CJF Chinese Fine Cuisine today to get some lunch.  China Run, a fast-Chinese restaurant that I was quite fond of, used to reside in this location.  A while back I read a post from their Facebook account saying they had sold the business.  Soon the place was renamed to CJF.  I wandered in one night to get some dinner some time ago and was told they did not have single-sized servings on the menu.  That annoyed me so I went somewhere else and haven’t retuned since.

Recently I had looked back at my post on China Run and realized I needed to update it to reflect the name change, but before doing that I figured I’d better go eat there and confirm that it was just a new name, not a new restaurant with different food entirely.  So here we are, I did just that today and it is indeed different, so this post is about it.

I stepped in at around 1:40PM.  Inside, not much has changed.  A cooler with energy drinks was added next to the soda fountain, the menu is new and the China Run logos were gone.  Other than that, colors, tables, chairs and the kitchen remained the same.  There were a handful of people in a few groups seated and eating.  I was greeted quickly by one of the two people working.  The other was busy cooking up something in a large wok against the back wall.  Up at the register, the man waiting to take my order had a jacket that had “Chef Edward Liu” embroidered on it.  Based on one of their earliest Facebook posts I am gathering that he is also the owner.

He showed me their lunch specials (which they did have the previous time I went in, but obviously they are not available at dinner time) which were pretty basic, one item and some chow mien or fried rice in the neighborhood of $6-7.  I decided I wanted to order off the main menu and have leftovers for dinner.  This menu is simple and broken down in sections with an average of 5 items each.  I figured I should order the General Chicken [$8.50], which was my favorite item at China Run, since I needed to confirm if this was different or not.  I went with that and also an order of Chicken Chow Mein [$7.95].  I noticed a laminated menu over near the lunch specials which showed many of the main menu items but in smaller quantities, served in a 27oz container I believe.  I asked him what the size difference was between these and the main menu and he confirmed that the smaller ones were about half size.  The prices were maybe 40% less than their full-sized counterparts.  I’m happy to see that they’ve added these options.

All paid up I took a seat and waited for maybe 5-7 minutes.  He bagged up two BIG boxes (see the soda can for scale), handed me a paper to-go menu at my request and I was off.  Once home, I unpacked and popped open each box.  I immediately knew that this was not China Run with a new name.  The chicken was considerably lighter in color and had less sauce than China Run’s and the Chow Mein noodles were much, much thicker.  I was concerned about the chicken being steamed to death and loosing any crunch on the ride home.  Thankfully they held up pretty well and I could tell when I scooped some onto a plate that they were still fairly crisp.

Digging in, I had further confirmation that this was not China Run’s recipe.  While I found the flavor to be OK, it was nowhere near as rich and delicious as China Run’s and it had zero spice to it.  The outside batter was mostly pretty crisp and enjoyable, as I had anticipated.  The chicken inside was unfortunately somewhat dry and stringy.  A few pieces were better.  Overall it was not great.  The chicken in the Chicken Chow Mein was actually much more tender and better overall, though it was very bland.  That was true of the whole chow mein as a whole.  It was hot and the noodles were cooked well, it was just kinda blah.

I was upset that China Run decided to sell and close down, as it was kind of a spiritual successor to the late Pickup Stix which I also loved.  Having thought that CJF was serving the same food made it better, but now that I know it’s not the same and not nearly as good, I’m upset again.  There isn’t much in the way of really good, fast Chinese in Roseville.  The owner seemed like a nice guy and the place was still clean and new-looking.  The amount of food I got for $17 made it an excellent value.  Perhaps there are better things to choose from.  Judging by the mostly very positive Yelp reviews that must be the case.  Personally, I’ll probably stick with Prime Wok in Rocklin for this type of quick, cooked-to-order Chinese food.

By the way: I’ve only got about 9 restaurants to go, crazy huh!?

(Scanned) Menu: Click Here