#153: Giraffe Restaurant (CLOSED)

When I first heard about Giraffe Restaurant a couple months ago I was curious, mostly because the name really doesn’t tell you anything at all, unless of course they served tasty giraffe meat, which for the record I would totally try.  I looked into it briefly once or twice and skimmed over the menu.  Nothing really popped out at me at the time.  As I was looking over my list this week to figure out where to go next, I visited their website once more.  This time, however, a good portion of their menu sounded really appealing.  I must have been in the right mood to process it.  They are located at the corner of Fairway and Pleasant Grove, across from Nugget near Lowes.  They serve an interesting mix of American, Italian and Mediterranean cuisines.  American was represented by a burger, but most everything else seemed to be of the other two.

I met up with my mother at 6PM for dinner.  I was a bit early.  From out front it looked like they had two entrances, neither of which is very clearly marked, they kind of blend into the glass front.  I took a gamble with the door on the right, underneath the main Giraffe signage.  This turned out to be the correct one.  I found myself in a little waiting area with some chairs, a copy of the menu on a table to the other side and a woman standing there ready to greet me.  The other door leads right into the middle of the dining room.  I told her I was waiting for one more and she asked if I would like to be seated or wait.  I chose to be seated and we rounded a small divider wall  and came back to the front by the windows where I was given a booth.  The dining room is very open as is the kitchen, which you can see most of from your seat.  The ceiling above this side was crazy high.  Behind me was one of several giraffe decorations and some plants sitting on what must have been a counter people sat at in whatever this place used to be.  There was just one other person in the dining room, sitting in the center at a small table.  Eventually he was joined by one more.  Another couple came in while I was waiting and had apparently been here before because the waitress said she remembered them.  Finally, a mother and daughter showed up, curious what kind of restaurant it was (I suspect most people in Roseville are wondering this when they see the name), then after looking at the menu for a moment took a seat.

The waitress, who was the only person tending to the customers while I was there, brought me a large cup of ice water.  Soon my mom joined and she received water as well.  The waitress asked if we would like anything else to drink but we both stuck with water.  They have a very limited beverage selection right now.  According to their website they are waiting on their beer and wine public notice to be processed.  For the time being it’s soda, tea and coffee.  We went over the menu (which strangely opened like a wall calendar rather than like a book).  I think we both picked out an entree fairly quickly, and I then turned my attention to the starters.  I was curious about the “Chicken White Soup,” although by the time we were placing our order I forgot to ask about it.  Instead we ordered the Eggplant Dip (Roasted eggplant, onion, garlic and tomato with dairy sauce and pita bread)[$5.89].  For my entree I chose the Grilled Half Cornish Hen (Half a hen {13oz} with grilled tomato and sweet pepper, cup corn, garlic toast, with choice of pomegranate or mushroom sauce)[10.89].  I figured the mushroom sauce would probably be good although I was very curious about the pomegranate sauce and had planned on getting that.  I completely failed to notice that she didn’t ask me.  A minute after she had left she came back and very apologetically informed me that they were out of the pomegranate and asked if the mushroom was OK, so that’s how that worked itself out.

Less than 10 minutes after we ordered we received an appetizer of fried pita chips with a white dipping sauce.  The chips were very crunchy and warm.  The sauce was light, cool and had a definite cucumber flavor to it.  She returned just a minute or two later with the eggplant dip and asked if we liked the sauce, then listed off some of it’s ingredients and compared it to Tzatziki sauce.  It was really good and this seemed to be a standard complimentary appetizer.  I saw her deliver one to each of the other tables.  Our eggplant dip was warm and was served with soft triangles of pita bread.  It was pretty difficult to scoop any of the dip up with the bread alone and we had to use one of our forks to assist.  Neither of us was really into this, but I think it’s because we’re not that crazy about eggplant (I’ve not had a lot of eggplant, so I didn’t really consider it when ordering it).  It wasn’t bad at all, in fact once the initial eggplant flavor in a bite subsided, allowing the other ingredients to shine, it was pretty decent.  While we finished all the pita bread, there was probably about half of the dip remaining.  Our waitress offered to bring more bread out when she came by to clear the two plates.

It was roughly 15 minutes between when these appetizers first arrived and when the entrees came out.  The presentation was nice on both.  My moms Beef Stroganoff with Rotini (chopped beef, mushroom, bell pepper, white sauce and three-blended cheese with fresh herbs and vegetables)[$8.49] came in a big bowl that was mostly rim.  After digging in she realized that the bowl was deceptively deep and that there was considerably more there than we thought.  She ended up taking half of it to go for leftovers.  She said the beef was very tender and that overall the dish was quite good.

My grilled half Cornish hen was quite large and covered in the white mushroom sauce.  The sauce had lots of good sized slices of mushrooms along with a full mushroom off to the side, next to a colorful trio of grilled veggies consisting of a big slice a zucchini, half a tomato and a full sweet pepper.  On the other side was a little cup of corn, topped with a bit of shredded cheese.  I took a bite of this and was surprised at how peppery it tasted, as if it had been covered in invisible black pepper(though some coarsely ground pepper was clearly visible, it just didn’t seem to match what I was tasting).  It was buttery and good, just wow, really peppery also.  Each of the veggies were soft from the grill and cut easily with my butter knife.  The zucchini and tomato were very tasty.  I didn’t get to the pepper before I started to get full.  The hen was outstanding.  Perfectly prepared, the white meat portions were moist and tender, and the dark meat was fatty and full of flavor.  A bit of delicious skin here and there and it was a real treat.  The mushroom sauce was better than I anticipated, it was very rich and the mushroom slices themselves were wonderful as well.

The amount of meat was a lot more than expected and I had enough to take home for a small lunch tomorrow.  I might have attempted to eat it all there but after my mom had requested a container for hers, the waitress suggested dessert and described a special.  She was very soft spoken the entire time and so I didn’t catch the name of this dessert, only some of the description, and I had to have her repeat part of it again.  It was described as being similar to flan, which had me mostly in on that alone, with raspberry sauce on top.  I went ahead and ordered one.  It came out in a mug and appeared to be a white custard.  The raspberry sauce was drizzled on top in the shape of a heart.  It was pretty awesome.  My mom best described it as a very good vanilla bean ice cream, but not frozen.  It had the consistency of something between a mousse and creme brulee custard.  Overall, pretty amazing.  I asked her what it was afterwards and she told us Panna Cotta.  I’ve heard of it but I’ve pretty certain this was the first time I’ve ever had it.  I’m a fan.  I didn’t take the receipt with me but I think it was something like 5 or 6 bucks.

So Giraffe Restaurant, an oddly named place with mixed cuisine.  Our waitress was excellent from start to finish and all the food was fresh and delicious.  Given the quality and portions I would say that the prices were extremely reasonable, even on the low side in some areas.  I would definitely return.

#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


#69: Noodles & Co

Right off the bat here I just want to say I didn’t realize how many locations this restaurant had.  Until I looked at their website today I thought they were a single location or maybe a small chain, but it seems they are all over the country, mostly in the east.  I had never heard of them before though and I’m sure I’m not the only one, so here we go.

My friends Amelia & Eric came up from midtown to see Prometheus (great movie, btw) and do lunch.  They chose Noodles & Co from my list and so off we went.  They are located in the Fountains shopping center out in front, close to Roseville Parkway, right next to California Pizza Kitchen.  I arrived first at about 2PM while my friends were off finding a parking spot.  Despite the parking throughout the Fountains being pretty packed overall the restaurant was fairly quiet.  For whatever reason I had imagined Noodles & Co as being a table service type of place, but instead you order and pay at a counter in the back.

Once my friends had made their way inside we approached the counter and I started to check out the options.  They have it split into three sections (see menu), Mediterranean, Asian & American.  They also have a section of sandwiches which I nearly ordered from (the Wisconsin Cheesesteak: marinated steak, Mac & Cheese sauce, cheddar-jack cheese, red onion, bell pepper and mushrooms on ciabatta), but I decided I should probably stick with one of the main sections for my first visit.  First,  you make a selection from one of these sections, then (for most) you choose a meat or tofu (parmesan-crusted chicken, chicken breast, marinated steak, shrimp, meatballs or organic tofu).  Finally for a buck extra you can add a side salad (tossed green, caesar or cucumber tomato) or a cup of soup (Thai curry, chicken noodle or tomato basil bisque).

I decided on the Truffle Mac (“Our signature Mac & Cheese sauce spiked with white truffle oil, sautéed baby portabella mushrooms, parmesan and house-made toasted bread crumbs”.  Sounded pretty good to me.  I added a cup of the Thai curry soup and went with a fountain drink.  It all came to about $13.  I headed to grab my soda and was happy to see, for the first time since Dos Coyotes, one of the fantastical new Coke machines with a million flavors.  Of course I went with Dr Pepper, which was well mixed and very tasty.

We were seated for less than 5 minutes when our orders began to arrive.  Eric ordered the Spaghetti & Meatballs (Five meatballs on spaghetti, crushed tomato marinara and parmesan) and Amelia ordered a bowl of the Thai Curry Soup with organic tofu (yellow coconut curry, broccoli, carrots, red pepper, onion, mushrooms, a “light portion” of rice noodles, served on cabbage with black sesame).  Both were pretty good sizes, I forgot to ask but I’m assuming they were both the large orders.

I had a small hot dog before the movie because I had skipped breakfast (no surprise there) and I wasn’t super hungry, so I just went for a small order of the Truffle Mac.  The portion of parmesan-crusted chicken was about twice as big as I was expecting, which was nice of course.  The mac & cheese  was very rich and delicious.  The baby portabella mushrooms were a great addition.  The chicken was ok, it was a little dry and felt like it was probably prepped, frozen and shipped to the store.  Flavor-wise it was decent, but I think if I’m in the mood for that I’d be better off getting the real deal at another restaurant.  The chicken breast may be a better, juicier option here, and I’m sure that’s what I’ll try next time.

The Thai curry soup was very light, as least the noodles and other ingredients were.  It was actually quite full of noodles despite the claim of  a “light portion.”  The broth was pretty tasty, and towards the end when I was finishing it off, the spice that they claim on the menu with the little pepper finally showed itself, only after consecutive sips without a drink.  I have to admit I was hoping for something a bit richer, like the curry based soup I tried at Mongolian Bliss, but this was pretty good and I would have it again as an addition to my main dish.

I was pretty pleased with Noodles & Co in general.  As I mentioned I think that the chicken breast might be a better option than the parmesan-crusted chicken.  Amelia & Eric seemed happy overall, and Amelia even mentioned how she wished this type of restaurant where you build-your-own plate was more common downtown.  I’m sure I’ll be back again to sample more of the menu soon.

Website: http://www.noodles.com/locations/554


Note: As of when I am posting this, the Google map location is off by a block or so.  Noodles & Co is located in the fountains right next to California Pizza Kitchen.  I submitted a correction, so hopefully it will be fixed.