Allen Pierleoni / apierleoni@sacbee.com

Sweet-toasted chili fried rice – tasty and chunky, with cashews, shrimp and vegetables.

Counter Culture: Bee Bee Asian Grill covers a lot of tasty ground

Published: Friday, May. 4, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 34TICKET
Last Modified: Monday, May. 7, 2012 - 9:53 am

Given that this casual lunchtime restaurant-review column appears weekly in a newspaper called The Bee, it seemed a natural for us to take a look at the Bee Bee Asian Grill, across the street from Executive Airport.

We've never seen a menu quite like it. The many dishes are compartmentalized into Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines, so call it "Asian fusion."

Each cuisine is identified by lettering on the menu, according to ethnicity and type of dish. For instance, Japanese "tempura shrimp box" is marked "JBX." Thai "green curry" is "TC." Vietnamese "beef noodle soup" is "VN." And so on.

Bee Bee is in a building from the 1960s (but the vibe says 1950s), with two porthole windows looking out on the parking lot and an acoustic ceiling that's been painted a few times. The walls are partly paneled in pale wood, and hung with a few Asian musical instruments and samurai swords. Garlands of plastic flowers are strung along a banquette, adding a bit of color. A TV murmured in the background. "Subdued" is one word we could use to describe the restaurant. "Clean" is another. And a phrase: "Where is everybody?"

Lunch pal Norm Marshall and I pulled up two heavy wood chairs to a real wood table for four, ensuring enough room to spread out. He's a director of construction for the Headwaters company of Sacramento.

What's the construction forecast for the homefront?

"We're encouraged with the business climate, but Sacramento is still lagging behind (other Northern California areas)," Norm said. "The banks need to loosen up and lend some money to get development going."

We moved on to another topic: eating lunch.

The Bee Bee menu is surprisingly lengthy, with listings ranging from appetizers, soups and stir-fried noodles, to curries, rice plates and sushi (conjoined to nigiri and special rolls).

Price range for lunch: $4.50 to $8.50, a deal given the quantity and freshness of the made-to-order dishes.

The bowl of fragrant Thai "sweet toasted chili fried rice" was studded with cashews, pop-to-the-bite shrimp, egg and veggies. The rice itself was nearly mushy, though, and needed squirts of soy sauce to bring the flavors to life.

Thai marinated "BBQ chicken" was juicy and bold, the best dish of the day. The background flavors of the marinade haunted each succulent bite. But we were a bit puzzled by the side of broccoli, cabbage and carrots. It was like St. Patrick's Day had met a farmers market, though the veggies were fresh and bright.

From the Japanese "hibachi plates" list came a fresh and flaky filet of salmon, grilled with lemon and butter. We dipped it in semi-salty ginger-based sauce, which improved with each taste.

Our Vietnamese dish was a standard-version bowl of vermicelli and lettuce topped with dark and smoky slices of grilled pork, those fresh shrimp again, and bite-size pieces of crisp eggroll. We poured on fish sauce, mixed and put our chopsticks – which came late to the table – to work.

In the Corti Bros. kitchen

Seems like chef Andrew Cordaro is always cooking up something new in the Corti Bros. kitchen. His latest creation is a taamia (a.k.a. falafel), a national dish of Egypt.

Cordaro found the recipe in food historian Claudia Roden's "The New Book of Middle Eastern Food," and – like any good chef – tweaked it to make it his own.

For starters, he substituted puréed garbanzo beans for dried fava beans to make a thick hummus-like "batter." Added are a sauté of onion and garlic, along with coriander, cumin, cayenne and tahini (sesame seed paste).

"I shape them into patties, run them through flour, egg and panko, and fry them in canola oil," he said.

When done, they're about the size and shape of crab cakes, with the same crispy exterior and spicy, creamy interior. Bite into one for a tingling mingle of tastes.

For dipping sauce, Cordaro mixed Russian yogurt, grated Mediterranean cucumber, crushed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, and fresh mint, cilantro and parsley.

Each patty is $1.95 (with sauce) in the deli cold-case. Corti Bros. is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 736-3800, www.cortibros.biz.



BEE BEE ASIAN GRILL

Where: 6004 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; until 10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; noon to 9 p.m. Sundays. Closed Tuesdays.

Food: two 1/2 stars

Ambience: three stars

How much: $-$$

Information: (916) 393-1004

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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