Allen Pierleoni / apierleoni@sacbee.com

The raw bar at Sammy's Rockin' Island Bar & Grill features a variety of sashimi-style appetizers.

Counter Culture:Sammy's rocks with the flavors of the islands

Published: Friday, Oct. 26, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 32TICKET

Sammy "Red Rocker" Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" blasted from the speakers as we drove (at 65) to the new Sammy's Rockin' Island Bar & Grill in Old Town Roseville.

The track was one of 20 off Hagar's "Essential Red Collection." Husband-and-wife lunch pals Rick and Kim Maness of Rancho Cordova had thoughtfully brought along the CD as mood music for our lunchtime cruise.

Rick was an attorney for CalPERS before he retired. Kim works in its human relations department. We were headed to Sammy's because they'd won a monthly Bee-sponsored reader-promotion contest, with a dubious prize: lunch with this column.

Kim was saying her favorite rock group is Styx. Rick stuck with the Beatles. And Sammy Hagar? He's OK, they agreed.

But let's back up: Over his career, Hagar has rocked it with the band Montrose and then was the frontman (twice) for the band Van Halen. He was drafted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. In recent years, he's rocked with his bands Chickenfoot and the Wabos. Last year he published his R-rated autobiography, "Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock."

Hagar opened the Cabo Wabo Cantina at Harveys in Stateline in 2004, the sister restaurant of his famed bar-restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. At the time, he was promoting his premium tequila, Cabo Wabo. Recently he's been on the bandwagon for Sammy's Beach Bar Rum.

Sammy's restaurant group includes five Beach Bar & Grill locations around the United States. Note that the casual Mexican-themed menu for those is a different species from the lengthier Hawaiian-themed menu of the Rockin' Island Bar & Grill.

For the Sept. 15 Rockin' Island opening, 1,200 paying fans spilled onto Vernon Street to see Hagar (who just turned 64) and the Wabos in a "concert" that raised $40,000 for local charities. Roseville Mayor Pauline Roccucci proclaimed it Sammy Hagar Day.

The lunch pals and I stepped inside the two-level, 10,000-square-foot restaurant-bar and were somewhat wowed. The bright, airy space is gorgeous, with walls painted in multi-pastel "flavors" (tangerine, lime, raspberry), bar tables shaped like surfboards, and glittering electric guitars hanging down in front of the bar like holiday decorations.

Still, said Kim, "It's very laid-back, with a retro vibe you would find in Hawaii."

Framed gold records and color photos of Sammy decorate the downstairs walls. A much bigger photo functions as an awning above the bar, essentially a mini-billboard ad for his Beach Bar Rum.

A crudo (sashimi) raw bar is near the kitchen, on this day offering glistening chunks of raw fish and giant prawns destined to become shrimp tempura.

A large stage occupies another area. This is a rock 'n' roll haven, after all, featuring groups such as Hot for Teacher (The Van Halen Experience), Department of Rock and Zepparella. Playing Saturday night will be guitarist-songwriter Frank Hannon, co-founder of the Sacramento band Tesla.

Part of the master plan behind opening Rockin' Island was to help revitalize once-bustling Vernon Street in Old Town Roseville. One thing for sure: There's no scene like this at the Roseville Galleria or Fountains shopping centers.

Who's the clientele? "People mostly in their 30s, 40s and 50s," said Rockin' Island manager Jon Yip. "That's because they sort of grew up in the Montrose-Van Halen era and enjoy the music we're playing – a lot of '80s and '90s rock. That's not to say we don't get a younger crowd, too."

Lunch pals Rick and Kim and I sat in an upstairs booth beneath a skylight, studied the menu ($5.50 to $24) and listened to rock music turned to perfect volume.

"We can actually hear ourselves talk," Kim said.

We began with a few imaginative daily specials – opah sautéed in browned butter, ginger, garlic and basil, served with sushi rice spiked with toasted macadamia nuts, shredded coconut and a touch of Sriracha chili sauce; luscious pan-seared scallops wrapped in butter lettuce with mango salsa and "bengali-yuzu" aioli (Indian chili "sambal" mixed with Japanese yuzu citrus juice); and slices of ahi yellowfin tuna with lime, adobo (chili sauce) and olive oil (helped by judicious shakes of salt and pepper). The seafood was fresh, beautifully presented and delicious.

We also liked the deeply flavored kahlua pork glazed with pineapple-ginger barbecue sauce and the tall and juicy "beach burger" with crunchy-sweet candied bacon, two cheeses and salsa, teamed with well- seasoned, addictive french fries. We called it quits after the arrival of a "beach bag of doughnuts," warm morsels we dipped in dark-chocolate ganache and gooey caramel.

Earlier, at the start of lunch while waiting for a bowl of cheese-topped Maui onion soup, Kim and Rick explained they have long been on a mission to find great onion soup. Their standard is the hearty version served at Danielle's Creperie at Arden Town Center (916-972-1911). Each winter, this column has given that onion soup four stars.

Other diners must also have found Rockin' Island's onion soup too thick, sweet and bland (what was that awful cheese?), because it's been replaced with clam chowder since our visit.

"Our menu was fresh off the drawing board when we opened, and we're tweaking it as we go," manager Yip explained.

Rick and Kim agreed they'd go back to the restaurant, always the bottom-line factor in a review.

"We were pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of the food," Rick said by phone Monday. "The (cuisine) is colorful, and we loved the design of the place. It's so lively."

Personally, I want to taste the caramelized ribs, seafood bisque, Cuban sandwich and lobster mac 'n' cheese. But let's hold the Spam musubi for another lifetime.


SAMMY'S ROCKIN' ISLAND BAR & GRILL

Where: 238 Vernon St., Old Town Roseville

Hours: Lunch is 11 a.m.-4 p.m., dinner is 4 p.m.-10 p.m., both daily. Live rock music is 10 p.m.-midnight Thursdays, until 1:30 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

Food: ★ ★ ★ ★

Ambience: ★ ★ ★ ★

How much: $$

Information: (916) 773-7625, www.sammysbeachbarandgrill.com, www.redrocker.com

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Read more articles by Allen Pierleoni



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