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  • Lezlie Sterling Chef Guy Fieri puts the finishing touch on a dish Thursday during a soft opening of Johnny Garlic's, formerly a Tex Wasabi's.

  • Lava rock shrimp with mango-jicama slaw and chili threads is a popular item on the Johnny Garlic's menu. The chain's Sacramento location is its sixth.

So long, Tex Wasabi; Sacramento restaurant becomes a Johnny Garlic's

Published: Friday, Apr. 12, 2013 - 5:30 pm | Page 6B
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 15, 2013 - 11:52 am

In less time than it takes to make a Breath Mint Pie, Tex Wasabi's rolled out of its space on Arden Way and the newest Johnny Garlic's rolled in.

Superstar chef Guy Fieri on Thursday orchestrated the transformation of 6-year-old Tex to brand-new Johnny in time for a nighttime "soft opening." The restaurant on Arden Way will be open for lunch and dinner today with its retooled menu, packed with flatbread pizzas and fusion entries.

"They're two totally different styles of food," Fieri said of his name-brand eateries. "This has been in the works for at least eight months. We started thinking about it a year ago. We have so many requests for Johnny Garlic's; we kept hearing, 'When are you going to open one in Sacramento?' "

Almost overnight, walls were knocked out to open the kitchen for better viewing. Inside and out, red and black paint plus matching furnishings and fixtures punched up the color scheme. "When people see it, they're going to flip," Fieri said with a smile.

This is Fieri's sixth Johnny Garlic's in his growing chain, including one in Roseville. With a more open layout, the new configuration seats 190 diners with more room on the patio. Sixty people are part of the restaurant's team.

"The concept is fun," Fieri said. "The original idea was 'California pasta grill.' There are a lot of California influences – Mexican, Italian, All-American, ideas I pick up in my travels. It's always evolving."

In the 16 years since Fieri opened his original Johnny Garlic's in Santa Rosa, only seven items have stayed on the menu, including his all-time bestseller, Cajun chicken fettucine.

"We stopped counting at 5 million served," he said of the pasta dish.

For the new Johnny Garlic's, Fieri brought in other enduring hits such as lava rock shrimp with mango- jicama slaw and chili threads, mini sashimi won tacos made with ahi tuna and wasabi cream, flatbread pizzas topped with shrimp and chorizo, buffalo meatloaf and wild boar spareribs.

For dessert are such favorites as bananas Foster and that Oreo-crusted Breath Mint Pie.

Fieri learned to make bananas Foster while working as the flambé chef at the Red Lion in Sacramento, he recalled. ("I was very particular how I caramelized the bananas.") That was 1986, shortly after he finished his culinary studies at American River College.

Before he became a Food Network star and launched an empire, Fieri also worked the stove at Hog Heaven Bar-B-Que and Tony Roma's in Sacramento.

"When I was going to open my first restaurant, it came down to Sacramento or Santa Rosa," he said. (Santa Rosa won out.) "I love Sacramento. When I come back, I see how it's blossomed. It's a great place to raise kids and affordable to live.

"That's why this restaurant fits Sacramento so well," he added. "Folks can bring the kids and enjoy unique food but not feel out of place."

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her in Twitter @debarrington.

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