First Impressions: In our latest dizzying round of visits to new restaurants in and around Sacramento, we discovered one in Roseville that could soon be excellent, and we zeroed in on some very good burgers and beer in West Sacramento.
This has been a roller coaster ride, indeed, as we also stumbled upon a "burger" that turned out to be an inedible steak sandwich.
On our food-finding journey, we marveled at a very good menu (the flavors of Peru), puzzled over an in-congruent concept (a tap house and noodle joint) and reveled in a very enjoyable one (sushi and karaoke), all within a matter of days.
La Huaca Restaurant
9213 Sierra College Blvd., Suite 140, Roseville
Only a few months old and still trying to get the word out that it's a place for serious foodies, La Huaca has the makings of a bona fide restaurant destination. For one thing, it's the only eatery around that serves Peruvian cuisine – and Peruvians, if this is any indication, eat very, very well.
The menu is eclectic, expansive, elegant, robust and unlike anything else we've encountered in quite some time. Though it is loaded with seafood and meat options, the restaurant takes pains to explain that several vegetarian versions are also available.
We were impressed with the servers. They really knew the food, and they were adept at explaining the various components and techniques without talking down to the customers. In other words, don't be afraid if you've never eaten Peruvian food.
For starters, La Huaca has a variety of ceviches on the menu for $14.95, and they all look good, including one with a mix of white fish, shrimp, octopus and calamari.
We went with an appetizer called causa, a well-known Peruvian dish made with yellow mashed potatoes. La Huaca has six options for causas. The "Limena" ($8.95) had chicken, avocado, a quail egg and an aioli made with a chile pepper called aji Amarillo. For adventurous eaters, I highly recommend the sampler ($12.95).
We also shared the "Anticuchos Tres Especies" ($9.95) as a starter – small servings of marinated filet mignon, chicken and fish, along with potatoes and Peruvian corn, in a dark and delicious sauce called anticuchera. Try it to share as an appetizer or, for one diner, it's a light meal by itself.
The menu includes wine suggestions with each entree, a helpful detail given the somewhat unfamiliar seasonings and sauces that come with Peruvian cooking. My "Seco de Cordero con Frijoles" ($20.95) – a very tender, slow-baked lamb shank in a cilantro sauce with beans and rice – paired nicely with the suggested glass of malbec. The "Aji de Gallina" ($16.95) – chicken breast cooked in aji amarillo – is a hearty dish with a range of pairing suggestions including sauvignon blanc, torrontes, garnacha and chianti.
We're eager to return soon to tackle the seafood side of this impressive menu. So far, our La Huaca experiences make us think this could be one of the surprise hits in 2013. Foodies from well beyond Roseville would do well to explore this restaurant soon.
Oishii Sushi Bar & Grill
1000 K St., Suite 200, Sacramento
K Street downtown keeps getting better, building upon the fresh momentum from Pizza Rock and nearby hot spots. We even happened upon a stylish new wine bar called Downtown & Vine, which had been opened just a few days and was still getting its stock together.
Oishii is a new sushi bar and karaoke emporium – and it looks like a natural fit for the new K Street.
Think of all the untrained and undiscovered "talents" in our midst butchering one tune after another while wolfing down sushi between sets.
That's the concept. In mainstream America, karaoke is something you do after encouragement from Jack Daniel's or Tom Collins. In many Asian cultures, however, it is mainstream, widely popular entertainment, both in the home and on the town. Oishii has several private karaoke rooms for rent by the hour: Small rooms for up to 10 people cost $25, medium rooms for 15 people are $35 and the VIP room that holds 40 costs $80 an hour. That's a lot of off-key singing for not much money per person. It's a great idea for families, groups of friends and office parties.
And if you're not up for brooding like Adele or chirping like Coldplay, you don't have to. We sat in the dining area and enjoyed a low-key dinner with some above-average sushi, seated at a table with a view of the beautiful neon sign at the Crest Theatre. Speaking of signs, Oishii's is a large, bright and tasteful addition to K Street. This place looks like it's serious about being around awhile.
Broderick Restaurant & Bar
319 Sixth St., West Sacramento
More and more these days, we're finding reasons to head across the river to West Sacramento to spend our entertainment dollars, whether it's for the Eatery's serious cooking in a casual setting, an old-school drinking and eating joint like Vince's, Wicked West's family-friendly pizzeria or the exotic yet approachable Lao and Thai cooking at Vientiane.
Now we've got a dark place with low ceilings and rough-around-the-edges décor that has a bit of juke-joint/speakeasy feel about it. Lots of good beer and mixed drinks, friendly service, live music, Wednesday night karaoke.
Judging from our visit, it's also got some hearty and high-caliber pub food. Broderick is yet another example of how food trucks can serve as a proving ground for aspiring restaurateurs. The food is by the popular food truck Wicked 'wich, the owner of which is a partner in this new venture.
We didn't go for the sandwiches (and frankly, the sandwiches are not yet presented on the menu in an enticing way), but the variety of burgers seemed very appealing. I went with the "Johnny Cash" ($10), a half-pound Niman Ranch burger with cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, peppers, grilled onions and barbecue sauce.
When it arrived at our table, it was a thing of oversized beauty, complete with a large domed burger bun. These burgers have the potential for greatness. Mine fell short only because the beef itself was under- seasoned and a tad on the bland side.
But our mac 'n' cheese was anything but bland. In fact, we've eaten so many ho-hum versions of this resurrected comfort food that we're tired of it.
But this? This was a cheese skirt (think Squeeze Inn's burgers, only with better cheese) meets egg noodles and smoked bacon. Pretty incredible and suddenly one of my favorite versions of this dish, trailing only the lobster mac 'n' cheese at much the more expensive Kitchen and the rock shrimp version at Juno's. I washed it down with an excellent India Pale Ale from Sacramento's Track 7 Brewing Co. that had plenty of nuanced flavors lurking in a large, chilled glass.
Coyote Tap House
804 14th St., Sacramento
We've been eagerly awaiting the opening of this place, which replaces Brew It Up.
But we're still trying to get our head around the concept – urban tap house (with 46 beers on tap) meets ramen house.
I like different. I like creative. I support bold strokes. Heck, I even like coyotes.
But put it all together and it has to make sense. Coyote Tap House, open only a few weeks, has plenty of convincing to do.
We stopped by in its early days only to play an annoying game of "we don't have that one" when we tried to order a couple of beers. Our server gave us a sheet of paper with the beer list and the first four we ordered, one after another, was met with a version of "we don't have that one."
Here's a novel idea: How about providing a list of the beers you actually have?
Then we ordered food: so-so ramen and broth, and a ho-hum noodle bowl with chicken. The glazed salmon dish was actually rather fresh and tasty. But the "burger" we ordered showed up as a steak on a bun with iceberg lettuce – undercooked, unseasoned and tough – executed in a way that turned a bad idea into a terrible one.
Judging by the limited and largely lackluster food so far, Coyote Tap House is going to struggle to marry its beer lineup (once it actually lines up all the beer) with the culinary wants and needs of actual beer drinkers.
The next time I hear someone say he's dying to go out for some craft beers and a bowl of noodles will be the first time.