First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at email@example.com.
Surrounded by overstocked car dealerships along a certain stretch of Fulton Avenue is a seemingly out-of-place little restaurant whose signage reads “Boolu Eatery” with the motto: “Experience Global Cuisine Locally.” Imagine discovering a bar of gold in a scrap-metal yard.
Boolu opened in March, with much thought behind it. Principal owner Obi Ugorji and his wife, Nonye Ugorji, immigrated from Nigeria in 1999. In a grandiose version of realizing the American dream, he’s now the founder and CEO of Rapid Response medical transportation service. She’s the founder and president of the Nonye Ugorji Law Corp.
Ted Black runs the kitchen, bringing his expertise as a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and eight years as a chef-instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Natomas.
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How did Obi Ugorji add “restaurant” to his portfolio? Turns out he drew inspiration from chef-TV personality Anthony Bourdain’s food travel shows, including “Parts Unknown.”
“Anthony Bourdain travels the world and eats food and tells stories about it,” Ugorji said. “I said to my wife, ‘Not everybody in the U.S. will experience what he does.’ So we came up with a concept similar to what Anthony Bourdain does. We make the best food from the continents we think represent our ideology, so people don’t have to get plane tickets and travel the world.”
Case in point: Last Saturday, Boolu catered a multicultural spread on the Sac State campus for the 26th annual Africa Peace Awards Dinner.
Menu: Dishes have their roots in Nigeria, Mexico, India, the Philippines, Italy, Thailand, Turkey and the United States. But don’t expect long lists of appetizers and entrees from those countries; rather, the short menu offers high-quality, from-scratch representative dishes. Think of Boolu as a more imaginative, far more elevated option to fast food and enjoy the concept.
However, do pay attention to the notation on the back of the menu, referencing “Obi’s secret menu.” For now, it’s a lengthy selection of Nigerian specialties, cooked on-site from family recipes by Nonye Ugorji, with many of the ingredients sourced from Yusol International Foods of Sacramento, a wholesaler of African and Caribbean products. The secret menu is served Fridays through Sundays.
“This is not a Nigerian restaurant, but I wanted to incorporate some West African dishes,” Ugorji said. “Not everybody is adventurous enough to try something they’ve never had, but if you want to, you can.” The secret menu will rotate ethnic cuisines, moving from African-inspired to Asian, Brazilian, Romanian, Indian and others in the months to come. Also, Boolu is walking up to a food-tasting program, likely on the first Tuesday of each month.
Price point: Quite fair at $6-$13.
Ambiance: Immaculate and pleasant, with faux flowers on the tables and art on the walls adding a nice touch.
Drinks: Beer (including 805 Blonde Ale from Firestone Walker of Paso Robles), wine and sodas, with palm wine on the horizon.
Service: Helpful and cheery.
First impressions: “This is good juju,” one lunch pal said. Two elements got our attention right away: unexpectedly sophisticated sauces (chipotle aioli, cilantro-ginger, Thai chili) and eye-candy plate presentation, which included a chiffonade (long, thin strips) of carrot and red and green bell peppers.
Nigerian braised-beef fritters were a delight of crisp, airy crust encasing what is essentially a beef stew. The Mexican chorizo-cheese-filled empanadas were dramatically tasty, if a bit dry. Indian chicken vindaloo was all flavor and tenderness, redolent of ginger and curry, better than most we’ve encountered at Indian restaurants. Filipino pork-and-veggies-filled lumpia showed delicate texture and mild flavor, enhanced by dips into soy-white vinegar-pepper sauce.
Our Napa Valley burger was a great-looking 6-ounce, hand-formed patty of 80-20 Angus beef snugged inside a soft bun, topped with fig jam and sautéed mushrooms. Unfortunately, the strong blue cheese highjacked the sandwich, though chef Black said he would be dialing that back.
We returned to Boolu for a taste of the secret menu and sampled thinly cut, crispy-creamy fried plantains sparked with a sprinkle of salt; and a spicy soup of tender goat meat fired with red peppers.
FYI, “Boolu” means “global” in Liberian, “American” in Nigerian and “welcome” in Filipino, Ugorji said. “Given that it is a word used globally, we thought it represents the restaurant.”
Try it if: You find it fun to explore new cuisines.
Forget it if: You’re happy with meal-deal tacos and chicken tenders.