Five Stars in my eyes…

5 03 2011

I just finished reading Five Star Foodie’s blog, and her review of a 5 star restaurant in New York.  It left me wondering what 5 star restaurants exist in California, and where they are….  I was aware that The French Laundry in Yountville has 5 stars, but surely there is another restaurant or two in the San Francisco area…how many are in the Los Angeles area?  Here’s Forbes’ answer…

California – Laguna Beach:
California – San Diego:
California – San Francisco:
California – Yountville:
Two of these are within driving distance…and would be an incredible overnight escape and treat.  Seriously something to think about…  About the only vice we still have lurking around is our love of food…good food!  It’s certainly something to think about!  While thinking…here are the Michelin 3 star restaurants in Northern California…both nearby….uh oh…
French Laundry, The Wine Country Napa Valley Reserve a table
Restaurant at Meadowood, The (New) Wine Country Napa Valley Reserve a table 


Ok…The French Laundry is on both lists…and the 2nd restaurant is a new addition. Interesting…  Sadly, there’s nothing any closer, but that’s ok.  I still think a night off on an adventure sounds pretty wonderful!  In the meanwhile…back to the kitchen (and the garden!)…


Big Tuna Sushi Bistro ~

19 04 2009

We’re giving Big Tuna 2-3/4 Whisks already…and they’re barely open.  The fish was fresh.  There was no odor.  The decor was bistro-ish, and will grow with them.  We recognized the Itabisan as an up and coming Itabisan in Chico.  He’s done the circuit locally, so he’s had the best and the worst trainers.  The rice was properly done…not over-seasoned nor over-cooked.  The grains  were individual as well as part of the whole, which didn’t fall apart halfway to one’s mouth.  Gotta like that part.

We tried 2 of their house rolls as well as our favorites…maguro, sake, and unagi.  We also had a piece of “Big Eye Tuna”…more like toro, which was good, but not a favorite.  We also had halibut…hirame, I think…but again, not a favorite.  The two house rolls were combinations that were very nicely done…one included fresh serano chiles, The Mexican Roll, I believe it was.  Cilantro, avocado, serrano chiles and fresh fish…and it was good…a sweat-popper, but yummy.

We visited at late lunch time…not exactly prime-time, but still…this little spot had quite a few spots full.  There were plenty of people around to tend to everyone’s needs though.  We’ll visit again, and again.  It’s in an easy to find spot.  It’s in the same shopping center as Fed Ex-Kinos on Mangrove…between 7th & 8th.  Since they’re close to S & S Produce, I’m sure we’ll stop by frequently as long as they last!

New Japanese Restaurant in Chico

7 04 2009

Ojiya is a relatively new Japanese restaurant in Chico.  I first heard of the place back around Christmas.  It’s gotten mixed reviews from friends.  You know how it is with friends…you need to balance the tastes of the individual against their interpretation of food.  No slams or anything, but if my friend is perfectly content eating Minute Rice, I might want to be careful just how much weight her recommendation carries!  Ojiya got 2-gotta try it! and 2-don’t waste your $$.  Hmmm….even split.  Now, weighing that out…the Don’t Waste Your $$ folks were a little more credible…still…it’s been 6 months, it’s not a busy time of day, we’re in the mood for sushi, and we’re feeling adventurous!  Ok…Ojiya it is!!

Ojiya is located on the Northeast side of Chico…near the new Butte College center, off Forest Ave.  It’s got a fresh, new face…actually its backside, facing the street.  When I pulled into the parking lot, I was a little taken back that there was no apparent doorway…until I saw the signs pointing the way.  Ok.  They get a few points for having an entryway that’s away from the hustle and bustle of the busy street.  They have a nicely decorated entryway, no question you’re about to enter an Asian establishment…but nothing that really stands out.  The restaurant claims to have table dining, sushi bar, teppan, and table-side hibachi grilling.   We opted for the sushi bar.

The very first thing that struck me upon entering, which may explain why I didn’t take more notice of my surroundings, was an odor of old oil.  Not exactly rancid oil, but old frying oil…and it didn’t smell good.

By selecting the sushi bar, we weren’t able to see the remainder of the menu.  I have heard that teppan dining runs about $26 a plate.  I don’t know about their table side hibachi either.  This time we’re talking sushi bar.  There were a couple of singles already at the sushi bar, splitting up the “prime” dining area where the Itabisan works, so we were seated toward the far right, near the door into the kitchen.  The menu had the standard nigiri sushi, nothing really notable, but a good selection, the and standard Californicated Sushi rolls.  You know the kind…fusion sushi…mango and asparagus with cream cheese and smoked Salmon….Not really, but you get the idea.

We ordered a few of our favorites just to get a feel for the food – the quality of the fish, the quantity of a serving, the palate of the Itabisan.  Maguro, unagi, and fresh salmon are our mainstays.  After that, we have fun.  I ordered a Rainbow roll…I figured that was a good way to sample some of their fish.  I ordered a spicy something roll…it might have been hamachi, it might have been hirame…maybe even tuna.  The only thing that made it remarkable in the least was that the fish was slightly old, and the mayo tasted off a little.  It could have been the brand.  I’m particular.

We didn’t have anything that whispered “ocean fresh” to us…  We didn’t get the idea it was freshly flown in, either.  We didn’t get the idea it was fresh at all.  It just wasn’t cooked.  The nigiri had the freshest pieces of fish, and the rolls were filled with older-fish salad.  About the time we were finished, the Itabisan presented us a plate to share…no idea what it was…seared ahi maybe…it wasn’t any better than the rest of the food.

How many whisks?  1.  That’s all.  I really could do better.  $36 for sushi for two, sushi and green tea only…it’s a record low.  Rawbar…don’t break a sweat over this one.  I don’t know that we’ll make it back there…there are so many other choices that are really good.  Sorry Ojiya…Sayonara!

For the love of wine tasting

15 02 2009

Once a month we have a reservation at Checkers, a little bistro that promotes young adults in the work-place.  Checkers is a training facility for food service workers.  Checkers is also one of Butte County’s best kept dining secrets.  The food is slightly skewed to Italian bistro, and they’re only open a few nights a week (however, Tues. through Fri. for the best lunch and lunch value in town), and they hold a reservations-only wine tasting-pairing each month. We started attending 2 years ago, on Valentine’s Day…one of their better and more-attended occasions.

The theme for this month’s wine tasting was, “For the love of wine tasting.”   And since most folks seem to love the reds, we had a majority of reds.  Each wine is paired with a small plate course orchestrated to bring out either qualities of the wine or qualities of the food, or both.  To see full size images, please click on the thumbnail image.

roastedbeetsaladWe began with a Sonoma Brut from the Gloria Ferrer Vineyards, paired with a roasted beet salad.  By itself, the wine was nicely dry with notes of almond.  Although said to have citrusy notes as well, I didn’t catch that so much.  The salad was pairs of roasted beets, golden and red, chilled, adorned with micro-greens and an herb dressing with crumbled cheese, perhaps feta?  The amount was so small it was hard to place the taste.  The red beets were sweet, but didn’t have the roasting-intensified flavor I anticipated.  All in all though, a nice starter; very light and cheerful.  A table partner didn’t care for the golden beets.  They felt there was an earthiness in the golden beets that almost tasted dirty.  Interesting.

crabgratineeNext up was a Williamette Valley Pinot Noir (2006) from the Argyle Winery, paired with a crab gratinee.  The description of the wine on our program was full of alliteration, but the upshot was the wine was full of fruitiness and aroma.  At first taste, it was indeed fruity-plum and cherry, but a bit acid as well.  The wine paired very well with the crab gratinee, which I really wanted to like.  For the most part, I love crab.  And ’tis the season of Dungeness.  But I just couldn’t get past the nose of the dish…it smelled fishy, and I can’t eat fishy smelling anything.  So I had another deep sip of wine…and its flavor had changed!  The herbs and crabby taste rounded out the edges of the wine so it was more full, more fruity, almost like jam.  I managed to eat half of the crab fiasco, because it made the wine so wonderful!

halibutharissaOur next dish was grilled halibut with a grilled red pepper harissa, paired with a Nebbiolo (2004) from the Caparone Winery.  When I see the word “camphor” I don’t exactly think of wine.  You know? I think of, well, medicine…tinctures…smelly stuff I’d never think of drinking.  So, when the term “aromas of camphor” was used to describe the wine we were about to sample, let’s just say it didn’t warm me to the soles of my feet.  It did, however, chill my heart.  Toward the end of the tasting notes there was mention that this wine could easily age 25 years…does that mean they’re still waiting to see if it gets any better??  Needless to say, this was not my favorite of the evening.  Most of us at the table agreed.  We all agreed, as well, that it became tolerable paired with the spicy harissa sauce.  The halibut was without flavor. It was dry on the outside, but moist inside, yet had no flavor.  It got all it’s flavor from the harissa…coriander, caraway and fire!

chcknchrizo_rojo1On to our next dish…Basque chicken with chorizo and a Juan Rojo Toro (2004) .  This was sure to be a better combination than that which preceded it!  And it was.  The Rojo Toro was delightful by itself.  It was full-bodied and fruity without being sweet.  It paired nicely with the chicken and chorizo.  The chicken and chorizo was a little sad though.  The chicken tasted as though it had been cooked separate of the other components, so although properly done and moist, it was bereft of all the layers of flavor that should have been throughout the meat.   Peppers, onion, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, Spanish chorizo…basil, thyme…as you can see, the chorizo was cut into serving size hunks, so it wasn’t able to give of its spicy flavor while accepting the sweet tomato juices. The artichoke looks like an after-thought here, rather than a member of the cast.  A piece of chicken, stacked with a bit of chorizo, dredged through sauce, and this was quite good.  The Rojo stole the whole show though.

porktenderloinpolentaRounding out the savory dishes for this evening was sliced pork tenderloin with a cheesy polenta, paired with a 2006 Weingut Allram Blauer Zweigelt.  Described as a “fruity red” this wine was pressed from blue cold-weather grapes in combination.  It did have a rich berry aroma and flavor, and paired excellently with the lovely pork tenderloin, served simply au jus with chopped red pepper and a dollop of cheesy polenta.  Although I didn’t care for the polenta in the least, the pork tenderloin was roasted to perfection.  Toward the end of the glass, I was able to pick up some chocolate-cherry notes in the wine.  Priced at $11.99 this is a lovely little find.

chocrasp_portConcluding the evening, we have a Lodge Reserve Port from Smith Woodhouse, paired with a molten chocolate cake with sugar-coated raspberries.  Silly me…I was thinking molten as in thick, gooey, semi-liquid…and sugar, as in granulated, coated raspberries.  That would be a be a “no” on both counts.  The chocolate cakelet was very tasty, however.  It paired wonderfully with the port.  And I usually don’t care a lot for port.  This was yummy though.  Bruce decided it was too rich for him, so I shared his piece with another tablemate…his was semi-liquid, and just the way I’d imagined…and the port was still good!

Next month I believe we’re off to another region of Italy.  I didn’t quite catch it when it was announced.  I did get reservations for next month though.  *Ü*  And I have plans of partaking in a Greek cooking class…now doesn’t that just sound like fun??

Gold at Gold Country after all…

14 09 2008

Needing a good spoiling type dinner, we gave the Gold Country Casino Steakhouse another try…and we were quite pleased.  Let’s admit it…those of us who cook for pleasure really enjoy it when we have the opportunity to be wined and dined without doing the work, when it’s at least as good as we can turn out on our own.  The better we get, the harder it is to be truly happy after a meal.

The Steakhouse at the casino has a typical western US menu, heavy in steaks, but they also have some really intriguing choices such as Elk medallions.  We opted for the special of the evening, Filet Oscar, which was a 7 or 14 oz. cut of filet, topped with lump crabmeat, asparagus spears and bearnaise.  Oh yeah.  Yum.  Serious yum.  And I ate all but one bite.   They start you with a bread basket of foccacia, a flatbread, and rolls.  We started with a dozen oysters on the half-shell.  Their Shallot Mignonette was wonderful and set of the ice cold oysters nicely.  We decadently followed that with Lobster Bisque laced with cognac.  This was beautifully presented in a slouched bowl, decorated with a lobster medallion and green onion “leaves.”   The soup arrived in a silver teapot and was poured over the garnish at the table.  Very nice, and very, very tasty.  The entreés arrived in a timely fashion after our soups had been consumed, and all was right with the world.  Dessert…well, much as we’d have liked to try something, we were pretty much to the point of not being able to eat anything more, but I wouldn’t have wanted to leave any thng out either!  Maybe next time.  I think I can give them easily 4 whisks.  While I know what went into this meal, I don’t often want to work that hard all in one night, and I have to say I doubt I could have done better this time around.  Bravo!

Fast forward to 2018…The dinner house is now gone in favor of their upscale lounge with dining…SaFire…  I’m not ready to give an opinion of Safire yet…my first experience wasn’t bad at all.  But…it is somewhat different now.

Good Eats & Not-so-good Eats

7 09 2008

The first couple of weeks of school usually find us dining out quite a bit more than we usually do.  I come home after 10 hour days not quite ready for facing the kitchen.  If I can set myself up fairly well with things that work well together, I manage to get meals to the table.  Then there are those “other” nights.  I’m ever so grateful Trader Joe’s is now in Chico.  I can start with something frozen and go the “Semi-Homemade” route. One of my favorites is their “Penne Arrabito.”  This frozen pasta entreé is sauce and pasta, nothing more.  But…add 1/2 pound of fancy ready-to-eat sausage (Aidell’s or similar), sliced veggies that you’ve sauteéd (we like mushrooms and zucchini) and you’ve got a great entreé.  Add a salad, and you’re done.

We went to the Farmers’ Market on Thursday night.  I didn’t get home until 5:30 (I’m off at 4…), Farmers’ Market started at 6, so there wasn’t a lot of down time between getting home and getting on the road (Farmers’ Market is 20 miles north of us).  As we drove, we discussed where to have dinner…Chico has so many options available!  One week we had pizza at Woodstocks…truly wonderful!  This week sushi sounded particularly good.

Chico has more sushi options than most towns of it’s size…even college towns.  There’s the original, Gen Kai, who started it all, and has changed hands 4 or 5 times since the inception.  I’m not up-to-date on the menu or quality right now.  I’ve had good, bad, and GREAT meals there.  Katsuo’s is out on Nord Ave.  It has a cafeteria style atmosphere, but the food was good last time we were there; s-l-o-w but good.  Then, the nouveau Rawbar opened… Very non-traditional Japanese in decor and mannerisms, they offer sushi, both traditional and inventive.  Other Pacific-Rim delights decorate their broad-spectrum menu.  Pricey, vibrant, and wonderful.  Our favorite nights were Mondays when the Master Itabi-sama was there.  Mike was fabulous, and I’d love to have his recipe for Slam Sauce.  There’s just nothing like it anywhere.  Viable competition opened on the north end of Esplanade…Japanese Blossom.  We had lunch there and were happily surprised to find our Itabi-san from Gen Kai there!  Ahhh…that change of ownership thing.  I see.  Other types of competition have risen up with Rice Bowl offering sushi on their buffet, and another place on Mangrove offering sushi on their buffet as well.  I can’t put a name to that place just now, but it was passably good, and reasonably priced.  If…you can tolerate buffets.  Which leads us to our Thursday night find…

We hadn’t had an opportunity to try 33 Steaks, Booze & Jazz.  We didn’t even know for sure where it was until Thursday night.  I had parked a few blocks away (you can’t park in close…there’s just NO room!), and we walked in on 3rd this week.  The previous trip, we’d come in on 2nd to visit Woodstock’s on the way out.  As we approached 3rd & Main, there was 33 Steaks, Booze & Jazz…and what was in their window??  A sign proclaiming SUSHI!  How fortuitous!  Decision made!

33 Steaks, Booze & Jazz is decorated in black and maroon…very deep colors.  It has the look of fine dining crossed with college crowd hangout.  The menu is somewhat sparse, but the choices are right up there.  They offer filet mignon in a number of applications…Oscar (has my eye), Blackened (why? why? why?), Chicken Picatta, Marsala and Cordon Bleu, to name a few items.  We were interested in sushi this night.  We were not disappointed.  The menu is tight…many rolls feature the same items over and over in different applications, but the saucing and accessory items that go into the rolls made everything a little different from the next.  No nigiri sushi.  Only rolls, but nicely sized rolls that a woman can put into her mouth without choking on the bite.  I really like that.  And the prices were so moderate! The rolls ranged from $5 to $11 – and each made at least 8 nice bites.  We had about 6 different rolls, which was plenty, and the total for food was $32.  Not at all bad.  Alcohol was a little more up there in price, but we ordered call-liquors and specialty drinks, so not that bad in comparison.  Hubster had a 3-Mile Island…a twisted Long Island concoction that was pretty powerful and tasty…I opted for a Ruby Red Martini-Cosmo style.  I’m hooked on those at the moment, and since it’s a call liquor, they’re more than my usual Sierra Nevada on tap.  LOL!  Sushi dinner usually runs us $120-150-ish.  We were out the door, food, drinks and tip, under $90.  Ok…not much under $90, but still.  And we were gloriously happy.  See???  I can be happy after a restaurant experience!

And then…there was Saturday…

Oroville boasts a new Mexican restaurant on the West end of town…Los Compadres.  This has been one of those “hopeful” things.  This is a restaurant that we watched come along from the first hand-lettered sign on the side of the road.  We watched the lot being cleared, and the brand new building went up…typical southwestern design, no question this is Mexican in the making.  A year or so later, their doors opened.  We noticed they were open last weekend, and were packed, so declined to check it out.  We thought we’d give it a week or so and see how things progressed.  And then, I got hungry for chile rellenos.

Los Compadres has a broad expansive front, with lots of parking just off Oro Dam Blvd. west of the freeway.  It’s brand new, so it’s sparkling clean, inside and out.  As you walk in, you’re greeted by a hand-lettered sign on a white board welcoming you, and a table just below full of menus and wrapped utensils.  Immediately to the left of the menu table is the door for the servers to go in/out of the kitchen. The hostess station/cashier is left of that.  It felt awkward.  There are booths along the front wall of the restaurant, and tables along the near inner wall.  There’s enough room between the booths and the near-inner wall to put a line of tables, should they need more dining area.  There appears to be additional seating on either end of the restaurant beyond the near-inner wall.  There are entry-ways, but we were seated so that I couldn’t see what was beyond them.

We were almost promptly greeted and seated by a young Latina woman who was old enough to work, but not old enough to serve a drink.  She appeared to be between 18 and 20, and was pleasant enough, but not the brightest – use your favorite cliché.  When seated, you are presented your wrapped utensils and your menu.  Chips and salsa arrived shortly thereafter.  The chips were crisp, fresh, a little greasy…but not bad at all.  They were just greasy enough for us to be sure they were cooked on site.  The salsa was tasty…pureed tomatoes and tomatoes, chiles, seasonings, onion, garlic, cilantro…all in good balance with a good residual heat.  It might be too hot for some, but it worked for us.

One thing there seemed to be plenty of at Los Compadres was time.  We had more than adequate time to peruse the menu, the entire menu, front-to-back, twice.  Then there was a lovely period of time between our decision and being able to share that information.  All the while, there’s still no water, nor an offer for beverages.  But…we do have chips and salsa.  There was more time here and there too, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves!

Our young waitress arrived, set water glasses on the table, poised her pen and offered to take our order…  Hubster didn’t bat an eye, nor miss a beat when he turned to her and explained that it’s customary to offer customers an opportunity to slake their thirsts by offering beverages first.  Oh yes, he did.  He’s just that quick witted and sharp tongued.  He has kind of a samurai sword tongue…you don’t realize your head has been separated from your neck until it falls from your shoulders.  We’ve been married 26 years.  In that time, I’ve tipped some servers abundantly for catching their heads in their hands.

With beverages attended to, we place our food order.  He chooses the lunch combo of chile relleno and enchilada, shredded beef.  I chose the same, ‘but make mine shredded chicken.”  The waitress apologetically told me there was no shredded chicken.  I selected the two chile relleno meal instead.  Then, we waited.

We had plenty of time to analyze the situation.  Too many servers on deck, not enough help in the kitchen.  We didn’t see any food except chips & salsa come out of the kitchen for a very long time.  We hoped this was a good sign…that they were working from fresh…and wondered about the chicken…  Was there no chicken, or was there no shredded chicken?  Interesting.  I took it to mean there was no chicken.  However, strictly speaking the chicken isn’t shredded (it is however, de-boned at some point), so she didn’t misspeak.  Ok.  They have chicken items and I didn’t order it right.  So be it.  More authentic?  There’s a lot of chit-chat going on.  It’s easy…they have a code language.  We’re mainly anglos, and we’re not a bi-lingual bunch, so they can say whatever they like.  Is the chicken thing a mini-language barrier thing?  Hmmm…

At long last food arrives…it looks fine.  It’s typical in appearance.  Rice and beans down the center, each item on either side, add cheese, melt and serve.  Don’t warn the patron.  They should know the plate is going to be hot.  Is this their first time in a Mexican food place?  Oh.  The plates arrived nice and hot!  The plates looked pretty much the same.  I couldn’t tell his enchilada from his relleno, except that I could see the edge of a tortilla.  Ranchero sauce appeared to be the universal top sauce.  To their credit, both plates came out of the kitchen at the same time.

Mexican food is a quirky thing…a lot depends on which region of Mexico, or southern CA, AZ, NM or TX that you live in, you’ll find Mexican food is slightly different.  That’s not to say it’s not authentic, it’s just different.  San Diego taqueria food in the 70’s was heavenly.  I loved watching them create it, and I loved eating it.  Tex-Mex came to my little town, and was different, but it had that fabulous right-on no questions taste (back then anyway).  AZ Mexican is a little different even yet, but still…it’s there, underlying everything, that little whiff of “yeah.”  And I even like Taco Bell…for it’s purpose and ease; you can’t seriously call that Mexican food…until Los Compadres.

It was difficult to understand what I was eating.  I knew what it was supposed to be, but what was this really??? Chile Relleno translates out to stuffed chile.  That’s easy enough.  I can’t speak well at all in any other language, but I can read menus in five languages.  The item on my plate was no more a stuffed chile than I was a stuffed turkey.  This was by any other definition an omelet.  It was mixed eggs, cooked and tri-folded, then sauced.  Nothing more.  Oh.  Wait.  There is a bit of cheese.  Where is the stuffed chile?  Ok…chile rellenos are a bit of a pain, but I’m not the one who put it on the menu, y’know?  I just ordered the thing.  Things.  I got two of these.  Oh yippee.

Okay, I can understand, maybe, that making chile rellenos is a bit much for a starter chef.  That’s why it’s almost impossible to get a good, fresh chile relleno.  They make them ahead and reheat them.  In that regard, I found this method a little ingenious.  However, the real work is in peeling the chiles, so doing the eggs right is no big deal after that.  Still…canned chiles are routinely used in a lot of places, so a chile relleno omelet isn’t a bad idea, but don’t pass it off as the real-deal. Aha!  There is a chile (piece) in the other relleno.  At least there’s an effort at something with all the components.  My first impression (which will last and last), wasn’t how things are supposed to be.  It’s nice to know what they really intended.

In the end, I don’t think time will change much of anything here.  This is a family owned place…what looks to be a legacy…and I don’t hold out much hope for it.  It’s Taco Bell sit-down, dine-in style.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that their ranchero sauce was Taco Bell sauce.  It had that kind of quality to it.  Not bad tasting, but…a texture that’s hard to imagine being made fresh.  The beans tasted like the usual canned brand.  Their salsa was fresh enough.  There was at least fresh cilantro in it.  The rice was interesting.  I’m not sure what the difference was, but that’s one thing that intrigued me.  Don’t get me wrong, the food wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t impressive enough to break old habits and favorite places.  It’s not going to get on my map as a place I think positively of when I think of Mexican food.  It’s on my avoid list…unless I’m at work.  It’s one of the closest places to where I work.  I can see lunch there over Taco Bell.  If they can get the food out fast enough for my hour long lunch!

So…there we are.  A GREAT find and a road-bump.

Further Adventures in Mt. Shasta ~

10 08 2008

Yes, I’m going to torment us with another trip to Mt. Shasta…the scenery and energy are fabulous, even though they’re a foodie’s nightmare.  The good news?  Black Bear Diner was open…so we at least had a little good food! LOL!

We left late on a Sunday afternoon…not the best of times to dine anywhere.  Sunday and Monday evenings are loss leaders, and many places close their doors for one day or the other just for that reason.  We weren’t quite hungry enough to warrant stopping off in Chico; plus we’d just gotten on the road.   Chico is the last reasonably exciting source for food until one gets another 60 miles north to Redding, which doesn’t wave any culinary banners either.  For some reason, Chico accepts inventive dining fare…maybe it’s the college. Farther north, you’re talking farmers. Meat. Potatoes. Don’t mess with it.  So, being even slightly hungry and leaving town on Sunday afternoon was moderately foolish.

Traveling north, we pass through Chico, outlying farm lands and communities, eventually the town of Corning, followed by Red Bluff, Cottonwood, Anderson up to Redding.  Corning is home of The Olive Pit – can you guess a lot of olives are grown and processed here?  However…olives as an entrée item…thank you, no.  Red Bluff is home to the chain-gang.  I think every restaurant I’ve seen there (so far) is part of a chain.  We pulled off there, but there was no parking which wasn’t in direct sun, and we had Jasmine with us.  Can’t cook the doggie.  I’m not sure what’s in Cottonwood, other than that’s where the CHP has a truck scale, so I know to watch my speed through there.  Sorry folks…  Anderson is home to the only Outlet mall in the far north of California.  It is not, however, a food mecca.  And yet…we pulled off.  I don’t know why…one of those “whispers” I suppose.  I cruised a block and we found an A & W Root Beer stand…truly a vanishing breed, and I love root beer.  Don’t get too worried.  I also prefer one major cola product over the other, and won’t drink the other.  I can taste the difference, and I have a preference. But root beer…mmmmm~  As we were trying to find our way around to get back to the freeway, we stumbled across a Northern Calif. Mexican food chain…Casa Ramos.  We’d attempted to eat at the Corning version, but there was NO shade.  Here, there was plenty of shade, and we could put Jasmine far enough away from the front door so as not to feel nervous about her rather HIGH-pitched yapping.   She only yips and yaps a few minutes.  Once she knows it isn’t going to help.

Casa Ramos is like any chain.  There are good and not so good restaurants.  Their first restaurant was built in Yreka, CA in 2005.  We’ve been dining at their original Chico location since about 2006.  So far, we’ve found we like this chain pretty reliably.  They serve authentic food that (usually) tastes very good, and their portions are immense.  We’re both fond of the Borrego (braised lamb shanks), and they always have a special that’s more food than we can both eat!  Sold.  Dinner on Sunday night was a reasonable success!!

Monday, we awoke incredibly late.  I won’t even say.  Just to get coffee without someone looking strangely at us, we went to Black Bear Diner…where they serve breakfast all day, every day. LOL!!  Another chain…This one originated in Mt. Shasta, CA.  We haven’t frequented many of their restaurants, but we know they’re out there.  At their home restaurant in Mt. Shasta, I’ve never had a complaint…well…not much of one!  We did need to serve ourselves coffee on Tuesday…but we were back in the “dining room” so we could get to it!  Back to Monday…  After fortifying ourselves for the better part of the day, we were off exploring!  We came home tired and hungry in the evening, and at 7-something, every place in town was packed.  We by-passed several places we’ve already been; took a look at Mike & Tony’s…an Italian menu, but it felt like a bit more of a dinner house than we were ready for.  We were in tourist-wear.  After taking about 45 minutes off dinner-hunting to let the restaurants breathe out, we drove through again.  By this time, we had a couple of ideas.  We headed to the Burger Express for the obvious and broasted chicken.  They were already closed. Oops.  Ok…on to Mike & Tony’s…a little fancy for shorts and T’s.  Remember…we’d been headed out for burgers.  We drove the length of town and saw everything that was there….and back.  We pulled into Billy Goat’s Tavern, just to see if the kitchen was still open…YES!  With 5 minutes to spare.  We promptly ordered 2 softshelled crab BLT’s and garlic fries, and called it good.  Yes…whole soft-shell crabs, breaded, deep fried, BLT’d and WOW.  That’s some serious YUM!  This was a great place for us.  They have 2 open air decks. We chose the back, Jasmine was welcome (leashed) to hang out with us, so the whole family was together.  Not bad for a Monday!

Tuesday was hustle day. We had a lot of ground we wanted to cover this day. We were planning to drive almost to the border through the interior, up to Lava Beds National Monument. We picked up groceries to stash in our chill-pack, and we were off.  Breakfast was once again at Black Bear….hey, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.  I had a small order of biscuits and gravy, and purred. The country gravy was perfect in consistency and flavor, and the biscuits were feather-light. Yes, we had to help ourselves to coffee, but we had plenty of cream and sugar, so what the heck.  Lunch this day was meat, cheese, crackers and fruit at Valentine Cave in Lava Beds.  There was a small area of shade (not much of that up there) where we could park the car, walk Jas and stretch some. We took advantage of that and took time to nosh between driving. We covered a load of territory that day. We visited Medicine Lake and the campgrounds and Lava Beds.  We still haven’t done any exploration of caves…yet another trip!  Dinner on Tuesday was planned at Piemont.  Piemont has a reputation for exceedingly large servings, and good Italian food.  The serving size was probably what turned us away in the end.  We were tired…and hungry, but the time was getting short on the dinner hour in this little town.  Neither of us felt like huge portions or being hovered over.  We drove.  There aren’t a lot of choices…we checked out the Burger Express…mostly a take out place.  There are a few little tables, cramped and crowded or outside, still crowded, and right on the maid drag through town.  Maybe for lunch…  There was room at Billy Goat’s Tavern, but we wanted to broaden our horizons if possible.  There’s a Casa Ramos there, but we’d done that on Sunday.  Lily’s has a good reputation, but…it’s rather on the nice side, and it was also full.  Lai Lai’s…been there…  I can’t say I recommend any Chinese food in Mt. Shasta at all…  Hubster was still leaning toward a burger, so we opted for the Dugout.

The Dugout is a little sports cafe in the shopping center parking lot behind the Black Bear Diner.  If you can find Round Table Pizza (incidentally-a very good RT!), look far to the other side of the lot, and the little place on the side is The Dugout.  It faces out on the frontage of the street that the Best Western hotel is on.  We’ve had breakfast there in the past…decent food, decent value.  Dinner was another experience!

The Dugout is incongruous.  They have SO much going on with their menu and cuisines that they can’t be making a profit.  Seriously.  Think Cuban-style Mexican.  Think Sports-Bar.  Think Dinner house.  Juggle that together and mix it up….you’ve got The Dugout.  Seriously…  Burgers every way you can imagine, including with a hot dog on it.  General sports bar grub – chili, hot wings, fries, onion rings.  Now, toss in a few enchiladas and tacos, and Cuban version specialties as well.  Don’t forget the dinner house fare…fish & shellfish.  Shrimp or fish fillets done in about 6 different way. Steaks…rib eye, sirloin, fillet.  Paella.  Yeah.  Paella.  Hubster had a burger, which was vastly overdone, but he’s learning to accept that now and then.  E coli don’t you know.  I had bacon wrapped shrimp on rice.  We both had items to offer Jasmine to appease her for waiting in the car.  The one thing that totally floored me here was that my accompanying salad was served on my heated dinner plate.  I got a few cold bites, and then it was all hot.  Ick.  I’d eat here again, but I’d watch the time of day and my appetite.  You don’t want to be too hungry going in here.  And don’t expect service if the owner is running the show.  He wants (maybe needs?) to get each table set to go, so he can do other things.  Like schmooze with local law enforcement.  I can see how this spot would be a favorite with the local guys…it reeks of testosterone.

Piemont is still on the “got to” try it list.  We checked out the natural food store, and they’ve got a cafe next door…love to check that out sometime.  Mike & Tony’s has promise.  A shower and change of clothes between adventures for that!  Casa Ramos is on the “try” list.  We haven’t tried this one, and we know the Mexican place, Lalo’s, at the other end of town isn’t Mexican, or very good.  We haven’t tried The Skillet for anything other than breakfast.  And there’s another place down by Hwy. 89 that looked interesting.  And…since I left my pillow in Mt. Shasta, we’ll be headed back soon!

Danger! Danger Will Robinson!!!

25 06 2008

DISCLAIMER:  I am very upset…angry…in the vernacular, P-O’d.  Sometimes a woman’s patience just gets pushed “so” far….  What’s up??  I’m so glad you asked…and if you didn’t….would you please do me the favor of leaving the kitchen, ‘cuz I’m about to get MOST UN-ladylike.

Are we squared away now?

All the munchkins out of the room?

No one reading aloud?

I’m serious….I’m really whizzed.  And that’s the last time I’m going to rein in my tongue or my fingers.  It’s on you now…

Are we alone now?

Okay….here goes…

If you own a restaurant…and it’s getting close to closing time…TOO close for your establishment to SEAT patrons and let them eat their meal…then WHY SEAT THEM????  Especially in a Chinese restaurant specializing in “take out”…  I am SO freaking furious!!

Scenario….8:40 p.m., late June, a couple walk into a Chinese restaurant…an old, established, been there 75 years kind of place.  The diners didn’t catch on right away; there were several other tables with patrons lingering over their meals.  Both were tired and settled quickly upon the “house” dinner for two, but could “we please add mushroom foo yung?”

The first clue that the couple would be dining to the strains of the “dining room hustle” was when halfway through the soup, the appetizer arrived, immediately followed by the first dish of the entree.  Mere moments later, the remaining dishes arrived.  The avalanche of dining room catastrophes was just getting started.

The pair might have been able to eat a little faster if the soup had had any flavor.  She remarked that it tasted very much like cornstarch.  Both added salt, pepper, and soy sauce trying to create some element of flavor in the pale excuse for “soup of the day.”  Ok…chicken-rice noodle soup is tricky.  You need to use chicken AND broth.  Damn.  I knew something was missing.  One of them had to go “in search of” hot mustard…let’s see…how DOES one serve BBQ pork slices, fried prawns and paper-wrapped chicken (not fair…it’s seasoned!!-But, then again…we didn’t EAT that- -YET!)?  The obligatory S&S sauce arrived in a bowl, but there were no other condiments available.  Faux pas #2.

As we…oops…the “couple” began to fill their plates, the waitress arrived asking for payment…so they “could close the register.”  Ok…fine, the food is on the table; no beverages were ordered so there was no need to “refill” or “replace” any beverage.  The appropriate plastic was exchanged, and the little pieces of paper were obtained, and set aside.

The meal wasn’t even begun, let alone concluded.  If the folks thought they were getting a guaranteed T.I.P., they were at the wrong table.  Please…don’t misunderstand me.  I DO NOT STIFF service staff.  My mom was a waitress, and her tips were the difference between my existence and my carefree childhood.  I grew up knowing the value of tips, and that service staff barely made any money, regardless of how hard they worked.  I honestly tip 20-35% on the average.  My state believes all service staff receive at least 8% on every ticket, so staff are charged for that up-front by the state.  Even when I feel I’ve been totally screwed by the staff, I still leave 10%…even if it makes me chew nails and spit out staples.  And so, I held the ticket open until we’d concluded our meal.

At least I thought I was going to keep the ticket open until we’d concluded our meal…  Maybe 10 minutes after the food was delivered-remember, it all came at one time-, but not more than 15, another server came to the table asking for the ticket.  “Oh, don’t let us rush you,” the young man said, as another service member came to the table with a bus-cart to take the plates that were no where near empty.  No, no one brought “to-go” boxes to us.  Honestly, we had to get those for ourselves.  They did, however, bring a plastic bag to our table for the boxes.  I hadn’t had a chance to finish my meal.  Seriously.  I hadn’t had a change to eat the original portions I’d put on my plate to start with.  We had serving plates heaped with food, and the staff was all but drumming their fingers waiting to clear the table. We were permitted to get our own containers for the remaining food, transfer the food, bag it and leave without so much as a bye-your-leave.

I’m absolutely furious.  Where in the bloody hell does any restaurant get off behaving in such a f-d up manner?  It’s not like the food was even GOOD!!!  I guess being the “only game in town” gives one the feeling of security.  Well….not from this gal.  It’s going to be one damn cold day in hell before I cross that threshold again.  I can cook Chinese better than what I got tonight, and there are a few towns within 30 miles that have to have better food.  Admittedly, perhaps not at 8:30….but I’d still put money on it.

Oh, and for the record….We parked our car at 8:35 p.m.  We were back in our car by 9:05 p.m. with “left-overs” in hand.

You know what’s even worse?  I was hungry when we got home.  I hadn’t been able to finish my dinner.  I left with food on my plate.  Ok…if I’d touched that plate at that point, it would have gone flying.  I was so angered by having to leave before I’d finished eating, I was ready to start breaking dishes.  Hey…it would have ended the concern about 2 people still eating!  Anyway…when we got home, I put the cartons in the refrigerator, but saved out the fried rice to stave off my remaining appetite.  I love rice, especially fried rice.  I got a spoon, sat down with the carton and proceeded to…wait…what’s that thing?  Wait..please…no.  There’s not supposed to be anything really thin-threadlike even-in my fried rice…  No.  Please, no.  Oh f.  It’s white.  And black.  S.  It’s half and half.  And more hair-like than I can abide at this point.  Normally, I’m not squeamish.  I’ll roll my eyes, make a wise-crack and go on eating.  Not tonight.  That was seriously the freaking straw.  I’m so done.

Just don’t eat Chinese in Oroville…  I know I won’t be.

Japanese Blossoms

10 06 2008

Awhile back we’d heard there was a new restaurant in Chico…Japanese Blossoms.  Now, there are several sushi restaurants in Chico.  There’s the Americanized sushi at 2 different Chinese buffet restaurants (Rice Bowl and Kempo), and there’s the college area sushi bar…Katsuo’s.  Gen Kai was the first, but has developed a revolving door or owners, and philosophies.  Still, it’s got a decent ambiance, and the food has been good to better.  I can’t remember if we’ve been in since the last change of management, or if we just noted it in passing…  And there’s the Rawbar.  Rawbar is very nouveau…opened with driving metallic music to go with the metallic sculptures and neon.  Still, their food can be very, very good. Imaginative. Over-priced.  And now…enter Japanese Blossoms.

We stopped in for lunch…a good way to check out a new place without spending a small fortune.  We were pleasantly surprised to see Kama, the Itabisan from Gen Kai before the change of owners.  An excellent sign.  The current Itabisan came out, and turned out to be one of our favorites from Gen Kai…also before the “change.”  Two good signs.  The decor is very zen, and comfortable.  There are nice sake selections.  The menu items include a variety of common Japanese dishes and then…there’s the sushi menu.  Yes, somewhat Americanized combinations, but it was downright good!  We each had our favorite nigiri orders…unagi for him, sake for me, plus an order of maguro to share. We added a large JB’s Rainbow roll, and two salmon skin BLT handrolls.  It was just about the perfect amount for lunch.  It left me wanting more…more…MORE!  We’ll go back for dinner…it’s worth giving it another try!

Dinner in Grass Valley

27 04 2008

We took a night off and went to Grass Valley for an overnight stay and met with some friends the following day. Since we went up the night before (I’d rather travel while I’m still in “work” mode, than get up early on Saturday), we thought, “What a great opportunity to try new restaurants!”

I researched dining choices in this area, and there were PLENTY! There were several cafe style places, and the usual Mexican and Chinese options, family dining as well…pizza chains and so on. Ethnic specific yielded one sushi/Japanese restaurant, one Himalayan (sounded rather like East Indian) and Diego’s…Latin American cuisine. Of the fine dining/bistro set, we opted for Tofanelli’s on W. Main Street.

Tofanelli’s menu looks totally delightful.  With options of steaks, lamb and ahi, we were THERE!  The restaurant is a lovely little place, situated in one of Grass Valley’s historic buildings, it’s narrow and deep, and full of antiquity.  It took a few minutes for us to decide, as the many choices were quite intriguing.  We finally settled on a starter of seafood gazpacho, followed by salads (his dressed with bleu, mine with Poppy Seed) and while Hubster selected the Australian Lamb Shanks, I settled on the Rib Eye combo with sauteed scallops.

I was a little surprised that the salads arrived first, and almost as soon as the order hit the kitchen.  The salads were composed of sweet, crisp Romaine and luscious spring greens.  They were top-dressed with just the right amount of dressing (which was fabulous in both cases), and the salad with bleu was topped with fresh bleu cheese crumbles that erupted from the top and coursed down the sides of the salad…divine!  We ate every morsel and soaked up the remainder of the dressings as well.

From that point on, it’s all downhill.  The sign on the front door stating they were hiring a dinner chef should have been our first clue.

The “starter” arrived next, with an apology, and two spoons.  For gazpacho, it was a little on the sweet side for our tastes, and the addition of lemon (provided) didn’t do much to cut it.  There was no underlying bite, and nothing available to add any zing.  The soup consisted of tomatoes, shrimp, and avocados…there might have been other ingredients in there, but….our entrees arrived before we could really get started with the soup.  That’s a pet peeve…we both despise that.

Sadly, the entrees were no improvement.  The Australian lamb carried the description, “Two lamb shanks, braised and slow cooked in a piquant BBQ style sauce. With garlic mashed potatoes, and vegetables…19.95″  Mexican borego could be described the same way, so…that was Hubster’s choice.  Wrong.  Good description, but…it tasted like standard bottled sauce, and the lamb was tortured into submission of deletable tenderness and presented swimming in a pool of sauce with the sides.  It’s a crime to treat lamb shanks that way.  Incidentally…it was served in a pasta plate…which meant there was no way to separate the lamb or the potatoes from the pool – not puddle, POOL – of sauce.  There must’ve been a full cup of the sauce ladled into the plate.  Why do they do that??  From there, to my rib eye with scallops…  When I ordered, I asked if the chef cooked medium rare as warm-red or warm-pink.  The server had no real idea, but that the steak would be cooked “perfectly.”  Somehow I doubted that. I chose to order my steak rare, and that was the right thing to do.  It came to the table, again, in a deep plate, though not as deep a plate as Hubster’s, a reasonable medium rare, topped with the sauteed scallops, mashed potatoes and a veggie melange.  Apparently they put the liquid from the saute into the plate as well, because everything was in, again, a POOL of liquid.  Apparently “saute” was not a word the chef understood well…because the scallops arrived poached, and it was the poaching liquid that filled my plate. Blech.  The steak was soaking in it, the veggies were swimming, the scallops were atop the steak and no where near the (virtually tasteless) swill.  Sorry.  Again, why?

And when will I get a little Gordon Ramsey moxie and send such plates back to the kitchen with an invitation to attend a cooking school or at least BUY a GOOD cookbook??

Dinner (seafood gazpacho $5.95; Australian lamb shanks $19.95; Rib eye combo $25.95), with 1 cocktail each, came to $68.83 with tax.  I over tipped.  Darn me.  I should have rethought that.  Oh well…not her fault, but she could have checked on us…and yet, she did pack up the left-overs for our dog-and there were plenty!  Would I go back…maybe.  Only after checking the other available places though.  The salad was good enough to recommend, hands down.  The rest…well…no.

Tofanelli’s of Grass Valley….2 whisks….3 if you’re only having a salad!