A cold, dry February was thankfully interrupted by bursts of flavor from some of the best restaurants in the Sacramento area.
From fine Thai dishes in residential East Sacramento to Mexican/Italian fusion in Elk Grove to delicious Peruvian cuisine in Roseville’s up-and-coming restaurant scene, the food was good, if one knew where to look.
All of these criticisms first appeared in journalist Benjy Egel’s free weekly newsletter of the Sacramento Bee. Visit http://sacbee.com/foodnewsletter to sign up for future articles and other local restaurant news.
PERUVIAN KITCHEN Y CAFE shisha pipe
Shisha peruvian cuisine Y Cafe is one of the latest notable life jolts to the Roseville food scene, the rise of which I profiled last month. Opened by husband and wife Giancarlo Zapata and Marleny Chávez in November, its bright pink-green-yellow interior and tasty dishes are tucked away in the corner of a jaded strip mall at 1079 Sunrise Ave., Suite O.
Vegetarian options are rare, but huancaina dad ($12) makes for a nice simple appetizer. Slices of cold potatoes, olives and hard-boiled eggs were coated in a creamy aji amarillo sauce on a bed of lettuce, with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
Chicha prepares four ceviches, each tied to a specific region along the Peruvian coast. I went for the chalaco ($20) from the port of Callao in Lima, which featured a heap of dried whitefish in lime juice amidst a world of contrasts: chunks of sweet sweet potatoes, crunchy hominy and choclo (large grain Peruvian corn), red onion mince and rocoto chili sauce with customer’s preferred spice level.
The menu is a mix of street food and more upscale options from when Zapata cooked in high-end hotels. It’s nice to see even more casual options presented in style, like beef heart anticuchos ($16). The tender skewered meat was already tasty in its ají panca (Peruvian red pepper) marinade and reached a new dimension with a huacatay (Peruvian mint) dip.
A liquor license is pending; in the meantime, try Peru’s national fluorescent soft drink Inca Kola ($3.50)which tastes somewhere between cream soda and bubblegum ice cream.
I wanted to enjoy a good meal sitting down MaydonIdean Farid’s new school Persian restaurant at 1501 16th St., Suite 111 in downtown Sacramento, since opening in June 2020. Takeout must have sufficed for much of the pandemic, but with the white gold outdoor patio and dining room now open, I made the trip for dinner the other week to check it out.
Farid cooked with his father Mohammed at Mr. Shahrzard Fine Persian Cuisine in his youth, and Pops joined his son downtown after selling the restaurant Rancho Cordova (the “Mr.” has since been abandoned). It’s good to have that experience for classics like the rack of lamb ($26), lightly charred on the outside with a tender interior, or the Creamy Auburn Eggplant Dip kashkeh bodemjan ($9).
The influences of youth were more present in dishes such as Maydoon Bowl ($15). A choice of protein (I opted for the falafel), basmati rice, pickled onions, and diced cucumber and tomato were bound together with a tangy cilantro chutney, creating a pretty healthy cereal bowl full of contrasting textures and complementary flavors. It was designed as a convenient lunch option back when nearby offices were full of state employees, Idean told me before opening, and always seems like a busy lunch break.
Maydoon also offers an innovative cocktail list. Strong drinks like Mast Credit ($11) used unmistakably Persian flavors like pomegranate, sour cherry and yoghurt (“mast” in Farsi) with vanilla vodka. Pie and sweet can be a good combination, but the yogurt, while restricted, was something I had to get used to in cocktail form.
THE HOUSE OF AUTHENTIC INGREDIENTS (THAI)
Americans tend to view different types of cuisine as deserving of different price points. The same person who will drop $18 on a burger often bristles at a similar cost for Mexican, Chinese and Indian food, a phenomenon explored in The Atlantic’s 2016 article “The Future is Expensive Chinese Food” and the book by Krishnendu Ray, associate professor of food studies at NYU “The Ethnic Restorer.”
The House of Authentic Ingredients (THAI) pushes that idea forward by presenting Thai dishes in a sophisticated date night atmosphere on elegant tableware. Opened in late 2018 at 4701 H St., THAI is also one of the few restaurants in East Sacramento currently offering a daily happy hour – $5-7 for small plates like basil beef sausages or curry puffs, and discounted drinks around that range.
Our meal started with uranium-orange fishcakes called tod mun pla ($12), pan-fried and served with a pickled cucumber salad. Tangy with a heavy dose of dried basil, the cakes were spicy and complex.
the salmon yum ($16) salad also had well prepared fish, this time pan fried and tossed with tomatoes, cilantro, onions and mixed greens. Unfortunately, everything was swimming in a veritable sea of vinaigrette made with fish sauce, not bad but which had to be ordered separately.
Chef Wongworraman Jankhuen did better with the kao see krong moo obb ($25) special, pork ribs piled next to Chinese broccoli and a tower of rice topped with fried eggs. Tender but still a little sticky on the bone, the ribs were simmered in a savory herb sauce and complemented nicely with Thai chili sauce.
Drinks are also a main focus, with an expansive bar, sangria punch bowls, and a handful of mocktails. The funniest cocktails incorporate Southeast Asian ingredients, like Thaibucks ($12)a creamy riff on an espresso martini with Thai coffee, crème de cacao, Stolichnaya vanilla vodka and evaporated milk.
TODO UN POCO
Mexican and Italian cuisine doesn’t seem to have much in common beyond romantic tongues, but examples of fusion date back to the 1800s, when Italian influence in Spain and a small wave of immigration established pasta as an occasional alternative to rice in the southern neighbor of the United States.
Todo Un Poco modernizes that harmony by incorporating Mexican and Italian flavors with a Californian influence at 9080 Laguna Main St., Suite 1A in Elk Grove. Some established classics are left alone, like the Free Chunky Tortilla Chips and the Porky Italian meatballs ($10).
But the fun at Marie Mertz’s restaurant comes from ordering items like shrimp ravioli ($21), where shellfish swam around ricotta-filled pasta in a spicy chipotle Alfredo sauce. I also loved the many paintings in Todo Un Poco, especially the one that imagined the front bar and its art with all the people replaced by skeletons.
A range of pizzas presented more interesting combinations. I bypassed the chicken mole and chili verde pies for the Yucatan (prices range from $13 for a personal up to $35 for an XL) with black beans, jalapeños and carnitas in an oregano salsa. Alas, the pizza oven dried out the carnitas, and a watery fake cheese sauce was reminiscent of gas station nachos.
This story was originally published March 2, 2022 03:00.