Monthly Archives: July 2014

Steppin’ Out – Folsom Tap House

FTP-logo-color-background-webWe received a call from the chef at this recently opened restaurant in Folsom, asking us to come by and try the food. That is a great invitation, so I emailed my friend Russ Salazar and a week ago we headed down the hill to do exactly that.

Folsom Tap House, which is located a 25005 Blue Ravine Road – # 140, is in the Raley’s shopping center, just south of East Natomas Street (If you head west on Green Valley Road from El Dorado Hills, you will find it). It is family friendly and open for dinner Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. and for lunch from noon to close on Saturday and Sunday.

We arranged to meet with the Executive Chef, Schawn Wall, around 11:30 a.m., as he and his staff are there four hours before opening to get everything ready.

The door was open, so we walked in. I stuck my head in the kitchen and asked for Mr. Wall. He came out and graciously introduced himself to us and also introduced his Sous Chef, Sean Groark, who remembered me from when he worked at ZacJack Bistro in Cameron Park.

Wall is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco and has been in the restaurant business from a young age. At 23 he had his own restaurant, but more recently was the chef at Back Wine Bar & Bistro, which is in the same shopping center and also owned by Jeff Back.

“The owner gave me a list of about three items he wanted on the menu and left the rest up to me,” said Wall. “I created a small menu of fresh dishes, which means we sometimes run out of an item. We may only have only 30 servings of fresh salmon and we don’t keep more in the freezer.”

While talking with us Wall had Sous Chef Groark the kitchen preparing several dishes for us to try.

Our first dish was Grilled Pears, a specialty salad made with poached and grilled pear halves filled with blue cheese mousse and candied walnuts, served over mixed greens and dressed with a balsamic reduction. It was heavenly. The pear halves were tender yet solid and the blue cheese mousse really paired well with the other tastes.

Next we were treated to their Baja Burger. It comes with Salsa Cruda (fresh salsa they make daily), avocado, jalapenos, sharp cheddar and garlic aioli, on a soft Ciabatta bun.
“Instead of the outstanding Five Dot Beef we usually use, I made it with New Zealand Wagyu, which is an option,” said Wall.

It was delicious and he cut the burger in two in the kitchen and served it cut side down on separate plates. “A lot of people want to split one,” continued Wall, “so we serve it that way. It looks like the other half is in the plate, so we call it our ‘invisaburger.’”

The bun was outstanding and he told us he went through seven different buns before finding this soft Ciabatta bun at Bella Bru.

Our next dish was the Salmon BLT, made with wild-caught Alaskan Sockeye salmon, unbelievably good hickory bacon, spinach and tomato, also on the soft Ciabatta roll.
“You’re going to love this,” said Wall. “The salmon is crispy, but we only cook it to medium rare. The bacon is the best we can find (we both agreed) and complements the salmon.The bacon, like most of our meats, comes from Reeds Gourmet Meat Co.”

Salazar, who is not a great fan of seafood, really liked the salmon. He did leave some on his plate, so I ate it.

A sample of the BBQ Baby Back Pork Ribs followed that. They are dry rubbed and served over some really good house slaw. The flavor was excellent and they easily pulled off the bone, but I thought they were a bit dry. Wall brought me a sample of their house-made porter barbecue sauce and just a little bit if it made the ribs shine and did not overpower the taste of the rub. “We like to serve the sauce on the side,” said Wall. “You need to taste the ribs without it first.”

Salazar, on the other hand. liked the ribs without the sauce. “They really don’t need it,” he remarked.

Following that came a small dish of the Watermelon Salad. It contained diced cubes of crunchy, but sweet watermelon, celery leaf, shaved red onions, cilantro, mint and Sierra Nevada goat cheese. It was an interesting combination of flavors: refreshing and delicious. Salazar doesn’t like cilantro, but ate around it. “We will be getting yellow watermelon shortly,” mentioned Wall. “That will add some real color to it.”

Ah, the dessert. It was a Bacon Brownie with vanilla bean ice cream and stout caramel sauce. We each got about one-third of a normal serving and it was just enough. “If you are wondering, the bacon flavor comes from replacing some of the butter in the brownie with bacon fat,” said Wall.

Whatever they do to it, it was a great ending.

Chef Schawn Wall is amazing. He has quite a palate and an imagination to go with it. Every dish arrives at the table looking delicious and tasting wonderful. He calls it “gastro pub” food, I call it outstanding. The entire menu is available to view online at folsomtaphouse.com.

Again, Folsom Tap House is open for dinner Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. and for lunch from noon to close on Saturday and Sunday.

They have a full bar, over two dozen rotating beers on tap and wonderful food. They can be reached at (916) 292-5711.

Steppin’ Out – Mongolian B-B-Q Restaurant

MongolianWhen we were in Cameron Park a couple of weeks ago, heading back from sampling the good food at ZacJack Bistro, we passed Mongolian B-B-Q, which is located at 3300 Coach Lane, in Burke Junction.

My friend, Russ Salazar, mentioned that he had eaten at a similar place in Sacramento and thought we should try this one. It had been several years since I had eaten there, so last week we drove down to Cameron Park to check them out.

We arrived about 11:30 on Thursday morning and found ourselves a table. The whole restaurant was very clean, but not very crowded.

Shortly thereafter a young gentleman brought us egg flower soup, rice, some crispy appetizers and a sweet dipping sauce. We ordered hot tea to complement the food.
Salazar’s first comment was, “This is good soup. Usually it is watery, but this is good.” I had to agree with him, it had a great flavor, unlike many.

After we had enjoyed our soup, we headed for the salad bar. Everything there: lettuce, celery, broccoli, peppers, sprouts, you name it, was crisp and fresh (killer fresh, Salazar said) and the tomatoes were excellent. There were only two dressings, ranch and Italian, so I mixed them a bit.

Next we got in line (people were beginning to show up for lunch) to make up our entree. If you have never been to a Mongolian barbecue, this is how it works.

You get a large bowl into which you can put noodles, an array of very fresh vegetables including: spinach, broccoli, sprouts, water chestnuts, celery, squash, mushrooms, two kinds of onions and more. Then you add your choice of meat.

The meat is frozen and very thinly sliced into curls. Your choices are: beef, pork, lamb or turkey. You can stick to one or mix them, it’s up to you.

Once your bowl is full you head for the minced garlic, peanuts and sauces (everything needs garlic).

The sauces include soy, kung pow, wine, ginger water and a whole lot more, including hot oil, which I would use sparingly, very sparingly.

They have posted recommended mixtures of sauces you can put together that they think are good, but everyone seems to want to experiment on their own.

Because the sauces are fairly low and protected by a glass “sneeze board” it is a bit difficult to dip them out and put them in your bowl without spilling some. They know that and have a folded towel there so you can wipe up your spills before anyone else sees what you did.

You then hand your bowl to the cook who is standing next an elevated hot plate that has to be at least three or four feet in diameter.

The cook takes your bowl and dumps it on the plate, adding a bit of water that he used to rinse out your bowl. Then, using two sticks he pushes it around the hot plate one or more times until it is cooked. At that time he cleverly slides it into a bowl and then hands it to you, hot and steamy. You take back to your table to enjoy with your rice.

I had all pork, but Salazar mixed pork and beef. He also added fresh jalapeños, which I had never tried before. He said the cooking process tamed them a bit so I tried a few. It did, but only slightly. However, as you know, I like hot food.

Mongolian B-B-Q Restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 11 until 2:30 for lunch and from 4:30 until 9 for dinner. On Friday the lunch hours are the same, but dinner goes until 9:30. Saturday’s hours are lunch from 11:30 until 2:30 and dinner from 4:30 until 9.

For more information call (530) 677-3301.

Lunch was $8.95 plus drink and tax. Dinner is $10.95 plus drink and tax. At dinner you can eat all you want, while at lunch you can only go through the entree line once (all prices subject to change).

By the way, when Salazar opened his fortune cookie he handed the fortune to me and said, “This describes our lunch.” It said “The job is well done.”

Steppin’ Out – ZacJack Bistro: Everyday Gourmet Cuisine

zacjackI was surprised to find out that my friend Russ Salazar had never been to ZacJack Bistro in Cameron Park. So, last week we decided to meet there for early lunch and see what interesting dishes Chef John Evans and his able assistants had come up with. I am often a bit scared to take someone to a place I really like, but everything turned out fantastic.

ZacJack Bistro is located at 3275 Coach Lane, so you get off at Cameron Park Drive, head south and turn right onto Coach Lane. You’ll find it, Salazar almost did.

We were delightfully greeted and seated at a nice table by the window. Our server asked about drinks (they are supposed to ask you about water due to the drought). I stuck with water and Salazar chose iced tea.

After looking over the menu, we decided to try the $6.99 lunch special and one of their famous French sandwiches called a Croque.

The special was an American Kobe beef meatball sandwich on a freshly baked bun with marinara sauce and Provolone cheese. It came with a small Caesar salad.

The Croque we were going to try was the one made with their amazingly tender and delicious braised short ribs, shredded and served with melted Provolone cheese on grilled sourdough bread. Instead, at the server’s recommendation, we selected her favorite, the Shrimp Remoulade Croque which consisted of sourdough bread, lightly buttered and grilled, and served with shrimp, melted Havarti cheese, fresh avocado and tomato. It came with fresh, house-cut fries (the kind with skin on them).
We had both sandwiches cut in half so we could share them.

I wish I had a picture of it, because when Salazar picked up the shrimp croque and took a bite, an amazing smile came to his face. “I love this,” he said. “It is delicious and how did they keep the shrimp from sliding out?” Adding, “The bread is crisp.”

I think he savored that half sandwich for about 20 minutes.

I agreed with his comments, it was an outstanding sandwich with a wonderful combination of textures and flavors.

The meatball sandwich was also very good. I especially liked the flavor of the freshly baked bun and the meat, along with the marinara sauce, which was not overpowering. Salazar liked it because the sauce was not heavy and seemed to be beaten or, in his words, “fluffy.”

I really liked the Caesar salad and the fries were hot, crisp and delicious. I even tried the fries with some of their homemade catsup. Salazar said the thought the salad was a bit overdressed and, although he doesn’t eat many fries, he kept re-sampling them.

For lunch ZacJack Bistro also serves a few small plates like Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese (we were tempted), a stuffed artichoke and a cheeseboard. They serve a Soup du Jour (they were starting to make gazpacho when we were there) and a French Onion soup. There are also several gourmet salads to which you can add anchovies, chicken breast, salmon or steak.

There are five different burgers on the menu; the French Burger, the Bleu Burger, the El Dorado Burger, the Mushroom Burger and the Clown Burger, all made with freshly ground, American Kobe beef.

In addition to the two Croques I mentioned, they also have a Mushroom Ragout Croque and a Smoked Salmon BLT, all also available as a half sandwich with soup or salad..

Finally, fresh from their flaming pizza oven, you can try their Four Cheese Pizza, Vegetable Pizza or Bacon, Pepperoni and Prosciuto pizza, available on regular or gluten free crust.

I don’t have room to write much about their breakfast or dinner items (many of which I have tried and loved), so maybe we will go back and try them for breakfast on a weekend or dinner one evening and get back to you. Those menus look equally impressive.

ZacJack Bistro is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 8:30 p.m.. on Friday from 11 until 9:30, Saturday from 8 a.m. until 9:30 and on Sunday from 8 until 8. Closed on Monday.

For more information call (530) 676-2969, You can also check out their menu, etc., at their webpage zacjack.com.

Oh, how do they keep the shrimp in the sandwich and not on your lap? It is the melted cheese that keeps them in place.

Steppin’ Out – Sweet Score Yogurt, Donuts & BBQ

Several times over the past few years I have stopped by Sweet Score Yogurt and Donuts, which is located at the corner of Missouri Flat Road and Golden Circle Drive (across from Wal-Mart and next to McDonald’s). I love their donuts (especially the apple fritters) and the numerous flavors of yogurt and toppings ( the low fat ones).

A number of months ago they added barbecue, and installed a large smoker on their patio, so when you drive by you can sometimes smell the delicious and tempting aroma of fruit wood smoke and barbecue.

My friend Russ Salazar and I stopped by to try the barbecue last week and the owner, Michael Griffiths, treated us like kings, with a sample of everything their pit-master, Will, prepares.

This is Louisiana style barbecue, prepared by someone who used to spend six months cooking on Beale Street in New Orleans and six months cooking here, until deciding to stay here with his family. It is cooked over fruit wood and real charcoal (not briquettes), and in a few words, it is all tender and delicious.

We started with a sample of pulled pork, chicken, and brisket, along with sides of their five cheese mac and cheese, cole slaw and potato salad.

Salazar immediately headed for the mac and cheese, and said, “Savor the cheese. What ever cheeses they are using, they are a great combination.”

He followed that with a comment about the chicken. He says he doesn’t really like chicken (even when he cooks it himself), but immediately told me that this chicken was moist, nicely seasoned, had a nice flavor and, overall, was delicious.

I liked it for the same reasons, and, because the sauce, which you can get on the side, was not overpowering and the rub gave it a tiny bit of heat.

The pulled pork, which we usually don’t order when we meet for lunch, was moist and had a great flavor, with or without the sauce, which again, was not overpowering.

Their brisket was also “easy to cut with a plastic knife” tender and had a great flavor.

The cole slaw was crisp (mushy cole slaw is one of Salazar’s pet peeves) we thought was a bit overdressed, but the dressing was so good it didn’t matter.

The potato salad was magical. We spent several minutes trying to figure out what the unique flavors were in it, but then the owner, Griffiths, told us that the person who makes it uses a secret recipe. Salazar thought the potato chunks were a bit too big, but he always has to find fault with something (just kidding – he has a great palate).

We were then treated to a sample of the tri-tip, babyback ribs and hot links.

I love hot links and theirs were excellent. The ribs were top notch and pulled gently off the bone. The tri-tip, which is not usually my favorite cut of meat, was as tender and delicious as the brisket.

While we were waiting for Will to fix a batch of his baked beans, we were brought a sample of their “Friday seafood surprise,” which turned out that day to be kabobs of large shrimp, portabella mushroom chunks and sweet peppers.

Will cooks these on a gas grill, where he also does hamburgers (they have something for everyone).

Nicely seasoned and nicely done, the shrimp were tender and not overcooked and, along with the mushroom and peppers, were moist and delicious.

Again, while waiting for a sample of the beans, owner Griffith sat down to explain to us that, as much as possible, everything he serves or sells comes from a local source. For instance, he buys berries from Larsen in Camino, apples, peaches and strawberries from Harris Tree Farms and, although he bakes all the donuts, fritters and pies, he buys macaroons from Sugar Lilly bakery in El Dorado. “They are the best,” he says.

Finally we got a sample of the baked beans. Will makes them with sauteed onions and hamburger, which was a surprise. They were very good, full of flavor and meat.

I should explain the reason we had to wait for the beans. Will is very picky and cooks three times a day, in small batches (If you have ever had “old” reheated food at a barbecue restaurant before, you will understand why). This way he makes sure that everything you get is fresh and delicious. Therefore, they sometimes run out and you have to wait for more to be made, as was the case with the beans.

They cater and can cook a whole rack of ribs or anything else for your party or dinner with advance noticed.

This is a family run business that supports local school events (Griffiths is a local boy who went to Ponderosa) and more. They are wonderful and hard working people.

Sweet Score Yogurt, Donuts & BBQ is open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily; barbecue is served Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. For more information call (530) 642-9644 or (916) 410-4653.

Oh, you can also get the barbecue as a sandwich on bread from Truckee Sourdough Bakery (my favorite).