Doug Noble

Steppin’ Out – California Kitchen for Breakfast

As I said last time, for a couple of months Russ Salazar was after me to go out to breakfast and write about it. “A lot of people go out for breakfast and I am sure they would like to know about new places or old places with new dishes,” he told me several times.

As you noticed with Los Pinos, I agreed to give it a try.

My problem is that if I eat a large breakfast I still seem to want lunch and dinner later. So I told him I would do it, but only if we had breakfast in the late morning so my stomach would think it was lunch.

He organizes a number of events for the SIRS (Sons In Retirement) group in Pollock Pines and wanted to check out the banquet room at California Kitchen, which is located at 251 Main Street in Placerville.

California Kitchen is a restaurant on Main Street that serves Traditional American and Mexican style breakfast and lunch. The menu is amazing.

I met Russ there around 11 a.m. one of our few sunny days last month and, after finding a table, we went over the menu.

I had downloaded a copy of their Breakfast/Lunch menu and looked it over the night before. Not only do they feature pancakes, waffles, different Benedicts, omelets, scrambles, house specialities and “Old California Breakfasts,” you can also order salads and sandwiches. In fact, one of my neighbors told me, “Get the steak sandwich for breakfast, it is wonderful and a really good deal.”

I was considering ordering from the interesting list of “Old California Breakfasts,” which includes Huevos Rancheros, Carnitas Uruapan, Mole Ranchero con Huevos, Chorizo Estilo Toluca, and an interesting dish simply called Santa Fe and Huevos Estilo Tepatitian. However, Russ beat me to it and selected the Chorizo Estilo Toluca – chorizo sausage prepared Toluca style, Toluca being a city in Mexico.

It is a combination of sauteed chorizo sausage, onions, jalapeños and potatoes scrambled in eggs and queso fresco, served with refried beans and garnished with avocado, sour cream and pico de gallo.

My choice was something more “New California,” the Country Benedict, which is two eggs on a biscuit with a crispy chicken fried steak, all smothered in country gravy and served with home style potatoes. There were three other Benedicts to choose from, but this just sounded interesting.

When our breakfasts arrived, they were beautifully presented and looked delicious. As you know, a good presentation makes a meal even better.

Russ was especially delighted with the texture and taste of the chorizo in his eggs, which he said is sometimes mushy. He also liked the homemade refried beans.

I tasted the egg mixture and the beans and agreed. They were really good.

I really liked my Country Benedict, the eggs, the biscuits and especially, the country fried steak and gravy. I grew up with a lot of pepper in country gravy, so I added a few shakes, along with a few shots of Tabasco, which conveniently they have on each table. Eggs need Tabasco.

Russ tried my Benedict, appeared neutral about it and seemed to be much more interested in what he had ordered.

Better than for me to try and describe their Breakfast/Lunch menu, since it is several pages long, check it out yourself on their webpage at www.californiakitchenplacerville.com. Ignore the Dinner menu as they sadly no longer serve dinner.

It is family friendly, so there is also a large kid’s menu.

Overall, clean and friendly, with great food and excellent service.

Breakfast and lunch are served daily from 7 until 3. For more information give them a call at (530) 622-7500.

Steppin’ Out – Los Pinos for Breakfast, Cameron Park

About a month ago Los Pinos Restaurant and Bar in Cameron Park started serving breakfast.

Los Pinos is the restaurant at 3420 Palmer Drive which I recall used to be, in reverse order, Hemalayas Indian Restaurant, Blackwell’s and the club house for the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy.

My friend Russ Salazar and I had been talking about trying breakfasts along with our usual lunches for some time, so when I saw a sign announcing that Los Pinos was serving breakfast, I called him.

We stopped by about 10 a.m. on a rainy Friday and were graciously greeted by hostess and server, Rosana, who, with her husband Luis, are joint general managers. She surprised me by immediately commenting that the cook, Teresa, knew me and then guided us to the dining room and seated us at a nice booth.

Being that it was between breakfast and lunch, the restaurant was fairly empty, but during the time we were there, it became quite busy with diners, including a large group.

As we were looking over the menu, Teresa came out of the kitchen to say hello and give me a hug. I recalled her and her friendliness from when she worked at Fresh Mex Express near K-Mart, and would soon realize that she is also a great cook.

We ordered two breakfasts to share. Russ ordered the Breakfast Skillet, a combination of chorizo and bacon, with fresh zucchini, onions, mushrooms, potatoes and bell peppers. topped with scrambled eggs and served with a side of tortillas, sour cream, guacamole and Pico de Gallo.

I went for the Machaca Plate, a savory blend of shredded pork, eggs, onions, bell peppers, jalapeños and red sauce, served with beans or breakfast potatoes. I opted for both potatoes and frijoles since we always have to try the frijoles. I thought they were good, Russ thought they could use a bit more flavor.

The meals came and they were generous portions and beautiful, so beautiful I even took a picture of them. And they were as delicious as they looked.

We started by both taking some of Russ’ plate. What a great combination of delicious flavors from the mixture, which also was quite colorful. Russ asked if some of the meat was longanisa, another Mexican sausage similar to chorizo. He liked it and it turned out they mix the two for additional flavor.

My breakfast, although not quite as colorful, was equal in great taste. The shredded pork mixed with eggs, onions and peppers was delicious. And, the sliced jalapeños added an occasional, slight bite.

Rosana asked me if I would like some salsa or hot sauce, so I got some of their salsa to try with my meal. You know it was even better with a bit of that.

While we were trying to figure out how we were going to finish all the food, Teresa showed up at our table with a plate of their Steak and Eggs. Although the menu simply says carne asada, it was a ribeye steak, cooked perfectly.

The ribeye is my favorite cut, although I don’t eat it very often. Theirs was the tenderest steak I have eaten in a long time. We both savored it.

At this point we had spent the best part of an hour and a half eating and just all that was left were a few potatoes. Teresa came out of the kitchen again to bring me a sample of her chile verde, which Rosana had said I had to try. It was excellent with lots of tender pieces of pork in a light, but tangy, green sauce.

Then Teresa asked if we wanted to try a Breakfast Burrito. We wanted to, but, “Sorry,” we said, “No room.”

Let me comment on their breakfast potatoes. They are large pieces cooked, as Russ put it, “al dente.” At first I thought they were slightly undercooked, but then decided they were much, much better than the overcooked or hard as rock ones I am usually served.

In addition to what we had, the breakfast menu at Los Pinos includes a Breakfast Burrito, Breakfast Tacos, Huevos Rancheros, a Mexican Omelette, Chiaquiles (two eggs with onion, cheese, red sauce and tortilla strips), a Vegetarian Omelette, Pancake Breakfast and a Kids Pancake Breakfast.

All their menus: Breakfast (7:00-11:00), Lunch (11:00 -3:00) and Dinner are posted on their webpage at www.lospinoscp.com if you want more details.

They have the normal beverages to accompany your meal, along with a full bar. There is a lot of comfortable indoor and patio seating (weather permitting) and even a banquet room upstairs that is available for parties, meetings and such..

Again, a great atmosphere, great food and very friendly people.

They are open daily from 7 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and at 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday nights. For more information call them at (530) 672-1403 or, again, visit their webpage at www.lospinoscp.com.

A couple of years ago we had lunch there and loved it. This was so good, I guess we are going to have to go back again for lunch or dinner.

Steppin’ Out – Z-PIE, Gourmet Pot Pies

It has been some time since I enjoyed a pot pie from Z-PIE, which is located at 3182 Center Street in Placerville (across from City Hall).

I was supposed to meet Russ Salazar for lunch there a few weeks ago, but he thought I was going to arrive at noon and I thought he would be there at 1 p.m. He left about ten minutes before I arrived. Last week we synchronized our watches and both arrived at the same time.

Z-PIE has been around for a number of years, in fact, so long that it took me some time to find one of the early stories I wrote about them. The earliest one I found was in April of 2003 when they won the “Best of El Dorado” competition and they had been open for four and a half years then.

People still ask me, “What is a Z-Pie?”

Let me give you a little history on this unique dish.

“Single serving meat and vegetable pot pies are as common in Australia and New Zealand as are burgers are here,” the owners of Z-PIE told me a number of years ago.

People enjoy them on their trips there, but it wasn’t until the Coots families opened their original restaurant in 1988 that they were introduced to Placerville.

Originally there were only a couple of varieties of pies, but now many more, with those on the menu changing periodically.

There were about half a dozen on the menu the day Russ and I were there and we decided to order a couple and split them. Russ went for one of the standards, and the best seller, the Steak Cabernet pie, while I chose an interesting sounding Tomatillo Stew pie. Russ also ordered a small salad.

I thought about trying their bacon and potato soup, but decided to limit myself to the pie. I don’t know why. At lunch you can get a pie and soup or salad for only $10.

Russ’ nice looking mixed greens salad came first (we ended up splitting it) and then the pies arrived. They looked and smelled really good.
They used to have a tart bottom crust and a puff pastry top crust and, for a while were purchased elsewhere. Now they are again made on site (yes, you can watch) and both the top and bottom crusts are puff pastry.

If you are eating in, after baking they are removed from their pie pan and placed in a ceramic bowl that exactly fits them, which makes them easy to eat.

We split them (that was a bit difficult for two klutzes) and sampled both. The one I had tried before, the Steak Cabernet, had the same delicious aroma and taste I remembered. Russ commented, “You can smell that unique cabernet wine flavor,” and he is right.

I loved the Tomatillo Stew pie. It had a nice bite and a great flavor. Russ liked it, but thought it had a bit too much cumin in it. I could taste it, but I love that flavor. It is the interesting flavor found in all good chili.

We discovered both when we cut the pies to share and when we ate them that the crust appeared to be slightly tough. That would be expected in a pie designed to be taken home, as many people do. However, when a piece of the crust reached your mouth, it was heavenly. Russ commented that it just melted in your mouth.

We both really enjoyed the meal. It was a delicious nice break from the usual food we eat.

They have a number of pies, some seasonal, so here is a list of some of the pies they are serving right now: Steak Cabernet, Rosemary Lamb, Very Vegetable V, Tomatillo Stew, Chicken Mushroom and Southwest Chicken. They also have two dessert pies, The Berry and The Apple.

There are also several salads on the menu. Large salads include: Asian Shrimp Noodle, Thai Steak, Chicken Mango, California, Sesame Asian Pear and Spinach Garlic. Their smaller salads include: Organic House, Organic Spinach and Gorgonzola.

Oh yes, they also have soup by the cup or bowl. Ask your server about the soup of the day.

Z-PIE is so proud of their pies and salads that they list all of the ingredients on their menu. I really like that.

They also have some really great bottled soda, along with local beers and wine to enjoy with your meal.

Z-PIE is open daily from 11 until 9 (last seating at 8:30). For more information call (530) 621-2626. You can eat in or get pies to go, either heated or frozen for later use.

Oh, get a seat in the window by the street and count the cars that actually stop at the stop sign. I found the number was less than half. Therefore, be very careful when you cross the street.

Steppin’ Out – JackZ: Good Eats on the Move

I’m sure a lot of you are wondering about JackZ, the newly opened restaurant that is located about three miles east of Diamond Springs, at 1821 Pleasant Valley Road (the old Zachary Jacques location). It is a very unique restaurant serving fantastic food at very reasonable prices.
How do they do it? You order, find a table you like, and they bring you your food. It only takes two people to run a restaurant like that, which keeps the costs down.
Chef John Evans and his wife Lynnette are the owners with Chef John in the kitchen and Lynnette taking care of the front of the house. It is that simple.

I have known John and Lynnette for a dozen years starting when they took over the old Zachary Jacques. He is one of the top chefs in my book, who started in the restaurant business at 16 and, after gathering kitchen experience at several restaurants, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas, the culinary Mecca of the west.

Before writing this, Chef John insisted that I do three things: take a dinner to go to see if it arrived at my home in proper condition; bring a friend for lunch and have their “Two for $10″ special and, finally, have dinner at the restaurant. As he put it, “Have the whole experience.”

Well, not one to turn down a meal, the next day I stopped by and ordered their house speciality, a juicy, roasted half chicken, marinated in their citrus, garlic herb sauce and then roasted with fruit wood. For sides, it comes with two, I had Cole Slaw (Chinese style) and White Cheddar Mac.

It wasn’t very long before the meal was all wrapped up and handed to me, so I headed home, which, for the record, is only about 15 minutes away.

I opened the containers and, yes everything was hot (except the salad, of course) and had a wonderful aroma.

I separated a piece of the chicken and tried it. It was very moist and had an excellent flavor. Then I tried the White Cheddar Mac – heavenly.

I don’t eat a lot of “Mac & Cheese,” but I am a lover of Cheddar cheese. Their’s is decadent. I almost ate it all before going back to the rest of the dinner.

Between bites of the two I enjoyed the cole slaw. It was lightly dressed and nicely cleared the palate. All in all, a wonderful meal.

The next day I invited my friend, Russ Salazar, to meet me there for lunch, explaining to him that we were going to have their “Two for $10″ special.

The special lunch is a choice of any two sandwiches and two sides. Now, these aren’t just run of the mill sandwiches, they are very special.
Russ went for the Grilled Salmon sandwich, which consisted of grilled salmon, topped with grilled carrots, celery, red onion, green beans, cucumbers, lemon mayo and romaine.

I selected the So Cal Chicken sandwich, which contained chicken with red onion, mushrooms, cheese, romaine, avocado, tomato and garlic mayo.

I let Russ select the sides and he chose the Mac and Cole Slaw, like I had the night before.

We took seats in the main dining room and, shortly, our lunch arrived.

The sandwiches, both on house-baked buns, were great. The salmon was nicely grilled, but remained moist, as was the chicken. The choice of other ingredients in the sandwiches was perfect and enhanced the flavors, adding a bit of crunch.

Russ, like me, loved the sides which, like the sandwiches, we split. When I mentioned that I wasn’t going to eat the rest of my share of the Mac, he took it and said, “Before you change your mind,” as he finished it.

Lynnette came by our table to see if we liked the food – something she already knew from our smiles – and offered us some dessert. They have a great carrot cake, but we decided to try their own chocolate layer cake, which turned out to be a chocolate lover’s dream.

Russ asked if they had milk to go with the cake, and she said, “Of course” and got him a glass. He replied, “That gives you two extra points.”
I am surprised that the two of us finished that cake, but we did. It was so rich and chocolatey, a perfect ending for the meal. We left happy and full.

A couple of days later I called to thank them for the great lunch, and Chef John said I should complete my review and come by for dinner.

This time I ordered the Steak du Jour, which that evening was a Coulette cut, the cap from the top sirloin. For sides I had buttered green beans and summer squash.

I brought with me a bottle of wine I wanted to try, which Lynnette opened and then poured some into a glass for me.

Although they also have wine by the glass and bottle, they encourage you to bring a wine of your own to have with your meal. The corkage fee is only $1.99 – yes, less than two bucks.

The steak was cooked perfectly, quite tender for that cut and very full of flavor. The sides completed the meal very well. The beans were crisp and he had actually removed the seeds from the squash before cooking. Little things make a difference.

I decided to try the carrot cake, but only a little piece, I told them. It too was made by them and wonderful, wonderful. Much better than a typical carrot cake.

Their menu, which is still under construction (they solicit you comments on it) contains several salads, including a Salmon Caesar, Thai Chicken, Asian Seared Tuna and Ranch Steak salad. In addition to the two sandwiches I mentioned, they also have a Peking Chicken, Chicken Tex Mex and Bahn Mi sandwiches. I would love to list the ingredients of each, but you can find them on their webpage.

The “Fork & Knife” portion of the menu includes their chicken and the Steak du Jour, along with Braised Beef, Crispy Salmon and Seared Ahi Tuna. The list of sides includes the White Cheddar Mac, Cole Slaw and Green Beans Buttered I enjoyed, along with Mashed Potato, Potato Salad, and rice. They also have French Onion soup and, to finish your meal, other desserts along with the two cakes I enjoyed so much. And, ask about the specials of the day.

Kids meals? Yes. Macaroni & Cheese, Grilled Cheese with a side, Chicken with a side and Butter Noodles. And, they have milk, along with wine, coffee, tea, etc.

JackZ is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 with the last seating at 8 p.m.

For more information call (530) 626-8045 or visit their webpage at www.zacharyjacques.com, where you will find their menu fully described.
About half of their business is to-go, as people on their way home stop to pick up food for dinner or just some side dishes to enjoy with what they plan on having, White Cheddar Mac is a very popular to-go side.

Oh, check out the metal sculpture they have. Chickens and other animals you will love.