Steppin’ Out – El Forastero Mexican Food, Placerville

Recently there has recently been a lot of “back and forth” on the Internet’s social media pages regarding the new restaurant in the old Schlotzsky’s location behind the Arco station on Forni Road.

El Forastero (someone who is or comes from another place “The Foreigner”) is its name and it is part of a small chain of nine restaurants, mostly in the Sacramento area, but as far south as Manteca. The first one was opened in 2007 by three brothers from Mexico, Jose, Javier and Eduardo Davila. Obviously they have been very successful.

Apparently when this one first opened they were understaffed and people commented about the service and waiting time. Now they seem to be fully staffed and both those problems seem to be in the past.

Their drive-thru is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, while their restaurant, with tables and booths, is open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily. There are a lot of opportunities for you to give them a try.

Last Friday, just before noon, I decided to drop in and try something from their very large menu. The place was clean and about one-third full at the time, but it would soon become busier, mostly with to-go orders.

I looked at the menu for several minutes (they were very patient and nice) and finally decided to try a super burrito, with adobada as my meat choice. Adobada, also spelled adovada, is marinated pork and is not only one of my favorites, but not widely available, which led to my choice.

While waiting for my food, I visited the chips and salsa bar, where I picked up some chips and samples of several salsas, all of which were very good. It is free and included with any food purchase.

In just a few minutes I picked up my burrito, which was very large and stuffed full of beans, rice, meat, guacamole and sour cream. It was just on the edge of being too big for one person, but I took my time and finished it. It was very good and high on my list.

The flour tortilla was fresh, everything was warm and the meat had great flavor. The beans were refried, and, although very good, I think I would ask for whole beans next time. I think they go better in a burrito. They didn’t ask when I ordered it, but I know they have other beans.
This is why I have come to prefer the kind of “fast” Mexican restaurants that make your meal in front of you. It allows you to substitute, leave our or add different items.

As I mentioned, the menu is very large and includes: 19 Combo Plates, seven Breakfast Burritos and four Breakfast Plates (breakfast is served all day and includes free coffee), along with 18 different Burritos, seven different Tacos, Crispy tacos, Mini-Tacos, and Rolled Tacos.

The menu continues with Enchiladas, Tostadas, Tortas, Nachos, Quesadillas, Chimichangas, Mexi-Bowls, Shrimp dishes and more.

For us folks who can’t make up our minds easily, they have a number of Daily Specials, which include the most popular dishes.

Menudo and Pozole are also available, but only on Saturday and Sunday.

They have a great list of meat choices including: Carne Asada, Steak, Carnitas, Chile Verde, Fish, Machaca, Shredded Beef, Chicken, Chile Colorado, Adobada, Ground Beef, Lengua and Shrimp.

El Forastero is located behind the Arco Station, next to Office Max and near In-N-Out Burgers, and can be reached at (530) 621-1814.

Again, the dining room is open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily and the drive-thru 24 hours a day.

Discount coupons are available on their webpage at


In-N-Out Burgers

Speaking of In-N-Out Burgers, I stopped by ours one Saturday morning about quarter to 11 a.m. (10:45 to you in the digital age). There were about a dozen people there and a few minutes after I received my food, a bus loaded with about 30 young people showed up in the parking lot.
I immediately thought, “Oh boy, this will be a problem,” but no. Like a “well oiled machine” the employees automatically switched jobs and completed each of the new orders in about the same amount of time it took to do mine. Then the employees went back to doing what they had been doing before the rush.

I commented to the manager that I was impressed and sent a note to their corporate offices. That is a well trained crew.

Steppin’ Out – Robert Rosson, Executive Chef at Red Hawk Casino – Part 2

Following my tour of the Waterfall Buffet, we stepped across the hallway to Koto and Henry’s Steakhouse, two more of Red Hawk Casino’s award winning restaurants.

Koto is not, as I imagined from the name, a Japanese restaurant. It is pure American style food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In charge of this restaurant, Chef Rosson told me, is Restaurant Chef Jesse Shadle.

The menu is long and delicious looking. Literally something for everyone.

Koto, I found out, shares a kitchen with their premier restaurant next door to it, Henry’s Steakhouse.

This multi-award winning restaurant is dining at its finest and where you can get the dry aged, hand cut USDA Prime or even Wagyu steaks, along with exclusively selected seafood and fresh fish, succulent Colorado lamb and Free-Range poultry and game. To accompany these fantastic meals, they also feature hand picked wines from El Dorado, Napa and Sonoma counties, as well as wines from around the world.
Henry’s was not open the day I was there, but was being prepped for the club member dinner that evening. Thus, I could walk with Chef Rosson throughout the kitchen where Restaurant Chef Jeremiah Malony makes sure everything is perfect.

I noticed some pieces of oak lying on top of a grill and asked if they planned on smoking some of their meat. Chef Rosson immediately replied, “No, this is for cooking. We cook all of the steaks over real oak.” Now, that is going a step further.

Our next stop was their highly awarded authentic Chinese restaurant, Pearl Asian Cuisine. We would later come back here to have some lunch, but now we were looking at the kitchen.

“Chef John Yuan is the chef in charge here,” Chef Rosson told me. “And,” he continued, “all of our cooks are Asian. Some even own or owned restaurants in places like Hong Kong and work here just for the love of cooking.”

“That might explain,” it later came to me, “why the Asian unemployment rate is the lowest of all, down around 2.7%”

Since it was around lunch time, the kitchen was a very busy place and smelled wonderful. They pride themselves in getting the dishes prepared rapidly and correctly.

Our next two stops were smaller restaurants, The Burger Spot and Hawks Coffee, which are very near to each other.

The Burger Spot is a “Grab N’ Go” restaurant serving burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, fries with and without toppings, chicken tenders, small pizzas, shakes, floats, cones and more. Sous Chef Margaret Anderson is the one who makes sure everything is done right.

Hawks Coffee is exactly that, a small restaurant serving speciality drinks such as coffee, coffee drinks, coolers and lots of juices and other drinks. In addition, they have breakfast burritos, small bites, such as sandwiches, along with various pastries like cinnamon rolls, cakes, cookies and other treats. Like The Burger Spot, it is more of a “Grab N’ Go” restaurant.

The final restaurant, which we did not visit, is the High Limit Lounge. It prides itself on having “top shelf” shelf liqueurs and premium cigars. The food service is limited, but includes sushi, lamb, burgers and more.

Having watched food being carefully prepared in their numerous kitchens, it was now my turn to try something. Chef Rosson left the choice up to me, so I decided to head back to Pearl Asian Cuisine.

Chef Rosson ordered some things I had rarely, or never tried before. We enjoyed Shanghai Pot Stickers, Mushroom Pork Sui Mai and a delicious bowl of Wor Wonton Soup, which was full of goodness (“wor” means everything in Chinese).

While we ate, it was my chance to sit and ask questions. My first one was about the unique badge Chef Rosson had on his chef’s jacket.

“The Navy has a process of continuous schooling for cooks and chefs, so I designed something along that line. I prepared three books that give them a “mini” culinary education. When they have successfully completed the work, they are given the badge, which means they are a Red Hawk Certified Culinarian. In this business you can’t stop learning.”

The second question was one that people often ask me. “If the State of California doesn’t regulate you, who does,” I asked.

“We are subject to the FDA Food Codes and checked by Indian Health Services,” Chef Rosson replied. “Believe me, we are well regulated and, as you have seen, take things seriously.”

In addition to my previous comments on the cleanliness of the kitchens and food preparation areas, two other things stuck out: Smiles and friendliness from the staff.

Chef Rosson was often greeted as we roamed through the facility, and he seemed to know the greeter’s name in return. Several times I was introduced to people and they were all friendly and seemed to be really enjoying their jobs.
Through with my tour, I thanked Executive Chef Rosson and turned in my badge in exchange for my driver’s license.
It is always nice to get the opportunity to see the workings of a restaurant, or, in this case, several at once. As you can probably tell, I was impressed.
I have intentionally not listed the menus or hours for the restaurants because of space limitations. All that information and much, much more is available on the Red Hawk Casino’s webpage at

Steppin’ Out – Robert Rosson, Executive Chef at Red Hawk Casino – Part 1

If you watch any of the myriad of competition cooking shows on televison, it appears that everyone wants to be an executive chef at a restaurant. After all, big bucks and prestige is what they are after and they seem to gloss over the fact that being in charge is a lot of work.

Robert Rosson, the Executive Chef at Red Hawk Casino knows what it is like and he is in charge of not one or two restaurants, but seven, almost all of which are multiple award winners.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour the kitchens and restaurants at Red Hawk with Chef Rosson and it was an amazing experience.

I met him at the security desk, where they asked me lots of questions and took my picture before handing me clip-on pass in exchange for my driver’s license.

He was regal and dressed in his chef’s jacket, complete with his name and title embroidered on it. He also had an interesting pin, about which I will get into later.

He has been at Red Hawk for five years and previously about the same amount of time at Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino near Fresno. Prior to that, 12 years in the U.S. Navy, cooking on aircraft carriers. Seems to me he has more than enough experience to prepare food for large numbers of people at one time.

Our first stop on my tour was a restaurant you probably don’t know about, the Employees Dining Room.

The 1400 or so employees get one pass through the “hot line” per shift, during their “lunch” break. The day I was there it was Mexican style food with lots of choices, including vegetarian options, etc. But, that’s not all. During their two breaks a day they can enjoy a hot dog, fresh fruit, coffee drinks and a lot more. Yes, new employees do tend to gain weight.

Back into the corridor, we proceeded a distance and then stopped at a door where Chef Rosson asked me if I knew that had their own butcher shop, adding, “Not many restaurants have them, but we do.

“This is where we cut and grind our meat and, over here in the corner, is the locker where we dry age prime beef for Henry’s Steakhouse, before cutting it into steaks,” he said as we entered the room. I was impressed.

Back in the hallway, I followed him around a couple of corners and asked him if he ever go lost in the long halls with many turns.
“I worked on our biggest aircraft carriers,” he reminded me with a smile, “this is nothing.”

In a few seconds he stopped and opened the doors to a room full of lettuce and other vegetables. “This is where they prepare all the salads and cold dishes for the restaurants, along with carving and slicing fresh vegetables,” he said. “The French call the room and the person who prepares them, the Garde Manger. Normally they would also do ice carvings, but I do those myself in the freezer.

A short distance later he opened the door to their bakery. “All our fancy breads and pastries are made here. The racks you see filled with pastries are for a “by invitation” dinner we are having for our club members tonight. We have wonderful Executive Pastry Chef named Anna Dominguez who makes sure everything is beautiful and delicious.

“This is our biggest kitchen,” he said as we continued our adventure and he opened the door into the Waterfall Buffet kitchen. “Watch your step, the floor could be wet or greasy.”

I took heed of the warning, but every place we had visited and would visit was spotless and it was a busy. I had to ask, “How do you do it?”
“We have a crew of Stewards who wash the dishes and keep the place clean,” he said, “and every night we have a Night Cleaning Crew that comes in and cleans everything. It has to be clean and it is.”

In charge of the buffet kitchen is Executive Sous Chef Matt Luther, a name I said I was familiar with. “He used to have The Purple Place,” said Chef Rosson, and now is in charge of 35 cooks and six chefs.

“These are our new, computerized ovens,” he continued, as we stopped in front of tall cabinets. All those pre-seasoned ribs on that rack next to it will go in there, we will program it and they will come out perfect. It will bake, steam or whatever we want it to do. For the ribs it’s bake and steam at the same time so they come out moist and delicious. It will even poach and egg in the shell.

As we walked out of the kitchen into the buffet area, Chef Rosson mentioned that they have as many as 210 different items, on a menu that changes seasonally if not more often.

While in the buffet area he stopped to show me that he has been training the staff how to make some of the dishes and presentations more visually attractive with fruit carvings and other designs.

“People eat with their eyes,” he said to me, a term I have heard over and over before. “Food that looks good, tastes good.

“We feed about 2500 people here a day, more on weekends when we add to our dinner menu and have our famous Sunday Brunch.