Restaurant Reviews

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.


Steppin’ Out – Let’s Poke, Placerville

I had never experienced Hawaiian Sushi and, if you recall, an earlier attempt with a friend to have lunch at Let’s Poke’, which is located at 3182 Center Street in Placerville, failed because the employees couldn’t get to the restaurant due to heavy snow. Unfortunately, David, who owns the restaurant with his family, had to delay opening and we were way too hungry to wait. Well, the second try worked. It was open and we had lunch.

Let’s Poke’ Hawaiian Sushi Bar is a family-owned and operated restaurant offering an incredible “fast-casual” dining experience by preparing tasty, super healthy food that captures the wonderful flavors and freshness of the islands.

Poke’ (pronounced Poh keh) translates from Hawaiian as “to cut or slice into small pieces.” It is a delicious, healthy raw sashimi based food from Hawaii.

Traditionally, Poke is ahi or salmon tossed with shoyu (soy sauce), sesame oil, onions and sesame seeds creating a savory, unique food for adventurous eaters. At Let’s Poke’ you get more: cubed fish, shrimp or tofu marinated in delicious Japanese-inspired condiments and served with various sauces and other ingredients.

As I mentioned, I was new at this, so I let my friend and neighbor, Mike Long, go first. He is a great fan of Poke’ and knew what to do.

Your food is prepared in front of you as you walk along the counter. It is kind of like having a burrito made at Fresh Mex Express or Chipotle.
You start with your base, which they put in a separate bowl. Choices are: white rice, brown rice, spicy kale salad, Spring mix, wonton chips or half and half.

Mike had told me he is not wild about rice, so normally he takes Spring mix. I am a bit more adventurous and like a bit of texture, so I picked the spicy kale.

Step two is to select your Poke’. Choices are Ahi Tuna, Salmon, Yellow Tail Tuna (hamachi), shrimp or tofu. The fish is raw, the shrimp is cooked and the tofu is vegan.

Your choice of Poke’ is dressed with red onions, Wasabi and pickled ginger, if you wish, and the seasoning of your choice from this list: sea salt, chile flakes, Furikake seasoning, garlic or sesame seeds.

I wanted a sampler and had a scoop each of the tuna, salmon and yellow tail, along with some wasabi and pickled ginger.

Mike is a fan of hamachi, so he had three scoops of that, but I am not sure what seasonings he chose or what he added beyond that since I was overwhelmed with the choices that followed.

The next step is to pick your sauce. Your choices are: Ono (soy, ginger and garlic) spicy aioli (Sriracha, mayo and lemon juice), Ponzu (citrus and soy), creamy miso (soy bean paste and mayo) and their House Hawaiian BBQ (creamy and tangy with hints of BBQ).

The final step is the addition of toppings, and there is quite a list from which to pick: Surimi (imitation) crab, edamame, peanuts, cucumber, Wakame seaweed salad, jalapeños, mango, pineapple, radish, three types of Masago (fish eggs) in traditional, jalapeño and habanero flavors, green onions, dried onions, coconut and cream cheese bites.

As they are added, the ingredients are mixed and then finally placed in the bowl with the base ingredient.

We found seats at a table in their nicely decorated dining room, poured ourselves glasses of the free fruit infused water and started on our meal. I really liked it. The fish and other ingredients were fresh and I had never tasted some of the delicious Hawaiian flavors. Although I didn’t expect it to be, it was quite filling.

I probably added way too many flavors with the sauces and such and next time would be more selective and, as a fan of raw fish, have the fish added last so I could taste it unadorned.

Mike, who was really enjoying his Poke’ bowl, had also ordered us a sample of their Kalua Pork, which you can also get in a bowl if you want something different from the seafood.

Kalua Pork is generally cooked in a pit in the ground, but theirs is cooked for 14 hours in a brown sugar pineapple marinade and then served over rice.

Our sample was bare, but came with a couple of sauces to dip it in. I liked the Hawaiian BBQ sauce, which is very close to another sauce I like called Alabama White Barbecue Sauce.

In addition to the Poke’s bowls and the Kalua Pork bowl, you can also get their salads with toppings. To go with your food there are soft drinks, lemonade and fruit infused waters.

Let’s Poke’ Hawaiian Sushi is located at 3182 Center Street, where Z-Pies was located, and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. They are closed Monday and Tuesday. For more information you can call them at 916-254-3826.

Note: After I finished this, Let’s Poke’ made changes and added to their menu. Check their Facebook page for changes and upcoming additions.

Steppin’ Out – Loving Food and More

Fruits and vegetables arranged in word ‘food’

Well, my neighbor Mike Long loves Poke (Hawaiian Sushi) and thought we should give Let’s Poke, the restaurant in the old Z-Pie location in downtown Placerville, a try. A week ago today was a good day for both of us. It was also a day when the weather did not cooperate at all.

Let’s Poke opens at 11:30, so we planned to beat the crowd by showing up about that time. When we arrived, we noticed that there was still a closed sign in the window. When we peeked in, owner David met us at the door and told us that most of the employees lived in the Pollock Pines area and couldn’t make it to work since the highway was pure snow from Placerville east. He had to delay the opening an hour.

We had starved ourselves, so we decided to try the poke the next week and headed for California Kitchen, around the corner.

If you recall, about a year ago I stopped there for breakfast and described their menu of “Old California” breakfast dishes featuring great meals like Huevos Rancheros and Chorizo and Eggs. This time we were there for lunch and although I thought about the Old California menu, I figured I would try something different.

We grabbed two seats at the bar, Mike’s choice, and looked over the menu. Mike says he orders only one thing there, the steak sandwich. “They recently raised the price on it,” he said, “but it is still a great deal. It’s a good steak, and if it was served on a plate for dinner, it would cost a lot more.”

After bumbling through their menu several times, wondering if I should try and “Old California” breakfast for lunch, I finally decided to try their Reuben sandwich, made with lean corned beef (cooked and sliced in their kitchen) and served on toasted marbled rye.

As you know, I love corned beef and pastrami, but really like a bit of fat on them. However, the trend is now to go lean – not as much flavor, but much better for you.

With his sandwich, Mike had chosen a salad. I decided to try their soup of the day, lentil soup, one of my favorites and very good for you.
As an afterthought, Mike also added my nemesis, an order of French fries to split. Remember, give me three fries, I will eat them…give me five pounds of fries, I will eat them.

My sandwich had the right amount of sauerkraut and dressing and was very good.

Mike enjoyed his steak sandwich and said it was excellent, although I thought it looked a bit overcooked from medium-rare.

Neither of us finished our sandwich and took half of it home. I didn’t even eat that many fries. I guess I am just eating less (and enjoying it more).

California Kitchen is located at 251 Main Street in Placerville and is open from 7until 3 daily. For more information, call (530) 622-7500.


Fish and Chips

Being that it is Spring and Easter is just around the corner, as they do this time of year, Wienerschnitzel has added fish and chips to their menu, especially for those who observe Lent.

I tried them and they were very good for a fast food restaurant. The fish comes in long pieces that are easy to dip in their tartar sauce, which is another one of my downfalls. I don’t know if they make the tartar sauce at each store, but it is really, really good, and, I guarantee, not low calorie.

What immediately struck me was not the food, but the hinged container that the fish and chips came it. It looked like it was made from plastic, but it wasn’t. It turns out it was actually made from a compostable material known as bagasse, which I found out is the fiber left over from the processing of sugar cane.

I got in contact with the company that made them, Genpak, and told them how pleased I was to not be getting a Styrofoam package that would end up in some dump until our sun swells up and engulfs the earth (don’t worry, that is estimated to be billions of years from now).

Hats off to Wienerschnitzel for caring enough to select such a package.

By the way, they are making a lot of products out of this kind of organic waste, including wine corks that our own Nello Olivo Winery is using.


Nacho Fries

Have you tried the Nacho Fries at Taco Bell? I was skeptical, so, one day I stopped by and tried them. They were actually pretty good, especially when they only cost a dollar. The cheese sauce that comes with them actually has the taste of Cheddar cheese.


Basketball and Pizza

Little Caesar’s Pizza announced that they would give away free pizza combos if a 16th seed team beat the number one seed in the “March Madness” basketball tournament. Guess what. 16th seed University of Maryland – Baltimore County, a very small college, beat the top team, the University of Virginia.

I believe it is Monday, April 2, from 11:30 until 1:00 that they are doing it. There are some rules, so check before you go.