Tuli's Salumi Pizza

2031 S St, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 451-8854

On a recent cold and wet Sacramento night, exhausted from dealing with the holiday crowds, a friend and I braved the elements and made our way to the Tuli Bistro. Upon entering, we were greeted by warm wafts of pizza from the wood-fire oven tucked behind the counter and a cheery staff member. We were given a choice of dining at one of the bistro tables or on the enclosed veranda. The restaurant itself is long and narrow and care was taken to accent the small space with tasteful decorations. Although the outdoor seating was equipped with heat lamps, we opted to dine in the cozy dining area.

Our waitress Jennifer (?) came by and brought us the night's menu and wine list. She explained that as a new establishment they were still fiddling with the menu and experimenting as to which dishes to keep. The wine list had a decent selection, with a potpourri of choices. Unfortunately, they were out of both of our first two selections but Jennifer suggested an alternative that she thought we might enjoy and offered to bring us a taste. With our beverage orders placed, we turned our attention to the night's menu. The menu was short but sweet, reflecting a smattering of salads, pizzas and small entrees. As my dinner companion had never experienced beets before, I voted that we go for the beet salad. The salad was perfect--fresh with a hint of subtle sweetness. And the beet virgin became an immediate beet convert. For our main courses, my fellow Yelper went with a piping hot personal sized pizza called the Humboldt and I elected to try the ahi puttanesca. The ahi was a bit on the salty side and I felt that the kalamata olives lended an odd aftertaste to the sauce; somehow the two just didn't jive together well. Overall, the dish was satisfactory but nothing to write home about. My friend's pizza on the other hand was quite tasty. The Humboldt's thin crust was crisp without being overdry and the toppings (herb pesto, mozzarella, oven-dried tomatoes, and feta) intermingled harmoniously. Although I'm lactose intolerant, the pizza looked so damn good that I threw caution to the wind and danced with the devil I call dairy.

Throughout our meal, Jennifer routinely stopped by to check in on us as did the other waitress working the floor. We were well cared for from start to finish- plates were cleared smoothly, water glasses were kept filled and there was never a feeling of being rushed. The staff members seemed to relish working there and were eager to assist. My dining companion and I were having such a great time chatting that we decided to stay a bit longer and indulge in splitting a dessert. I'm not sure if Tuli makes their desserts in house but the lemon creme brulee that night was divine. As someone who's prepared many a brulee in her lifetime (all those years waiting tables), I know how easy it is to overtorch. Our brulee was crispy perfection.

As a resident of Midtown, it's great to see more and more independently owned neighborhood restaurants open up. Adam Pechal's done a great job converting the small quarters into a warm, inviting eating establishment. I've heard they do a bustling lunchtime business but I think Tuli is better enjoyed on a quiet, weeknight. You get attentive service and can indulge in a relaxing meal. The entree prices are a bit high but as they are using fresh, local ingredients and are a small business, I can see how they need to charge a little more to cover their overhead. Hopefully in time, they'll expand their dinner menu as I'd like add Tuli into my regular rotation of Midtown eateries. I do have to admit though that I raised an eyebrow when a well-meaning coworker advised me that the term "tuli" refers to a ritual circumsion in the Phillipines. Ouch!

547 L St, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 441-7963

"Where the $%^*#@ is this place?" I think were the words that I muttered under my breathe last Thursday when my friend Lacy and I began our trek from the Downtown Plaza parking garage in search of the Pre-Flite. Ever since a fellow friend mentioned it in passing once, I've had a desire to visit this mysterious subterranean watering hole that used to be the spot for airport travelers waiting to catch the shuttle. (I know, I'm a bit odd) Luckily, for us we ran into some friends of Lacy's on the street that were just leaving the lounge. I think they took pity on us and that's why they offered to show us where this place was squirreled away.

Walking into the Pre-Flite is like taking a step back in history. Ever see that show "Quantum Leap?" Yep, a step back like that---far back in history. The bar is small but divided into two levels, the walls are adorned with fun, kitschy memorabilia and the lounge has that dim lighting that only those who have visited Vegas can relate to... lighting that makes it difficult to ascertain whether it's 8am or 8pm while knocking back a few. Additionally, the bartender immediately won my heart over when I requested my standard -Jack on the Rocks. Instead of giving me a quizzical "But you're a girl!" look that my order usually elicits, the barkeep gave me a friendly smile and remarked, "You're my type of girl." Between him, the feisty Jack Russell (Lou) that was bounding about and the cocktail waitress that was an absolute doll, I felt immediately at home.

Pre-Flite will never be the hot spot in the grid nor will it ever be the latest meatmarket locationand for that I'm thankful for. The obscure little bar in the midst of the concrete jungle is the perfect spot to duck into for some tasty grog and good conversation when you just "need to get away."


1131 K St, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 443-3772

I may be the lone voice of dissent on this restaurant, but here it goes...After all the hype, all I can say about Ella is that it failed to deliver & I walked away quite disappointed with the experience. Upon setting foot in the door, I wasn't sure if I had walked into Selland's new venture or the discarded set of an Alice in Wonderland filming. It appeared that the proprietor decided to go with an eclectic hodge podge design of white wrap-around billowing curtains that went from floor to ceiling lending an institutional look to the establishment, along with a multitude of shutters covering the ceiling...yes, the ceiling. Appearances aside, the initial impression of the service left a lot to be desired. There were two ladies working the front desk & neither bothered to look up & offer a greeting to our party of three. It wasn't until one of my dining companions finally took a step forward & advised that we had a reservation that we were acknowledged. And by acknowledged, it was a brisk , "Follow me," no "Hello, "Welcome," or "Thanks for waiting." Now granted the place was busy for a Wednesday night, I still believe when one takes the time out beforehand to make a reservation; it should merit a decent table. Instead, we were unceremoniously plopped down at a high-traffic area table that was also just a few mere feet away from the hostess stand & bar. In addition, the restaurant has a cavernous, echoic feel. My friend was sitting just on the other side of the table & I couldn't hear a single word she said during the evening without one or the other of us shouting. A lot of the conversation during the night amongst the three of us went like, "What?" "Did you say something?" "Were you talking to me?" It also probably didn't help matters, that there was a very intoxicated woman in the bar that kept yelling & clomping down her stiletto like a braying mule.

Our server, Darren, was the one of the few bright spots of the night. He was attentive, friendly & offered recommendations. We started off requesting the citrus poached prawns; however, the expeditor brought out the grilled prawns with creole barbeque sauce instead. When we pointed out the error, he smoothly advised us to keep the wrong order on the house & he would have the correct dish brought out shortly...he followed through & the citrus prawns were quite tasty. They were served cold with a sauce that appeared to have a "bite" at the finish. The Creole BBQ prawns, on the other hand, were quite lackluster and made me glad that we weren't shelling out the $13 for it. Next, we moved on to the baked oysters. Word of advice? Don't. I think we're still kicking ourselves that we didn't opt for the raw oysters in the half shell. The baked oyster starter reminded me of one of those heavy cheese covered dishes at TGI Friday's. There was so much cheese slathered on there that one had no idea what kind of mystery seafood he/she was ingesting. The lackluster oysters were followed by the heirloom tomato & burrata cheese I have no problem throwing down for a good meal but $9.50 for half a tomato? Are you kidding me? That tomato better do magic tricks.

At this point in the meal, all three of us were a bit glum that we had chosen Ella's for our night out. So far it had amounted to mediocre food at NYC prices. Maybe our fairy godmothers felt sorry for us because at this point, Darren brought out a scrumptious plate of baby beets. This was my favorite dish of the night. I was seriously thinking of ditching my dinner order and just ordering another round of the delectable beets. But as they say hindsight is 20/20. My friends both went for the NY strip & were quite content with their choices. I chose the road less traveled...but unlike Browning, I came to regret my decision. Prior to placing our entree orders I vacillated between the duck & the rack of lamb. Both sounded divine. The server assured me both dishes were wonderful, he even noted that normally he did not enjoy duck but he liked Ella's version of the quacker. So I went with the fowl. Bad choice... the most common mistake with duck is that it's overcooked and dry. Well, Ella's version was quite moist...but the dish lacked any flavor whatsoever. Our conscientious server came by & inquired about our dinners. When he got a sad shrug from me he immediately offered to replace the dish with another entree. I declined as I had eaten most of the swiss chard and figs by then and my dining companions were almost done. Moments later the mgr/sommelier came by making the same gracious offer. When I declined again, he politely advised that dessert would be on the house. Although not needed, it was a thoughtful gesture on his part. At our waiter's urging we split a chocolate & macadamia nut cake. Overall, our server did a great job of trying to iron out the wrinkles of the evening, but even his super service could not convince me that Ella's fare justifies its upscale pricing.

8/2012- Update

An update. we went to Ella's Saturday night for dinner with some friends. Setting my opinions from 10/07 aside, I really wanted to like it this go round. I love Selland's and The Kitchen, plus Ella had recently hired a new head chef so I was going in with an open mind. To avoid being seated in a high traffic area under an air vent like last time, I made reservations and requested a nice table near a window or a booth. When we arrived the hostess sat us at a nice booth in the rear of the restaurant, where it was quiet. For our starter, Mr.S. and I split the steak tartare which was delicious-it was finely minced, had a nice subtle hint of french mustard and was paired with a fresh egg and a few torn garlic popovers. Both of us liked it. For our main courses, Mr.S went with the pan seared tuna and caponata (a cooked vegetable salad made of roasted eggplants, squash, tomato and raisin caper puree). He commented that the tuna was seared perfectly (rare) but was quite a small portion for nearly $30. I had opted for  the salmon which came served over a helping of succotash. The salmon was tender but the succotash was slightly mushy. Overall, we both liked our meals although they weren't anything exceptional. The disappointment for the evening was mainly concerning the service. We had three different servers that night and it was like a page from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Our first waitress (a very tall redhead) seemed annoyed that we were even seated at her table and treated us like we were an awful hindrance to her evening. She appeared to be one step away from rolling her eyes every time we ordered anything. At one point, she stepped on Mr.S.'s foot extremely hard and didn't say anything. Not a pleasant dining experience. Luckily for us, her shift ended or something to that like because we were handed off to a friendly waiter (young, African-American gentleman with glasses), he was absolutely wonderful. Super personable and on top of everything. As we edged towards the end of our meal, he checked back with us a few times but we were mainly assisted by a petite brunette waitress who was friendly. She took care of our after dinner drink orders and our check.

Later that evening, Mr.S. and I had a conversation about the dinner at Ella's and decided we probably won't go back, although we'll still continue to dine at Selland's and The Kitchen. For a $220+ meal for four, it just wasn't up to standards, we would rather spend the money at Mulvaney's or Waterboy.

2675 24th St, Sacramento, CA 95818, (916) 454-2411

If you're unfamiliar with the Curtis Park area, you might zoom by Shoki's without realizing it. Much like most archetypal ramen-yas, it's housed in a small non-descript building on a sleepy street (just before Crepeville). From the outside it doesn't look like much, but inside it's a bustling nest of activity permeated with the heady aroma of homemade ramen broth. The interior is quite small with just a few tables placed around the perimeter of the kitchen. Be aware that the temp can spike up in there and there does seem to be an issue with a lot of flies buzzing about, so don't expect anything fancy. However, the owners have taken the time to add a few small personal touches, like a cute hand-painted ceiling. Overall, it exudes the feel of a kitschy mom and pop establishment. The menu is your standard white board on the wall and the proprietors do a nice job of explaining the half dozen or so dishes. Prices run from about $5-$8 and the ramen flavors range from shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt), tantan men (a spicy version) and a few other non-standard ramens like corn ramen. In addition, they have added a smattering of alternatives such as California rolls, Japanese curry and a salad. There's a few beers on the menu and it looks they're trying to expand with a few Japanese specialty drinks (which were on the menu but not available yet at my last visit). And of course, they have everyone's favorite marble beverage- Ramune. :)

I'll be honest, I really wanted to love Shoki. My inner hapa girl was doing cartwheels when I heard a ramen-ya was opening up in Sac. We're not talking about your high-salt, high-fat, chemically-flavored Top Ramen variety. I had visions of bowlfuls of fresh, steaming shio ramen overflowing with tasty bits of menma (bamboo shoots), tasty slices of pork and the ramen staple---a hard boiled egg. I've been back three times now and each time, I walk away full more or less but not satisfied. The last time, they were out of boiled eggs (isn't there a market just down the street?) , the time before they were out of menma and two out of three times my broth's been lukewarm. Although highly disappointing, I can live without my bamboo and egg but lukewarm broth? Ramen broth should be so hot that you get the ramen sweats while you eat it. Maybe I've just been spoiled by the ramen-yas of my childhood in Japan or recent visits to Santa Ramen in San Mateo.

What does make me return to Shoki is the gracious hospitality of the owners. It's family run and each and every worker there exudes such a friendliness that you yourself feel like family upon leaving. They really go out of their way to try and accommodate your requests and you are never made to feel rushed, even if there's a line of patrons at the door. I'm hoping over time, Shoki's will get their ramen tweaked to perfection but that they don't deviate from the terrific customer service. Ideally, I'd like to see blazing hot (temp wise) ramen and perhaps a counter eating space where solo eaters that want to get their ramen grub on can jostle for elbow space while slurping away in ramen bliss. Shoki, Gambatte ne!
16525 Bucks Lake Rd, Meadow Valley, CA 95956, (530) 283-2262

True you won't hear any dueling banjos ala "Deliverance," when you stroll up to the Buck's Lake Lodge but after eating there you'd wish you had. At least upon hearing the opening chords, you would have been warned to flee this disaster of a dining establishment.

Last year a friend invited me to go camping up at Buck's Lake with her. For those who are unfamiliar with the area, it's in the mountains up past Quincy. We usually park our gear at the Haskins campground and spend most of our time lounging at the lake or going for nature walks with the dog. My friend T has a tradition of liking to forgo the usual campfire fare and eat at the Lodge on one of the nights during our outing. Last year, we went up there and had a good time. Although the grub was nothing extraordinary it hit the spot and was a nice change of pace.

The B.L. Lodge is a no-frills joint specializing in over-priced prime rib, burgers and various standby seafood dishes like shrimp scampi. The decor is very reflective of Garrison Keillor's "Lake Wobegon" - wood paneling with a smattering of government issued looking chairs, Little House on the Prairie-ish curtains and a lot of dusty cabinetry. There's a separate bar area that serves up their infamous house drink appropriately named a "Tree-Smacker," a nefarious concoction of various liquors presented in a glass that has to be at least a foot high. After drinking one of those, you do wake up the next day feeling like your head has been smacked against a tree several times.

Anyhow, this year after arriving I found out that both the restaurant and the accompanying convenience market had been sold. After surveying the scene and grabbing dinner there, I determined...hmmm, how can I put this delicately...the new owners are the suck. The bare shelves in the market should have been a dead giveaway as to show how attentive they are to their business, but high on mountain air I failed to register it until later.

At the Lodge, we were seated immediately upon entering then we waited...and waited...and waited. Finally a server approached our table, "Great! We can get some water and even order perhaps!" was what went racing through my naive mind. In reality, the server opened a cabinet behind me to get some wine and ended up smacking the back of my chair several times in her attempt. Whack! Whack! Whack! Hmmm....after three unsuccessful attempts to get the cabinet door open because it kept banging into the back of my chair and stirring up a dust whirlwind Grapes of Wrath-style(ever heard of Pledge and a dustrag?), the server took a step back and actually glared at me. I glared back; finally she inquired whether I'd move so that she could get into the cabinet. It only took her 15 minutes and three door whacks to finally figure this out. After about twenty minutes from the time we were seated had passed we were able to finally place an order. I wish we hadn't. The salad was just large chunks of lettuce with dressing, nothing much else. I had opted for the chicken soup and in my opinion, they would have been better off serving some Campbell's from the can than this swill. T. said her prime rib was okay but in my opinion it had an odd hue to it. My scampi consisted of 4-5 prawns the size of a baby's fist drenched in butter, it was completely devoid of any flavor. The side of "rice pilaf" was just plain white rice. Eager to finish this horrendous meal and escape back to our campground where we could knock back some wine to forget this experience, we tried valiantly to flag down a server. After about a good ten minutes, someone was able to locate her and get our check. For a second or two, I thought it was after her bedtime and she had gone home. The servers working that night all looked like high school students. ABC would have had a field day at this dive, as these youngsters were serving booze to all the customers...a big no-no in the state of California.

That night some bears perused our campground in an effort to find some grub. Had I been a bear I would have been searching the campgrounds too because if the Buck's Lake Lodge was my only other viable food option, I would opt to starve.
2000 Capitol Ave, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 498-9891

Since my Thursday night dining excursion, I've been pondering whether the Waterboy is slipping a bit... it's always been one of my all time favorite Sacramento restaurants but on my last visit, it failed to be the specimen of culinary pleasure that I've come to expect over the years.

I ended up getting there a bit earlier then my dining companions and although I was seated promptly, it was a good ten minutes before I was asked if I would like to order a drink. Not a good way to start off the meal, especially when there were only two or three tables occupied and being busy wasn't an excuse.

We had one friend flake, so I got to dine with two handsome men by myself. Lucky me! ;-) My dining companions and I ended up starting off dinner with the Running Tigers Syrah and two appetizers- the steak tartare and the sauteed sweetbreads. The syrah was on the full-bodied side and if I wasn't mistaken, flaunting a hint of spiciness. The Niman Ranch steak tartar came with shoestring like herb fries, although tasty, proved to be quite difficult to scoop the tartare with. We ended up dipping the fries in the sapid aioli (the condiment being an unanimous table favorite) and using our dinner bread for the tartare in true peasant fashion. The sauteed veal sweetbreads were scrumptious; the rich marsala danced on my tongue in a happy jig...the bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes intertwined themselves in a delicate union of sweet, tangy and smooth flavor simultaneously enhancing the succulent veal treat. Had I not been accompanied by two gentlemen, I would most definitely been sopping up the remnants of the sauce with my bread, in an unladylike manner.

For our second course, we opted to pair our entrees with a bottle of the Whitehall Lane cabernet. Out of the two wines that we ordered, I much preferred this one. The Whitehall Lane was fruit-like and exhibited an extremely smooth finish. (Its heady vapors coupled with its intense ruby hue was mesmerizing, just the type of wine that would be a perfect recommendation for a luxurious, romantic dinner date.) My dining companions chose to order the night's fish special and the rack of lamb. I took the road less traveled and decided upon the Seared Dayboat Scallops. Though designed more for aesthetics then to satiate one's hunger, these scallops were divine. The plump seafood medallions were not overcooked in the least. Coupled with a tomato-saffron risotto that was could stand on its own merits, the dish was "all that and a bag of chips." The garnish of miniature pickled beet wedges, I could have done without.

We concluded with a chocolat tart and a glass each of the Lagavulin 16 year scotch. The scotch tasted a bit "off" to my palate and the dessert, which I only indulged in a bite of, came across as lackluster. To be honest, I can safely say that I've had better tarts from Bel-Air.

Throughout our dinner, we received exemplary service from the secondary service staff (the busboy and the server's assistant). On the other hand, our server was courteous but at times, I felt as though she came across as impatient and distracted. Additionally, she kept fiddling with the blinds behind our table throughout the evening which I found a bit distracting.

Overall, the experience was enjoyable...just not as exemplary as I recall it being. Perhaps it was an off night for the establishment, but with Sacramento slowly becoming populated with high end, fine dining options they need to be more consistent or else they may start losing their loyal customer base.
1530 16th St, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 441-2601

Saturday night while hustling over to Nishiki to meet some friends, I noticed a convergence of folk across the street at the now defunct Fuel location. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a pale pink sign sporting the words "Mochii" (with two i's) and in smaller letters, "yogurt" on the corner of 16th and P. My inner hapa perked up at the thought of a Japanese dessert shop and I made a mental note to get the details later on as I was tardy as it was. After a filling dinner, the group of us meandered across the street to investigate. Turns out "Mochii," was having a soft opening. The owner was very welcoming and nice enough to fill us in on the pertinent details (the official grand opening would be in a week) and gave us small glasses of celebratory champagne along with samples of mochi with yogurt. For those who have never had it, mochi is basically a Japanese rice cake made from glutinous rice that's pulverized into a paste and then decoratively colored and shaped. Sometimes wagashi (Japanese confections that indulge all five of the senses - appearance/taste/texture/scent and sound) are filled with ingredients such as an azuki bean paste, fruit or a jelly. Trust me, it tastes a lot better than it sounds.

During our visit, we were offered two types of plain mochi, pink (strawberry) and orange. Both flavors were soft and fresh tasting with just the right amount of chewiness. Since I opted to skip the frozen yogurt (damn lactose intolerance), they were nice enough to give me a big cup of just mochi cubes! Yum! My friends tried both complimentary products and remarked that the frozen yogurt tasted like...well, yogurt...good but nothing remarkable. It also appears that the shop will be offering fresh fruit toppings (purchased from the local Fremont Park farmer's market ... yay, for using local producers!).

The interior was tastefully decorated in soft hues and there was seating both indoors and out. The place is on the small side and I can see crowding being an issue, but it seems like it would be a perfect place to duck into to grab a dessert to nibble on while taking an after dinner stroll through Midtown.

Hopefully, Mochii fares better than its previous predecessor. The location should get some of the foot traffic generated from the Fremont Building eateries, as well as the locals in the grid out wandering about in the balmy weather. It's main hurdle will be whether Sacramentans will be receptive to this new (to Sacramento anyhow) concept.

Seikou wo inorimasu, Mochii! (I wish you success, Mochii)
1815 10th St, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 442-0693

I've always been a dive bar girl. Give me a beer and a shot in some hole in the wall joint over some glitzed up LA wanna-be club any day...unless that dive bar is the Elixir. After grabbing some fresh air at the Concert in the Park, a few of us Yelpers and Yelpers-by-association made plans to meet up at this rat's nest, figuring it's proximity to Old I would give us the option to head there to check out a few bands if the mood struck.

First off, if a bar is going to partake in some sort of cheesy gimmick like "Friday's Ladies Night 2-for-1," then honor it for chrissakes. It appeared that if you ordered from the guy bartender (who was very pleasant), you got your 2-for-1 (it didn't matter if it was a well, call or top shelf); but if you ordered from the surly female bartender (if one hates their job that much, maybe they should find a new occupation?) you were advised that the 2-for-1 did not apply. WTF? Isn't that false advertising?

Second, when people drink alcohol, they pee. It's a fact. So, take some of your earnings and fix the damn bathroom so it's at least one step up from disgusting. I had sandals on and was pretty appalled to go in there. First time round, a random fellow patron was nice enough to let me use the men's room since there was a line. He had to hold the door closed for me as the lock didn't work. Also, for your chafing pleasure there was no TP, paper towels only. I guess they're just looking to create plumbing issues. The ladies room later on wasn't much better. In addition, to being decorated by giant holes in the wall (what did someone try to kick their way out of there?), there was a puddle of urine on the floor and no soap.

So if you're looking to get some attitude or a bout of staph from the nasty restrooms, this is your place. Otherwise, there's much better places in the grid to check out.

5331 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95820, (916) 451-8838

I took my hyper-critical Asian mom to Pho Xe Lua during her recent visit and was pretty pleased with the establishment. PXL touts itself as an "authentic asian cuisine" restaurant, but in my opinion their forte is their Vietnamese dishes. The restaurant is squirreled away next to a Budget Inn and not much to look at from the outside but is quite surprisingly expansive inside. Upon walking in, you'll think you've mistakenly wandered into some sort of enchanted Asian Wonderland. The foyer is done up with a river rock encrusted wall where a serene waterfall cascades, then to your left you'll encounter a large gilded ox with a little jockey perched on its back. Not sure what its significance is, but I found it to be charming and a bit humorous. Despite my determination to "act grownup," I couldn't quell the desire to reach out and pet the shiny ox. So I did and got both a dirty look and a sharp whack from moms. Ouch!

During our visit, I found the staff to be quite attentive and friendly. Many of the waitresses were greeting arriving customers by name and seemed to know their standing orders. Pretty impressive in my book, for a place that's only been open for about a month. One of the two waitresses we had was quite patient and spent about ten minutes discussing ingredients with my mom. Also, when asked about smoking (my mom lives in a state that has yet to go smoke-free), the waitress helpfully advised that there was a little shaded nook outside with an ashtray stand where my mom could indulge in her nasty cancersticks.

As for our lunch, I opted for the bun tom nuong (charbroiled shrimp over vermicelli noodles). It was prepared perfectly both in taste and in aesthetics. The serving was quite huge and despite being ravenous, I only ended up finishing about half of it. My mom opted for the pho tai (a beef noodle soup with slices of rare steak that you toss in) along with some goi cuon tom (shrimp summer rolls). I think her eyes were bigger than her stomach, because she barely put a dent in her soup despite happily slurping away for a half hour and she ended up taking the summer rolls home. The pho at PXL comes with the obligatory bean sprouts, cilantro, hot peppers and lemon. Also, the necessary condiments are placed on each table, so you don't have to flag anyone down to get some sriracha. I appreciated this small touch as I don't like anyone or anything to come between me and my sriracha.

After dabbling in the sampling of Vietnamese food for the last several months (thanks to a Yelper friend who turned me on to it), I can understand now why Anthony Bourdain, when asked which food he enjoyed the most out of all the countries he visited during his Cooks Tour, replied, "almost everything I ate in Vietnam." The ingredients are fresh, there's a nice balance of contrasting flavors, and a minimal use of oil ... making the dishes quite healthy. PXL does a great job of sticking to this and hopefully it won't be a flash in the pan, as I hope to continue to patronize the joint. Especially since it's open 7 days a week from 8am-10pm... perfect for a bowl of pho for breakfast on a hungover Sunday morning or a late summer dinner when the sun goes down. Also, the prices are reasonable ( $5-$7 for most dishes). But most importantly, it passed the mom test.

(Mulvaney's Pig Roast Event)

1215 19th St, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 441-6022

While trapped on a plane, I once read a funny quote by author, Frederic Raphael, in which he stated, "Great restaurants are, of course, nothing but mouth brothels. There is no point in going to them if one intends to keep one's belt buckled." And after eating at Mulvaney's, one would definitely have to loosen his or her belt in satisfaction of a truly great meal. As someone who has worked both the front and back of the house in the restaurant industry, I'm a strong believer that service in a dining establishment is as equally important as the food itself. Mulvaney's hits the bullseye on both counts. The service was superb and the food blew me away.

Mulvaney's Artisan Cheese Platter with Fig Jam

I got there a bit earlier than my dining companions and was surprised to be greeted immediately at the door by a warm smile and friendly welcome from the hostess. She checked me in and asked if I'd like to be seated or to wait in the bar. I opted for the bar. Yes, I know...typical Ally. The bartender was terrific and I wish I had inquired what his name was. He had such an upbeat attitude and genuine smile. He was helpful in my selection of a chardonnay (great rec-- the Hook and Ladder chardonnay) and spent some time answering my questions about the night's menu. He was so enthusiastic about the night's offerings that it made it hard for me to decide what I wanted because EVERYTHING sounded so good after chatting with him.

Front of the Restaurant

Our server, Taryn, was terrific. She was knowledgeable about the menu, efficient and quite personable. I loved the fact that she remembered small details (like my food allergy) and was able to make suggests to adapt the dishes so that I could partake in them. Never once did she make us feel rushed despite the fact that it was a full house. We began with a tasty amuse bouche of asparagus wrapped in proscuitto with a hint of balsamic vinegar...delicious! Such a simple dish, but it gave you a sneak peek at how Mulvaney's allows its seasonal produce to speak for itself.

We continued our food journey with the house smoked salmon appetizer and a soft New Zealand Pinot. The salmon was smooth in flavor and served with a thick, squishy soda bread and a creme fraiche. My dining companions opted for the halibut and the chicken with biscuits respectively and were kind enough to swap bites. The chicken was roasted perfectly and enveloped in a deliciously crackley skin and accompanied by asparagus and homemade biscuits. The halibut was a first-rate contender. Not overcooked in the least and joined by flavorful looking beans and a light salad. Each dish was presented exquisitely. Myself? I chose the ribeye with fig butter, sans the bleu cheese. I asked for medium-well and the grill cook was spot on. The meat was tender and savory and did a phenomenal job of appeasing my desire for a worthy piece of red meat. The quarter cut roasted potatoes were robust and balanced the tart greens with almonds.

Sea Scallops with Watermelon Salsa Fresca & Green Tea Soba Noodles

If that wasn't enough, we topped off our evening with two desserts...yesssss! Count them DOS desserts. One was a decadent chocolately piece of heaven that resembled a childhood treat--ding dongs. The latter, a bananas foster with vanilla ice cream. The bananas were swimming in a pool of ambrosial delight concocted from brown sugar and dark rum. Our bill was presented to us in a bound book and we were told to feel free to express ourselves and leave a written comment.

By the end of the meal, my arteries were screaming, "God save me!" whereas, my stomach was doing backflips in gratitude. Mulvaney's strives for perfection with it's gastronomical delights and comes through with flying colors. I'll definitely be returning...after I buy a bigger belt.

805 South B Street, San Mateo, CA 94403, (650) 344-5918

Yes Virginia, there is a Ramen Santa...

It's Sunday night and I'm still reveling in a post-Santa Ramen orgasmic bliss (I had it back on Saturday morning). For months, I've been on a pho and ramen kick. There isn't a ramen-ya worth a damn in Sac, so I was ecstatic when I got a chance to quench my ramen craving this weekend. A buddy and I had gone to the city to catch a show, afterwards we met up with a local friend of hers for drinks. We were working out the logistics of crashing at his place, when he burst out with a big smile and announced that he had a fantabulous place to take us the next day for lunch to quell our soon-to-be hangovers. I'm not much of a daytime eater, so I just raised an eyebrow...but then as though in slow motion I saw his lips form the words S-a-a-a-n-n-n-t-t-a-a R-a-a-m-m-e-n-n-n. Hell ya! I told my new BFF that I loved him and planned to marry him (I'm pretty easy to please like that). I'd been wanting to visit the S.R. for quite some time. So from there he proceeds to give us instructions... WTF? YES! Instructions... hmmm... instructions for going to a ramen-ya? Ummm-ok. We were told we needed to leave the house at 10:25 sharp, no ifs-ands-or-buts ; otherwise no ramen for us.

So at 10:25, we dutifully scoot out. As we weave manically caravan style through the Bay Area traffic; I'm advised that when we get there, I'm to toss the dogs off my lap, hop out of the car, and run into line? I'm silently thinking, "I hope he at least slows down to 25mph when I have to hop out. Yeah, at 25mph, I could do a tuck and roll and be ok." As we approach the target location, the car screechs to a halt and sure enough there's a frickin' line! I skooch out and join the waiting, hungry masses. As I wait in line, I see several other patrons zoom up to the S.R. and pull the same maneuver. I guess there was a method to the friend's madness afterall. The place doesn't open until 11:30, so we left one person in line and we went off to recon the neighborhood. Thank god, because the delicious wafts of ramen that were being emitted from S.R.'s kitchen were killing me. We find a nearby taqueria/bodega that's open and purchase a few sodas and a coffee and head back with our supplies.

As we wait in line, we sneak glimpses of the inner sanctuary through the plate glass window. S.R.'s menu is a large whiteboard on the wall. Most of the ramens run about $8-$9. This is a ramen-ya, so don't go with any expectations of bentos or sushi; although they do serve a few sides like karaage. They're known for their stewed pork ramen which can run out quite early. Several patrons left the line when the "Out of Stewed Pork," sign was taped on the window. At one point, a kind waitress came outside and took our order so that they could get started on it. We eventually made our way into the establishment and were promptly seated. The place is small, I think the max capacity sign stated 29 occupants. There's counter and table seating, but you don't get a choice where you want to sit...just be happy that you're inside.

At our table, we were offered small glasses of mugicha (a roasted barley tea) to tide us over. As we waited for our orders, I learn the Fight-Club like rules of Santa Ramen. Ramen Rule One: Once the food comes, you do not talk. You eat. Ramen Rule Two: Once the food comes, you do not talk. You eat. Ramen Rule three: Once you're done. You pay and get the heck out. Get the idea? Within 15 minutes, 3 bowls of steamin' ramen are set before us. I had ordered the pork broth ramen (comes with 2 slices of pork), with extra noodles and added menma (bamboo shoots), bean sprouts and a boiled egg. I shook a little shichimi togarashi on my bowl and was ready to commence with ramen slurping. After my first bite, I felt a wave of euphoria wash over me. After a few more bites, I got the ramen sweats. With the steam from the ramen giving me a ramen facial, I worked my way through about 3/4 of my bowl before I had to give up as there was no more give to the waistband of my jeans. However, there was no time to bask in the afterglow, we paid our bill and hurried outside past the throngs of customers awaiting the next wave of seating.

By the way, Santa Ramen does take plastic (although I don't know if they have a purchase minimum). And they do have a restroom for customers. You literally have to walk through the minuscule kitchen to get to it. I tripped over the three cooks in the process as there's no elbow room whatsoever back there and it's about 400 degrees in the kitchen. The kitchen guys were good-natured about it...maybe they're just used to sweaty women pressing themselves against them as they try to squeeze by?

Anyhow, I tend to be the type of person that's very dismissive about waiting in line for anything, but S.R. was so worth it! And when it moves to its new location on El Camino Real, I'll definitely be up and ready to leave at 10:25 to go stand in line for a bowl of screamin' goodness.
1539 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 431-1661

After catching a show at Slim's, we ducked into Wish for a nightcap. Wish is a bit small and narrow but radiates a come hither attitude with its sultry red walls and flickering tealights. The crowd on the night we visited was a bit diverse, there were couples whispering sweet nothings with their heads tilted together at the bar, girls shakin' their junk to the DJ that was spinning in the back and clusters of friends kicking it on the couch while knocking back a drink or two... or five. The bartenders were courteous, drinks priced reasonably (and were served in proper glassware, not plastic cups) and the bouncer was quite polite and chivalrous. I also loved that they had handbag hooks under the counter, so that you could have both hands free to get your drink on--- ingenious!

The laid back vibe and sexy atmosphere made me a bit mischievous, good thing my alcohol consumption was regulated as I needed to drive later that night. My only "wish" was that we weren't subjected to the rank wave of patchouli incense and BO when we first walked in. It eventually dissipated, but good god!
410 Market St, San Diego, CA 92101, (619) 235-4668

The ex and I visited Hooters during our last jaunt to San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. It was that time of the day between lunch and dinner where not much was open. He was fussing to watch some ESPN and I needed to eat something to tide me over until dinner (the pretzels on the Southwest flight, just didn't cut it). I'll admit I wasn't forced to go in (no arm twisting), but I was a bit curious to see what all the hype was about. I pictured something trashy with slithering pole dancers and Whitesnake blaring, but in reality it was just a tackily decorated beer-n-wings joint with extremely unflattering, polyester uniforms that looked like they would chafe (what's with the suntan colored pantyhose under the hideous, Bozo orange boy briefs?).

We had two waitresses during our visit. Our first waitress, Jackie, was super cool and chatty. Turns out that she was from Vacaville and we launched into a full scale conversation about the Vacaville outlets, much to the ex's chagrin. When I decided to purchase a tee for my teenage nephew, she rallied the other wait staff to each sign the shirt. I'm sure my sister-in-law in New Mexico appreciated the fact that we presented our 15 year old, hormone-infused nephew with a tee that was emblazoned with phrases such as "Randy, you make me randy!" and signed by a dozen busty Hooter girls; but screw her, our nephew loved it and dubbed me the coolest aunt ev-ah! Teenage boys are an odd breed.

Since we caught Jackie on the tail end of her shift, we were traded off to a second Hooterette for the latter part of the service. This 5'2, buck o'five weighing (all boob) nymph came bouncing over to introduce herself and chirps that she heard we were from Sac...well, guess what? She is too. We chat about Sac a bit and it turns out she and I went to the same high school. She throws me a sugary smile and cheerfully announces that she graduated in something like 2002 and maybe we know some of the same people? I choke on my beer, glare over the chicken strips and think darkly, "Yeah, maybe I went to school with your MOM!" The ex is smirking as he quietly turns his chair to watch the ball game.

Final tally: +1 star for the clean interior, average beer and the place not being as vulgar as I thought it'd be, +1 star for our cool waitress Jackie and no stars for the greasy chicken strips. I, however, deserve 5 stars for not reaching over and throttling that 21 yr old Hoot-chie for making me feel older than dirt.
1716 L St, Sacramento, CA 95811, (916) 443-7685

I like things simple---whether it's my meals (Japanese usually), my drinks (scotch neat or Jack on the rocks), my clothing (jeans & a tee if I can get away with it).

I had passed the sign for Old Soul the last time I was dragged to McCrapville...errr...Crepeville (sorry, reflex, I hate Crepeville). It was a small inconspicous sign jutting out into the back alley. I figured next time it was a nice weekend day and I had a morning to spare, I'd go exploring.

Since I had a coupla errands to run today in the area, I ducked in there. At first I was a bit surprised. It's pretty much a bare walls operation. Tim, the owner, a nice guy with a friendly smile, introduced himself and advised me that they were a wholesale roasting company but they did also serve the public. He also gave me a write-up, so I could read about the coffee that they were serving that day, while he poured my cup.

The "shop" is a large room with brick walls, a comfy looking couch and I think there was one small bistro set out front. To get in, you walk through a rolled-up garage door. Everything there is $2.00 and they implement the honor system (you make your own change from a large glass jar).

There's no stupid names for the coffee (you're not going to find a venti-caramel- whipped-half nonfat-mocha-chocoattiato with opium sprinkles here) and no long lines. Coffee's hot and served in a plain white paper cup, no frills... and it's pretty darn good! I liked it.

Along the counter, there were a few delectable baked goods (that I think they bake in-house). One immediately caught my eye--- the carrot pecan muffin. Mind you, I'm not a muffin girl. Most are dry, crumbly and illicit a "Pafleeh!" response from me as I spit it out and chuck the remainder in the trash. But Old Soul's carrot pecan muffin was awesome. It was buttery, not too sweet, moist and incredibly tasty... a melt, in your mouth muffin. God, it rocked! I hope it's something they have often because, in the words of our less-than-stellar governor--- I will be baaaaack!! I'm already jonesing for another one.

So, if your looking for some good coffee to sip or a bag of beans to brew, hit up Old Soul. I think their hours are limited. I tried to do an online search for more info, since I have never heard anyone mention the place before but all I could find was a small, recent article in the SNR. I lifted the address and phone number from that article, so I hope it's correct. (Just hook a left turn right before Crepeville, if on L Street. It's in that alley way between L & Capitol).

And be sure and try a carrot-pecan muffin! Old Soul is truly simplicity at it's finest.

2904 Franklin Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95817, (916) 457-5507

Squirreled away amongst some cute vintage homes in Curtis Park is the Coffee Garden. From the outside, it appears to be a quirky, little neighborhood cafe and its exterior does not deceive. The inside radiates a funky urbanesque vibe and serves up a nice cup of joe.

The front of the house sports comfy chairs and several snooze-worthy couches. There's a smattering of tables for its more studious clientele as well as free Wi-Fi. But meander back to the rear garden, it's what makes this locale special and sets it apart from its competitors. Much like Frances Hodgson Burnett's "Secret Garden," this little oasis offers one a serene setting to catch up on leisurely activities such as --- reading, knitting or just some plain old daydreaming. There are a few fountains interspersed throughout the patio to drown out the hubbub of the street, as well as a fair amount of greenery to insulate one from the chaotic flurry of the "real world." It's easy to see how a person could effortlessly while away the hours here without realizing it.

The shop is open from 7am -10pm daily, which is perfect for those of us who work banker's hours (or close to it) and wish to decompress during the twilight period or to laze about on a weekend. A sincere thanks goes out to my super, cool friends that divulged this little gem as I have a feeling that I'll be patronizing it frequently.
2121 Golden Centre Ln Ste #10, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670, (916) 858-0651

Ever have one of those days, where you're so deluged with assignments and surrounded by raving idiots that you don't know whether to start screaming, "Serenity Now!" (tm: Seinfeld) or crawl under your desk and curl up in a ball? That was my day today. After noting that I had so many cases on my desk that I appeared to be entombed in my cubicle, my wonderful co-worker took pity on me and suggested that we go out to dinner.

Once the prison yard bell rang... ummm, I mean, after finishing up in the office, we jetted over to a nearby strip mall where overshadowed by a mammoth Bel Air is a cute little trattoria in Gold River called Il Forno Classico. My coworker had visited this establishment before for their wine bar, but never for dining. It was still pretty early when we got there but we were greeted immediately at the front by a young man with a friendly smile and a strategically mussed hairdo, who ended up being our waiter (I think his name was Garrett?). He did a superb job of facilitating our meal. When asked which were better the crab cakes or the ahi for a starter, he recommended the crab cakes without missing a beat. The crab cakes were indeed quite tasty and I liked the pesto aioli topping. Also, he was quite conscientious about keeping our glasses full (we had vacillated between the Cakebread and Rombauer Chardonnays and finally opted to go with the Cakebread). During our meal, our server was the perfect balance of personable without being obtrusive. I appreciated that there was enough down time between courses that I didn't feel rushed, but not too much time where I was inclined to look around with a ravenous "Where the heck is our food?" expression.

Il Forno's menu showcases your standard California-Italian fare such as salads, pizzas, steak, pastas, chicken and wood fired pizzas. Entrees were reasonably priced from $11- $20 and appetizers from $8 -$14. I had a hard time deciding between the cioppino or the chicken scaloppini for my dinner. I finally went with the latter which came with a delectable marsala wine sauce intermingled with pieces of mushroom, garlic and bacon. This was served with creamy mashed potatoes and a side of green beans. The chicken would have been better had it been cut in medallions and the green beans were a tad salty, but overall it was a good meal. The coworker took a different approach and succumbed to the calling of some rich looking pasta---more specifically the artichoke and spinach ravioli accompanied by chicken, proscuitto and a lemon cream sauce. From the content sighs I heard radiating from the other end of the table; I will assume that the pasta was equally gratifying.

The restaurant boasts that it carries several hundred different kinds of wine and from the extensive wine list that I perused, I don't doubt it. They do also offer a wine tasting night on Thursdays from 6pm-9pm. This would be a great place to bring your favorite wine connoisseur. If I'm ever cursed with another rough day working for the Man, hopefully it'll be on a Thursday so I can have an excuse to hang out in the 'burbs and sample some wines at the IFC.
933 Main St, Saint Helena, CA 94574, (707) 963-3486

Taylor's takes to you back to a simpler time. When folks stood in line for their food instead of chugging past a window in the drive-thru while simultaneously yapping into their Bluetooth headsets. A time when families and friends sat at picnic tables and enjoyed a meal, some sunny weather and some good conversation. Taylor's Automatic Refresher does a great job of transporting you to that era and eliciting that sense of nostalgia that you had all but forgotten that you had.

It carries a pretty extensive menu for a burger joint- there's a bevy of hormone free California beef burger selections as well chicken and seafood (i.e. calamari, fish tacos) choices. For those seeking a less artery clogging option, there's 4 salads (house, cobb, Chinese chicken & chopped); as well as the housemade chili to partake in. In addition, the eatery rounds out its offerings with a rainbow assortment of milkshake flavors and a classic root beer float.

The fact that Taylor's is in wine country is quite evident by their drink menu. The wine list is pretty extensive--including such vinos as Frog's Leap, Rombauer & Caymus. Also, you can bring your own bottle of wine for a $5 corkage fee. For those who would prefer knocking back a few suds, they do carry several beers (Lagunitas, North Coast, Anderson Valley & Moylan's to rattle off a few).

During our visit, I opted for Taylor's ahi burger and the sweet potato fries. The ahi was seared rare then served with a ginger wasabi mayo and asian sweet slaw on a toasted egg bun. Let's just say that I inhaled my order in a non-ladylike manner in a matter of was that good! Although the garlic fries, which I got to sample, were quite delicious; my favorite was the sweet potato fries. Who doesn't love sweet potatoes? Especially when they're dusted with chili spice! I actually caught myself discreetly licking my finger tips to prolong that tangy, spicy sting from the chili dust on my tongue. Hopefully, my lunchmates didn't notice my declasse behavior.

The prices are a bit higher than your average burger hut, but you're in the vicinity of Napa after all (Main Street in Saint Helena). Entrees run from $4.99 to $13.99, with the average at about $8.50. Sides are sold separately and will run you an extra $2-$4. I would definitely suggest stopping by if you're out traipsing around the wineries. It's a nice place to refuel your body in between tastings at the vineyards...and it's hard to miss-- just look for the bright red picnic tables. If the line looks a bit long, call in your order. Then you can just pop by the pick up window and grab your tasty grinds.

4491 Freeport Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95822, (916) 452-6888

Trimspa has nothing on this place.

It was a cold, rainy Monday night when I thought I'd pop into Futami's, my go to place for simple Japanese food. But after making my way up the perilous maze of Hwy 99, I discovered Futami's was closed. It was one of those smack your head moments---dammit, it's a Monday! And like any real Japanese restaurant, it was closed on a Monday.

I nosed my Civic back towards the grid, opting to take Freeport instead... when lo and behold, what's that I see over yonder? A bright "Open," sign at the Sushi Cafe. It's Japanese looking, it's open... Sure, why not?

...Screeeeeeeeech! Bad move! Rewind! Rewind!

This is where I wish I could rewind the events that occurred, but life's not like a dvd...unfortunately. To its credit the Sushi Cafe made me lose a good 5 lbs. in one night. Not that I'm complaining about losing a few pounds of pudge, but reenacting Linda Blair in the Exorcist is not my idea of a healthy way of achieving this goal.

During my visit, I had opted for the saba shioyaki and the seared tuna for take out. Placing my order was easy enough, but the 25 minute wait for my order (no exaggeration) was beyond ridiculous. Sitting in the hard-ass entryway chair gave me plenty of time to notice how dirty the carpet was, how there was an inordinate amount of litter under the tables and that the service staff (mostly young student aged girls) was more interested in gossiping with their friends that stopped in then acknowledging any actual customers that stood impatiently in line.

The food was absolutely inedible. The saba shioyaki tasted like no other saba dish, I've ever encountered in my lifetime. But it was the tuna that made me cringe (& hurl). The tuna was over seared and coated in this odd, nasty salt-like mixture. Totally revolting. Both dishes were quickly disposed of in the trash, but it was too late... the noxious meal was already into play. I pulled a vomit comet for the better part of the night and couldn't look at food the entire next day.

Had I read a few Yelp reviews of this place prior to my visit, I would have stayed far, far away from this establishment. Unless you like praising the porcelain gods (repeatedly), I suggest you opt for another sushi venue.

2026 16th St, Sacramento, CA 95818, (916) 448-0088

If you venture to the outskirts of the grid (U & 16th-ish), at the edge where the sparkle of Midtown fades into the shabby, there hides a diamond in the rough. Harry's Cafe, run by Harry Luong, is a small establishment reminiscent of the tiny mom and pop diners of days gone by. But rather than serve up the tired old menu of club sandwiches, fries and burgers; Harry's offers a more exciting fare of home cooked Chinese and Vietnamese dishes that are equally filling and that are just as easy on your wallet.

I held off on reviewing Harry's for quite awhile, thinking that the luster of the place would shortly fade or that the food would soon disappoint. But then I found myself, after several visits, holding off on writing about Harry's because I didn't want to divulge this secret gem to others. So far, each time I've patronized this small eatery, there's always been a consistent sprinkling of customers and a few empty tables. Perfect! Immediate seating, no wait! Orders are taken promptly and the food is always delivered quickly. I've had both Harry and a woman, whom I've over time dubbed as "Mrs. Harry," wait on me. Harry's talkative, friendly and always ready with a smile or a wink. Mrs. Harry is less chatty and tries to hide behind a gruff facade, but you can tell she's all about the warm fuzzies underneath. Harry's Cafe is definitely not fancy; it's small and narrow much like a vestibule and teeters the fine line of being cluttered but not messy. However like mom's kitchen, its warmness envelopes you and you fall into a feeling of ease within seconds of arrival. There's no pretentiousness at Harry's Cafe. It's just a great place to chat with friends while dining on some good eats. In addition, the restaurant has always been spotless during my visits (even the bathroom), winning extra brownie points in my book.

As for the food, they have a standard menu, as well as an ever changing specials board (for example tonight, the lead on the specials board was oxtail soup). I, myself, have tried several of their stir-fry dishes when I've popped in there, oftentimes solo on nights when I haven't had the energy to cook, and my favorite so far is the asparagus and shrimp with a black bean sauce (I've also had this same concoction with snow peas and that's equally as yummy). On other visits, I've indulged in their piping hot pho as well as their delicious shrimp/vermicelli noodle dish. The pho there is great on those chilly or rainy nights. Now that the weather's turned all warm and sunny, I've been craving their vermicelli like crazy. Consistently, everything I've ordered there has been fresh and tasty and just as a heads up, the servings are quite large. I've never left hungry. In addition, Harry's is great about modifications and during one visit, Harry informed me and my dinner companion that if they have the ingredients, they'll make it, regardless of whether it's on the menu. How's that for service! And true to his word, he came through for my dinner companion.

Next time, your tummy grumbles, "Feed me!" wander over to Harry's for a bite of some Asian comfort food. Remember though, once you fall in love with this quaint little cafe, mums the word-- as I don't want to have to wait for a table on my next visit.
2301 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94110, (415) 282-4663

John Wayne was once quoted as saying, "I never trust a man that doesn't drink." I think the Duke would have felt right at home at Homestead, as every patron had at least one drink in hand.

On a recent social call to SF, we ended up here; which turned out to be a perfect choice for knocking back a few rounds while waiting for the stragglers to meet up. The bar wasn't too crowded during our visit and we were able to grab a table by the window. Drinks prices were reasonable and the pours fair. The bartender that I ordered from was friendly and had no issue when I had to bring a drink back for correction (it was my bad, my friend wanted a vodka & tonic, I ordered a vodka rocks). Although he did raise an amused eyebrow when I confirmed that the Knob Creek shot was for me. I not look like your typical whiskey imbiber?

The atmosphere was mellow and the crowd ranged from hipster, indie to a little WT. Everyone seemed laid back and to be enjoying the mellow vibe. Homestead's definitely not a meat market, more of a nice neighborhood watering hole to gather with friends and shoot the sh*t. The decor is reminiscent of early western saloons and it makes no qualms about being a bit divey (part of its charm). Also, there's a nice warm fireplace to gather around should you incur a chill or find a cute gunslinger to converse with.

Definitely a place that I'd like to give another whirl.
3005 Freeport Blvd # B, Sacramento, CA 95818, (916) 448-3988

The Yummy Guide has that cute frou-frou feel of a teenage girl's room. It has X-mas sparkly lights dangling from the ceiling, sunny yellow tabletops and various posters and whiteboards tacked up on the wall. It has such a cheerful vibe that I felt that I should have liked it more than I did.

When you walk in there are several dry-erase board menus written in Chinese on the walls, but don't flip as they have a laminated english menu that they'll hand you. The menu consists of pages and pages of various small dishes running the gamut from spaghetti to intestines to a whole page of appetizers ending with the words "balls." The one that struck my fancy was the "shrimp pumpling," soup. It just sounded too cute to pass up and a good dish to help remedy my recent cold. Alisha and I both opted to check that out along with the salt/pepper tofu and the sesame dumplings. I wasn't crazy about the sesame dumplings, which resembled heated mochi with a peanut buttery black paste inside but the salt/pepper tofu was pretty good. It consisted of fried sugar-cubed sized tofu mixed with scallions and jalapenos slices. An interesting combination, but it worked. I also ordered some strawberry juice, which turned out to be delicious! My other dining companion, Josh, decided to indulge in a spaghetti dish with a meat and cheese sauce. He was kind enough to let me sample the fried rice and hot buns that he got. I really like the buns, which were crispy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside, the accompanying sugary dipping sauce made me lick my lips. It'd make a great breakfast snack, especially if coupled with coffee.

Our waitress, an older lady with a friendly smile, gave us ample time to review the lengthy menu and fielded our questions with ease. I think she got a little distracted by the Asian soap operas on the TV because after waiting awhile we had to ask a nearby waitress for some boxes and the check.

Overall, I think the Yummy Guide is a pretty cool place to check out. It's the perfect spot to hit after a late night of drinking as it's open late and is very cheap. Prices run the range of $3.99-$6.99. You could go back fifty times and still not try all the dishes on the menu, it's that extensive. There are also several dessert choices (like egg puffs and jellies), but we didn't have any room left in our tummies. Maybe next visit.

527 A Munroe St, Sacramento, CA 95825, (916) 485-3888

Every time I think of the Thai House, I get p.o.'d at my friend J. all over again. How long J.'s known about Thai House and kept it his own dirty little secret is anyone's guess. Like a sultry mistress on the side, he never gave us an inkling that he had this place squirreled away in his 'hood for his thai food booty calls. According to the hostess, T.H.'s been there for about two years. How it eluded my food radar until now is a complete mystery to me.

Thoughts of this Thai House's dishes make my taste buds bust out in a happy disco (Deney Terrio-style) and my tummy gurgle with fond memories of mouthwatering spices and savory bites. Not to be confused with the other numerous Thai Houses in the Sac area, this little treasure is wedged towards the back of a strip mall at the corner of Munroe and Fair Oaks (aka Loehman's Plaza). Upon arrival, Anna, the waitress/hostess/ all around restaurant extraordinaire will greet you with a 100-watt, beaming smile. Anna's cheerful attitude and expeditious service is one of the primary reasons that I've became a Thai House convert. She's on the mark with recommendations, doesn't bat an eye on modifications and even when the place becomes full and crazy busy, she's able to squeeze in some friendly conversation. After my first two visits, I felt like a regular.

The decor in T.H. is simple but fresh. Care has been taken to accentuate the small establishment with a few bits of tasteful art, without going overboard and verging on clutter. The portions are sizable and non-noodle dishes come with rice. My current favorite dish there is the Koong-Yang, which are delectable, garlic-marinated prawns accompanied by a spicy lime sauce (due to the potent garlic factor-- not advisable if you're on a date and looking for some good night kiss action). To be honest every dish I've had there so far from curry to pad thai to soup has been perfect. I wasn't blown away by the Kuay See Mer (a gravy sauce punctuated by mushrooms/ carrots/bamboo/corn/and a choice of meat over hard, crispy noodles) but that was because it wasn't something I'd normally order (dining companion's choice) as opposed to it being bad. The satay and po-pia tod were delicious and not too oily like at some of the other places in town. My only grievance would be that their wine list is a bit lacking (Kirkwood White Zin? Sigh.). I feel that they could have fun with the list and carry a few inexpensive labels that taste better.

I realize that there are a multitude of thai restaurants currently peppering the grid, but T.H.'s is worth the slight hop, skip and jump to the 'burbs (did that really come out of my mouth?). And should you need someone to help you eat all those dishes you order, I'll gladly volunteer my services.
1453 18th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107, (415) 824-7166

Chez Maman is a small, nondescript neighborhood bistro that's one of those blink and you'll miss it places. The restaurant is long and narrow, consisting of counter seating that runs the length of the tiny eatery, 2 metal bar-height 2-tops by the window and one small outdoor table (Chez Maman's a great place for dining with 1, maybe 2 other friends, not any more than that due to the size of the place). Upon arrival, you place your name and the number of people in your party on the wait list that is taped to the front door. The atmosphere is warm and inviting and the decor sparse. Should you need to use the restroom, there's one right through the kitchen. The entire establishment is probably as big as my dining room and living room put together, if even that. The staff consists of 1 cook, 1 busser and 1 server. The server we had during our visit was courteous, efficient and brisk. Although he didn't engage us in small talk, I liked that fact that he didn't rush us through our meal despite the obvious wait for seating by other patrons.

I opted for the vegetarian crepe while my two dining companions went with paninis. One was the Croque Monsieur, the other I'm not sure (I forgot to inquire). The "mystery" panini came heart-shaped, which was a cute albeit cheesy touch. My vegetarian crepe was decent. It was stuffed with zucchini, roasted peppers, mushrooms and heavy on the tomato...all those healthy veggies that your mom would be proud you're eating. We also got a side of pomme frites with aioli to split and a few glasses of wine to chat over. My viognier was ok, but I felt their wine by the glass prices were a bit high considering what they were serving. The match-stick like fries on the other hand were probably my favorite part of the meal. They were crunchy, tasty and the lemon aioli was the perfect accompaniment.

Chez Maman did a nice job of filling our tummies before we scooted off to grab some drinks, but by no means did I find it to stand out from the vast selection of SF eateries.
3123 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94121, (415) 379-3604

I loved Oyaji! Set aside the minimalistic decor reminiscent of the traditional izakayas and the tasty looking Japanese pub fare and you have Oyaji, himself. The term "oyaji" in Japanese can mean dad or an unrelated older man who's like a father, and sometimes can be used in the slang sense such as "sukebe oyaji" (dirty old man). And that's exactly what the owner, Hideki, is and quite proud of it, I must say. Hideki is a riot and very endearing. He regales you with humorous anecdotes then switches it up a notch with some raunchy humor about his massive testicles and unsurpassable virility. I laughed so hard during my visit that the sides of my stomach hurt and I almost had tears in my eyes.

In addition, to a pretty cool selection of zizake (regional sake), sochu and Japanese beer, Oyaji's served up the freshest uni and bincho maguro I've had in quite awhile. The texture was perfect and the fish positively melted in my mouth. My Tokyo houseguest popped in a piece of aka maguro and smiled from the pure pleasure of its taste. I did notice fellow Yelpers commenting that the nigiri sushi there seemed small, but to be honest it's like how I remember it being in Japan... bite-size. I think the sushi in the US, on par with McDonald's, has become super-sized. Traditional sushiyas in Japan don't make these humongous rolls drenched in mayo-y sauces, nor do they include ingredients like avocado or cream cheese. I think the only kind of rolls I saw during my stay there were oshinko, natto, tekka and kappa makis---which are much skinnier, with one filling. It's all about appreciating the technique, the freshness and the taste of the seafood on your palate not how much crap you can squish inside the nori and rice, like your Aunt Martha into a girdle. Also, would you put ketchup on your sushi? No? Then why are you letting them pour the equivalent of 1,000 Island dressing on your sushi order? Paying for prime, fresh sushi is a waste if you're going to just mask the flavor with condiments.

Anyhow, I'll definitely be returning to Oyaji. I'm not sure if it's a good date restaurant, unless you want Oyaji leering at your date's breasts or challenging your manhood. But it's a great place to grab some delicious food, knock back some sochu and grab a smoke outside with Oyaji while BSing. Next time round, along with the sushi, I plan to sample some of the asari sake mushi (my fav), ika sugaayaki along with a side order of gobo that I saw on the menu. Can't wait!

Namara-umai! (for those that speak nihongo, I just thought I'd throw in some Hokkaido dialect for you).

737 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122, (415) 566-7775

We've all heard that silly bit of info about only eating oysters in months that end in the letter "r." Well, screw that bit of nonsense! I've been on an oyster kick lately and when Ally D. wants oysters, Ally D. gets oysters. On a sunny Thursday, my houseguest and I took off for a trek to SF to fulfill my Ostreidae obsession. I wasn't going to be sated until I was slurping down some yummy bivalves from their half shells with a little sriracha and lemon. After doing some shopping, we met up with Yelper Omar B. who took us around Hayes Valley, Sunset and the outer Richmond. Although I've spent a lot of time in SF (usually lost if I'm the one driving), I wasn't too familiar with these areas. We grabbed a few drinks and then wandered across the street to PJ's Oyster Bed on Irving Street. PJ's blends in well with the various boutiques, bakeries and pubs lining the Sunset District. It's quite small which was the reason for the wait... about a half hour. This wouldn't have been too bad if there was a designated bar section or waiting area. As it was, we stood chatting in the foyer with our backs to a table of four that was chowing down. I'm sure they enjoyed staring at our asses throughout the first portion of their dining experience. Brandon, the host, seemed quite nice and was pretty on target with his wait quote.

Finally, our name was called. I sunk into our half-booth and politely browsed the menu (although I already knew what I wanted). The menu consisted of many NOLA-style dishes like jambalya, gumbo and something called Alligator Eggs (I didn't ask). Forget the menu! Bring on the booze! Bring on the oysters!

Hillary, our server, was friendly, attentive and efficient. She didn't blink an eye when we only ordered a plate of a dozen raw oysters and a bottle of wine (the Bolla, an Italian white, paired quite well with our order). Since my guest had filled her alcohol quotient for the night at Yancey's, Omar & I finished off the entire bottle by ourselves. The oysters were good, but lacked a little je ne sais quoi and were on the smaller side...not like the fatty, succulent oysters I had sucked down on a recent visitation to Sausalito. They're served with tabasco, lemon, cocktail sauce and champagne mignonette (Phooey! We don't need no stinkin' mignonette! Where's the damn sriracha?). Also, after a few glasses of wine the surrounding wall murals got a bit creepy...was it just me our did all the people in the mural look like they were in some kind of state of 420-ness?

Overall, a pretty good dining experience. If I were to return, I wouldn't mind checking out their Oysters Rockefeller. The table next to us were digging into some and they looked mighty tasty (the Oysters Rockefeller, not the people at the next table).
1809 Capitol Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 498-9200

Who'd have thought that the day before Valentine's Day would be such a busy night for eating out? And on a Tuesday night in the burbs at that? Not me, that's for sure and it was my fault for not making the resi at Roxy's. Nevertheless, with out of town guests (Yelpers Omar B & Mayumi F) in tow, rather than wait 1.5 hours... Alisha & I decided to flip a B & head back towards the grid to check out Dragonfly.

Unlike Roxy's, upon arrival Dragonfly was serene and only had a smattering of tables occupied. Dragonfly's decor exudes a warmness---ruby red walls and persimmon colored accents coupled with dark Bali-esque wood furniture round out the faux Asian look...I'll admit it-- I liked it, it was both trendy (industrial ceilings & dangly lights) yet sexy at the same time. A good date restaurant perhaps, if you go when it's quiet. We were seated by the window by the hostess, who hastily dropped the menus off, with nary a smile, before disappearing into the dark abyss of the rear of the establishment...pretty much never to be seen again.

Our waitress was courteous but was also MIA for a good portion of the night...yep, that dark abyss in the back kept swallowing up the staff one by one. Considering how slow it was, it would have been nice had she checked back a few times. At least she left us with a drink menu to peruse in her absence... I was eyeballing the lychee martini but opted to experience the pomegranate margarita instead, which turned out to be mildly sweet and not too overpowering. A nice choice! BTW, I did notice that the Dragonfly carries Chimay---bonus points for their bar manager! Good call.

Although the service left something to be desired, the food turned out to be pretty tasty. We decided to go "tapas" style with the fusion menu so that we could try a little of this and a little of that. Because I was whining that I was samosa-ed out, we skipped the samosas and chose the BBQ albacore, the asian chicken salad, the Burmese tofu tori with peanut sauce (I love peanut sauce), the calamari and a random sushi roll. The BBQ albacore tuna was so flippin' good--- the menu said it was accompanied with a miso garlic aioli but the sauce was a bit on the spicier side (very similar to the old Taka's) and I tasted no garlic whatsoever. Everyone at the table liked it so much, we requested round 2 for the tuna. My friend that was visiting from Tokyo was alternating between yips of foodie pleasure and happy eating noises while consuming the albacore. In addition, I thought the tofu tori kicked butt...but then again I like pretty much anything when it's coupled with a peanut sauce---tofu, satay, an old shoe ...throw some peanut sauce on it & I'm good to go. The salad was eh, nothing that you can't get pretty much anywhere in midtown. In addition, I wasn't too crazy about the calamari; I feel that a thinner/smaller slicing and a lighter breading would do wonders for improving this dish. As for the sushi roll, there was no salvaging that. Remember that children's rhyme about the Farmer in the Dell, that ends with the "Hi-ho, the derry-ho. The cheese stands alone?" Yeah, well that's Dragonfly's sushi rolls, the nasty roll was left alone. Ick.

Overall, the dining experience was decent & we left satiated. As someone who waited tables for years, I feel that I'm usually lax about service but the staff was nonexistent this go round which irked me. The constant, lengthy disappearances made me want to venture to the back and see what back there was so riveting. Lastly, I think Dragonfly should ditch their sushi menu and do an expanded tapas menu. There'd be more flexibility in choices (work that fusion aspect!) and who the H-E-double hockey sticks doesn't like to indulge in a smattering of delicacies??? I love the idea of tapas, it keeps me from having to reach over with my chopsticks to "take tastes" of my friends dishes when they're not looking.
801 14th St, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 441-3000

Color me completely unimpressed. It took a lengthy amount of time to get our party seated, although the place was relatively empty, and then we were placed at two pub tables back to back which made holding conversations awkward.

Our server was a bit odd in the sense that when I tried to place my food order with my drink order, I was snippily reprimanded, "We're only doing drinks, right now!" That's what I was told but then she took food AND drink orders from our other table. Hmmm, be consistent wouldjya?

We were at a brewery, so I wasn't expecting five star cuisine but the food was not good. What's the level below "meh..."?

I had a hankering for fries, so I opted for the fish & chips. The fried fish was shaped oddly and vaguely had a freezer burn taste to it. After one bite, I was done with it. The "classic pub" fries were ok, but a little on the soggy side. Definitely edible though.

Our server disappeared a lot which made ordering another drink difficult and we had to hit up the hostess for the bill at departure time.

As I had "broken the seal," after drinking half of my first beer (and the fact that I have a bladder the size of a pea), I got to make a few trips down the lengthy green hallway to the WC. The kitchen staff you pass as you head there is very friendly and chatty (unlike our server) and jokingly advised that one more pass by & they'd charge me a toll.

Anyhow, I am giving BIU two stars, the Doppelbock was actually pretty good. It wasn't too heavy and had a clean, malty (almost cocoa-y?) finish. Probably not the best stout I've ever had but I liked it. If my local Safeway or BevMo carried it, I'd probably pick it up but I highly doubt that I'll be popping into BIU for a Part Deux.
1925 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 446-3118

I remember passing by the old Taki's when I first moved to Midtown years ago. It was an old dipilitated, blue Craftsman by the railroad tracks. Nothing about it appealed to me back then and I should have stuck with my instinct. I had company in town on Friday night and we decided on Mexican, but with the wait hitting about an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half for two at Ernesto's, we opted to satiate our grumbling tummies elsewhere. As we drove down J Street, my friend pointed out Taki's and remarked that he had never tried Japanese food before. Noting that it was a weekend night and every place was probably packed to the gills, we ventured in. The interior was pleasant, festooned with dangly lights and draped in warm orange and red tones like a genie's bottle. We lucked out that a table had just left. The waitress motioned for us to sit down, then proceeded to clean the tabletop as we sat waiting. The tables on the perimeter are pretty cool...reminding me vaguely of futon couches and the seat was quite comfy.

The waitstaff appeared to consist of only two overwhelmed servers. A gentleman that appeared to be the owner and a friendly, petite waitress who appeared to speak very little english. We had the latter, Daisy, as our server. It took over 5 minutes to get menus and another 10 minutes before she returned to take our drink orders. She remembered to card us but appeared to forget to come back to take our dinner order. Although we were only ordering a handful of items, it took several minutes to place our order because I had to repeat the entire order four times to her. Miraculously, all the dishes that were eventually delivered to our table were correct, but to save time in the future (and exasperation on the part of the customer) I'd suggest perhaps writing down the orders the first go round.

The sushi we ordered tasted mediocre, nothing really wowed me and the rice tasted blah. The albacore appetizer tasted fishy (and not in a good way) and appeared to be cut amateurly. My dining companion seemed to like the dishes we ordered, but having no Japanese food frame of reference and having been stationed in the Middle East via the US Army, I would suppose that our meal was better than the MRE's that he was probably subjected to eating.

While my dining companion ducked out to use the restroom, I flagged down the other server (our waitress was nowhere to be found) and requested another large Sapporo for my friend. The server was quick to retrieve a bottle and advised me that it was on the house. I'm not sure why he comped it, perhaps because of the slow service? Either way it was nice of him.

I think I'm being pretty generous in giving Taki's 2 stars.The service was slow, the food average and the fish was off... but the staff's smiles were genuine and the "futon" benches were great for kicking back in to converse while knocking back a few Sapporos & Kirins.

FYI, this is not a great establishment for a date. Being practically on top of the railroad tracks, the train repeatedly chugs by, shakes the building with a Richter magnitude of 5.0 and interrupts conversations. Also, they seem to close up early for a weekend night.
4323 Hazel Ave, Fair Oaks, CA 95628, (916) 961-2112

I'm probably one of the few Sacramentans that's never been a huge fan of the Mikuni Empire. The whole rock'n roll sushi motif has never appealed to me. I remember when the Hazel Mikuni's location was just a miniscule mom & pop operation, I liked it back then. The restaurant was simple and sans neon lights, sake bombs and the "Wheel O' Prizes." The food was the focus and wasn't overshadowed by the gaudy, gauche atmosphere that envelopes the restaurant these days. My last foray to Mikuni's was to the downtown location and I vowed never to return after not being able to hear my dinner companion over the din of the drunk, obnoxious clientele throughout the course of the entire meal. [Side note: I've been told that the downtown location is the loudest of the Mikuni facilities and that the other locations are milder in comparison. I can now attest that the Hazel location is more subdued...though not by much]

So I was a bit hesitant when coworkers persisted that I join them for some sushi during lunch. In the last two months, we've trekked over to the Hazel location a total of four times and I have to admit (to my surprise) all four times we have received excellent service and the food was delectable. If you go during lunchtime, be sure to get Adam as your waiter. He knows his food backwards & forwards and is terrific at offering recommendations. I appreciated the fact that he was personable and BS'd with us for awhile, but was cognizant of the fact that we were on a work lunch break with limited minutes, and had our food flowing at good speed. He made a recommendation for us to try the Tommy Roll (tempura shrimp mixed with a spicy avocado mixture & masago, packaged up in a soy wrap and topped off with spicy tuna & crab salad) and to have it modified "Adam style" which involved a dab of sriracha on the crown. (By the way, since that initial introduction to the "Adam Style," we have ordered this roll at that location with other waiters and they all are familiar with what "Adam style" consists of.) Additional hits at our table were the Marilyn Monroll (consisting of tempura shrimp, crab salad, avocado, scallops and masago), Tony 2 (tuna, yellow tail, eel, tempura shrimp, crab salad, avocado and masago) and lastly the Spicy Johnny (spicy tuna, deep fried shrimp, avocado, eel, masago & onion). The rolls can be much at times and I've found that their nigiri sushi is always fresh even to the most discriminating palate---my recs are the amaebi, hokki gai and mirugai. Don't forget to eat the shrimp heads with the amaebi!

Setting the sushi talk aside, Mikuni's serves up some excellent tuna apps and dishes as well. Try the BBQ tuna, the sea steak (with the white tuna) or my favorite the Pepperfin (thin slices of albacore tuna with a lemon, shoyu, chili oil sauce and sprinkled with jalapeno peppers.) I'm not a spicy food person and usually veer away from those dishes, but the pepperfin is positively orgasmic. The tuna just seems to dance across your taste buds then concludes it's boogie with a fiery bang. It's one of those dishes that will involuntarily cause you to smack your lips with pleasure after each flavorsome mouthful.

Being the b*tch that I am, I did feel compelled to take one "star" off for the stupid Wheel O' Prizes (this is a sushi RESTAURANT, not Pat Sajack's gameshow set afterall), the vile need to stuff avocado (I'm not a big fan of the green stuff) in EVERY roll and lastly that if you sit at the sushi counter it takes forever and a day to get your bill from the server.

So next time you go, grab Adam as your server, order up an ice- cold Kirin and grub on some won't be disappointed. Just remember to bring your ear plugs, because it does get a bit loud in there.