Category: Sacramento

Sacramento Day Three: Morning Horchata, Eel, Turkish Food, & One Last Breakfast

I’m not one who craves coffee enough to make it myself, but when it’s waiting outside my door in the morning, I can’t help but to indulge.  After my cup of blond coffee, I ate half a broiled grapefruit and french toast drizzled with real maple syrup, sauteed plums, fresh kiwi, and crispy bacon.

My family decided to accompany my brother to Tahoe so he could snowboard.  The thought of spending the whole day in a car was more than I could stomach physically and mentally (plus I am prone to getting motion sickness as a passenger).  So my folks and brother made the nearly three hour drive to Tahoe while I explored the city.
After breakfast, I headed to Davis, a 20-minutes drive from Sacramento, to stroll through the city’s year-round, outdoor farmers market.  Davis was heaven and I beamed as I walked through cozy neighborhoods and shuffled through crunchy leaves.

I wandered through the many vendors and marveled at the fresh, local, and organic produce.  Vibrant fruits such as pomegranates and persimmons, considered exotic by Midwestern norms, were commonplace.

At the end of market were vendors serving a variety of hot foods.  I bought a jalapeno and cheese tamale and horchata from Montoya Tamales.

I added a spicy, red salsa to the tamale and settled on a park bench.  The tamale was light and fluffy and streamed with melted cheese and spicy chili.  I used to think I hated tamales because the only versions I had eaten in the Midwest were leaden and dry.  Traveling through central Mexico redefined tamales and this version was every bit as delicate and spicy.

After spending time at the market, I visited Oto’s Marketplace, a Japanese grocery store in Sacramento.  Many sources online sang Oto’s praises, mentioned their deli and sushi offerings, and spoke of Japanese individuals who considered the market worth a long drive.

I parked in the tight parking lot, reminiscent of Trader Joe’s parking lots of death, and wandered the store’s aisles admiring their large selections of sauces, noodles, and tea.  Full and limited to a small carry-on, I was tempted by giant slices of baum cake, poke and sake.

At the deli, I ordered eel and tuna nigiri which was freshly made by Ray Yamamoto.

 

I’m not a sushi expert, but compared to every version I have ever consumed, this was the best.

 

The rice was delicately shaped and room temperature.  The tuna was plush and naughtily silky.  The eel was caramel-colored and melted in my mouth.  The lack of a sticky, sweet eel sauce let the eel’s rich savoriness shine.
Prelude to Dinner
Full, I returned to The Amber House and took a long walk through the adjacent neighborhoods and to the downtown area.  After I collapsed into a firm nap, the phone rang and thus began the dinner negotiations.
The folks were exhausted from the long drive and anticipated a 3:30 a.m. wake up call to catch their flight home, so they asked me to choose a restaurant near Rocklin.  I’m not sure if they were really ready to accept my choice of a restaurant for dinner.  The non-chain restaurants were limited to international options and my father balked at my first suggestions.  When I defeatedly threw out “The Cheesecake Factory,” my dad insisted we go.  I burst into laughter when I heard my brother let out an exasperated uggggh. . . nooooo. . . Somehow, someway, my brother and Joan took over and convinced my Dad to meet me at Antolian’s Table, a Turkish restaurant in Rocklin.
Jeni’s Vacation Rule #2: Avoid eating at chain restaurant unless it’s a local chain.  
6815 Lonetree Blvd
Rocklin, CA 95765
 
Having never eaten Turkish food, I excitedly flipped through Anatolian Table’s extensive menu.  I started my meal with piping hot tea served in a little glass cup and we were brought to complimentary hummus and bread because our order took longer than expected to arrive.  While the bread did not seem to be of a special Turkish variety, it was freshly baked and straight from the oven.
The hummus was really fantastic and buttery smooth.
Joan and I ordered our waiter’s suggestion of Yogurtlu Betyi Kebap, which he recommended as one of the restaurants spiciest entrees.  The entree came with a fresh salad made of shredded, non-ice burg lettuce, cucumber, shaved onions, and tangy red cabbage.  I stirred the vegetables together and the salad perfectly complimented our rich entrees.
The Yogurtlu Betyi Kebap consisted of a kabob of slightly spicy, moist ground lamb wrapped in flat bread.  The kabob sat in a cool yogurt sauce and was topped with a mild tomato sauce that may have included creamy eggplant.  Online, there was some mention that the owner makes his own yogurt and if this is accurate, I wouldn’t be surprised as it tasted quite special.

Even the two more hesitant eaters reluctantly agreed that it was delicious even though they had to be cajoled into taking bites.

My brother ordered the Tavulku Pide, described as “chunks of tender chicken meat mixed with spices on crusted dough.”

While the chicken was indeed tender, the meat’s sauce and seasoning struck my brother and I as a little bland.
Overall, we enjoyed our meal, belly dancer and all.  The food took longer than expected to arrive at our table, but we appreciated the complimentary bread and hummus and I especially enjoyed my lamb dish.  Anatolian Table is a worthwhile restaurant to visit and a unique option amongst an ocean of chains and insanely expensive, frou frou options.
My Last Breakfast
 

Fresh fruit salad dressed with a sweet, tangy, and spicy dressing similar to the chili-lime flavoring in Mexico.

Below is a crustless vegetable quiche made with roasted red peppers, spinach, and salty feta cheese accompanied by more crispy, seasoned potatoes.

 
A wonderful sendoff back to the frozen tundra.

Sacramento Day Two: Poached Pear Breakfast, a Toxic Bridge, Don Pancho’s, & Cookies for Dinner

Poached Pear and Scrambled Eggs for Breakfast
I awoke in the morning to find the local newspaper and a tray loaded with hot coffee and fresh cream outside my door.  Guests can choose the time and location of their breakfast, and I chose to eat in my room.  Usually, I welcome the experience of sharing breakfast with strangers, but the option of eating in my PJ’s, bleary eyed and unbathed was too tempting.  Plus, I was groggy from being awakened early in the morning due to an obnoxiously loud, crash-banging guest downstairs (this did not occur again).

Carol, the housekeeper, was a joy my entire stay.  She brought me orange juice and a shallow bowl cradling half a poached pear in a warm sauce garnished with plump raisins.  The sauce was nicely balanced.  Not overly sweet and warmly spiced.

My second course included soft-cooked scrambled eggs with cream cheese and scallion, and crispy potatoes.  

Eventually, I headed to Rocklin, a quit suburb located 30 minutes from Sacramento.  With white knuckles, I navigated my rental car down a six-lane freeway and experienced traffic culture shock as the slowest person seemed to be moving at least 10 miles over the speed limit.  A simple lane change required gunning the engine, lest remain stuck for miles.  My brother reminisced about driving through L.A. where cars traveled 20 miles over the speed limit.  Most people in the Twin Cities seem to drive about five miles over the speed limit, while in Fargo, it’s five below (which is probably why I received my first speeding ticket).

The city of Rocklin was beautiful.  We took the landlord’s charming dog for a walk along the railroad tracks, passing small farms and a greenhouse.  I giggled as herds of cows turned around and pensively stared as we passed by.  The dog enjoyed a game of fetch as she lept in and out of a small spring-fed pond.

Toxic Bridge
Before lunch, Kevin led us to Foresthill Bridge in Loomis, CA.  The Foresthill Bridge, the highest bridge in California, crosses the American River.  Suspended over a rugged valley, the bridge is both beautiful and tragic, as many have utilized it to commit suicide.

Although the bridge has walking paths on both sides, a “seismic retrofit” construction project began in January 201l, restricting half of the sidewalk.  The construction process involves earthquake proofing, repainting, and installing higher guardrails.  As we were about to cross the bridge by foot, I stopped to read these glaring signs.

Lead?  Cadmium?  Arsenic?  No thanks.  You had me at the orange “Poison” sign with the skull and crossbones.  Joan and I recoiled and immediately walked back to the car, while the men kept walking.

Lunch at Don Pancho’s
4563 Rocklin Ave
Rocklin, CA 95677

For lunch, my brother took us to a homey Mexican restaurant in Rocklin.  While we waited for our meals, we snacked on complimentary chips and salsa.  The chips were freshly fried and the salsa was vibrant, thick, and slightly spicy.  Could the salsa have been thickened with masa?  I was disappointed the restaurant did not serve horchata so I settled for a strawberry Jarrito instead.

As an entree, I ordered a Taco al Pastor.  

My plate included a large taco made with double corn tortillas and filled with marinated al Pastor meat. The best tasting part of my plate was the al Pastor meat which was crispy and moist and compellingly flavored, striking a balance between tangy, sweet, savory and salty.  One bite was a little too crispy and, for a moment, I feared it dismantled my crown.

Since my trip to Mexico, I have become a taco minimalist and prefer them simply garnished with onion, cilantro, lime, and a spicy salsa.  I was not so crazy about the addition of shredded cheese, sour cream, ice burg lettuce, and melted cheese, however my family was thrilled with their meals.  The food was obviously made with care.

I also snuck a bite of a chicken enchilada and some carnitas meat which was moist and flavorful.

Cookies for Dinner
In the later afternoon, we wandered through Old Sacramento and munched on free candy samples.  My family decided to see a movie, so I gracefully bowed out, retreated to my Amber House sanctuary, and planned to meet up with them for dinner.  
Jeni’s Vacation Rule #1: Never see a movie while on vacation, unless the trip is at least a week long.  
Unfortunately, the movie ran longer than expected and by the time it was over, no one wanted to dine out.  My folks had already grabbed a microwavable frozen pizza and I was too sleepy to drive.  
Sacramento may be no L.A. in terms of food diversity and offerings, but compared to Fargo, let alone the Twin Cities, it’s a foodie paradise.  The thought of all of the food possibilities drove me into a dizzy tailspin.  
I ate cookies for dinner, vowing to eat the hell out of the next day, hell or high water. 
And so I did.  

Sacramento Day One: The Worst Airport Hot Dog, The Amber House & a Walking-Distance Bento (Plus a Couple Bonus Rants).

The game of airplane seatmate roulette makes me nervous.

Regarding flying, I’m not so preoccupied with fears of mechanical failures but sweat at the thought of a mystery seatmate.
I grew up as the daughter of an airline employee and spent a lot of my childhood in the air.  And throughout my quarter-lifetime, my seatmates have ranged from drunk, professional athletes, to the horrifically malodorous and over-perfumed, to the overtly hostile, to the sobbing.
During past flights, I have had my aisle seat stolen multiple times (in my less assertive days) and seen two rows of individuals beg the flight attendant to move their seats away from a particularly angry, loud man.  My flight history has been mostly free from oversharing individuals who insist on conversing the entire flight, though, the man behind me was not so lucky.

Fortunately, my seatmates to and from Sacramento were completely lovely.

Earlier this year, my brother surprised us all by moving to Northern California and this was our first visit to his new home.  Early Wednesday morning at four a.m., I awoke to make a three and a half hour drive to the Minneapolis St. Paul airport where I flew to Phoenix and connected to Sacramento.

Jeni’s Ranty Rant on Airlines
Let me point out that the costs of plane tickets have not decreased over the years, yet the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport wanted to charge me to access wireless Internet in the terminal for 10 minutes (free wifi is available at the Phoenix and Sacramento airports).  Many of the major airlines like US Airways charge $25 to check a single bag.  US Airways also wanted to charge me $13 to access the Internet on a two hour flight and $6 for a non-existent snack pack they understocked on the flight.  How do you under-stock snack packs?
Worst Airport Hot Dog Ever
During my short layover in Phoenix, I bought a desperation hot dog from Jody Moroni’s Sausage Kingdom.

For $8, I bought what turned out to be a foot long hot dog and fries.

The employees placed the hot dog on the grill and frozen fries from a bag into the fryer.  Somehow, this tube of meat defied physics by literally sitting on the grill for 10 minutes and hardly charring.  See the phantom grill marks in the photo above.  The hot dog didn’t taste inedible, but its texture was mushy and I gave up after eating half.

The fries were actually quite good and nicely seasoned with a tasty seasoning salt.  I felt unsettled after eating the hot dog, so I only ate a few fries and snapped these horrible photos before boarding my flight to Sacramento.

My First Evening
I stayed at The Amber House Bed and Breakfast Inn tucked into the Midtown neighborhood, a short distance from the downtown area.

Of all my stays at bed and breakfasts, The Amber House ranks in my top two experiences, alongside The Elephant Walk in Stillwater, MN.  The Amber House truly became my home away from home, if even for a few days.

I was given a discounted rate for booking last minute and enjoyed my cozy, pink room simply adorned with a couple of chairs, cabinet, small desk, queen sized bed, and bathroom including a large claw foot tub and shower.  The room was also equipped with Direct TV, wireless Internet, and included an off-street parking spot.

Every evening, the staff delivered a tray with my choice of hot beverage and freshly baked cookies.  I looked forward to this nightly snack.

Once I settled into my new room, I walked to a nearby Japanese restaurant.  A female staff told me she felt comfortable walking at all hours of the night and she was right.  The sidewalks quietly bustled with families, couples, individuals, and dogwalkers.  Restaurants and bars buzzed with friendly laughter.  I was completely happy to be walking around in a friendly neighborhood dotted with bars and restaurants with only a sweatshirt while it was about 12 degrees in North Dakota.

As I transition to life in Fargo, I am perplexed by the wacky zoning.  Fargo-Moorhead lacks cozy neighborhoods with and without friendly bars, coffee shops and restaurants.  For example, a public library is perched in a strip mall, between a liquor store and pharmacy and I have even seen a plastic surgeon’s office next to an ice cream shop (and down the strip mall from a liquor store).

I also miss seeing people walking around outside.  Fargo seems to hate pedestrians and crossing streets, even with walk signals, has proven to be a harrowing, hair-raising experience, as I have almost gotten hit several times.  Some people walk around outside, but this activity seems mostly restricted to the downtown vicinity and university campus.

Tamaya Sushi Bar & Grill
2131 J Street
Sacramento, CA 
916-298-8388

At Tamaya Sushi Bar & Grill, I enjoyed a very peaceful, solo dinner.

For $4, I sipped a small hot sake.

For dinner, I ordered a $16 bento box combination and chose sashimi, tempura, and grilled mackerel among other options.  To begin, I sipped a cup of comforting miso soup which arrived authentically, sans spoon.

Shortly after, I received my bento box.  Let’s break it down, beginning with the salad.

The ice burg lettuce was cold and crisp, garnished with cucumber and orange slices and covered in a creamy, sweet dressing.

Though the dressing wasn’t the standard ginger dressing, it was scandalously addictive and I found myself dipping everything in the excess dressing.

The five slices of sashimi tasted fresh, though I am unsure what kind of fish they were though my best guess is tuna.  I was too hungry and tired to investigate, and by investigate, I mean ask one question.  The redder pieces of fish included tough connective tissue that was difficult to chew.

The tempura included onion rings, yam, kabocha squash, zucchini, and a large shrimp.

All of the vegetables and shrimp were fresh but the batter was slightly heavy and greasy enough that I only wanted to eat a few small pieces.  The tempura dipping sauce was light and lovely.

But the mackerel.  Oh, the mackerel.

This piece of fish was more than heavenly.

The fish’s skin was as light and crisp as a sheet of crepe paper and the both the skin and flesh tasted fresh, lacking the strong, oily flavor typical to mackerel.

I savored the crispy fish spritzed with the accompanying lemon wedge.

Deep, Closing Thoughts
Pleasant service, affordable prices, and decent food.  Not perfect but decent enough and a short walk away from The Amber House.  The sake was cheap and the mackerel and salad dressing were really outstanding.

After paying my tally, I walked back to my pink room and promptly crashed, thus ending my long day.

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