A cold, dry February was mercifully interrupted by bursts of flavor from some of the Sacramento area’s best restaurants.
From elevated Thai dishes in residential East Sacramento to Mexican/Italian fusion in Elk Grove to delicious Peruvian food in Roseville’s ascendant restaurant scene, the eating was good, if one knew where to look.
All of these reviews first appeared in The Sacramento Bee food and beverage reporter Benjy Egel’s free weekly newsletter. Visit http://sacbee.com/foodnewsletter to sign up for future write-ups and other local dining news.
CHICHA PERUVIAN KITCHEN Y CAFE
Chicha Peruvian Kitchen Y Cafe is one of the latest notable jolts of life to Roseville’s dining scene, the rise of which I featured in last month. Opened by husband-and-wife Giancarlo Zapata and Marleny Chávez in November, its bright pink-green-yellow interior and flavorful dishes are tucked in the corner of a blasé strip mall at 1079 Sunrise Ave., Suite O.
Vegetarian options are scarce, but papa a la huancaína ($12) made for a good, simple appetizer. Cold sliced potatoes, olives and hard-boiled eggs were coated in a creamy aji amarillo sauce over a bed of lettuce, with a balsamic reduction drizzle poking through.
Chicha makes four ceviches, each tied to a specific region along Peru’s coastline. I went for the chalaco ($20) native to Lima’s Port of Callao, which featured a pile of whitefish cured in lime juice amid a world of contrasts: soft sweet potato chunks, crunchy hominy and choclo (large-kernal Peruvian corn), thin-sliced red onion and a rocoto pepper sauce with the customer’s preferred spice level.
The menu is a mixture of street food and more upscale options from Zapata’s days cooking in high-end hotels. It’s nice to see even more casual options get plated elegantly, like beef heart anticuchos ($16). The chewy skewered meat was already flavorful in its ají panca (Peruvian red pepper) marinade, and reached a new dimension with a huacatay (Peruvian mint) dipping sauce.
A liquor license is pending; in the meantime, try Peru’s fluorescent national soft drink Inca Kola ($3.50), which has a taste somewhere between cream soda and bubblegum ice cream.
I’d been wanting to enjoy a proper sit-down meal at Maydoon, Idean Farid’s new school Persian restaurant at 1501 16th St., Suite 111 in midtown Sacramento, since it first opened in June 2020. Takeout had to suffice during much of the pandemic, but with the outdoor patio and white-gold dining room now open, I made the trip down for dinner the other week to check it out.
Farid cooked with his father Mohammed at M. Shahrzard Fine Persian Cuisine as a young man, and Pops joined son in midtown after selling the Rancho Cordova restaurant (the “M.” has since been dropped). It’s nice to have that experience for classics like the rack of lamb ($26), lightly charred on the outside with a tender interior, or the creamy auburn eggplant dip kashkeh bodemjan ($9).
Youthful influences were more present in dishes like the Maydoon bowl ($15). A choice of protein (I went for falafel), basmati rice, pickled onions and diced cucumber and tomato were tied together with a tangy cilantro chutney, creating a healthy-enough grain bowl full of contrasting textures and complementary flavors. It was designed as a convenient lunch option back when nearby offices were full of state workers, Idean told me prior to opening, and still seems like an appropriately filling midday fit.
Maydoon has an innovative cocktail list, too. Strong drinks like the Mast Have ($11) used unmistakably Persian-based flavors like pomegranate, sour cherry and yogurt (“mast” in Farsi) with vanilla vodka. Tart and sweet can be a good combination, but the yogurt, while restrained, was something I needed to get used to in cocktail form.
THE HOUSE OF AUTHENTIC INGREDIENTS (THAI)
Americans tend to regard different kinds of cuisine as deserving of different price points. The same person who will drop $18 on a burger often bristles at a similar cost for Mexican, Chinese and Indian dishes, a phenomenon explored in The Atlantic’s 2016 piece “The Future is Expensive Chinese Food” and NYU associate professor of food studies Krishnendu Ray’s book “The Ethnic Restaurateur.”
The House of Authentic Ingredients (THAI) pushes back on that idea by presenting Thai dishes in a sophisticated, date night atmosphere on sleek dishware. Opened in late 2018 at 4701 H St., THAI is also one of the few East Sacramento restaurants currently offering a daily happy hour — $5 to $7 for small plates like basil beef sausage or curry puffs, and drinks discounted to about that range.
Our meal started with uranium-orange fish cakes called tod mun pla ($12), pan-fried and served with a pickled cucumber side salad. Punched up with a heavy dose of dried basil, the cakes were spicy and complex.
The yum salmon ($16) salad had well-prepared fish too, this time seared and tossed with tomatoes, cilantro, onions and mixed greens. Unfortunately, everything was swimming in a veritable sea of fish sauce-based dressing, which wasn’t bad but needed to be ordered on the side.
Chef Wongworraman Jankhuen did better with the kao see krong moo obb ($25) special, pork ribs stacked next to Chinese broccoli and a fried egg-topped tower of rice. Tender but still somewhat sticking to the bone, the ribs were stewed in a flavorful herbal gravy and well-complemented by a Thai chili sauce.
Drinks are a focus, too, with an expansive bar, sangria punch bowls and a handful of mocktails. The most fun cocktails incorporate Southeast Asian ingredients, like the Thaibucks ($12), a creamy riff on an espresso martini with Thai coffee, creme de cacao, Stolichnaya vanilla vodka and evaporated milk.
TODO UN POCO
Mexican and Italian food might not seem to have much in common beyond romantic languages, but examples of fusion go back to the 1800s, when Italian influence in Spain and a small immigration wave established pasta as an occasional rice alternative in the U.S.’ southern neighbor.
Todo Un Poco modernizes that harmony, incorporating Mexican and Italian flavors with a California influence at 9080 Laguna Main St., Suite 1A in Elk Grove. Some established classics are left alone, like the thick complimentary tortilla chips and porky Italian-style meatballs ($10).
But the fun at Marie Mertz’s restaurant comes from ordering items like shrimp ravioli ($21), where crustaceans swam around ricotta-filled pasta in a spicy chipotle Alfredo sauce. I got a kick out of Todo Un Poco’s many paintings, too, particularly one that imagined the front bar and its art with all people replaced by skeletons.
A range of pizzas presented more interesting combinations. I bypassed chicken mole and chile verde pies for the Yucatan (price ranges from $13 for a personal up to $35 for an XL) with its black beans, jalapeños and carnitas in oregano-spiked salsa. Alas, the pizza oven dried out the carnitas, and a watery faux cheese sauce brought gas station nachos to mind.
This story was originally published March 2, 2022 3:00 AM.