Folsom Palace Asian Bistro

February 6, 2019 – I have always thought serendipity provides spice to life. In that vein, sometimes you stumble into a small restaurant that turns out to be a jewel. Such is the case with Folsom Palace Asian Bistro in El Dorado Hills, the second in a small, locally owned chain.

Chef Bill Zheng opened the first Folsom Palace in, of all places, Folsom several years ago. In August of last year, he added a second location in El Dorado Hills.

Bright and colorful paper lanterns add an Asian-inspired feel.

My assistant and I had several errands to tend. I normally take a short break from work and don’t go out for lunch. But it had been raining for several days. It was still cold but that doesn’t mean much to an Alaska-raised guy. The sun was bright. It was the first nice day in a week. We were already out so I suggested that we have lunch.

I didn’t have any place particular in mind. We went about our business and, in the course of doing so, saw this small restaurant, with the now several months old Grand Opening sign still hanging from the awning over the sidewalk. It looked like a friendly enough place. We decided to give it a try.

Smart move.

We found room happily buzzing with several diners and an open kitchen in the background. The multi-colored paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling provided a bright, Asian-inspired atmosphere. Both the hostess who tended us and the manager who stopped by our table were friendly, efficient, and welcoming.

And then there was the food!

My assistant has a fondness for pork-stuffed steamed buns. She had mentioned them many times. And there they were on the menu! She couldn’t resist.

Pork-stuffed steamed buns.

I opted for a lunch special, which began with a passable hot and sour soup. For the main course, I chose Sichuan Prawns. The large shrimp came cooked in a slightly spicy sauce with mild red peppers, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, garlic, and ginger. In a nod toward fusion, slices of chayote were included in the mix. A generous helping of fried rice accompanied the entrée and was made even better by mixing it with some of the sauce.

Sichuan prawns.

Brightly colored decorations, a friendly staff, and food that was not only delicious but fit the bright mood of the day. Folsom Palace Asian Bistro deserves a return visit!

Zia’s Italian Café & Gelato Bar

July 19, 2017 – Twice she brought home small, hand pies from a nearby bakery.  Blueberry and apple.  The crust enclosing the fruit filling was as good as I’ve ever eaten.  I preferred the apple filling but I would probably eat that crust with most anything enfolded in it.  It’s that good.  I had to visit Zia’s Italian Café & Gelato Bar.

Zia’s is a small, brilliant jewel.  It is a coffee house that serves the finest coffee in beautiful presentations.

It’s a gelato bar offering multiple flavors of creamy gelato made in house.

It’s a bakery where pastry chef Sergio Mendoza-Orta produces  an assortment of sweets enclosed in that magnificent, perfect crust.  And rows of other delectable delicacies.

If you want lunch, they offer a selection of excellent spuntini.  Translated literally spuntini are “snacks.”  Small plates.

It’s a little bit of Italy in California.

Owner Shari Coia Fulton stopped by my table to say hello.  She opened Zia’s eight years ago in Placerville.  After four and a half years, she moved the café a few miles down the road to El Dorado Hills.  She oversees a staff that is friendly and helpful.  A staff that makes it downright fun to be there.

Matteo Boger manages the front of the house.  Desiray and Sean seemed pretty easy to manage from what I could see.  Both showed up with the courses I had ordered at just the right time.  Memorable service.

In the kitchen, Chef Sergio works his magic daily turning out one pastry after another.    Desiray also spends time in the kitchen.  The day I was there she had started early in the morning making scones.  More magic.

I was hungry.  I ordered the Roman Holiday.  Bacon, eggs, tomato, shaved Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese nestled in a piadina.  Piadina is a thin flatbread most often associated with the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.  With Bologna as its capital, Emilia-Romagna is surrounded by the better known Tuscany, Lombardy, and Veneto.  With Florence, Milan, and Venice as competition, Bologna gets little attention.  The piadina, however, has been added to Italy’s list of traditional regional food products and attributed to the Emilia-Romagna region.

My piadina was excellent.  It was very light, a quality that transferred nicely to the ingredients.  Satisfying but not heavy.  A perfect mid day spuntini.

I asked for a medium gelato.  Peach melba.  I got three scoops of Italy’s famous answer to ice cream.  Gelato has less fat content than ice cream.  Also less air.  It has a smooth texture that just isn’t found in traditional American ice cream.  Zia’s gelato is excellent.

Zia’s offers a lot of chocolate.  And their chocolate comes from TCHO in San Francisco.  I’ve visited TCHO.  It’s all about chocolate.  It’s a place for chocolate lovers. You can read about TCHO here.  http://travelsthroughalife.com/?cat=5&paged=4

But after devouring my spuntini and gelato, I was content.

They were out of the blueberry hand pies that day.  I had to settle for two apple pies to take home.

Guess I’ll have to go back for the blueberry.

 

 

Squeeze Inn

August 8, 2016 – If you’re a fan of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive Ins & Dives, as are we, you’ve probably seen the episode in which Guy visits the Squeeze Inn in Sacramento.  A tiny little place opened by Travis Hausauer a few years ago.

Travis is a cheese lover.  He created a cheese lover’s burger.  A burger, good enough on its own, set in a frame of steamed, toasted cheese extending three inches all the way around.  An amazing sandwich!

Britney asked us if we wanted a table or would we prefer to sit at the bar.  We said we’d sit at the bar.  It seemed the thing to do in a place called the Squeeze Inn.  She said she’d be right back.  She had one table to tend ahead of us.  She said that as she literally ran to her waiting customers.

True to her word she was back quickly to take our drink orders.  In addition to the usual soft drinks, they offered River City Orange Cream Soda.  Artisanal.  Locally made.  In a bottle.  I had to try it.

What would be the point, we asked each other, of coming to the Squeeze Inn without having the Squeeze Burger?  Travis Hausauer’s cheesy creation that had fascinated us when we say Guy tackling one on tv.  My wife ordered the Squeeze Burger.  Fully dressed, as we say in New Orleans, with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato and pickle.  On the theory that jalapenos make anything better,  I added the semi spicy peppers to my Squeeze Burger.

I sipped the River City Orange Cream Soda as we watched our burgers come to life on the grill.  The soda lived up to its name.  Creamy.  Just enough orange to compliment the vanilla without overcoming it.  Soda-licious!

We were fascinated watching our Squeeze Burgers being made.  Travis Hausauer developed a unique style.  Starting with a burger.  A third of a pound of meat on the grill.  Cover it with a pile of cheese.  A large pile of cheese.  Let that melt down a bit.  What happens next borders on the surreal.  A cheese lovers dream!

A handful of ice is tossed onto the grill.  The burger is covered to let it steam briefly.  When the cover is removed the cheese has encircled the burger.  Left on the grill a bit longer to let the cheese toast, it’s brought to table looking like a work of art.  A delightful, exquisite, lovely work of food art.

Now to figure out how to eat the Squeeze Burger.  Some fold the cheese in on top of itself under the bun.  I like the taste of toasted cheese too much for that.  I ate the ring of cheese all the way around the bun.  Then I started on the burger itself.  The next few minutes were highly pleasurable.

When we left it was clear we wouldn’t be cooking dinner.  We had gorged ourselves far too much.   We were looking forward to a nap.  Perhaps a martini and light hors d’oeuvres later as we watched the Olympics from our couch and wondered where the athletes got all that energy.

But then we hadn’t seen a single one of them at the Squeeze Inn.

Oh, well.  Their loss.

 

 

Early Toast Mimosa House

July 24, 2016 – My birthday.  All I wanted was to go to a small restaurant we have passed many times.  Each time we pass it we say we should try it.  That’s what I wanted for my birthday.  To try Early Toast Mimosa House in El Dorado Hills.  I got my wish and more.  To add to the occasion, I was surprised to find my wife’s mother and stepfather had driven several hours to join us for the celebration.

Early Toast Mimosa House is not like going to a restaurant.  It’s more like a house party hosted by a very fun family.  Or maybe a circus.  Nicole, the young woman assigned to tend our table, brought a communicable energy to the chore.  As we consulted with her on the menu, we watched the parade of activity going on behind her.  One of her colleagues passed by balancing a stack of glasses that reached a good seven feet over his head.  Another held a dozen white coffee mugs in a Rubik’s Cube type configuration.

Early Toast Mimosa House offers breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.  But it’s the breakfast dishes and the mimosas that make the party.  And the very fun family hosting the party is the Dedier family.  Lou, Stephanie and son, Devin.  With restaurants in El Dorado Hills and Roseville, and a third soon to open in Sacramento, the Dediers are creating their own chain where good food and good times make memorable occasions.

We started with mimosas.  Hey, it’s the Mimosa House.  There are 35 varieties of mimosas available .  To make the most of the morning my wife and I each chose to try a flight of three.  I selected the Beach Bum (mango & watermelon), the Peachy Keen (white grape & peach) and the Roseville (orange & strawberry).  The Beach Bum was my favorite.  My wife raved about the Red Head (ginger & lime).  Later I ordered a separate glass of the Red Head.  Good but the Beach Bum is still my favorite.

In a deliciously amusing play on a New Orleans beignet, Early Toast Mimosa House has the toastie.  Thick sliced squares of bread deep fried.  Sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar, the toasties stir memories of mornings at the Café du Monde.  So pleasant in both taste and memory.

Breakfast is my favorite meal.  But I confess it is the one meal in which I find myself consistently in a rut.  I always seem to order the same things if they’re on the menu.  Chicken-fried steak and eggs.  Steak and eggs.  Any variety of link sausage and eggs.  And, whenever it’s available, loco moco, that wonderful heart-attack-in-a-bowl originating on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The Early Toast Mimosa House menu has all of them.

But it was a milestone birthday.  I was determined to break out of my breakfast rut.  I ordered crab cake Benedict.

Now my wife was challenged.  She also tends to be in a breakfast rut.  Her go-to breakfast is most anything followed by the word Benedict.  Her logic told her that if I ordered crab cake Benedict she should look elsewhere on the menu.  She found huevos rancheros.  Her mother also ordered huevos rancheros.  Her stepfather played it safe with a scrambled egg and sausage skillet.

Back to the crab cake Benedict.  The crab cake was a delightful patty of snow crab resting on an English muffin.  Pleasingly reminiscent of the sea.  Poached eggs are traditional with a Benedict.  Not my favorite method of preparing eggs.  The eggs topping my crab cakes, however, were cooked perfectly.

But the real test of a Benedict is the hardest to prepare.  Hollandaise.  Named one of the five mother sauces by the great chef Georges Auguste Escoffier, it’s not an easy sauce to prepare.  Short cuts don’t work well.  The Hollandaise accompanying my crab cake Benedict was delectable.  It brought the dish together in taste, texture and color.

My wife declared the huevos rancheros magnificent.  She thought the tortillas, if not an in house production, were certainly made near by.  They were covered by beans and a ranchero sauce in which the tomatoes were coarsely chopped and lightly charred.  Two fried eggs, (perfectly cooked, she also said) lay over the beans and ranchero sauce, topped in turn with cheese, green onions, sour cream and slices of avocado.

We went to Early Toast The Mimosa House for a late breakfast to celebrate my birthday.  It turned into a three and a half hour party.

With 29 mimosas yet to try.

Happy birthday to me!

 

Ruffhaus Hot Dog Company

April 27, 2016 – I love hot dogs.  All kinds of hot dogs.  Kosher dogs.  Chili dogs.  Dogs with sauerkraut.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  A hot dog on a bun with a smear of Creole mustard, maybe a few chopped onions and I’m happy.

I don’t take sides in the never ending debate between New York versus Chicago.  The New York style dog with its mustard, kraut and onion is elegant in its simplicity.

The Chicago dog, I would have to say, is pure adventure.  With its plain yellow mustard, Chicago sweet pickle relish, chopped tomato and onion, spear of dill pickle, two or three sport peppers and celery salt on a poppy seed bun, eating it can be quite the enterprise.

The Ruffhaus Hot Dog Company in El Dorado Hills was opened with people like me in mind.  Owner Charles Knight, an experienced chef who decided he wanted to make hot dogs, seems to favor the Chicago dog.  At least “Chicago Style” spelled out in big red letters could be a clue.  That and the lack of a New York dog on the menu.  But he does allow his customers latitude to build their own dogs.

And he provides a pub-style atmosphere that is fun.  The walls of the Ruffhaus Hot Dog Company are covered with all sorts of happy items, not the least of which is a large American flag.  In the middle of the room is an old fashioned telephone booth, a relic that always makes me smile

My wife ordered only the tater tots from the appetizer menu.  Tater tots are on a lot of restaurant menus these days. I was appalled not long ago when I asked the person tending our table at a restaurant that will remain unnamed if they made the tater tots in house.  He said they did not.  They buy the frozen ones like everyone else.

Not so at the Ruffhaus Hot Dog Company!  Ruffhaus tater tots are made by mixing shredded potato with cheddar cheese and chives.  They’re served with rosemary-lemon aioli, also made in house.  Delectable.

I had awakened in the middle of the night and spent half the day on an airplane.  I had eaten nothing.  I was going for it.  A Chicago dog for me!  With a side of chili cheese fries!

The Chicago dog is a big sandwich.  It’s not easy to eat.  But it’s worth the effort.  The dill pickle spear and sport peppers add a little tang and spice.  The dog itself overhangs the sesame seed bun by an inch on either side.  It’s a two, maybe three, napkin sandwich.  It was a mouthwatering sight just lying on the plate.  Not for long.

For those who don’t care for hot dogs (as unbelievable as that might seem) the menu offers several options.  Fish and chips.  Fish tacos.  Italian beef sandwich.  Pulled pork.  Shepherd’s pie.

But enough of that.  Back to the hot dogs.  There’s a Coney Dog:  chili, onions and mustard.  The Sonoran:  a bacon-wrapped beef frank, pinto beans, chipotle mayo, and pico de gallo.  The Wolfsberg Edition:  Beer steamed bratwurst (Yeah, I love brats, too.), sauerkraut and German mustard.  And The Bomb:  chili, cheddar cheese, chopped red onion and jalapenos.

Knight’s motto is:  We are not fast food.  We are great food.

Well done, Chef.

Save me a seat at the bar.  I have four dogs yet to try.

 

Bistro 33

April 9, 2016 – I was surprised when my wife ordered the Bourbon & Berries.  She’s not a fan of bourbon.  It was, she said, the berries that drew her to it.  Maker’s Mark bourbon, fresh strawberries, cucumber, mint, agave nectar and orange bitters.  She tasted and remembered that she’s not a fan of bourbon.

I ordered a drink called Lip Service.  It’s made with Hendrick’s gin.  With its cucumber infusion and mild taste, Hendricks is my choice for most any gin based cocktail.  It was delicious.

Still we had the problem of my wife’s Bourbon & Berries.  Would I trade with her?  As much as I like Hendrick’s gin, I like bourbon equally.  I was happy to swap drinks with her.  I thought the Bourbon & Berries was extraordinary.  It was a good trade.

We were meeting her mother and stepfather at Bistro 33 in El Dorado Hills.  We got there a few minutes early.  It was pleasant as we sat near the door to the terrace.  It was pouring rain so sitting outside was not an option.  But the door was open slightly.  The sound of the rain was soothing background as we sipped our cocktails and studied the menu.

When my in-laws arrived, Vicky asked for a Moscow Mule, which came in the customary copper mug.  They had a long drive ahead of them with John behind the wheel.  He opted for iced tea.

It was happy hour at Bistro 33.  We ordered a selection of small plates to share.

I asked for the Philly Cheesesteak Sliders and  criss cut fries.  The Bistro 33 version of the beloved Philly sandwiches were made appropriately with thin slices of beef and cheese (in this version white cheddar) on small Hawaiian sweet bread buns.  The surprise was the inclusion of hot peppers mixed in with the beef.  The combination of spicy beef, mild cheese and slightly sweet bread worked well.  Nicely done.

The criss cut fries, also called waffle fries, were accompanied by an excellent sauce with gorgonzola cheese as its base.  A mild counterpoint to the spicy sliders.

Vicky requested Buffalo wings and a chicken enchilada dip.  The dip came with chunks of chicken in a Vera Cruz salsa with lime crème.  The Vera Cruz salsa was a good choice for the dip.  Traditionally made with onion, garlic, tomato, chilis, olives, capers, oregano, majoram and bay leaf, it was a nice lift for the chicken.

The Buffalo wings were terrific.  I was thankful that Bistro 33 decided not to go the far too common route of slathering them with a non descript barbeque sauce.  The wings were enticingly crisp with a slight hint of smoke.  Served with the traditional bleu cheese sauce, they were great.

John had ordered a crab Louis, a west coast favorite since 1914.  Chunks of Dungeness crab, red onion, cucumber, tomato and romaine lettuce.  While there are a selection of dressings that are commonly served with this salad, Bistro 33 uses a version of the mayonnaise based Louis dressing.

He also requested chicken satay.  The thin ribbons of chicken threaded on wooden skewers came with the traditional peanut sauce made in house at Bistro 33.

My wife was probably the most clever of us all.  She ordered nothing but a plate and fork. She got treats from every dish on the table.  And she convinced me to trade cocktails with her.

What a clever girl!

 

Milestone

April 2, 2016 – When they put together the menu for Milestone, their new restaurant in El Dorado Hills, Nick Dedier and Russell Okubo say they were thinking “memory driven American classic.”  They wanted a menu that evoked nostalgia.  A menu of hearty comfort food.  Combined with the impressive wine list, the menu defines Milestone as middle America meets Napa.  With the able assistance of their managing partner for Milestone, Alexa Hazelton, they have done well.

It was our fifth anniversary.  My wife and I planned a special evening.  We stopped by Nick and Russell’s Aji Asian Bistro in the late afternoon for cocktails.  I swore I wasn’t going to order any of their wonderful happy hour small plates.  But another promise broken.  They’ve added fried oysters to the happy hour menu.  Curses!  Oysters rolled in Panko and lightly fried so as to remain plump and juicy.  Couldn’t resist.  And the Tequila Sunrise was a perfect pairing.

From Aji we traveled the short distance to Milestone for our evening reservation.  As we perused the menu, my wife asked for a Chardonnay; I opted for a Prosecco.  We ordered the artichoke dip for a first course.  It came nicely seasoned with shaved Parmesan and just a hint of lemon, escorted by slices of a warm baguette .

My wife ordered the veal schnitzel, that staple of Austrian and German kitchens, served with a whole grain mustard sauce.  Even better, it was also came with green beans and sunchoke.  Also known as a Jerusalem artichoke (for no discernable reason), it’s a vegetable neither of us had ever tasted.

It’s very difficult to find sunchokes.  Few grocers carry them.  That’s unfortunate.  With a slightly bitter taste reminiscent of a turnip, they’re delicious.  Especially when paired with a relatively mild-flavored meat like veal.

I ordered a half rack of Kansas City-style barbequed ribs.  The style of barbeque we know as Kansas City was developed by Henry Perry in the early 20th century.  It is slow-smoked, which they do in house at Milestone.  It traditionally comes with a thick tomato-molasses barbeque sauce, which they also make in house.

The ribs placed in front of me had that dark, crusty, chewy bark that we so love on good barbeque.  It’s the result of the Maillard reaction and other chemical changes that occur when heat is applied to meat.  But then who cares?  It’s delicious.  And beneath the bark was that juicy, fall-off-the-bone meat of which we’re also so fond.

I couldn’t withstand the temptation of a side of wild mushrooms.  Not a traditional accompaniment to ribs but again, who cares?  They were terrific.  As was the mac & cheese that my wife felt like she had to try.

But wait!  The genius of Milestone’s “memory driven, American classic” menu was yet to come.  We asked about dessert.  Is there anyone among us who has so little child left within that they can resist freshly baked chocolate chip cookies with (you’re not going to believe this) a glass of milk?  Certainly not me.  The milk came in a miniature of the bottles the milk man of decades past once left at the front door.  It was just the best.

And there was more!  As their anniversary gift to us, Alexa brought us a slice of their pineapple cheesecake.  Light and fluffy with just the perfect hint of pineapple topped with a dollop of hand made whipped cream.  Highly pleasant.

One final note:  The portions are huge.  We couldn’t eat everything placed before us.  We left the restaurant with a shopping bag full of delightful treats, enough to continue our celebration for a few days.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place to celebrate our anniversary.

Thanks, Milestone!

 

 

 

 

Land Ocean

March 26, 2016 – It was the bottomless Mimosas served at the weekend brunch that got our attention.  How could you not go for that?

So on a Saturday we found ourselves at Land Ocean in Folsom, California.  True to their word, Shelby, the young lady assigned to tend our table, passed by every few minutes to top off our Mimosas.  Along with the warm mini muffins, the Mimosas made for a happy beginning.

Land Ocean is owned by the husband/wife team of Mark and Karoline Platt.  They also own Sienna, a restaurant we visited a few months ago.  (You can find my review of Sienna in the California category.)  It’s an excellent restaurant.

So is Land Ocean.

The décor is dark.  Inviting.  The windows are louvered to let in light but block the heat of summer.  The bottles behind the bar are lit with colored lights giving them a circus-like appearance.  The bar looks like fun.

The staff is friendly and efficient.  Sean Doherty, the manager on duty, stopped by our table to say hello.  He’s a recent arrival in the Folsom area.  His enthusiasm for both his new home and the restaurant placed in his care are a pleasure to witness.

My wife is a devoted carnivore.  She ordered the bistro steak from the lunch menu.  A small steak marinated in a red wine sauce, served with Yukon gold smashed potatoes, cherry tomatoes and asparagus. Simple.  She found it to be pleasing.

Breakfast is my favorite meal.  While I’m quite adventurous, willing to try most anything at lunch or dinner, I tend to be rather boring with my breakfast orders.  Two eggs, over easy with bacon, pork link sausage or ham.  If chicken-fried steak is on the menu, I can’t  resist it.  Yeah, I’m in a breakfast rut.

Today, however, was brunch.  Which is sort of like breakfast only with lunch offered as an option.  I decided today I was going to stay with breakfast but get out of my rut.

Land Ocean didn’t make it easy.  There it was.  Right there on the menu.  They call it country fried steak.  But I know what it is.  And I was tempted.  I fought it.  I struggled.

I won!

I ordered the Italian sausage frittata.  Like me, it, too, was a winner.   While it was more like scrambled eggs than a frittata, it was worth taking the risk of abandoning my tried and true favorite.  The eggs, mixed with nuggets of fennel-spiced Italian sausage and sweet red pepper, covered with melted Gruyere and Cheddar cheese, rested on a bed of country potatoes.  In yet another nod to fusion, the plate was accompanied by a small container of sausage gravy.  Nice.  Very nice!

There are several more dishes on the Land Ocean brunch menu I’d like to try when we go back.  Perhaps the chilaquiles (eggs with chorizo and black beans) or crab cake Benedict.  Both sound inviting.

And there’s the country fried steak.  It’ll always be there for me.

 

 

 

Placerville

March 19, 2016 – It was called Hangtown.  Not a name that conjures up the image of an idyllic rural community.

For a time back in the 1850s, it earned its name.  A series outlaws were hanged from the limbs of a large oak tree that grew in the center of town.  Officers of the court were few in those days.  With or without their presence, justice could be swift.  Commission of the crime, arrest, trial and execution of the sentence might be carried out the same day.  Efficient.

Actually the original name of the community that grew up to support the miners after gold was discovered eight miles down the road in 1848 was Dry Diggings.  But then that doesn’t exactly project optimism either.

City fathers finally settled on the name Placerville when a post office was opened.  It seemed a more civilized, even welcoming, name for a rapidly growing community on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada foothills.  And Placerville fared well.  For a while it was the third largest community in California.  Now it’s a pleasant small town of about 10,000 people.

Placerville prospered in those days.  A few miners did well.  As in most of the gold rushes around the country, it was more often the merchants who amassed the greater fortunes.  Men like Levi Strauss, who came to Placerville in 1873 to open a dry goods store.  He struck it rich when he and a partner patented a process of using brass rivets to reinforce the seams of heavy duty work pants.  .

And John Studebaker, who took the $8,000 he made building wheelbarrows for the miners back to Indiana where he and his brothers made wagons.  In 1902 his son in law convinced him to build electric cars.  They switched to gasoline-powered vehicles two years later.

Studebaker remained very conservative in his views.  He even urged consumers to be cautious in buying his cars.  “The automobile has come to stay,” he said.  “But when a man has no business it is a rather expensive luxury and I would advise no man…to buy one until he has sufficient income to keep it up.  A horse and buggy will afford a great deal of enjoyment.”

Nonetheless, for the next half century the Studebakers did very well.  And it all started in Placerville.

Among the most clever and innovative were a couple of fellows named Fountain and Tallman.  The water in the local creeks was becoming fouled by the mining activities.  Fountain and Tallman put up a building beside a natural spring.  They used steam powered 1852 technology to carbonate the water, sometimes flavor it and bottle it.  Fountain and Tallman were proved even more far-sighted when their building, constructed of stone and brick, was one of the few in Placerville that remained standing after the two fires that wiped out most of the town.

Today’s Placerville is one of those quaint communities with lots of history that are so much fun to explore.  You never know what you’ll find.

You might want to climb aboard the 1850s stagecoach and go bouncing through the old town.

Or check out the 1857 Cary Hotel, where all the rooms are furnished with antique and period furniture.  And for the adventurous there are rooms on the second floor where the hotel’s “always friendly spirits” might make themselves known.

We also happened on a bit of culinary history.  The Original Mel’s Diner.  Opened in 1947, Mel’s lays claim to being the inspiration for both the ’70s television show Aliceand the classic movie American Graffiti.

I love diners so there was no way we were passing that up.  I ordered the Hangover II, even though I wasn’t.  It was the largest plate of food I have ever had placed in front of me.  Ever!

A bed of Mel’s potatoes, covered with a couple of biscuits, decorated with bacon, sausage and a slice of ham.  The whole covered with gravy and topped with three fried eggs.  It was diner heaven.

I ate as much as I could.  We boxed the rest of it and took it home with us.  There was enough for two people for dinner last night.  I finally finished the last of the potatoes with a couple of fried eggs for Sunday morning breakfast.

We’ll be going back to Placerville.  There’s a winery we want to visit.  And there’s no way my wife can pass on a hotel with “friendly spirits!”

We’ll probably find other things we want to explore on our next visit.  It’s that kind of town.

Fat’s Asia Bistro & Dim Sum Bar

February 14, 2016 – I love the serendipity of life.  It leads you to some amazing places.  Memorable adventures.  Great food.

To celebrate Valentine’s Day we decided to go to one of our favorite restaurants in the afternoon and enjoy some of their small plates and perhaps a cocktail or two.  We miscalculated.  All the restaurants were completely booked.  Not even bar tables available.  Most had special Valentine menus.

My wife remembered an Asian restaurant she had frequented once.  When we called they said they did have tables available in the bar.  We drove right over.  Once again serendipity led us to a noteworthy experience.

Fat’s Asia Bistro & Dim Sum Bar in Folsom is one of four restaurants in the Sacramento area owned by the Fat family.  Frank Fat immigrated to California from China’s Canton Province in 1919.  He worked at whatever jobs he could get for 20 years.  In 1939, the story goes, he so impressed a man he had just met that the man loaned him $2,000 to open a restaurant.

He used the money to open Frank Fat’s in Sacramento.  The food was good.  The atmosphere was enticing.  Before long Frank Fat’s became a favorite gathering place of politicians, business leaders and socialites in California’s capital city.  In 2013 the restaurant was honored with a James Beard Award, a mark of excellence in the world of food.  Today the third generation of the Fat family is maintaining the high standards set by their grandfather.

But back to our misjudgment that led to a most delightful Valentine’s Day.  Fat’s Asia Bistro & Dim Sum Bar in Folsom.

It, too, was busy on this most romantic of holidays.  When we arrived three parties were seated on benches outside the front door waiting for tables.  My wife walked through the bar to see if she could spot one of the tall tables that might be available.  As she passed one occupied table the couple told her they would be leaving as soon as they settled their bill.

Within five minutes we were comfortably seated on the bar side of the elegant restaurant.  We were also fortunate that the young woman assigned to our table was Tonya, perhaps one of the best restaurant workers I can recall encountering.  She was doing the work of two people.  Almost running from kitchen and bar to table.  But her smile came quickly and her sense of humor was likely what kept her motor running.

Her poker face when she told me they were out of water fooled me completely.  She could have a career as a professional gambler or in stand up comedy.  I got a glass of water and a good laugh as well.

My wife ordered an Asian martini with a touch of Midori.  Midori is an extremely sweet melon-flavored liqueur that originated in Japan.  She was happy with her martini.

I asked for a mojito.  What I got was the best mojito I’ve ever had.

A mojito isn’t the easiest cocktail to get right.  It’s a mixture of white rum, sugar cane juice (though most bars use plain sugar), lime juice, sparkling water and muddled mint.  I don’t often order them because it’s difficult to get the proper balance of ingredients.  Most are either too sweet or not sweet at all.  The bar at Fat’s Asia Bistro got it perfectly correct.

The mojito was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite cocktail.  Papa would have spent the afternoon ordering the mojitos at Fat’s.  One after another.

For a starter we opted for a steaming bowl of spicy edamame.  The green soy bean pods arrived tossed with slim hot red peppers in a finger-licking slightly sweet sauce.  We couldn’t eat them fast enough.  Like the mojito, I thought the edamame were the best I’ve ever been served.

My wife ordered the Dim Sum Basket.  The wooden Asian-style basket came filled with chicken pot stickers, pork shu mei (pork filled dumplings) and crab Rangoon (won tons with a creamy crab filling).  The pork shu mei and crab Rangoon that I tried would be hard to beat.

I asked for the Genghis Khan beef.  Flank steak stir-fried with jalapenos and mushrooms served with shrimp and pork won tons.  The steak was falling apart tender.  The dish was spicy and flavorful.  Terrific.  Simply terrific.

On the way out I walked by the glass case where the restaurant displays its desserts.  There was a whole banana cream pie.  I had a feeling it wanted to go home with me.  I was tempted but decided against it.  Another miscalculation.  When I researched the history of the restaurant dynasty that Frank Fat started those many years ago I learned that banana cream pie was, and is, a specialty of Fat’s restaurants.

I’m going back for a banana cream pie.

Some more edamame.

Another mojito.