May saw Sacramento’s balmy springtime turn into 100 degree heat, the prelude to a summer heat that can only be crushed with the help of Merlino’s Freezes, Osaka-Ya shave ice and of the best ice cream in the region.
The state of flux is clear when I think back to the memorable meals of the past month. I escaped a windy Thursday night at a ramen shop in Natomas, soaked up the sun outside a new school Afghan restaurant and resorted to a burger and a cold beer after a sweaty expedition down the hills.
All of these reviews first appeared in The Sacramento Bee’s free weekly food and drink newsletter, which lands in subscribers’ inboxes around noon every Wednesday.
Morels are currently growing in Northern California, but my last foraging excursion went dry. I eased my sorrow instead Strong brew (552 Pleasant Valley Road) in the town of Diamond Springs, El Dorado County.
KC Sare and Scott Johnson, both from the Sierra Nevada foothills, founded Solid Ground in June 2017 as a 30-barrel brewery that goes above and beyond typical options. While Sare oversees an excellent brewing program, Johnson makes wine in-house. He is also the winemaker for Element 79 Vineyards in Somerset, and the two co-owners also contribute to Solid Ground’s cider-making program.
The $14 five-drink flights allow customers to try a bit of everything, including the refreshingly delicious Kyburz Kolsch (5.4% ABV). I can see more people ordering the easy drinking and session beer as temperatures continue to rise, especially with Solid Ground’s homemade burger ($15).
Made with beef from Kings Meats, a butcher shop less than a mile away on Pleasant Valley Road, the six-ounce burger patty is grilled with mustard before slipping between a soft brioche bun alongside sliced red onions, oven-roasted tomato sauce, iceberg lettuce and cheese of the customer’s choice. The hand cut fries were okay, if a bit inconsistent; that’s what you get without automation I guess.
Ugly Nugget ($12), as Solid Ground Fried Chicken Bites are known, sure taste great. Roughly cubed and dredged in buttermilk, they came with your choice of seasoning: salt and pepper, buffalo sauce, blue cheese, or a smoky/sweet chipotle dip that tasted a little like barbecue-based sauce. of guajillo pepper.
Koshi Ramen Bar
A few local gems spring from Natomas Marketplace’s sprawling kingdom of chain restaurants. Residential neighbors are particularly fond of Koshi Ramen BarJohn Tran’s Japanese restaurant at 3581 Truxel Road., Suite 2. (A sister restaurant with sushi and bento boxes, Koshi Eats, is in South Sacramento’s Delta Shores mall.)
I went for the Chicken Tan Tan Ramen ($13), with its milky red broth, sweet spices and mini bok choy that dip into a sea of ground meat. It was nice and filling, a little better than the classic tonkotsu ramen ($13)where the ear mushrooms gave the broth lots of flavor but came out slightly chewy on their own.
Ramen is in the name, but a simple unagi rice bowl ($11) stood out as much as anything about Koshi. The teriyaki glaze on a super tender grilled eel fillet tossed with cabbage and white rice was a well-executed comfort dish on a blustery May evening. Succulent meat at Koshi’s karaage chicken ($10) also makes for a great appetizer, with a mayonnaise-based orange sauce for dipping.
Avatar’s Indian bistro
I had a really good solo feast at Avatar’s Indian bistro, which opened in January at 8657 Auburn Folsom Rd. in Granite Bay. Brightly decorated with umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, it’s part of a family of owners who also claim Avatar Indian Grill in Salinas and Aabha Indian Cuisine in Sonoma.
Avatar’s has a creative streak rarely seen in restaurants in northern suburban India, as evidenced by the fig salads with apricots and racks of lamb marinated in papaya and pineapple juice. Vegetarian options are plentiful and nuanced, like the spiciness chickpea and pigeon pea soup ($6) full of the familiar combination of lemongrass and South Asian coconut milk.
The black gram dal ($14) was a highlight, its namesake legumes cooked with red beans overnight over low heat. A deep smoke of a homemade spice blend expertly cuts through the creamy taste and consistency of the stew.
The look for kebab ($20) was equally tasty, its gamey pink meat grilled in the tandoor and marked with Mughlai (Indo-Persian) herbs and spices. Served naked and off the skewer, it was tasty enough on its own but also a great vessel to sample Avatar’s trio of table chutneys: tamarind, cilantro and red pepper.
Afghan Urban Cuisine from the Shah’s House
Fancy a sit-down meal at Woodland? Check Afghan Urban Cuisine from the Shah’s HouseJuliana Garcia and Selymon Shahsamand’s modern halal restaurant at 538 Main St.
House of Shah leaves some of Shasamand’s family recipes intact and adds others with contemporary inflections, though the Bay Area native’s mother and grandmother have yet to sign off on the final product.
This approach appears in the chapli kebab burger ($12), a mixture of ground beef with cumin, coriander, red pepper and other spices. Crispy fried and served with garlic yogurt, your choice of cheese, and traditional burger accessories on an excellent brioche bun from Woodland-based Zest Fresh Pastry West, this was the best item I’ve tried.
More traditional was the tandoori chicken kebab plate ($14) with cumin pulao rice. I found the five chicken breast cubes a little dry, but they woke up nicely with the help of some bright green chutney and yogurt sauce.
Hot summer days must feel better with jala ($7), an Afghani sundae with a base layer of snow cone ice cream, two scoops of vanilla ice cream and a healthy dose of rose water and fluffy rice noodles – yes, really. Topped with crumbled pistachios and cardamom, it was both refreshing and different.