Appetizers
October 9, 2006
A Weekend of Good Eating

Aside from the tri-tip I grilled last night, the weekend provided a couple of other culinary highlights:

1) The chile rellenos at Mas Mexican Restaurant in Roseville. An item I generally avoid because of its frequently thick, heavy and oily batter, I nonetheless gave the Mas version a try solely for its menu description, which talked of the traditional chile poblano being filled with chopped beef, carrots, potato and two styles of Mexican cheese. No mention of the usual flour-and-egg batter that coats the chile just before it is fried. No sign of it, either, when the dish arrived. What we got was one large and glorious dark-green poblano chile pepper oozing with cheeses, meat and diced carrots and potatoes. The spicing was as hot and bright as the fireworks show during halftime at Woodcreek High School's homecoming football game we took in after dinner. The chile rellenos was half an entree under the "traditional favorites" section of Mas Mexican Restaurant's extensive and diverse menu. We paired it with the housemade tamale, also a decent interpretation, the cornmeal wrapping light and fresh, the pork filling chunky and tender, its pasilla sauce vibrant and sharp. And get this, the entire plate, which included a veritable puree of pinto beans and red rice, came to just $9.99. Mas is the successor to the Roseville branch of Cafe Bernardo. At 1563 Eureka Road, in a shopping plaza that also includes Town Lounge and Mikuni, it's a collaborative venture involving two high-profile talents of the Sacramento area's dining scene, Randy Paragary of the Paragary Restaurant Group and Ernesto Jimenez of the Ernesto's, Zocalo and Tortugas family of restaurants. The layout is basically the same as it was when Cafe Bernardo occupied the quarters, but colorful Mexican ceramics and big pots of healthy plants, as well as a spacious patio with artful fountain, give it the feel of a festive open-air restaurant in Guadalajara.

2) The whole Maine lobster at Fair Play Bistro in Fair Play, El Dorado County. OK, that's one heck of a long drive for lobster, about 50 miles from Sacramento, especially considering that lobster is one of the riskiest dishes to order anywhere anytime, given that it rarely lives up to its hype. But if you happen to be in the Fair Play area, perhaps after a day of tasting wine, or visiting the bake shops of Apple Hill, and have a mean hunger for lobster, the pound-and-a-quarter specimen that lands on your plate is going to be more satisfying than disappointing. While some of the meat was tough, most was fresh, sweet and tender, and it was backed up by corn on the cob (slightly overdone), splended boiled red potatoes, a fresh and refreshing coleslaw, and melted butter. All this for $19.95 a person. The promotion continues every Saturday through October. One precaution: Not only make reservations, but specify that you are coming for the lobster. We had, but at the relatively early hour of 5:25 p.m. our server looked panicky, made a big deal of not knowing whether enough lobsters were on hand, and had to check with the kitchen before assuring us that one was left. "Some didn't make it," she said, noting that they were alive when they left Maine. Also be aware that these lobsters are served whole, still in the shell, so be prepared to put on the big bib they provide and to start cracking and digging. In the end, it was fun, tasty and a bargain. More information: (530) 620-2492.

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