Posted on January 8, 2012 – 8:42 PM | by Admin
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By Becky Grunewald  Photos by Scott Duncan

Dinner and a movie.  Is the concept obsolete these days?  Should the phrase be “seasons one through five of Weeds on Netflix streaming while eating an order of Pizza Hut cheesy bread with an intermission of a (medically prescribed) jaybone of MK Ultra”?  That just doesn’t have the same ring, does it? 

I posit that there are still reasons to drag oneself out into the cold, interact with one’s fellow man and head over to the local art house theater to watch Lars Von Trier’s latest attempt to mime human emotion and dialogue (now with Dunst nipples!)  However, this duo can be tricky because it all comes down to the timing.  Leave too much time and you’ll be one of those early-arriving losers that theater workers hate (I know, I used to be one).  Leave too little time and, well, let’s just say (and I’m not going to name any names here*) but there’s a certain delicious-albeit-uneven vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant that has made me miss movies at Tower – twice! 

If a movie at Tower is your ultimate goal, there are many restaurants on Broadway from which to choose, some of which I have covered in these pages.  I recommend Tower Café if you are really worried about parking twice and/or are suffering from a disorder/medication side effect that renders your tastebuds inactive.  Barring that, Hokkaido is a good option.

Hokkaido has your basic, old-school Japanese restaurant décor; it’s not of the slick, sushi-lounge variety.  The plastic food on the counter is a nice touch.  There are a couple of flatscreen TVs, as usual, sound and captions turned off so that they truly serve no point, as usual.

My favorite thing about Hokkaido when it first opened was that they offered offal yakitori – your choice – hearts, gizzards or livers.  That is now crossed off the menu.  When I inquired as to why, our uncommunicative server had no answer.  I can only assume it was rarely ordered, which makes me sad.  Their chicken yakitori cheered me up; it’s heavily charred and juicy and bookended on the skewer by thick hunks of scallion.  The vegetable yakitori is a boring mix of green pepper, asparagus shaft, and barely-cooked mushroom.

Hokkaido serves an interesting ramen style: the broth is milky (maybe from soy milk? Again, the server did not know), and they put a lot in it: corn, two kinds of seaweed, buna shumeji mushrooms, spinach, and a perfectly soft-boiled egg.  It’s like a treasure hunt.  I got the house special ramen, which comes with a small portion of tender, spicy calamari and a few slices of intensely piggy cha siu.

Now I won’t claim this is high-level ramen.  The broth is thin – not rich or salty enough – and the noodles are a bit tough and lacking the perfection of Shoki’s.  However, it’s comfortable, tasty, and fast.

Time from ordering to check: 40 minutes.

So that takes care of Tower, but what about the Crest?  I was stoked to revisit Cosmo Café on the MidMo dime, and the very day I was to dine there, the Sac Bee broke the story that Randy Paragary is shutting it down and re-opening it as a Café Bernardo. Every Sacramentan is familiar with Bernardo’s solid fare, although I do hope he’ll freshen up the menu and watch the quality control; the Café Bernardo in my neighborhood has gone down to the point where I no longer frequent it.

My next thought: the Crest Café.  Friends who work at the Crest have recommended it to me.  No dice: it closes at 6 except on Fridays and Saturdays.  An aside – why do restaurants bother staying open until 5 or 6?  Why not close after lunch if you’re not going to be open for a proper dinner service? 

So Megami it was, a careworn restaurant adjacent to Broadacre Coffee. Megami has a sushi bar and, surprised to spy a bottle of Japanese whiskey sitting there, I asked the server if they have a full bar.  “Yes,” she sighed wearily, “it’s because we’ve been here 35 years. Not many people order it, but we have it.” 

Her sigh seemed to indicate that she had also been there 35 years as had, apparently, my enormous hot sake, which just tasted off

My yakiniku (just means “grilled”) beef was not exactly fresh off the grill; it was dry and bumpered with thick rims of tough fat.  The sauce tasted like it emerged from a bottle.  It sat atop a bed of depressed and depressing vegetables. Yosenabe, billed as a seafood soup, had a pretty tasty beef-based broth with a hint of brine to it.  Unfortunately the fish had been cooked to the point of being “fish jerky” (as my dining companion put it) and some of it had a hint of freezer burn.  The Napa cabbage in the soup was of a greyish hue.  The Ex-Factor sushi roll contained tempura shrimp and avocado and was topped with fresh shrimp.  It was decidedly passable, maybe even treading into “not bad” territory. 

Total time from ordering to check: 50 minutes.  Time to shake off this terrible meal: hours.

The next day, I was back and ready to rock.  Pizza Rock, that is.  I should have trusted my instincts and gone to Pizza Rock in the first place.  I’m sure you know the deal with the décor: a full-sized truck poking out of the wall and a godawful ceiling mural of God handing Adam a guitar.  My witty dining companion quipped “it’s like we’ve stepped into a guitar center catalog.”  The service is extremely friendly, bordering, in that modern way, on obsequious, but you can’t fault the servers for their training.  The water is constantly filled and all needs are met quickly. Pizza Rock can have a wait, but the server said that on a weeknight it shouldn’t be a problem, especially if you’re open to eating at the bar.  On a weekend, best to put your name in before you go to your 7 o’clock show, and then eat a late dinner.  He also recommended that you go for the wood-fired Neopolitan-style pizza because it comes out much more quickly.

The pancetta, mozzarella and arugula salad is very rustic and large (big enough for two) and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was largely composed of a big pile of baby arugula, with mozz and pancetta used as a condiment.  It was simply dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. 

The menu brags that they only serve up 77 margherita pizzas per day, a baffling claim.  Did you know, dear reader, that I briefly blogged for the national pizza blog Slice?  I gave it up because I found the endless parsing of the components of a pizza (the leopard-spotting, the crumb and on and on) to be tiresome.  So I won’t belabor the point here.  This is ok Neopolitan-style pizza.   There is a nice char to it (this one was right on the edge of too charred but rode that edge nicely) but the crust is a little bulky and flabby.  The sauce is on the sweet side.   Right now, Pizza Rock is probably the best option for a pre-Crest meal, but we’ll see if that changes with the opening of Blackbird Kitchen and Bar (at 9th and J) or the latest Café Bernardo.

Total time from ordering to check: 35 minutes and out the door.

*It’s Andy Nguyen.

Hokkaido, 1724 Broadway Blvd, (916) 492-2250

Megami, 1010 10th Street, (916) 448-4512

Pizza Rock, 1020 K Street, (916) 737-5777






  1. 7 Responses to “Showtime!”

  2. avatar

    By Matias A. Bombal on Jan 13, 2012 | Reply

    In Defense of Megami:
    I was horrified by the report of the experience at Megami in this story. While I understand that one has the ability to express an opinion in a review, I found the report not accurate as compared to my experience at Megami. Point in fact, I enjoyed Megami so much after my first meal there, I have made it a point to eat there at least once a week since that delightful first meal, which was in 1986! It is the restaurant which I have frequented more than any other in this town, now known for its abundance of eateries. Long before there was Sushi available every few blocks Alan Honda and wife Judy were blazing the trail with generous helpings and the freshest fish I have ever had in any sushi locale. I find the prices incredibly reasonable.
    You’ve written: My yakiniku (just means “grilled”) beef was not exactly fresh off the grill; it was dry and bumpered with thick rims of tough fat. The sauce tasted like it emerged from a bottle.
    I actually know for a fact that this is just not so. Megami offers chicken, beef, and pork yakiniku in a special yakiniku sauce that Mr. Honda makes from scratch every week in large cauldrons. I think it is so delicious that I have trouble deciding which to eat, but of recent have been favoring the pork.
    I would like to suggest the even though your article was sub-titled “in defense of dinner and a movie” I feel that it is the concept of dinner and a movie that should be dismissed. You may not serve two masters. One or the other; an excellent meal or a night at the show. To try both is a disservice to each. I go to Megami to enjoy really thoughtfully prepared food. To truly enjoy a meal, you must not feel rushed because you have to do something else afterwards. How can you digest properly? On average, to enjoy a meal, I’ll stay at Megami 1-2 hours. The sushi and conversation makes for the very reason I enjoy being alive.
    You describe the restaurant as careworn. How about unpretentious and family run? In 20 years, I’ve lost count of the number of people that I have taken with me to enjoy what is my very favorite restaurant in Sacramento. Not one of those people, many who would tell me the absolute truth, thought that the meal was anything less than fabulous. It is possible that once in a while one might have an off experience, and perhaps that is what you might have had, but it is by far not common. In fact, you are the very first person I have ever heard say something negative about the place in more than 20 years.
    I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is! I invite you to be my guest at Megami . I’ll pick you up in my vintage Mercedes, take you there, and dinner will be on me. I’ll happily sit there with you and try the same items or others with you and see if we are in agreement or not. I’ll politely return you to your home afterwards, no hard feelings. I only ask that you allow time for a proper enjoyable meal, and with no plans afterward. I really had a hard time with what you wrote, and unlike your article, I’ve not been able to “shake it off” in hours. I find it ironic that I also made a contribution to MidMo this month about Sacramento’s lost theatres. Ironic because the whole article was written by me sitting in Megami after my dinning partner had left following an hour and a half dinning and chatting enjoyably.
    Respectfully and Most Sincerely,

    Matías A. Bombal

  3. avatar

    By Art Scotland on Jan 14, 2012 | Reply

    Shame on you, Ms. Grunewald. Although you apparently fashion yourself as a movie and food critic, your review of Megami restaurant as part of your article, “Showtime! In Defense of Dinner and a Movie,” shows you are not a good judge of food and not a good judge of people. Indeed, it is evident that your inaccurate and gratuitously snide piece was written for dramatic effect and belongs under the category of snobbish fiction rather than a serious critique. For starters, your put down of the server (who is the wife of the restaurant owner and sushi master) reflects your lack of sensitivity to cultural differences. Rather than weary, as you perceived her, she is quiet, kind, and considerate. Beats brash in my book. And your description of the restaurant is equally off base. If you are expecting upscale trendiness, go to the French Laundry – and pay big bucks for it. Megami provides a good meal at a reasonable price in a setting that is fitting for such a good deal. This brings me to your flagrant critique of the food served at Megami. I, along with colleagues and friends, frequently eat at Megami and have never had a bad meal. Indeed, my friends who are sushi aficionados say Megami has some of the best in town – always fresh and tasty. Whether it was a problem with your taste buds or simply your misguided desire for literary flair and effect, you did a gross disservice to a nice family-run restaurant that for many years has been a go-to place for those who like good Japanese food at a fair price and who enjoy the low-key kindness of its owners.

  4. avatar

    By Scott M. Burns on Jan 18, 2012 | Reply

    Snide criticism seems to be the rage these days, so it was with considerable dismay that I read Ms Grunewald’s hit piece on Megami. I have read a number of her reviews in the past – sometimes with agreement, sometimes puzzled by how far off the mark she can be. This is an example of the latter. First Ms Grunewald first betrays her ignorance of the cuisine by stating “my yakiniku (just means ‘grilled’)…” No, that isn’t what yakiniku means. Yakiniku is a specific style of grilling, sometimes referred to as “Korean BBQ” that involves cutting the meat into bite-sized pieces, grilling it with a smoky char, and serving it with a spicy-sweet “tare” (sauce), either served directly on the meat or as a dipping sauce beside it. I have ordered yakiniku in dozens of Japanese and Korean restaurants throughout the U.S. (usually beef, but sometimes chicken or pork) and Alan’s recipe at Megami is among the best, if not the best I have had. Grunewald complains that the sauce tasted as if it came from a bottle. One could only wish that were true; I would love to bottle Megami’s sauce so I could savor it at home and demonstrate to some other places (including some of Sacto’s purportedly best) what they should be serving. Too often, restaurants serving yakiniku treat the sauce as an afterthought and simply use a sugary sweet bbq sauce. Megami’s is hand-crafted, with just the right mix of salt, sodium, and heat. Ms Grunewald’s failed attempt to be the chic critic is also belied by a couple of other snide comments. Her sake just tasted “off.” The question is whether it tasted more “off” than at any other place in town. Regrettably, the sake at Megami is the same commercial table-sake served at just about every other Japanese restaurant in town – no better, no worse and not much you can do to it, for good or ill. But then, it’s very reasonably priced and served at the right temperature — which is more than I can say at some of the upscale places in town. Another example? Grunewald starts off her review by describing the restaurant as “careworn”. I wonder if we have been eating in the same place. Megami is clean and attractively painted with a pleasant mix of traditional and contemporary Japanese art on the walls – and an occasional smattering of local art or photos. It also has a small outdoor seating area surrounded by custom metal railings with a pleasant, contemporary design. Like Mr. Bombal, I have been eating at the Megami regularly for more than 25 years – I’ve tried all the others that have opened since the boom began a decade or so ago. Megami may not be upscale, and it may not have chi-chi drinks, but it’s the one I keep coming back to for its damn good food, some of the most reasonably priced sushi in town, and an absolutely charming set of hosts with Alan and Judy Honda. I’m not alone – I’ve not only eaten their regularly for 25 years, but I’ve hosted anniversary parties, retirement parties, and birthday parties too. I’ve gotten nothing but compliments to share with Alan and Judy — and enlarged their stable of repeat clients. Perhaps Ms Grunewald hit it on a very rare off-night; perhaps she was too rushed; perhaps she was, herself, just a bit off that night. Maybe she should have sampled a shot or two of the whiskey she belittled. In any event, she deserves (and Megami deserves) a second try. If she would like to take Mr. Bombal up on his offer of a dinner; I’ll join them and treat for the whiskey.

  5. avatar

    By becky grunewald on Feb 2, 2012 | Reply

    I hate writing negative reviews and actually strive to only review places that I enjoyed. However, my meal at Megami was terrible, and also somewhat expensive, and yes, of course, that is a subjective opinion, as are all reviews. I went in with an open mind and was prepared to discover a hidden gem. The price and the sad state of the food left me a bit grumpy.

    I am definitely guilty of simply looking up “yakiniku” on wikipedia (I challenge you to find a food critic today who doesn’t occasionally google something) and was informed that it is a Japanese term meaning “grilled meat”. Perhaps that is not acccurate and you can take it up with wikipedia.

  6. avatar

    By Jana on Feb 2, 2012 | Reply

    I’m on Ms. Grunewald’s side on this one. I eat at Megami’s from time to time, being a downtown worker person, but I’ve never exactly been blown away by it. It’s a little dark, and a little pricey and a little sort of sticky for my tastes (as in the rice, not the seats or anything).

  7. avatar

    By Scott Miller on Feb 2, 2012 | Reply

    I think harsh criticism over a review (you scored the coveted “shame on you”) means you’ve finally made it in Sac!

  8. avatar

    By becky grunewald on Feb 3, 2012 | Reply

    I am ashamed of myself, but this isn’t why.

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