Last Xango in Folsom
Folsom, CA 95630
To balance out all its wine bars, shouldn’t Midtown be getting a sophisticated beer spot, with a long list of intriguing drafts? Folsom, after all, has had such a place for a few months now in the shape of Manderes, which offers three flat screens, a full dinner menu and 20 beers on tap (not to mention 150-plus in the bottle). The mahogany-toned, high-banquetted, oddly square dining room provoked debate at our table: We couldn’t decide if the building on a strip-mallish stretch of East Bidwell used to be a credit union or a convenience store. (When we saw that restrooms were accessed from outside via those heavy metal doors you see at gas stations, we thought maybe the latter.)
It’s an awkward space, but the bar/restaurant is making a brave effort at being upscale, clubby and guy-friendly—and serious about beer. When the menu tells you the Chimay White has “hints of fig” and gives the alcohol percentage and brewing details, it’s not messing around; the beers were indeed delicious. We weren’t, however, offered the complete list, a bound book that showed all of the offerings (including high-priced reserve beers and some wines)—an oversight that was typical of the overly casual, if genial, approach to service.
We started off with some “black and tan” onion rings, zebra-striped with Irish stout that had soaked into the slightly greasy, hefty rings. They were a bit gummy on the inside, but crunchy enough outside, and salted and peppered enough to make them compulsively snackable. The menu is rich in this kind of beer-friendly bar snack.
The crab, lobster and corn chowder sounded promising—I envisioned chunks of crustacean and fresh sweet corn, thanks to a seductive menu description promising “large succulent pieces of crab and lobster meat”—but it was a thick, stand-a-spoon-in-it base, packed with corn (soft and, I’d bet, frozen) and potato. The creamy soup did have a sweet savor of crab broth, but the only evidence of actual seafood was a few chunks of blatantly fake crab, along with shreds of red pepper and other garnishes. I don’t make the surimi accusation lightly, but this substance was a flat, bright, solid orangey red on top—no subtle shading or stippling. In short, it wasn’t even good-quality surimi. My small green salad was pretty big, fresh and appealing, though jamming it in a square bowl with the dressing on the side made it hard to dress and eat.
The shrimp dish kept things simple: plump shrimp, ever so slightly overcooked, with lots of garlic and butter, a nothing-unusual vegetable mélange and white rice. It was basically unobjectionable, but a smallish portion—especially when compared to the plate of Old Rasputin ribs, with a gigantic slab that practically looked like half a pig. With a strong, spicy beer glaze, a smoke-pink interior and just the right degree of finger-licking fattiness, they were good ribs. Some fries, spiced and of the coated style that’s popular now, came alongside a little dish of mango slaw (shredded cabbage, carrots and raisins, though its sweet dressing tasted like its introduction to mango had come via one Major Grey).
The other dish we tried, beef bulgogi, had also been oversugared; the chewy, slightly too thick slices of beef had a marinade shy on sesame or soy or garlic flavors, but long on candylike overtones. It was attractive, though, with little pickles surrounding rice and the beef on a big, oversized square white platter.
And then we came to dessert. They only have one, and it’s a doozy: called, bizarrely, the Xango. It includes towers of deep-fried cheesecake wrapped in a crunchy cinnamon-sugar encrusted pastry-shell thing, with a tall, crisp strip of the same pastry stuck in at a jaunty angle; vast quantities of obviously low-quality vanilla ice cream drizzled with a caramelly sauce; and some piles of canned mandarin oranges. I could have sworn the server said something about mango, but none was in evidence.
The problems with this dessert were legion. The ice cream was mostly air, and it was half-melted when we got it; plus, it tasted, as one of our friends said, like someone had dumped half a bottle of artificial vanilla extract in it. Deep-frying did the cheesecake no favors, turning it into unctuous dairy goo. And finally, canned mandarins? Seriously? Surely some tastier fresh fruit would not have been hard to find. Personally, I would have liked a pile of the crunchy, churro-like pastry strips and a decaf espresso much better than the over-the-top Xango—but, a note to restaurants that can’t invest in a pastry chef: If you are going to come up with just one dessert, make it something simple, chocolaty and hard to screw up.
As my husband said, we think it will be our last Xango in Folsom—and another time we might stick to the draft menu. In short: If you love interesting ales and lagers, go for the beer. Stay for another beer. But if you’re ordering dinner, make sure you get something with beer in it.