As we headed up East Roseville Parkway toward Paradise Grill, the Beach Boys, singing Surfin’ USA, came on the radio. It’s a sign, my friend said as we pulled into the parking lot.
The song had certainly prepared us: Paradise Grill glorifies clichd beach culture. The restaurant is decorated with glossy old wooden surfboards, booths with grass-hut ceilings, Hawaiian posters, hula girl paintings and a tropical fish tank. Floors are sea blue, a pretty rattan divider splits the dining room, and reggae playing in the background creates an upbeat atmosphere. The restaurant is reminiscent of the now-defunct Hukilau Island Grill in Sacramento, with a similar emphasis on wacky tropical drinks and having fun, and I prepared myself for a similar theme dining experience&emdash;one in which the environment, not the food, provides the substance of the meal.
However, it turned out that Paradise Grill had a few secrets to reveal: This happy, casual, beach-themed eatery also is serious about serving up Good Food. There is real commitment and creativity in the kitchen. And while not all the plates I sampled were successful, many were exciting and flavorful, with interestingly combined ingredients and thoughtful, attractive presentations.
The menu is decidedly ambitious for the style of the restaurant. You can choose from pricey entres, such as lamb chops with mango-mint chutney and oven-roasted spiny lobster tail, or stay casual with a fat cheeseburger or char-grilled Aloha beef short ribs.
The kitchen excels with the casual dishes. The beer-battered halibut fish and chips, a meal-sized appetizer, is fantastic. The fish’s exterior is crispy and light, and the flesh is sweetly fresh and ravishingly moist. The KahÃºa pork and cabbage is another winner: The plate is piled high with smoky, succulent shredded pork, punctuated with bits of soft cabbage and served with delicious creamy potato salad and pineapple slaw. I especially liked the juxtaposition of the smoky pork with the fruity, refreshing slaw. There was so much pork that I took the rest home and made it into sandwiches the following day.
Mahi-mahi shines in a sandwich; the fish is served teriyaki-style on a toasted pillow roll with lettuce, tomato and sweet Maui onions. The large sandwich selection ranges from a classic Reuben to a Hibachi chicken sandwich made with marinated chicken breast, grilled pineapple, bacon and onion rings
The restaurant also offers a number of hamburgers, from the hefty, satisfying Paradise Burger, offered with the usual trappings, to the more exotic Volcano Burger, stacked high with melted pepper Jack cheese, jalapeÃ±os and slices of thick-cut bacon.
Another dish I’d recommend is the Hibachi chicken lettuce wraps, a large appetizer of grilled chicken breast slices and butter lettuce leaves, accompanied by cool, silky Thai rice noodles and two sauces: a honey-ginger sauce and a spicy, sweet Thai chile lime vinaigrette. And don’t miss Paradise’s robust, chunky take on chili&emdash;it would be just right on a crisp fall evening with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese.
While the casual dishes hit the right notes, some of the more expensive ones tend to fall flat. I don’t recommend the charbroiled double-cut pork chop, which is dry and chewy, or the pan-seared mahi-mahi, napped with a jarring, unbalanced sweet-sour sauce. More successful entres include the Caribbean jerk-roasted half chicken, with its pleasingly spicy exterior and lovely, moist meat, and the seafood cioppino, made with an earthy, richly flavored roasted-garlic tomato broth.
If you’re interested in a liquid meal, you’ll enjoy the cocktail menu. One evening, I guzzled a Wiki Waki Woo, a potent concoction with eight ingredients, including vodka, tequila and pineapple juice. Sharply sweet and wickedly easy to drink, it’s the perfect tropical tipple. Other friskily named items on the menu include the Jungle Juice, the Lava Flow and the Tidal Wave, made with vodka, rum, cranberry juice and sweet-and-sour mix.
Sweetness also can be found on the dessert menu, from a warm, comforting mango-peach crisp topped with vanilla ice cream to the jamocha almond fudge ice cream pie. Aloha banana cream pie isn’t really a pie at all, but a layered dessert with a graham cracker crumb bottom topped with perfectly ripe banana slices, velvety pudding and a frothy whipped-cream top. It reminded me of a last-minute dessert a harried mom might throw together for fussy kids, but somehow it hit the spot.
Hawaii it’s not, but the Paradise Grill serves up enough tropical ambiance and food to lull a beach-hungry diner into a vacation frame of mind. Cowabunga!
What To Bring: An aloha spirit and a big appetite.
What To Order: A Hawaiian-style plate&emdash;and don’t forget the wedge fries.
Who To Dine With: Bring the kids. They’ll love the little paper umbrellas and the banana cream pie.
Paradise Grill: 1410 E. Roseville Parkway, Suite 140, Roseville;
(916) 788-8184; theparadisegrill.com
Hours: Open daily 11 a.m.â€“10 p.m.