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Vive la France!

Choked on those “freedom fries” yet? East Sacramento deli Rolle offers a delicious respite for weary Francophiles

By Liz Kellar

Rolle French Gourmet Food

5357 H Street, (916) 455-9140

Dinner for One: $10 - $20

Like many journalists, I was unable to shield myself from the 9/11 tragedy. I was writing about local reactions every day; one colleague ended up on stress leave. Still, even a cynic like me got choked up upon seeing all the flags that sprouted that fall. But the brand of patriotism that has reared its ugly head these days leaves me cold. It has less to do with a commitment to our country than with a testosterone-fueled grab for dominance and oil. It frustrates and angers me when I see fat guys in camouflage talking about kicking butts, and when I see restaurants boycotting French products.

So, for my own personal protest, I’m enjoying French culture more than ever. At work, I have immersed myself in the wonderful music that is coming out of the Parisian melting pot, stuff like Zen Zila, Anouk and Sergent Garcia. I snagged cases of Perrier at the local Grocery Outlet. And, in the same spirit, I ventured out to the wilds of East Sacramento to check out Rolle French Gourmet Food, which took over the space of Kerried Away on H Street.

This attractive little storefront offers a selection of salads and pâtés for carryout and also serves sandwiches to eat on-site. It is extremely French in feel, right down to the fish-scale-patterned wax paper used to wrap deli items, and charmingly old fashioned. Most 30-somethings don’t bat an eye when confronted with exotic sushi or complex Asian dishes. But I suspect that this traditional selection of fat-enriched pâtés and salmon terrines topped with gelee (gelatin aspic) might give them pause.

Rolle makes all its pâtés right there and offers a nice selection, including foie gras and a basil-fish version. Many of the pâtés are featured in Rolle’s sandwiches ($5.50 to $10 for foie gras), on either a baguette or focaccia. Rolle also offers a very typical ham sandwich with butter and cornichons, those little French pickles. The restaurant is justly proud of its seafood and sells sandwiches of smoked or poached salmon, shrimp and smoked swordfish, as well.

Given that it’s spring, I opted against a ready-made sandwich and instead assembled the makings of a luxurious picnic from Rolle’s extensive carryout menu. It can be difficult to choose from the attractive salads, which include a salad Nicoise, a shrimp salad and a smoked-salmon salad, all for $6.50. I ended up with a seafood salad and some marinated shrimp, rounded out with several slices of pâté at $2.50 a slice, a salmon “cake,” a baguette and several bottles of fizzy French limonade [sic]. A word of warning: If you are unaccustomed to scarfing down a quantity of rich food, proceed cautiously, or you’ll end up with quite the stomachache.

The marinated shrimp disappeared fast. They were big and plump; marinated in a dressing of olive oil, minced garlic and herbs; and were cooked just until tender and firm to the bite. Though the owner told us we could toss them with chopped tomatoes in a pasta dish, they were equally delicious eaten with our fingers, cold, straight out of the container. The seafood salad proved to be sliced calamari and octopus, dressed again in olive oil but with the addition of chopped red and yellow peppers and dill. This was quite good, but I had to fish out several inedible squid quills from the mix.

I tried a pâté de campagne, a country pâté with pork and a chicken pâté, with mixed results. The country pâté was delicious, subtly spiced with a little hint of sweetness from finely minced carrot. But the chicken pâté was markedly salty, and the rough-cut chunks of chicken were a little dry.

The salmon cake was delectable, however. Calling it cake might give something of a wrong impression; this cake was cottage cheese blended with bits of salmon and, I suspect, egg, molded and baked and then topped with slices of smoked salmon and a layer of parsley-speckled gelatin. This may sound a little weird, but it tasted great. The texture was smooth yet firm--a nice, light bite of creamy cheese topped with rich, buttery, smoked fish. Rolle sells several versions of this cake, including a lovely looking vegetable version and a new sushi-rice and salmon version the owner says came to him in a flash of inspiration after a sushi dinner.

My husband’s idea of perfect picnic fare, unfortunately, is a big bucket of KFC. But Rolle’s selection of delicious pâtés, smeared on those yummy fresh baguettes, may have shown him there is a better way to picnic. I live in hope.

Rolle French Gourmet Food
5357 H St., Sacramento; (916) 455-9140

Selland’s Market Café may have set the stage for high-quality takeout items in East Sacramento, but Rolle French Gourmet Food, directly across the street, is upping the ante. “People look out the windows of Selland’s and they see my store,” says owner William Rolle, eyes twinkling. “Then, they come across the street, and pretty soon they start bringing in their friends.” We can see why.

Rolle’s case is filled with house-smoked fishes (salmon, tuna, halibut, swordfish and sturgeon), jewellike, aspic-covered terrines, shrimp and salmon “cakes,” pâtés and flans. Marinated octopus salad, made festive with colorful bits of red and green bell pepper, shares cooler space with salmon pasta salad. This is the only place we know of in Sacramento where you can indulge in a housemade foie gras or French country pâté sandwich on a crusty baguette.

The walls are covered with French posters; make sure to check out the charming picture of Rolle’s grandfather, a pastry chef, standing next to an enormous sculpture of the Statue of Liberty he carved from white chocolate. With lyrical French love songs belting out in the background, this tiny establishment oozes good cheer. Rolle, a native of Lyon, France, makes everything here himself and has just added puff pastry to his repertoire. “Well,” he explains with a shrug, “everybody has been asking for French desserts, so I just decided to make them myself.”