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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bon Dia Café: Great we say!

Lunch date #53, 3/21/14

Noticed that the location in Mission Plaza that was formerly "Z Café Express" (and "Sisters" before that) had re-opened under new ownership so decided to give it a try. Bon Dia Café (1987 Santa Rita Rd) had only been open for 12 weeks by the date of our visit. Not sure why this location seems tough for cafés to stay in business—obviously not much drive by traffic, so word of mouth will probably determine the success of the place.

Location 3.5 points: Mission Plaza across from Fiesta Taco. Plenty of parking.

Ambiance 3 points: Nothing has changed, that we could tell, from the former establishment. Very plain, café style—but it was clean and on that day, not very crowded. Looks like the hope is to also market the place as a wine bar. Outside seating is also available.

Menu selection 3 points: Fairly limited to sandwiches and salads (I doubt the place has an actual kitchen), but they have a panini maker and offer a good variety of hot sandwiches as well. They offer some breakfast items and have a bakery case, and do a variety of special coffees (espresso style).

Service—we elected not to review service for the type of place where you order at the counter and other than delivering your food, the rest is self-service, but we wanted to comment about the owner, Robert. He was running the show that day—and was very friendly and helpful. He was obviously very enthused about his café and trying (effectively) to make customers feel welcome! He also gave us good recommendations on the sandwich choices. The A/C was cranking, so we took a table in by the window for some sun-warmth. Robert noticed we were chilly and offered to turn off the A/C!

Food 4.5 points: We both ordered the turkey-avo-pepperjack panini. They were full of delicious roasted turkey, on a soft dutch-crunch roll, nicely grilled, but not over done to the point of becoming brittle. The portion size was good-Mom took home ½ for another meal.

Value 5 points: quite a good deal: sandwiches under $7 with hot coffee/tea at $2. Several dollars less overall than most places, with good quality and portion size in a pleasing environment.

Overall score for the new Bon Via Café: 3.8 points. This one measured up pretty well by our standards and we felt it was a great find! We will definitely return-and have been recommending to friends for coffee, breakfast or lunch. Hope Robert makes it and becomes a successful, long-term inhabitant of the space!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Black Bear Diner: Basic diner, nothing finer

Lunch date #52 March 14, 2014

I remember when traveling up through Northern California on Hwy 5 about 15 years ago, that it was a big recommendation to eat at the Black Bear Diner near Mt Shasta. We did then, but weren't sure what the fuss was all about. Now they are springing up everywhere (61 locations)-and we even have one in Pleasanton (5100 Hopyard, www.blackbeardiner.com). Mom and I actually gave it a try about a month ago—but even though I thought the tri-tip sandwich special was pretty good, Mom didn't care for it. So we thought to give it another go…

Location 3.5 points: Hopyard at Owens. Not a spot you'd care to stroll around after eating, but a reasonable amount of parking.

Ambiance 4.5 points: Mom really liked the bear carvings outside and the creative décor throughout the interior. I was impressed that they created bear carvings to depict Amador and Foothill Cheerleaders-a nice touch to make the place feel a bit more like a hometown restaurant rather than an expanding chain.

Amador and Foothill Cheer-bears!!

Menu selections 3.5 points: Good selection of sandwiches, burgers and salads. On our first visit we had spied some of the salads and decided to give them a try. I went with the steak salad while Mom chose the Chef's. They also have a reasonably extensive breakfast menu, and serve dinner entrees as well. Nothing terribly exceptional on any of the menus—but it is a diner, so that is what we expected.

Service 3 points: Very coffee-shop style. Server forgot the dressing for Mom's salad and I had to go find her to get it. After that, she seemed to come by the table (too?) often as we were eating to see if all was OK…over and over again. We had a similar response the first time we ate there—a bit over the top and constantly having to say you're fine gets a bit old. They are friendly enough, but you get the feeling they are just handling a lot of tables and there is nothing special about the service.

Food 3 points: The portions are very large, but the quality was just average. Really nothing special. Not great flavor. Mine had a few strips of tri-tip that was good, and some avocado, but otherwise a lot of iceberg lettuce and a few tomatoes and lots of onions. Mom was disappointed with her Chef's salad. Again, a mound of iceberg lettuce heaped with lunch meat and a bit of egg. Nothing either of us would order again.

Value 3.5 points: The prices are average and the portions good sized.

Overall score for the Black Bear Diner: 3.5 points. The place is cute—sort of an upscale Denny's…but nothing exceptional. Truly a diner, but without that home-cooked good food characteristic that originally put the Black Bear Diner on the map. Not sure we'd go out of our way to eat there again…especially with so many other restaurants in Pleasanton that have character and better food.