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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Forno Vecchio-Where'd the people go?

Lunch Date #4: Saturday, February 4, 2010
Got together this time on a Saturday—couldn’t do it on Friday and we were determined not to let a week go by. Just like any new regimen, be it exercise or whatever…all it takes is missing one time, that one work-out, that one class…just a break in the cycle and the glue fusing the bond will dissolve and the commitment will be broken. Why is that so? I don’t know, but it is true.
We were excited to try an Italian restaurant. Since I’ve been studying l’Italiano, I’m always eager to see if someone will “parlare” with me in Italian. Although I had been to this location many times, I had not yet tried the newest installment in what seems to be a bad luck spot for a restaurant downtown. So we were off to try Forno Vecchio www.fornovecchio.com/ 680 Main Street, eager to pay homage to our Italian heritage.   
Critique #1 Location: 5 points. Perfect downtown spot. I’m not sure why this particular location has bad restaurant karma; nothing seems to last here. I had enjoyed “Amarone”, the former real Italian installment at this site, owned by the Veronese family that tried in vain to operate a successful restaurant in America. Didn’t work out for them, but I relished going there to practice my Italian and be corrected/encouraged by Matteo, the proprietor. The location seems fine: great store front, attractive entrance, plenty of walk-by attention. No indication that I can see that would doom a restaurant to failure at this venue.

Critique #2 Ambiance: 5 points. Very American-Italian trying to look Tuscan, but the décor is pleasing (mi piace!) and tables are spread out to allow private conversation. We arrived at about 1:30 on a lovely, sunny day, with Farmers’ Market just ending and the sidewalks bustling.  We were surprised to find the place completely void of patrons. Had we missed the lunch service? We peeked our heads in, “Hello, is anyone here?” A member of the cooking staff saw us from his lookout post in the kitchen and motioned for us to enter; obviously not a good omen. I glanced across the street and saw many diners at Strizzi’s--clearly others were having lunch at that time—just not at Forno Vecchio. Sadly, I also realized it was doubtful I’d be practicing any Italian that day!
Critique #3 Menu Offering: 3 points. We wanted a light lunch—certainly not primo and secondo, so we primarily looked at the panni menu. Not many to offer. I was considering the mushroom flatbread, but discussed ideas with the server. He suggested either the salmon panino or the Pachetto Toscano as the more popular lunch items served. I chose the pachetto as it looked like an attempt to be authentic. Mom went with the roasted chicken panino. Perhaps had we gone there for dinner, we would have had a very different opinion of the menu—but our quest was for lunch (il pranzo) in Pleasanton, not dinner (la cena), so we can only critique what appealed to us on a Saturday afternoon for lunch.
Critique #4 Service: 2 points. So here we were, although devoid of dining companions, we were not daunted. But here’s where they made a big mistake. “H-e-l-l-o, where are you?” I had to suppress the urge to call out! We were the only people in there for at least 45 minutes and we felt ignored. What an opportunity to wow us—I think having a few menu samplings or a visit from the chef would have been an excellent way to convert us to followers. The food was delivered reasonably quickly, but Mom’s panino was cold.  There were grill marks on the focaccia, indicating that at some point it was hot-but when served, the bread and chicken were cold and the cheese had that once melted-but-now-solid look.  When I later asked the waiter if the panini were made earlier and then grilled when ordered, he said everything was made fresh. Not by our account. Both the tea and coffee were just warm, not hot as expected—surprising for Italians that usually have an espresso machine from which they draw the hot water. Not in this case. Perhaps typical of Italian table service, where the custom is to bring your food and then leave you alone--we didn’t see our waiter after our food was served. Couldn’t get refills on the drinks, couldn’t ask about the cold panino. The server was gone, we were alone…and not very happy. By the time we finished our meal, about 3 other tables were seated and now our sole server was busy and apologized for being the only server available. He brought the menu for “la dolce” together with the check.  The only reason we gave it a “2” and not a “1” was because when we mentioned that he failed to charge us for our beverages, he just waved it off, dismissing the charge in exchange for the problem with the cold panino. Mom thought that was nice—but I think he forgot to charge us initially and didn’t want to bother to re-ring the tab!
Critique #5 food: 3 points. The fresh focaccia and herbed olive oil brought to the table upon entry were the best part of our meal. When the food arrived, it looked great and we were excited—even took pictures of the food (a la Stephanie style) and eager to dig in. This is where it really fell apart: The pachetto was disappointing. This must be the recipe: brown some ground Italian sausage, don’t drain the grease, add cut up table grapes, wrap in puff pastry and bake. That’s it. A restaurant’s specialty should be somewhat more difficult to figure out. The pastry was good (wonder if that was made on site), but the sausage/grape combo was really greasy and tasteless. The dish could have used some veggies, onions, or something else of interest to contribute to the taste. Mom’s cold panino was disappointing. True to form, she took most of it home (honestly not an Italian thing to do) and commented later that when she warmed it up, it was much better. Both sandwiches were served with a side salad that included cranberries and almonds—that was good, despite that the greens needed their stems trimmed. I must address the presence of salad on a plate with panino—this is a huge red flag that this “Italian” food is not at all what you would be served in Italia!

Critique #6 value: 4 points. Maybe it was the Sinatra playing in the background and the lovely Tuscan color palate, but we enjoyed the ambiance and gave it consideration for the value score. It was clearly a slow day; they had cut to one server and didn't go a good job with our food or service. In our opinion they blew us off and missed an opportunity to wow us. If they had only known they were being reviewed! Looking at value, the prices and portion sizes were reasonable: $10 for each lunch. But would we go back, or recommend to a friend? Probably not for lunch. I might give them a try for dinner. Gary had dinner there once, thought the food (and service by Travis) was great. Maybe we caught a bad day? Hey, attention restaurant manager! When you have paying customers at your table, take the opportunity to plant a seed; encourage excitement that will help your business at that hard-luck location grow.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Vic’s All Star Kitchen: A winner to believe-in!

Lunch date: Monday, January 30, 2012

Ok, we lasted…what 2 weeks of being brave and embracing the new. Well, we had to change our parameters just a bit after our disappointing last two weeks. After all I wanted Mom to really look forward to our lunch dates, not dread them. Hence I suggested we change the rules—always a women’s prerogative, and it is our game, so we can do what we want! Our new deal: we would still go to “new” restaurants…but by definition “new” will be new-to-Mom, even if not necessarily new-to-me. This really is quite fair: there are a lot of places that Mom now wants to try. She’s really getting into this project! Just because I had been somewhere without her, this shouldn’t exclude Mom from giving them a try. Of course, since we are now into this critique thing, I will even view them with a “new” eye!

In my last post, I mentioned that we had driven by Vic’s All Star Kitchen  www.vicsallstar.com/ 201 Main St., so it seemed fitting to give it a try. This classic Pleasanton breakfast spot is open until 2pm daily. Mom hadn’t tried it before and I actually had never been there for lunch, so it counts as new to both of us in this regard. We were yearning for a dependable lunch at a decent price and were in the mood for comfort food.  Plus we had a big bonus that weighed heavily in our decision: Mom printed out a coupon for 50% off the second entrée, so we were looking forward to a great deal as well! A note about commitment here: I was out of town over the weekend, having left the prior Friday morning for a fun weekend away with some friends, so we elected to have lunch on Monday rather than skip a week. How’s that for dedication!

Critique #1 Location: 5 points. Although at the south end of Main, we felt it should get all points possible for this category. Even though it is not in a prime downtown area, and similar to Hunan Chef Wong, not in an area where I would want to stroll around after lunch, the ample parking and fact that it is technically still on Main St. factored into our decision. Maybe in retrospect, we were too generous for this category. I’m trying not to reconsider our scores after we depart the restaurant, so I will be true to our log and report the 5 points.

Critique #2 Ambiance: 5 points. We like the décor of Vic’s. I must admit, this is partly because we are an “Amador” family and my daughter’s picture from Cheer Squad is on the wall (Stephanie). I was disappointed, however, that the 2011 Boys Lacrosse and Football team photos were not displayed! Hope they update so we can find Jordan on the wall at our next visit. We felt that Vic’s hit the target with their sports theme idea—all of the team photos are nicely displayed and Mom really liked that they use the local Coaches’ names on the menu; carrying through their theme in a fun way. You have to admit, it is different!

Critique #3: Menu: 5 points. Maybe we were in a generous-scoring mood. There were several things on the menu that seemed worth trying. Considering the coffee-shop type of place that it is, the overall menu selection is reasonable. Some ladies near us had taco salads that looked pretty good.  Mom broke down and ordered the cheeseburger/FF. I didn’t say a word—I figured it was fitting to order her traditional selection in such a traditional place. I went for the BLT-A and even ordered fries too. I exercised a lot over the weekend snowshoeing, so I felt like I could splurge with the calories!

Critique #4 Service: 3 points. Took quite a while to get our order, and it wasn’t all that busy. Awarded points for the hot French fries, but the server didn’t notice that we were short on table-ware and napkins when the food was delivered, so we had to flag her down. Also, I had used my only napkin to sop up the tea-water that leaked from the annoying little metal hot-water pot that all of those coffee-shops use to serve tea. They always leak; I can never seem to pour myself a cup of tea without making a mess. We never did get a refill of our drinks.

Critique #5 Food: 4.5 points. Mom was enjoying the burger-it was a good sized one. She cut it in half—sort of a tradition for her—and took ½ home for another meal, of course! We liked the seasoned fries. My sandwich was good, nothing above board. Like I said, I think we were being in a generous mood with the critique points that day. Mom did comment that she would order the cheeseburger again, she liked it so much….I bet she would!

Critique #6 Value: 4 points. We did have our coupon so that helped. I think these are available from the website….way to go Mom! Even without the coupon, the food is reasonably priced. Definitely not a great bargain compared to Chef Wong, but we felt that the food quality and ambiance made for a better overall experience and hence better value.

Overall score for Vic’s All Star Kitchen: 4.4 points—A winner indeed! Who knows…maybe we were just in a mood to be positive and this critique is a bit inflated. I suppose that is why the “real” food critics go to a restaurant many times before offering an opinion. The emotions we have, what is going on in our lives, the weather, and whatever else—all of these things probably influence our opinions. We had a good time at Vic’s. We were both in the mood for a quick, reasonable lunch and Vic's will give you just that. No frills at all, but given their "coffee shop" genre, they do it well. 

As an aside...I had mentioned before that when I go out of town, I don’t usually call my mom….and true to the usual, I had not.  Since I had been away over the weekend, it was great to get together on a Monday to catch up and chat before I had to get into the office. This never would have happened before we started this weekly project. I would never have dreamed to go to lunch on a Monday-just entirely too decadent for my work-ethic personality….always too much to do/accomplish/achieve… Perhaps this project is starting to benefit my lifestyle too!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

First Hunan Chef Wong--Where did you go wrong?

Lunch date: Friday, January 20, 2012

We figured that since our goal is to hit every restaurant in Pleasanton, we better get started with some Asian food. I’m obviously using that term very loosely. There are a lot of Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants in town, with new ones popping up all of the time. There are also some Korean, Indian and Thai spots as well. If we didn’t start getting these into the mix, we’d be eating “Asian” style food weekly for many months. We liked the idea of keeping with the downtown location, so we abandoned our list and just started to drive downtown. We got in the mood to try Chinese food and ended up on the far south end at the First Hunan Chef Wong at 239 Main Street. This place is tucked in the back of the parking lot of the plaza there.

I must first say that Mom is starting to get into this project. I think I knocked her socks off by actually showing up for two weeks in a row to take her to lunch. Not to say she doubted my intentions, but I don’t have a great track record of following through with a lot of projects I start.

Critique #1 location: 4 points. We still consider this downtown, although it is what I’d call “off” downtown in the back of the parking lot as it is. Doesn’t give that being on Main Street feel. Not that we are incapable of walking through a parking lot, but just doesn’t have that inviting go-for-a-stroll-after-lunch-and-window-shop feel. Not that we ever do that, but still….

Critique #2 ambiance: 2 points. As stereotypical Chinese goes, there isn’t a lot of attention to décor. Paper place mats, no linen on the table, boring chairs...you get the idea. Some of the Yelp reviewers brought attention to the fish-tank in the entry area-with some people commenting that it can be dirty or over-crowded with a large fish/small pond sort of thing. I have to admit; we scooted right past it and didn’t even look very closely. I suppose my radar as a veterinarian on the lookout for animal welfare was clearly not up and running.

Critique #3 menu: 2 points. This is possibly an unfair scoring. We specifically looked at the lunch specials. As I describe below, they have some amazing prices—quite a deal when you consider what you get for the price…so of course, we ordered from that list. Problem is that we didn’t see many items that looked all that appealing. We don’t do spicy, so I suppose that makes it less than objective—but hey, it is our critique! We struggled and wanted to share two menu items…so decided on sweet/sour pork and oyster sauce broccoli beef—kind of boring. To Mom’s credit, she had never had the oyster sauce broccoli beef before, so that was her adventure. We both ordered fried rice and green tea.

Critique #4 service: 2 points. The main dining room server is bustling to attend to all of the tables.  Here is where we and the Yelp reviewers will disagree. Perhaps we weren’t in the mood to be called “boss lady” along with every single other person dining there. That is the shtick of the head server. It wasn’t all that offensive, but it didn’t appeal to us. The food service was just fair: the tea was tepid at best and the food barely luke-warm. It was brought out quickly—maybe too quickly…do you think it was not freshly prepared to order? After delivering our food, we had a hard time getting someone’s attention for a glass of water.

Critique #5 food: 2 points. Again to the reviewers on Yelp…I think perhaps they don’t eat out very often. I think I could do better by buying frozen from Trader Joe’s! Definitely did not feel or look like decent restaurant food. As I said, we did go with the lunch special: the spring rolls were swimming in sweet/sour sauce, the hot and sour soup was tasty but not very warm, and the “fried rice” looked like white rice that had soy sauce added. The sweet/sour pork was fatty (I kind of knew it would be), and the accompanying onions and carrots where huge unmanageable hunks…perhaps they were not intended for consumption. The oyster sauce broccoli beef was decent and the portion sizes were large—definitely plenty for Mom to take home for another lunch—mediocre as it would be. 

Critique #6 value: 4 points. This is the best thing about the place. As I said, the food was cheap, and we do like a good bargain. Quite honestly, I don’t see how they can serve all of that food for about $5.00 a lunch. Maybe that is the problem, they can’t. Perhaps as an idea, they should increase the price a bit to improve the quality. The place was reasonably busy—people do like a good deal, no doubt. We happened to go on the Friday of finals week at Amador and saw a table of basketball players filling up with the cheap food…hope they felt OK to play that night!

Overall score for First Hunan Chef Wong: 2.7 points. Nope, don’t think we’ll be going back to that one. As we were leaving, Mom sort of mentioned that she hoped we’d go to a good place the following week. As we drove out of the parking lot, she looked longingly at Vic’s!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Handles Gastropub--Not for the grub!

Friday, January 13, 2012…why are we starting a project on Friday the 13th? Well, we dispensed those silly superstitions and headed downtown, eager to have a great lunch and spend quality time together at Handles Gastropub (www.handlesgastropub.com in the Pleasanton Hotel, 855 Main St. We thought it ideal to start there, since we like the charm and character of downtown, and hadn't tried this one yet. It is notable that the Pleasanton Hotel was once one of Gary and my favorites for dinner many years ago. Then we eventually just stopped going. Over the years, the restaurant ownership has changed. I wasn't too impressed with The Farmer: great location, mediocre food, not great value. So I was curious to try Handles for our first lunch experience. According to the 20-somethings that I work with, this is a fun place to go in the evening. The term “Handles” is derived from the emphasis of having a lot of different types of beer on tap. Fun idea, great website by the way, but neither Mom nor I are beer drinkers so we weren't all that impressed with that aspect of the place. We walked in had had to choose: the restaurant side with linen table cloths, or the pub-side. Since the title includes “pub”, we figured that was the side to choose, especially since the restaurant side was rather empty and looked boring. The hostess confirmed the same menu regardless of the side and sat us at a table on the pub-side near the fire place.

Critique #1 location: 5 points: downtown, historic building, able to find parking. Plus as a previous “Ghost Host” for the Downtown Pleasanton Ghost Tours (put on by the Museum at Halloween), I knew the Pleasanton Hotel history, including the lurking of the ghost of a prostitute that was supposedly murdered in the upper floor hallway. 

Critique #2 ambiance: 2 points: Wow-low score for this one! It just seemed that the proprietors had not done much with the décor—rather plain and probably not much had been changed since it was the bar side of a restaurant. It didn't have a cozy/cute pub feel at all. Maybe it is more exciting in the evening when filled with beer-imbibers, but for lunch, not all that inviting. Ambiance is an important item for me. When I go out, I want to feel excited about my surroundings. I can easily make a sandwich at home. I love walking into a place with charm or an interesting theme. This place didn't have it. Mom agreed it was rather dull.

Critique #3 menu offerings: 3 points. I’m starting to think we are hard-graders…but we weren’t all that impressed. Not a lot of choices that looked all that exciting. We asked the server to recommend signature dishes and tried very hard to get something different than what we would usually choose. I was considering the veggie wrap, but that would be a standard choice for me, so I went with the Brisket-BBQ sandwich served with a home-made sauce containing beer, of course…I suppose that is why it can be called a gastropub! Rather than the usual french fries as the side, I was brave and went for the homemade coleslaw….which by the way contains shredded apple.  Mom chose the hot-pastrami, and let me tell you, she was getting into this project—being a cheeseburger lover, that would have been her usual default…but she did go with the fries on the side. We didn’t, however, see much else on the menu that was all that interesting, hence the 3 points for this category.

Critique #4 service: 3 points. I wonder if the server was new and inexperienced. He did come by to ask if everything was OK, but didn’t refill the drinks until we were nearly ready to leave. The food was served quickly, but Mom’s french fries were cold. Also, the server didn’t seem to know much about the menu. Remember my point about the shredded apple in the coleslaw? I find that a bit unusual. When I had asked our server if the coleslaw was any good, he just stated that it was the usual thing. It actually stated right on the menu that the coleslaw was home-made and had the apple. I believe I sound a bit obsessed about coleslaw here, but it was a bit odd that he didn’t know....maybe he should read the menu!

Critique #5 Food: 2.5 points. Mom’s pastrami sandwich was tough and too chewy. She wasn’t impressed. The best part about my sandwich was that the bread was soft and seemed home-made. Mom commented "I wonder if they made the bread at the Rising Loafer." I think she was thinking fondly of previous good lunches there! My meat was dry and I had to ask for a side of extra BBQ sauce to liven it up a bit. Again back to the coleslaw—that was pretty good actually. It had an interestingly fruity flavor without being too sweet. Best part about the meal: there was plenty for Mom to take home in her doggy-bag—even though the pastrami wasn’t great, it was OK to cart home for lunch the next day as she wasn't going to let it go to waste!

 Critique #6 Value: 2 points! We just didn’t get the feeling that we were getting a good lunch for the price. Each mediocre sandwich was $10.95 and then another $2.50 each for hot coffee for Mom (always black), and hot tea for me (that wasn’t all that hot). If the sandwiches were under $9 we would have scored higher.

Overall score for Handles Gastropub: 2.9 points. Had the place not been downtown—although on the north end, we still gave full points for the location—the overall score would have been closer to 2.0! We didn’t feel that we’d be in a rush to return, nor recommend it to a friend. Wonder if it will last?

So, first lunch date kind of a flop…but, we still had a good time together and then I proposed the idea to write a blog about our lunch project. Mom wasn’t too keen at first. “Will we have to use our real names?” she wanted to know. “No worries, Mom” I reassured her. This would be just for our friends and family members—all of whom will certainly want to read our highly valuable opinions about our dining experiences. Also…once we start then I just know we will have to keep it going. There are a lot of restaurants in Pleasanton that we have to try…this could take years!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Introducing our project--to have lunch in every Pleasanton restaurant

It makes sense to start something new in the New Year. Isn’t January the time for resolutions and new plans to work less (at the job), work out more (at the gym), have more fun, eat healthier, and spend more time with family/friends? So this year, it dawned on me to start something new with my mom. We live only 5 minutes apart in Pleasanton, but it seems that we never see one another. I do try to call her most days, usually while driving to work (hands free, of course—often yelling into the speaker when I forget to charge my hand’s free device). I work Monday through Thursday, my designated appointment days, but I also see cases most other days, since my type of veterinary practice demands availability.  So, it works out that I give Mom a call most every day. I’m not sure what triggers my thought to call my mom when I’m driving…perhaps a moment to relax and think…or perhaps a time to run through the mental check list of what I need/want to do that day. It could be that I have a continuous need to multi-task--which I seemingly do. As a side note, I should confess that when I’m out of town, I usually do not call her.  But on most typical days, I call Mom at her home; check in on how things are going, give her an update on my life and what is going on with the kids, and such.  Usual stuff to keep her current and share stories…or as much as can fit in a 10-15 minute drive to my office. This seems an efficient chance for a conversation and a connection. Maybe too efficient: check off the box that I talked to Mom that day, she is fine, move on. Is that really a connection with someone you love and care about? Another problem is that weeks would go by and I wouldn’t actually see her at all, especially if there weren’t any Amador Football or Lacrosse games to watch Jordan play. Sometimes I ride my bike by the complex where she lives, but I never stop in to say “hi”. Nope…no time for that…I’m usually hurried to get home to shower and change to get to work or some other commitment.

So, there you have it…January 2012-a perfect time to start something new and see my mom more regularly. So what to do? We discussed my idea over the holidays and made a plan to get together for lunch every week. This should be fun. After all, we have a good history of eating lunch. We like to go out for lunch. We like to eat, and Mom especially likes left-overs to take home so spare her from cooking. We used to go out for lunch once a month or so, but it seems that with my busy schedule, we’ve only gone once or twice in the last year. I’ll have to ask Mom about that, she has a better memory about such things than do I. We’ve had the tendency to return to the same spots over and over again. One of Mom’s favorites has been Jim’s Country Style Restaurant in the Raley’s shopping center (Mom likes their Philly cheesesteak sandwich and fries); the portions are big and she easily has enough to take home for another lunch, if not dinner.  But I must say I was getting tired of that place. The food is pretty heavy and the service is just too “coffee shop”.  Once when Steph came to visit and wanted to have a special lunch date with Nana, she took her to the Rising Loafer (www.risingloaferpleasanton.comdowntown-and that became another favorite. Always a dependable spot for lunch: good food, reasonable price, cute ambiance. No complaints….happy to go back. 

But, then I came up with an idea that we should be different. I suggested that we not return to places where either of us had been before. I proposed that our weekly lunch dates become sort of a project-to try all of the restaurants in Pleasanton! This great town of ours has tons of restaurants that I always drive by and never even think to try. Take for example, the Korean place on Santa Rita by Mission Plaza. I drive by probably every day or so and have never tried it…and probably never would. I must confess I’m just not one to try ethnic eateries, especially Asian, at least not routinely. As well, Mom prefers to play it safe with the average American style restaurant where she knows what to order; often a cheeseburger/fries. Mom wasn’t so sure why having lunch with her daughter once a week had to be a project, but she seemed willing to appease me and my odd ideas.  I told her that to start this project, we would have to cross off some places from our list—just because we (or mostly I) had been there in the past. After all, having lived here for over 20 years, I have had a meal in a few of the places that Pleasanton has to offer. To start ticking off the list: I have recently had lunch at Redcoat’s and Café Main, and have frequented Pastas, Stacey’s, and Strizzi’s and Blue Agave. I’ve also been to Fontina’s, Alberto’s, Agora Bistro, Bacci, Eddie Papa’s, Oasis, Chianti, Fernando’s and Nonni’s Bistro, not to mention the chains such as Chili’s, Friday’s, Erik’s Deli and Chevy’s.

So, now we were starting to formulate our project. We would commit to having lunch together once a week. We would dine only in Pleasanton with the goal to try every restaurant within the city limits. I also thought it would be fun to critique them and keep a notebook of our findings. I was met with a bit of resistance to this idea. I’m she sure had a point there. It is an odd thing to do. We are not restaurant critics. On the other hand… I like to cook, have traveled some, read “Bon Appetite”, and have the Epicurious App, so I feel pretty well confident that we can critique the restaurants in Pleasanton where we go for lunch. Besides, I explain, this is just for our benefit. It will be fun. Give us something to do. Make it a real project. I’m sure to me, I’m quietly thinking, if it is a real project...maybe I’ll stick to it, and not let it slip into the thigh-high waste-heap of most other New Year’s resolutions…. Then I really struck a cord with this idea: “…and, we should try to eat things on the menu we would not usually order. Be adventurous, be different. Push ourselves. Worse case—we hate our lunch and have to go home and make a sandwich”.  I think I just got a bit of a look with that suggestion! “Who would pay” she wanted to know. Good question, I thought. I figured we would alternate. “Well then, what if on my tab we eat fancy-say a nice French Restaurant-then on your days, we’d eat a sandwich”, she wanted to know. I told her we would work it out. Mom is very good at keeping things even. This is probably because she is a very organized, strong, and financially independent woman, but nonetheless, a child of the Great Depression. She prefers not to waste money, though while at the same time never wants to be a burden. Ok, so we agree to figure out the details of the financial arrangements as we go.

I’m happy to tell that over a short period of time, Mom was warming to my idea for the project. She wasn’t so sure when I told her that we needed to try ALL of the restaurants, but to her credit, she did eat Phò one time when having lunch with Stephanie, so she was already on the scoreboard for being adventurous (I still have not had Phò, not really, by the way).  So we planned a date for our first dinning experiment. I assigned Mom to be in charge of the list of where we would go. She dutifully researched “Restaurants in Pleasanton” via Yahoo and was prepared with four pages of restaurants in town. I was very impressed with her research. After we crossed off the ones that I had been to in the past, and then also the chain-places, we had a pretty short list. So much for the powers of the Yahoo search engine. (Mom was sure there was an Applebee’s in Pleasanton, but there is not and it is a chain, so off the list anyways..sorry Mom). I figured it would be good to have a queue; a list of places to try. That way we could look it over each week and decide if we were in the mood for Asian, Mexican, or whatever and be ready to go. Funny thing that Mom suggested that she hold on to the list as she was fearful I would lose it…hmmmm…

I should mention that we began our project by identifying some points for critique. Due to the long nature of this entry, I will minimize the explanation here-although most of this is self-explanatory: We would award up to 5 points each in the following six areas: location, ambiance, menu-selection, service, food quality, and value. As all of these points are completely subjective, we thought that we would just try to agree on an award of points for each category based on our combined experience. After all, we are doing this together-so we will have to agree on the scoring for each category. And, the goal is to also eat something different, be bold and adventurous…here we go!