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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!

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