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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!

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