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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fontina Ristorante: Not worth the money!

Lunch date #15, May 11, 2012

Wow—where did the last month go? We've been eating lunch fairly regularly…but I really need to update these postings! Good thing I have detailed notes so the review is not left to my memory! Yikes!

In our quest to sample all of what downtown has to offer, we again amended our rules. We elected to try Fontina Ristorante (349 Main Street; www.fontinas.com) even though we had both eaten there before-although I don’t think Mom had been there for lunch, so I suppose it still qualifies as a new-to-her lunch spot. Lots of friends recommend Fontinas…most of the Yelp reviews are pretty good, but even though I have had enjoyed dinner there several times, I didn't recall particularly enjoying their lunch. But considering my less than reliable memory these days (and what is up with that?), we figured to give it another try.

Location 5 points. Perfect downtown location with inviting outside dining on the front sidewalk area.

Ambiance 4 points. Mom was quite taken with the lovely flowers planted in pots around the outside dining area. Lucky for us, it was a warm afternoon and we were able to get an outside table. They do an admirable presentation with linen on the tables and market umbrellas. The inside dining area is also nice, but since we didn't even go inside on this particular day, we will limit our comments to the outside area.
Fontinas lovely outdoor seating

Menu offering 3 points. We thought very few items on the menu that would quality as the usual lunch fare: few salads and sandwiches. The other entrées were full-on heavy meals. The specialties were rather pricey at $18-20 so we certainly were not going to pick those! I asked the server for some advice and she highly recommended the grilled vegetable sandwich. As I'm a fan of that type of sandwich, I agreed to have that. Mom went with the grilled chicken sandwich and both of our choices were served with a bit of fruit and a small serving of salad greens.

Service 4 points. We were seated right away and promptly had service. Fresh baguettes and olive-oil for dipping were brought out quickly as well as our drinks. Refills were frequent. The server was very cheery and helpful. When I mentioned to her that I didn't care for the sandwich—yes sadly quite awful, see below—she offered to discount the bill. I declined but thanked her for the offer.

Mom with her chicken sandwich
Food 3 points. As I stated, I often order a grilled veggie sandwich and really enjoy the freshly grilled portobello mushrooms or eggplant, usually accompanied by some red bell peppers and onion. Unfortunately this sandwich was a big pile of mush—all grey and gooey, couldn't even identify which type of veggies were in the mix. Seemed like they grilled the veggies earlier in the day and then just reheated them for me. The fresh ciabatta bread was good, but I didn't even want to take home the leftover mushy mess! The side salad was the best thing on the plate!  Mom said her grilled chicken was nothing special: slice of ciabatta, topped with a piece of grilled chicken, caramelized onions and fontina cheese (hence the restaurant name, I suppose!). Unfortunately, there was nothing on the bread-such as an aioli-to hold on the chicken, so it sort of slid off when she cut through it. I had a bite and wasn't impressed. She did take her leftovers home, however…after all they weren't that bad!! Also, strangely enough…the iced tea had a very strange taste—kind of like there was paper in the glass?? I tried the water, and that tasted fine-so it wasn't the less-than-lovely Pleasanton water flavor coming through. I don't know what it was, but it wasn't good!

Value 2.5 points. The prices were too high for what we got. Both of our sandwiches were $12--which is higher than other downtown locations. Fontinas certainly gives an attempt at a fine-dining experience, and it started out well. The pretty setting and good service were encouraging, all to fall apart with the delivery of the food.

Overall score for Fontina Ristorante 3.6 points. Bottom line: the food has to be worth the money to make us like the place, want to recommend it to friends, or want to return. Fontinas certainly does not have that—as least not for lunch!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tomo Sushi: Very friendly!

Lunch date #14, May 4, 2012

Now we are very official. We have had sushi. We know what we are doing. Mom is no longer afraid or intimidated by the idea of going to a sushi restaurant. This is especially true since she declared: "I don't have to eat sushi again, I already tried it." She was victorious! Our original game-plan was that she would try new things. We never said anything about having to try them again! She planned on something cooked-perhaps a teriyaki sort of dish. I thought we'd give Tomo Sushi a try (Tomo Sushi, Bar and Grill, 724 Main Street, tomosushibarandgrill.com).  After all, tomo means "friend" in Japanese (or so it is stated all over their literature, menus, placards), so it seemed a friendly place to try!

Location: 5 points. Sort of at the lonely end of the north section of downtown, nestled between a bike shop and hair salon….but as per our scheme, still rates as downtown. Former site of Cabana Daves, and I can't remember what was in that location before, but they do have a small parking lot which is nice.

Ambiance: 3 points. Very small inside dining: 6 tables and a sushi bar. There are two tables on the sidewalk out front, and they do have the patio in back (but honestly, we didn't look at it). There was only one other dining table occupied, and since it wasn't all that warm that day, we took a table inside. Overall the décor was rather plain—not as cute as Main Sushi…since we ARE comparing!

Menu offering: 4 points. Lots of choices. We were very interested in the bento boxes. Of course, if you're into it, there is a long list of sushi and sashimi choices—not that even with our vast experience, we'd know much about the choices. As I said, Mom had rather been there/done that with the sushi, so she went with the bento box including teriyaki chicken and Gyoza dumplings. The boxes also contained white rice, edamame and were served with miso soup and tea. For $1 extra, you can offer a few different maki rolls in addition to the box. I, being the brave sushi eater, went with the bento and added a California maki.

Service: 4 points. Our server was very courteous and attentive. She spoke Japanese with us…at least lots of "hai" and "domo arigatogozaimashita". All very proper and polite. Since my one great trip to Japan, I knew very few words of Japanese—but was certain to use them often! She was quick to bring tea and kept trying to refill it, but we didn't drink very much of it. Mom asked for a knife, and she promptly brought a full set of American-style cutlery for each of us. Of course, Mom had brought her chop stick pincher-cheaters with her and was doing a great job with them.

Food: 3 points. The selections in the boxes were pretty good. The miso soup and Japanese salad were OK. The tea was really bitter—we couldn't drink it. Unfortunately the California roll was really salty/fishy tasting. We started to discuss why Mom was so against the sushi roll. She confessed the hang up over the seaweed. "It's really like lettuce, or any other green," I explained. "It just happens to grow in the ocean."  To my surprise, Mom even tried a bite. "Tastes like the ocean," she decided. I had to agree. It did sort of taste like you were swimming in the ocean. I'm no sushi expert, but it didn't seem all that great. I guess that's not too good for a sushi restaurant! On the other hand, the teriyaki and Gyoza were very good, so we had plenty to eat. Nothing to take home, though…which is probably for the best considering the last time Mom took home Japanese food was not a pleasant experience.

Value: 4 points. The bento boxes were $8.50 each. Quite a deal! Lots of food; don't need to also order the roll. Much better priced than the other downtown restaurants, and more economical than Main Sushi. Would have scored a perfect 5 points if that sushi roll had been more to my liking.

Overall score for Tomo Sushi: 3.8 points. Not as good as Main Sushi, I'm afraid…but overall OK. I'm thinking we must have caught a bad-seaweed day. I just don't remember sushi tasting that salty. We will have to pay attention next time we visit a sushi restaurant—there are a lot of them in Pleasanton and we aim to try them all!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Chianti's Ristorante: Nice for our party!

Lunch Date #13: April 27, 2012

Wow—am I ever behind on these postings…will try to catch up on the next few. The best part of procrastination is that there is always the thrill of completion when you finally succeed in getting something done!

Happy Birthday to Kelly!
We were happy to meet with some friends downtown to celebrate Kelly's birthday. It just so happened that the group chose Chianti's Ristorante (436 Main Street, www.chiantisristorante.com)…so Mom and I used the opportunity to have guest input to our critique. I had dinner with Kris at Chianti's for her birthday last year—catch the birthday theme here? I thought at that time it was so-so; the place was rather empty that night, but was still fairly new then. I still miss the yummy tapas and sangria when the locale was Casa Madrid—sad to see that one go. So, what about yet another Italian-style restaurant in Pleasanton?  Not an issue with me…other than what is with the name of these places? (See my confusion regarding the name of Baci!) Since they went with the Italiano spelling for restaurant (ristorante), then why the Americanized "apostrophe-s " after Chianti….I doubt you would every see that on a real Italian restaurant: should be "Chianti Ristorante" or if they really want to show possession: "Ristorante di Chianti" or even just "Ristorante Chianti", but Chianti's makes no sense… then again neither does Strizzis (which in some of their literature is written Strizzi's)…I'm just totally confused, or maybe just a grammar geek…so there you go…

Location: full 5 points—can't get too much more in the heart of downtown. Nice sidewalk presence.

Cute bar area
Tuscan Ambiance
Ambiance: 4 points. A good attempt to look Italian. I liked the faux painted Tuscan-style brick on the interior walls. Kris thought the place was well lit and cheery while Kelly enjoyed the background music of recognizable Italian favorites. The place is small and nicely laid out. The small bar area is attractive and the offer of outdoor tables is great for a nice day or summer evening. Nice touch also to have the linen tablecloths and napkins…definitely going for the fine-dining type atmosphere.

Menu selection: 3.5 points. The main menu appears the same for lunch and dinner, with many full entrée-type items that seemed a bit heavy for a standard lunch. They do offer some lunch specials in addition, including some non-Italian looking items such as a grilled chicken sandwich and a soup/salad combo. I went with the Carciofi Ravioli and mom ordered the chicken sandwich. The other ladies chose a variety of dishes, including the soup/salad special. Kathy ordered bruschetta for us to share.

Mom's chicken sandwich
Service: 3.5 points. Here we were, the only party in the restaurant (at the beginning) and the waiter was busy stacking menus while we were ready to order. We sort of stared at him for a while and he finally came over. I was completely ready to forgive this, figuring that he was Italian—but no! He did not speak or understand any (well, at least not "my") Italian at all. Such a disappointment! After that, things did get better. There was pane e olio (bread and oil) on the table, and the assistant waiter was quick to refill our drinks. The food was served relatively quickly, but my ravioli was just luke warm and Mom said her coffee could definitely have been hotter.

Food: 4 points. Jody really liked the bruschetta pomodoro. Mom was happy with her chicken sandwich-especially since there was plenty to take home for left-overs. I was surprisingly quite delighted with mine: the carciofi (artichoke) ravioli had good texture and the creamy marinara sauce had great flavor. I was especially happy with the wilted spinach in the dish—just the right texture: not too firm, not too wilted… just perfect.
Carciofi ravioli with spinach

Value: 4 points. Reasonable prices for the food and atmosphere. The lunch specials are a very economic value: Mom's chicken sandwich and large side salad was $10.95 and my delicious ravioli was $11.95.  I think the addition of some smaller pasta plates or smaller meat-entrees at a reduced price for lunch would be a good idea for more selection.

Overall score for Chianti ('s) Ristorante: 4.0 points. We had a great birthday lunch. As we were leaving, we discovered the only other party at lunch that afternoon was a party of two also celebrating a birthday. Maybe this is the official place to go for a birthday party? Mine's coming up soon—might have to return for a celebration!