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Monday, July 30, 2012

Café Main: Kind of Insane!!

Lunch date #18: June 8, 2012 (obviously behind on postings…will try to catch up this week!)

What on Earth was I thinking…going to Café Main (401 Main Street; www.cafemainonline.com)  for lunch on the last day of school—of course it was insane! High school students everywhere…but it was actually kind of fun and festive. I even got some good advice from some of Emily's friends for a sandwich recommendation. We lined up to place our order, and were fortunate to get a table outside around the corner.

Location 5 points. Still dining downtown at a perfect heart-of-downtown location.

Ambiance 3 points: This is a tough one. This place has changed hands many times over the years, and has been a coffee house for a while. I remember going to salsa dance classes in the back room many years ago! Now it still is a coffee house, but they do a good restaurant business as well. It retains that order-from-the-counter coffee house feel. The outdoor tables are nothing special-simply metal tables and chairs. I asked Mom for her opinion regarding the ambiance: "It really doesn't have any," she replied. It actually reminds me of the type of coffee house you'd find in a college town—really kind of fun!

Menu selection: 4 points. "No burger for you", I told Mom since he had ordered cheese burgers for the past two weeks in a row. She had been eying that selection, and was tickled at the price. Unfortunately, that was the price for the take-out burger…to sit in costs a bit more (sort of European if you ask me). Fortunately, there were quite a few other good choices on this menu-which actually is pretty extensive for a coffee house/order at the counter sort of place. Selections include sandwiches, soup, salads, and wood-burning oven freshly made pizza.

Service: 3 points. We weren't going to give it any score, but the guy at the counter was friendly and they did find us to deliver our sandwiches. That was where the service ended. No drink refills, nothing else offered, but that is the sort of place that it is. This didn't detract from the dining experience, but is different than that of other restaurants in the downtown area.

Food: 5 points. Since the roasted turkey-cranberry sandwich was highly recommended, we both decided to give it a try. We also split an order of fries on the side. We both felt that the quality of the sandwich was excellent-especially in consideration that it isn't exactly a fine-dining sort of establishment. Very fresh tasting, perfectly grilled sourdough bread, with cranberry aioli, roasted turkey and grilled onions. The fries were cooked perfectly, not greasy and nicely seasoned.

Value 4 points: The prices are fine, however considering that the fries are not included; the prices are actually higher than some of the choices at Pasta's! Also, there is really no opportunity for drink refills, given the self-service sort of place that it is.

Overall score for Café Main: 4 points. We really enjoyed our lunch, despite the hordes of teens present. We did share their excitement that school was out for the summer!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pasta's Trattoria: A good idea!

Lunch date #17, Sunday June 3, 2012

We had arranged to get together on a Sunday that week as the week days didn't work out. After discussing various options, and then a miscommunication, Mom ended up getting us a table at Pasta's Trattoria, 540 Main Street (www.pastastrattoria.com/). I wasn't unhappy with the mistake, but had two complaints: 1) we had both been there for lunch before—but Mom did point out that we hadn't evaluated it; and 2) they have bottomless mimosas on Sundays, but since I had to go right into my office after lunch, no mimosas for me! Mom was driving herself this time, so no mimosas for her either!

Location 5 points: Another perfectly located restaurant in the middle of restaurant row.

Ambiance 4 points: A lovely selection of seating both inside and out. I thought that décor was nice-cute lights and bar area. Mom thought the bar area was too small. I liked that you can see the kitchen area and thought the copper dividing wall was a nice touch. That day the outdoor tables were full, but we did score a nice window-side table. We both felt the white linen tablecloths added a nice, upscale touch.

Menu 4 points: Actually a very good lunch selection. Several choices within each category of insalata, panini, pizza and pasta dishes. Mom zero'd in on the Main Street Burger—oh no, I thought—she'd reverted to her old habits—that is two weeks in a row! But, she was so excited about the selection (and since I was late to arrive and had kept her waiting a bit), I didn't say a word. I went with the BLTA.

Service 3 points: It was going so well, our server took our order quickly and we were served pretty fast also…but then it all fell apart. Mom wanted some pepper to sprinkle on her tomatoes and we could not get the servers attention. I had drained my iced tea and wanted either a refill or water and we could not get anyone to come to us. I finally caught the attention of the hostess and she was able to bring us refills on the drinks and salt/pepper. I think the server was over extended: he also had some outdoor tables, but he never came back around to us until we were quite finished eating. Kind of frustrating for us.

Pasta's BLTA sandwich and yummy fries
Mom's Main Street Burger
Food 5 points: Wow, not sure we have awarded full points in this category before—or only very rarely. The food was actually quite good! Mom was quite pleased with her Main Street Burger-tasty caramelized onions and served on a ciabata roll that was soft and easy to eat. The fries were thin, crispy—and served warm! My BLTA was outstanding—just the right blend of everything with plenty of avocado, thick bacon that was not fatty, and a delicious aioli dressing. Even the iced-tea was very good-perhaps a passion fruit blend, but not too sweet.

Value 5 points: We were quite impressed with the prices: each of our meals were $10…definitely a good deal considering the other restaurants in the downtown area serving food of far less quality for at least that price (Dean's) or even more (Fontina's). Also, a very reasonable price for the drinks at $2.25 (less than Dean's). I was actually surprised to see the prices for the lunch choices—really a great deal!

Overall score for Pasta's Trattoria: 4.3 points. Definitely one of the best lunches we have had—at an amazingly good value, in a nice environment. If only the service had been better—and I think that usually it is…we perhaps caught a bad day in that regard. We would both highly recommend Pasta's as an excellent choice for lunch and plan to go back--we could always do a repeat evaluation and test their consistency…maybe that will be our next project!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dean's Café: Coffee Shop O.K.

Lunch date #16, May 25, 2012

We were in the mood for something simple. We wanted to grab a quick burger or sandwich and were trying to think of where to go. The plan was to meet over at The Habit—the new burger joint near the new Safeway on Bernal. On the way there, I drove down Main Street. Where could we go downtown, I was thinking. Then I saw it—so easy to miss, since we're so accustom to seeing it, we don't actually see it anymore…Dean's Café (620 Main Street). I know, more famous for their gigantic omelets and a popular breakfast spot, I had never gone there for lunch—so there you are, and Dean's it was!

Location 5 points. Can't get any more in the heart of downtown than Dean's. Also with a side parking lot and dedicated spaces, certainly deserves full points here.

Ambiance 3 points. "Well, it is a coffee shop," explained Mom as if to say 'quit being such a snob'! True I thought—Dean's does have that "been-there-forever" thing going…however, that is the problem when you look closely. The floor tiles (on the booth side) are worn and look dirty, the carpet (on the table side) is trashed. I think the veneer paneling and plastic ferns hanging on the walls are tacky. The torn seat in our booth was repaired with duct tape. The place looks like it would be a great candidate for the TV show "Restaurant Impossible".

Menu choices 3.5 points. To judge it for lunch, the menu is not all that extensive. There are 3 pages of omelet choices—and yes, we could have had an omelet for lunch, but beyond that there are only the basics. Few choices of each burgers, sandwiches and salads—not a lot of comfort food ideas which is what we were after that day. Mom ordered the cheese burger and fries, and didn't even bat an eye. I went for the French dip and FF—why not?

Service 4 points. One of the best parts of our lunch experience was the service—they were right on it. We did get a table right away, and were barely seated before we got water and were asked what else we wanted to drink. Our server suggested the smaller Dean's burger for Mom-which was an excellent recommendation. The lunch was also served very quickly-quite a change compared to my experience when I've been there for breakfast and have waited 30 minutes plus to get my omelet.

Food 3.5 points. Mom liked her burger, but joked: "Where's the beef" when it was served because the patty completely covered by a smothering of cheddar cheese. After taking a bite, she announced: "Mom's happy!" My French dip was also very good: very tender French roll and roast beef. Unfortunately we were both very disappointed with the French fries-they were the thick kind, and appeared over-cooked, but were cold and soggy. Too bad the fries were so crummy, or the overall food score would have been higher.

Value 3.5 points. The price of my sandwich at $9.95 was similar to other prices on Main Street. However, when you consider the dingy atmosphere and lousy fries, the overall value of the dining experience was decreased. Also, the prices for a cup of regular coffee and Lipton hot tea, both at $2.75 were pretty inflated. That brought up the total price of the overall bill and also decreased the value score.

Overall score for Dean's Café: 3.75 points. Not a bad spot at all, however, we suggest that the owner invests a bit for improvements of the dining room and it would score even higher. We get it that it has the been-here-and-not-going-anywhere type of charm, but it wouldn't hurt to update and clean up the place.