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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stacey's Café: prepare to pay!

Lunch date #21: July 27, 2012 (yes, still need to catch up!)

I had been out of town for two weeks, and my wonderful Mom house-sat for us and took care of the animals. I wanted to take her for a special lunch, so suggested we go to Stacey's (310 Main St.; www.eatatstaceys.com).  It was a lovely day and I was hoping for an outside table. We certainly have had lunch there in the past, but I've rather given up on the idea of only new places-especially as Mom does point out, now that we are "reviewing" them, it gives us a whole new purpose! I've always liked Stacey's: nice atmosphere and service, and usually pretty good food. My memory was that it was a bit on the pricey side, so I was looking forward to our discussion regarding value of the place.

Location 5 points: Happy to be back on Main Street!

Ambiance 4.5 points: We did get an outdoor table: quite lovely next to the railing flower boxes. We enjoyed the nice linens on the table. We thought the interior to be OK, but as Mom said: "nothing special". We felt that the score should be on par with Fontina across the street, especially since with the flowers in bloom, it seems very similar.

Menu 4 points: Excellent lunch selection with many choices in each food category: salads, sandwiches and hot entrees. Of course, it is fun to read the menu with all of the Scott Adam's jokes printed in the description of each item! Mom was really excited to order the burger—what could I do? I'd been gallivanting around England and France for two weeks, while she was house sitting in Pleasanton—I wanted her to have anything she desired! I was interested in the grilled chicken sandwich with bacon and avocado. I think a real good sandwich was sounding perfect after all of the different types of food I'd had while traveling. Just can't beat a good ol' American sandwich!

Food 4 points: I was starving (why would I be after all of that eating while on vacation?), and enjoyed the fresh, soft bread and butter on the table while we were waiting. I also enjoyed the refreshing iced-tea. Mom liked her coffee in the oversized cup. She also liked the burger, especially the nice soft bun. She was disappointed not to have carmelized onions like the burger at Pastas! We realized later that you have to specify you want the onions carmelized, and then pay more—see later. I actually ordered the ½ sandwich and salad. The Caesar salad was very good with excellent flavor. I liked the sandwich, but the baguette was over toasted, very crunchy and somewhat hard to bite into and eat! Since we're comparing here, I also thought the sandwich I had at Pastas was better!

Service 4 points: Excellent server-very fast and efficient. Only problem: Mom asked for a refill of coffee and had to wait about 15 minutes while they brewed a new pot! By then we were done and ready to go, so too late. It wasn't an exceptionally hot day—kind of strange they ran out of coffee! Everything else was fine, and I did get refills of my iced-tea promptly.

Value 3 points: My memory was correct—this place is pricey! Most expensive lunch we have had: burger starts at $15 and then you have to pay an extra $1.50 for cheese and avocado. It did come with red onions, but if you wanted your onions grilled, be prepared to pay an extra 2 bucks-yikes!! I'm sure Scott Adams could come up with something witty and sarcastic about the burger rip off at Stacey's!! My ½ sandwich and salad was a bit better deal at $10.75. Still, adding in drinks and tax, the bill was $35 before tip!

Overall score for Stacy's Café: 4.1 points. Stacy's is a nice restaurant with good food, lovely ambiance and good service, although it is a bit over priced compared to the other "fine dining" restaurants in the area. We had a great lunch and it was a little thank you to Mom for holding down the fort for us when we were away. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

El Molino: Only so-so

Lunch date #20: June 29, 2012

We were a bit strapped for time and wanted Mexican food. I have been on a quest to find good Mexican food in Pleasanton, but for the most part, have been disappointed. I like Blue Agave-but it is more upscale, and not a place for a quick lunch.  Mom likes Fernando's as it reminds her of Celia's on the Peninsula. Neither of us is fond of Alberto's other than the location on Main Street.  One of Emily's friends, Lexi, had recommended El Molino (5321 Hopyard Rd) and said it was rather "authentic", so we thought we'd give it a try.

Location 2.5 points: In the strip mall at Hopyard and Owens behind Burger King. Nothing appealing about this no frills location-other that there is an OK sized parking lot and easy access.

Ambiance 2.5 points: Definitely low end, tacqueria style place: vinyl booths, chipped plates.  Mom liked the Hispanic music. It is an order-at-the-counter and someone-brings-the-food, sort of place. They also have a few outside tables facing the parking lot, but the day we were there was a bit on the cool side, so no one sat outside.

Menu 4 points:  They boast a very full menu with many lunch specials at very good prices. Lots of choices, with all of the usual stand-by favorites: chile verde, enchiladas, tacos, flautas, burritos, tamales…you get the idea. They offer both a la carte or combination choices.

Chili Relleno swimming in beans
Food 3 points: I was very disappointed with the chile relleno: way too mushy and quite bland. I also ordered a taco: way too drippy. The chips weren't very good or crisp. Mom also ordered the chile relleno and refried beans: the beans formed a runny lake on her plate engulfing the chile relleno. She didn't seem to mind, however, and actually ate it all! No left overs for her that day!        

Service 4 points: Very friendly older gentleman taking the orders and younger guys bringing out the food. For counter service, they were very attentive and even brought out drink refills. The food was brought out very fast…maybe too fast to have been made fresh to order!
Friendly server!

Value 3.5 points: Here is where Mom and I had a difference of opinion: I wanted to give it a 3—really not much better than Taco Bell, but on the bright side—about the same as Taco Bell regarding prices. Portions are small, but considering the low prices (about $2.50 for chili relleno) what do you expect? Mom actually liked it and appreciated the value of about $7 for a complete lunch including drinks…but then again, she likes Fernando's--- so there you are!

Overall score for El Molino: 3.25 points. Kind of get what you pay for…cheap Mexican food. As to whether it is authentic, I can't say, but the quality is just not there. Their motto is "Where others are concerned with luxury, we concentrate on quality."  I'm not so sure is true. Why is it so hard to find decent Mexican food in Pleasanton?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Denica's Pastry Café: A great place to start the day!

Lunch date #19, Wednesday June 13, 2012
I am so lucky to have dear friends that wanted to celebrate a little birthday cheer with me, so we worked out a date and time that would work for all of us. We elected to meet for brunch on Wednesday-one day before my birthday-to get the celebration started. I had never been to Denica's Pastry Café (6058 Dougherty Road, Dublin; www.denicascafe.com), but Sandi raved about it—so we simply had to go. It is an out-of-Pleasanton dining experience for us, but well worth the journey to our neighboring town.  Denica's is an interesting fusion of a bakery with amazing treats and breakfast items, and taco bar for later in the day.
Location 3 points: Since we had strayed from the downtown Pleasanton location, we had to evaluate the location. Easy to find, right on Dougherty Road, but in an industrial area—not a lot of curb side appeal. Parking lot is shared with an automotive business.
Ambiance 3 points: OK cute for a bakery/café. A lot of people line up at the counter and order to go, as there aren't that many tables. It is interesting that they expanded and annexed the adjacent business site which has been set up with more of a taco bar-type seating. We all agreed that it was pretty noisy in there, as the sound of dishes being cleared and banging make it hard to have a conversation—but Sandi pointed out that Denica has actually done a lot of improvements. We enjoyed the family photos on the wall.

Menu Selection 5 points: Excellent selection of all sorts of interesting breakfast dishes and baked goods. I went with the Roma Scramble-a special for that day….. We really enjoyed sampling the baked goods—a tradition at Denica's to have samples on the counter to give customers an idea of what cannot be missed. I simply had to order a blueberry muffin to share. Everything is made from scratch and you can easily dash in to grab a goodie and coffee to go. I'm somewhat glad it is not on my path to work, since I would surely get their baked goodies far too often and would have to ride my bike many extra miles to burn off those calories. 

Service 4 points: Well, we weren't going to rate it for service at first…it is an order at the counter and they bring you the food sort of place. It is even self-service for pouring your own coffee and getting your cutlery, etc. When I went back for a refill of water for my tea I just had to say "Hi" to the actual real Denica who was working behind the counter. I told her it was my first time there, and she insisted on giving me a free cookie!  How's that for customer appreciation!!
Food 5 points: Everything was excellent. The baked goods--our muffin and cookie, as well as the pumpkin muffin and brownie we sampled--were amazing. I don't see how you can eat there without consuming 1000 calories. Biggest problem: by 10:00 am, a lot of the baked items were already sold out…have to get there earlier to get the full selection. The scramble I ordered was great: an interesting blend of veggies and eggs all cooked perfectly. Mom had the ham and cheese omelette and said it was very good as were the side potatoes. Tracy and Sandi also enjoyed their selections, and they both bought some baked goodies to take home for the kids.

Value 4 points: Breakfast items in the $10-11 range, salads about $8-9, cookies $2.39 each. Somewhat high-end prices, considering the location and mediocre ambiance, but Denica's is somewhere that you go for the excellent quality of freshly prepared food.  
Overall score for Denica's Pastry Café 4 points. We were so glad to have found this gem, and will definitely go back.  Even though it doesn't technically count for our project, we decided to have an "excursions from Pleasanton" category to include fun places like Denica's…so long as Mom and I discover them together!