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Monday, December 31, 2012

Z Café Express: We were impressed!

Lunch date 27: November 9, 2012

For our final contribution for 2012-we actually report on our lunch date last month, and sadly have not had one since! We are happy to relay, however, that our project was a huge success. We dined together 27 times in 2012-and had some wonderful lunchtime experiences-by trying new restaurants, different types of cuisine, and also spending great time together. Mom commented recently that while she really enjoys our dining experiences-she'd prefer to eat food that she likes! I think she’ll be a good sport, however, and willing to continue our project into the New Year-there are so many more restaurants in Pleasanton to try. I'm sure she'll appreciate some new finds, and we're bound to find something she will like.

Lunch date #27 was at Z Café Express in Mission Plaza-former site of Sister's Café (1987 Santa Rita Road, www.zcafeexpress.com). I had been at Z Café for breakfast (quick heat-up egg sandwiches, only a few choices), but looked forward to trying some of their appealing lunch choices. Interesting that they bill this café as an espresso bistro and wine bar, although they close at 3pm. Certainly, some people do enjoy a glass of wine with lunch, but just not what you'd expect in a neighborhood coffee shop/café. This is a "branch" of the Z Café in Oakland, a full upscale café and bar in the uptown district of Oakland near the Paramount Theater.

Location 3.5 points: across the parking lot from Blessings, so the same score seems appropriate for location.

Ambiance 3 points: Definitely café style: order at the counter and just a few plain tables. Outdoor seating is available when favorable weather. Big chalk board menu sets the tone. They do have a lovely display-case of baked goods at the counter. There is a good sized wine bar at one end.

Menu selection 3.5 points: There are some interesting panini combos such as my choice of the turkey with apple, brie and a lemon sauce on a flavorful bread. You can get a bag of chips or side salad for $1 extra. It seems they do not have a kitchen/grill as all of the sandwiches are made on a panini maker or served cold. They offer all of the usual hot coffee drinks.

Service 4 points: Although order-at-the-counter style places are hard to judge regarding service, the server/cook/barista was very helpful and cheerful. She immediately made a fresh pot of coffee for mom since the last cup from the old pot wasn’t hot enough. She brought our sandwiches to the table very quickly, although I did have to fetch our own napkins from a self-serve counter. She cleared our table promptly, and asked if we wanted anything else. So why the high score, you might ask, considering the type of 1/2 service offered? She was very pleasant and cheerful; it was clear she was trying very hard to provide good service within the confines of the organization of the café and we salute that!

Food 3.5 points: Mom ordered the turkey chipotle and cheese sandwich and was happy. The cut of turkey was thick and had good flavor. I really liked my sandwich: it was rather unusual with the combination of flavors (lemon with apple), but it was good and something I would order again.

Value 5 points: This one was a hit! Our sandwiches were very reasonably priced: mine $7 and Mom's $6. Even the coffee was reasonable at $1.80.

Overall score for Z Café Express: 3.75 points. Would have scored higher if a better location, but overall very good quality of food, promptly served in a comfortable atmosphere, for a very reasonable price. Tough to beat this one. Not fine dining, but an excellent place to grab a quick bite for lunch. Might have to go back and try a glass of wine next time!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lokanta Mediterranean Grill & Bar: For interesting food, don't have to go far!

Lunch date #25: November 2, 2012

We have a fan! Whoohoo, how exciting. Well, OK maybe not so much as a fan as someone who commented on our blog! Our "fan" recommended trying Lokanta Mediterranean Grill & Bar (443 Main Street; http://www.eatlokanta.com). This is the new Mediterranean restaurant that replaced Agora Bistro. We had wanted to give it a try, or at least I was interested-and the lamb burger, something I really like--was recommended by our "fan. Mom agreed that she likes lamb and was willing to give it a go. Lokanta evidently means "neighborhood bistro" in Turkish. Sounded good and after the last two duds, we were up for some decent, interesting food.

Location 5 points: downtown—same place that was Agora Bistro (the old location of Bruno's).

Ambiance 4 points: Gotta love what they've done with the place! They opened that previous dark and narrow hallway. The front is an open kitchen/dining area with bar seating grill-side. Odd that the bar stools are cheap plastic—maybe the good ones are on order? Mom liked the wine bottles along the wall in the hallway and the cloth napkins: "That's classy," she commented. The place is certainly dressed up and inviting.

Menu selection 4 points: While we didn't read it too closely before ordering—we were after the lamb burgers—we did review it later. All sorts of dishes to offer for lunch: salads, interesting "gourmet" style sandwiches, and hot entrees—including Shish Kebabs. Many intersting dishes to try. We weren't sure if this was a specific lunch menu-especially since the prices were pretty high. A quick look at their webpage: only difference is that, other than the lamb burger,  they drop the sandwiches with the dinner menu. Entrees all the same prices for either menu.

Service 4 points: Very attentive, good hot coffee and refill of hot water for tea. The food took a while, but we munched on fresh bread with an interesting olive tapenade. Server kept checking back and after serving our meals checked back again. He packed up our left overs to go.

Food 4 points: We both enjoyed the lamb burgers: great flavor, large size (we both only finished half). The garnish of roasted red peppers and feta was very good. Mom went with the garlic fries-they were good and not overly garlicky. I chose the side salad which was delightful and had a tasty vinaigrette. We both took home left overs (half a lamb burger, each), and that was plenty for another meal.

Value 3 points: Aye, there's the rub. Knew it was going too well to be true. The lamb burgers were $14, pretty high for downtown even with the fries or salad included. We know that lamb is generally priced higher than beef, but this place is overall pretty pricey—especially for lunch. Now I just looked at their website, and the price of the lamb burger is listed at $15! The other meals are comparably priced, so it is not just the lamb that is driving the price. Interestingly, I would say that the prices for a dinner are very reasonable. We just usually see a bit of a break in the price at lunch time due to smaller portions, or the effort of the restaurant to fill tables at the lunch service.

Overall score for Lokanta: 4 points. Very enjoyable ambiance, good service and good food. Certainly if you're aching for a lamb burger-this is the place to go. Overall the steep prices might make it difficult to go frequently for lunch. Mom was pretty excited to try something new and to eat in a nice restaurant-but she commented that overall she prefers beef to lamb when it comes to a burger.