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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

La Vite Ristorante: Rather disappointing

Lunch date #48: December 13, 2013 The last for this year!

I thought it would be nice to take mom out for a special holiday lunch so I wanted to find something a bit more upscale; certainly a step-or two-up from the Sunshine Saloon we tried on our last lunch date. Considering the plan to try all of the restaurants in Pleasanton, and that we had already tried most of the "nicer" ones, I was scrambling to find the perfect spot. I realized that we had not tried the current inhabitant at the Hopyard Village (Hopyard and Valley) location that seems to change hands every few years. We went to La Vite Ristorante (3037 Hopyard Road; http://www.laviterestaurant.com/), and were delighted that Emily was home from SB and able to join us!

Location 3.5 points-since that is what we awarded the location when we went to the Hopyard across the parking lot. Sometimes it is tough to get a parking space in this lot, however.

Ambiance 3.5 points: fairly cute interior, but nothing special, with somewhat of a bistro style décor. Mom liked the wall hangings, but pointed out it was not anywhere near the impressive interior of The Cheesecake Factory, for example. The adjoining banquet room looks a bit dated. I thought it was fair.

Menu selection 3 points: Reasonable selection for a typical Italian-American style café. Mom was disappointed not to see minestrone on the menu. They offer soup or salad to accompany each entrée, and have a fair selection of sandwiches and pasta dishes. Mom and I both ordered the chicken panino and Emily, excited to be eating something other than dorm food, went with the salmon-pasta lunch special.  

Service 2 points: Very disappointed. I actually had made a reservation through Open Table, due to the holiday season. There were two large office-holiday lunch parties (one in the banquet room) and only one other table seated. It was odd that they gave us a somewhat disappointing table tucked in the back near the kitchen, when the center of the restaurant was open.  Also, when we were ready to order, the server told us we had to wait a bit as she wasn't ready to help us. Seemed that there was only one server taking orders, and the one large party near us had not yet ordered. Then, she ended up taking our order before theirs-go figure! The salads were all served pretty quickly after that, but the server seemed very abrupt and not at all friendly.        

Food quality 2 points: Again, even more disappointed. The salads were very average: crisp lettuce drowned in dressing. Emily's salmon pasta was caked in a pasty-cream sauce with overcooked, bland salmon. I felt the panino was very boring-lacking flavor and the only thing positive for mom was the large portion size. We both took home half of our sandwiches, but I never even ate mine!
Emily-out guest diner

Value 3 points: The sandwich prices at $10 each including salad were very good-however, again when considering the quality of the food, the value score is affected. The price for the salmon pasta at $13 would have been a good deal, if more edible! We were unhappy to see the fee of $3 each for hot coffee or basic iced tea.

Overall score for La Vite 2.8 points: This one certainly fell short of our expectations. The results on Yelp are mixed. I'm wondering if the ownership has changed. It was Garlic di Pasta previously, and I thought better quality then. It is not unusual for an Italian-American style restaurant to disappoint me (especially after traveling in Italy recently), but this one is well below many others in town including Pasta's, Baci, Chianti's and Mangia Mi. We still had  grand holiday lunch-largely due to the company and enjoyed our conversation and time together, despite the ho-hum food. Needless to say, we won't be in a hurry to return!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sunshine Saloon: "The Shine"…not to dine!

Lunch date #47: Friday November 15, 2013
After a long break in our lunch project, we thought we'd get back to it by hitting a real American sports bar for some good 'ol grub. Not sure what made me think of the Sunshine Saloon Grill and Sports Bar, aka "The Shine"…maybe with Thanksgiving around the corner, I was thinking about how the college kids would converge there for their traditional annual Wednesday-night-before-Thanksgiving reunion. Sometimes these bars actually have some pretty decent food by day, so we thought it worthy of a try.

Location 3 points: In the Mission Plaza shopping center: no frills here; but lots of parking. No great curb side appeal.
 Ambiance 1 point: At first glance a typical sports bar; however, this one needs an update. The carpet is dirty/worn and looks like it has gum-spots in it. The tables are peeling formica and the chairs rickety. The fans are caked with dust. Mom pointed out all of the flat-screens, and was wondering why I was being so critical. "What did you expect?" she wondered out loud.
Inside "The Shine"

Menu selection 3.5 points: I was quite surprised at the vast selection. I thought they'd have burgers and some fried food, but they also offer a long list of salads and sandwiches. At first I thought to play it safe with a burger, but I really wanted something a bit less fatty. The server was really pushing their "fresh" crab sandwich. Is it really fresh? I asked. He told us you really can't buy fresh crab here (?), but that it was fresh when canned. He even went so far as to bring us a sample! Hmmm I thought, knowing last Friday was the first day of crab season and knowing that there is such a thing as fresh crab, and went with a turkey/avocado grilled sandwich to play it safe. Once Mom spied the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, she was sold. She was kind of disappointed though that they don't offer coffee.

Service 2.5 points: He definitely tried with the free crab sample, but that was about it as far as service goes. He was the only server/bar tender on site, and we were the only women in there. He was busy tending to the "guys" there for their Friday afternoon beers. Food was brought promptly, no drink refills. Had to flag him down to get to-go boxes, but he was very friendly.

Food 2 points: Here's where it fell apart for me. Remember my idea to play it safe? Wrong! This was the worse sandwich I've ever had. The sour-dough was over buttered and greasy, the dressing on the bread, I later found out, was a blend of mayonnaise and the deli-mustard they have on the tables that contains shredded horseradish. There was no mention of this unusual sandwich accompaniment on the menu, and I didn't think to ask in advance. I don't care for horseradish and it pretty much destroyed the sandwich for me. On the other hand, Mom really liked her cheese steak sandwich-packed high with tender beef, lots of cheese and very large portion. We both agreed the fries were dismal.
Mom liked her cheese steak sandwich

Value 2.5 points: This is tough one. The prices were great at about $8 each including the fries. Problem is that when the price is great, but the food is poor…the value score is low, in my opinion. Mom liked hers so we compromised.

Overall score for The Sunshine Saloon 2.4 points: I wasn't put off by the ambiance as I really didn't expect better, but I thought that sometimes these "dive" bars can have some pretty decent food. Perhaps I just ordered the wrong thing, or should have asked what they put on the sandwich, but I was disappointed. Since Mom was happy (which is all that really matters anyway), I'm trying to buffer my rebuke…but the more I think about it, I'm sure I'll never go back to the "Shine"…at least not for the food!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mangia Mi: The new place to be!

Lunch date #46 September 14, 2013

Not sure what has kept us so busy this summer, but we had not had a chance to have lunch together for several weeks. Even Friday this last week didn't work for us, so in an attempt to not miss another week, we elected to go out on Saturday. I had heard a new restaurant opened downtown: Mangia Mi (234 Main St; www.mangia-mi.com), on the south edge of town, across from Vic's. I have been to their Danville location for dinner a few times, and always found it excellent, so I was looking forward to trying it for lunch.

Location 4.5 points: We might start calling this location SODA (South Downtown Area) if many more restaurants open there! Not the heart of the quaint area, by far, but more parking is available in that area-even on a Saturday during the Farmer's Market.

Ambiance 4 points: Outdoor seating and an open-kitchen floor plan create a welcome dining space. The tables are well spaced, in contrast to the Danville location, but I get the feeling that as the place grows in popularity, more tables will be fit in to create that squished, but exciting, bistro feel. The bar seating along the open-kitchen is inviting. The dining room with the large windows and tall ceilings is light and airy, so when it fills with patrons, I think it will still feel comfortable. The restaurant was only about 1/3 full that afternoon, but considering that the Danville location is typically packed, when this location catches on, it will create a more festive-vibe.

Menu 5 points: Very good selection of salads, panini, entrees, and pizza. We couldn't think of anything else you could add! We both chose a panino: I went for the veggie and Mom decided to give the grilled-chicken on a try. The panini are served with a choice of green mista (mixed) or pasta salad.

Food 5 points: They started the table with a service of bread and delicious herbed-dipping oil.  The panini were huge-we each only ate half and took the rest home for another meal. Mom appreciated the plating: large rectangular white bistro plates that held both the sandwiches and salad. We both loved our panini: very soft, tasty ciabatta bread-almost more of a focaccia in lightness. My veggie had a good selection of grilled eggplant, zucchini accompanied by goat cheese to give it a zing. Mom's grilled chicken panino had a tomato pesto and grilled red peppers to give it interest. We both liked our side salads as well.

Service 3 points: Our server was OK, but not terribly friendly. The backup wait-staff were very efficient, offering refills often, but Mom did have to send back her cold cup of coffee twice until she could get a hot one. We waited a fairly long time for our panini—I will presume because everything was freshly made? Perhaps they had to prep the veggies, and grill the chicken to order. Might have been because they were slow, so didn’t have a tightly efficient kitchen running at lunch time? I think for dinner, it would be fine because you might have an anti-pasta or salad first. Good thing we had the bread!

Value 4.5 points: The prices are on the higher side for lunch ($11 for the veggie panino and $12 for the chicken panino), but since the portion sizes are so large it seems like a better deal. You could split one easily. The dinner menu is very reasonably priced. Our only disappointment was $3 for a cup of regular coffee, cold at that. Overall though, it was a very nice dining experience and we felt that we would return to try some of the other menu items. I will definitely try it for dinner with Gary or some girl-friends soon!

Overall score for the new Mangia Mi: 4.3 points! This one rates as one of our favorites to date. We had a very enjoyable lunch in the newest Pleasanton restaurant and suggest you give it a try! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Hop Yard: A P-town staple for our score-card!

Lunch date #45 August 10, 2013

Looking for a place for lunch with two of our favorite guests: Emily and Jordan. Since they'll be off to college soon, we're happy to spend all the time with them that we can! We thought to head to the shopping center at Hopyard and Valley-and then remembered The Hop Yard (3015 Hopyard Rd, www.hopyard.com), a place I had gone after ball games, but never for lunch on a Saturday. I thought Mom would like their burgers and figured there would be plenty on the menu to please the kids.

Location 3.5 points: Average shopping center with fair amount of parking.

Ambiance 3 points: Sports bar inside, complete with dart boards, but is a bit "tired". Outside tables under an umbrella or trellis are nice, but with no-frills metal tables and plastic chairs. Unfortunately there were a lot of flies buzzing around—perhaps fueled by the busing station in the middle of the patio area that was stacked with soiled dishes.

 Menu selection 3.5 points: They have a reasonable amount of variety, considering it is a sports bar/grill. I thought Mom would be excited to see the "burger bar" offerings, but she went with a cheese-steak sandwich. Jordan and I both ordered the chicken wrap and Emily chose the chicken caprese sandwich. We missed an impressive list of lunch specials, on a separate menu, that somehow got buried under our regular menu stack and we didn't see it until after placing our order. 

Service 2.5 points: Started off very slow-we waited quite a while for an initial acknowledgment, but then were told by another waiter he would get drinks since our's was busy with a large table. He ended up taking our order, which confused our original server. The food was delivered pretty quickly, but we never saw a server after that. I finally had to flag someone down and handed over my credit card to pay without seeing the bill, as I was then pressed for time.

Food 3.5 points: Jordan and I liked our spicy chicken wraps and the seasoned fries were a hit. Mom's cheese-steak was served on a rather hard bread roll and they used banana peppers rather than the traditional freshly grilled bell peppers—sort of strange. Mom didn't mind as she had not tried these little peppers before and thought she might look for the jar next time at Safeway! Emily's sandwich was served on a whole-grain ciabatta that she said was good. Portion sizes were good for all and Mom and I both took home left-overs.

 Value 3 points: Our total bill with tax included came to about $14 per person. Pretty average for fairly standard food, although not a great deal by any means.

Overall score for The Hop Yard Bar and Grill: 3.2 points. Definitely a Pleasanton landmark and great for a snack after a ball game at the sports park. We had a fun lunch while enjoying each other's company on a lovely summer afternoon. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cocina Mexico, Red Smoke Grill, and Gold Chopsticks: 3 more lunches, reviews are mixed!

Lunch dates #42, #43, #44 Summer-time dining

Well once you cheat a bit; it is easier to do it again. By cheating I'm referring to lumping 3 lunches into one review. The advantage is that it will catch us up—and who knows, maybe after this I will keep up and stay on time…it is possible, not sure if probable! The bottom line, however, is that we are still eating—maybe not every week due to travel, but if I'm in town on a Friday, chances are very good that Mom and I will be having lunch together in Pleasanton!

Lunch date #42 Cocina Mexico (55 W Angela between Main and First Streets): We ended up visiting this little taqueria on a Saturday at about 1:00 right as the Farmers' Market was shutting down. This made parking a bit difficult, but we didn't mind the hike. The ambiance is basic inside, but they do have a few patio tables on the side area. The menu is fairly limited-so no Chili Relleno for Mom this time! She ordered the enchilada plate and I went with a fish taco (special of the day) and a carne asada taco to taste their standard fare. This is an order-at-the counter and pick-up-your-own food sort of place, so we elected not to score the service, but they were very nice. You help yourself to chips and salsa while waiting. Mom liked her enchilada OK and it was a good value at $6.95. My fish taco at $2 (special price) was pretty good and fresh. The carne asada taco, at the regular price of $3, was rather drippy/soggy and the taste was only fair.  I was really hoping for some very authentic Mexican food from this place…but it fell a bit short. One thing we found irritating: they have a speaker (right over our head) to play music, but all we heard was static until just finishing our meal when some Mexican music starting blaring. Not sure which was worse? Overall score for Cocina Mexico: 3.2 points

Lunch date #43 Red Smoke Grill (4501 Hopyard at Inglewood, www.redsmokegrill.com): In all of the years we've eaten in Pleasanton, I can't believe I had never tried this place. I know it is a favorite of the boys-Jordan's group heads there often for a good BBQ sandwich. I figured Mom would like their roast beef. Apparently there was a soccer tournament in town, and all of the teams ended up in that shopping center for some reason, or so it seemed. Parking was a bear. The indoor ambiance is basic, but OK-not as cutesy as Corner Bakery, but a step up from Kinder's. There are a few outdoor metal tables/chairs and we snagged one. The menu has a variety of grilled meat sandwiches and meal platters. It was a hot day and after a morning of tennis, I wanted a refreshing salad. I was pleased to see several on the menu, and the counter-guy promised me they were great. I went for the chopped salad topped with grilled chicken. Mom actually ordered the burger and added on Fries for $.99; she was happy. I, however, was sadly disappointed. Definitely NOT the thing to order at this place. The salad was limp and the dressing was horrible. The roasted chicken on top and the corn muffin served on the side were good, but the rest was barely edible. Considering what I got, the price for the salad with chicken at $9.28 was way too high. Mom was pleased with her burger and the fries were crisp. I think if I ever go back it will be for their BBQ sandwich only.  Overall score for Red Smoke Grill: 3.2 points

Lunch date #44 Gold Chopsticks (3170 Santa Rita at W. Los Positas; www.goldchopsticks.com): Since reopening a few years ago, I had wanted to give it a try and we were up for a basic Chinese-American style lunch. Parking was easy in the large lot, but it is a no frills area, next to a lower-end-than-normal dollar store in the strip mall by our departed Nob Hill and new Walmart Grocery. The ambiance is typical Chinese fast-food restaurant, and Mom pointed out that the tacky Christmas icicle lights handing from the ceiling would have been better replaced with lanterns. The service was very nice and very fast (of course everything is pre-cooked). The server even brought out the soup and salad before we committed to the lunch special (I suppose she rather assumed!). They have a good variety on their lunch special menu, and all are served with hot n sour soup, typical Chinese salad (greens with sesame dressing), an egg roll and a choice of steamed or fried rice or chow Mein. We elected to try the lemon chicken (typical) and the oyster sauce beef-which was pretty decent, especially the accompanying freshly sautéed veggies. Overall we felt that the food was decent and not too greasy. The value for each meal was great at $7.95 inclusive of the tea. We did have to ask for chop sticks, but what can you do! Overall score for Gold Chopsticks: 3.4 points.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nonni's Bistro: Great place to go!

Lunch date # 41 Friday June 28, 2013

On a nice warm day, after some fun tennis, I was looking forward to a refreshing lunch with Mom at a place where we could sit outside and enjoy the afternoon. I also wanted to treat her to a special lunch as a thank you for all of the house/pet sitting she did for us already this summer! We elected to give Nonni's Bistro, (425 Main Street www.nonnisbistro.net/) another try. We had lunch there about two years ago, before starting our project, and all we could remember about the place was our wet laps after a staff member actually watered hanging plants next to us-while we were dining! Not the best memory for a restaurant, so we hoped to erase that thought and give it another go! Seems like this location has trouble keeping a business going-but I've liked all of the establishments that have cycled through this troubled location.

Location 5 points: In the heart of restaurant row in the middle of downtown.
 Ambiance 5 points: Very cute in and out: nice linens on the tables, even on the sidewalk tables. Big open windows separate the dining room from the al fresco seating, creating an open and airy continuous space. The interior is decorated nicely and speaks of a European café. We were fortunate to find a perfect outdoor table and were promptly served citrus flavored (floating oranges) water, creating a welcome atmosphere.

Menu selection 4.5 points: As I was in the mood for salad, I found a perfect choice in the mixed greens topped with grilled salmon. Mom went for the Cobb. We both felt that the other lunch-menu selections, such as the sandwiches, soups and entrees, looked very interesting as well. They even offer burgers!

Service 3.5 points: Our server was prompt, friendly, knew the menu, and was helpful with our meal selections.  I did have to ask for a bread basket while waiting for our salads, but was informed the bread was baking! It was served hot from the oven just a few minutes later. The food was served promptly, but I then realized my salad was missing the dressing. It was brought out a few minutes later with profuse apologies. Unfortunately, we waited quite a while for drink refills, after flagging someone to find our server.

Food 4.5 points: My salad was excellent and contained capers and hardboiled egg in addition to the perfectly grilled, generous-sized salmon fillet. Mom liked her Cobb salad well enough, but it was not superior to others she has had elsewhere. The fresh bread rolls were delicious and it was hard to stop inhaling them.

Value 3 points: Great location, ambiance and food, but the prices are fairly steep for lunch. My salad was $17 and Mom's Cobb was $16. The ice-tea at $3.00 was too high also.

Overall score for Nonni's Bistro 4.25 points.  Excellent choice for a delicious lunch downtown. The relatively high price makes it a place we would more consider for a special occasion, rather than a routine lunch, but we had a lovely time and hope this place stays around for awhile.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Blue Agave Club: Perfect afternoon grub

Lunch date #40: June 14, 2013

Graduation day, my birthday and our 40th lunch date: definite cause for celebration! Mom and I were excited to have dining guests for this one: Kelly, Kris, Dorothy and Steph joined us for a special treat. I thought sitting outside at Blue Agave Club (625 Main St.; www.blueagaveclub.com) would be a perfect way to while away the afternoon, waiting for the graduation ceremony later that evening. Mom had thought the food there wasn’t to her liking-especially the dinner menu, but the rest of our family has always loved this place for margarita's and meals at any time of the day!

Location 5 points: Heart of our beautiful downtown in a renovated historical home. Extra points for that!

Ambiance 5 points: I love the outdoor seating in the summer. It was a wonderfully warm day and sitting in the shade under the trees and colorful umbrellas was perfect. The tables are perfectly spaced, all adorned with linens. Inside, the ambiance is cozy and quaint—and unique considering the original purpose of the building.

 Menu 4.5 points: The menu varies considerably from lunch to dinner, the former serving more of the traditionally expected Mexican-American dishes. The evening menu is definitely more upscale, their "alta cocina mexicana" with many choices that we have enjoyed over the years. For our lunch date Mom went with the chili relleno-she has been ordering that lately at all of the Mexican-style places we have been trying. I was looking forward to the carne-asada salad, and of course, a refreshing margarita.

Service 3.5 points: The service started out OK, but then went down a bit. Pretty attentive until our order was placed, but then we had trouble finding someone to refill our waters and, even more importantly, order another margarita. The food was served promptly and everything was correct. If the server would have wandered back just one more time after delivering the plates, the score for the category would have been better.

Food 4.5 points: We all enjoyed our meals, with the exception of Mom. The chili relleno was quite different than she was used to and she wasn't highly impressed. The rest of us, however, were very happy with our choices. My salad was fresh and refreshing, with perfectly spiced grilled, tender beef steak as a topper.  I think I polished off the majority of it. We adjusted the score to reflect the overall experience of the group.

Value 4 points: This was a tough one-definitely not a low cost sort of place. But when you combine the location/ambiance and food, the price is not too worrisome. We elected to adjust the value points a bit down since Mom didn't prefer her meal…and she was picking up the tab!

Overall score for Blue Agave Club: 4.4 points. This one scores with our best experiences. Even though Mom didn't care for her lunch, she still had a great time on this special day. I certainly was quite well celebrated and appreciative that my dear friends took time from their busy schedules to be with us. Having Steph there was the icing on the cake-or caramel on the flan, that day!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Joy, Gimanelli's and Red Robin: Fast, easy, fun!

It's been a bit of a whirlwind past couple of months. We've had the ball and breakfast, last games of lacrosse and baseball, conferences and parties, graduation, more parties, road trips and even more parties! We've been going to lunch, on occasion, and thought we'd sort of cheat a bit and review these 3 places all together. Time to catch up and get back on track!

Joy China Cuisine (30 W. Angela; site of the old "Panda's"): Decent location (close to downtown) and décor typical as expected in a Chinese-American restaurant (but did applaud the linen table cloths). We only saw the lunch specials, but were impressed by the selection and combinations. All were severed with an egg roll, salad (basically greens with sesame-ginger dressing), hot and sour soup and rice. The portion size was impressive and the food was O.K.—not too greasy, but a bit on the bland side. The service was also what you'd expect: very quick to bring out the food (which was served nice and hot), but then you can never find a server again. Overall good value at $7.50 a plate. Mom said: "If you want to go for Chinese food, I'd say 'here'!" It was a step up from the other's we had tried in the typical Chinese-American category. Not Uncle Yu's , but a reasonable deal for lunch with plenty of left-overs to please Mom! Overall score for Joy: 3.6 points.
Mom excited to use chop-stix at "JOY"

Gimanelli's "sidewalk"dining
 Gimanelli's Delicatessen and Catering (915 Main St.): One of the most popular deli's in all of Pleasanton. We've had Gimanelli's sandwiches many, many times…but interesting to give the place a sort of "review". Location is OK—at that very northern end of downtown in a shopping center that never has enough parking. Not really any ambiance-very basic deli-style décor with a few metal tables and some not-so-comfortable chairs out front. Service: not too friendly or helpful. I was trying to get a good understanding of how the special sandwich of the day, beef brisket, differed from their usual roast-beef sandwich. Never did get an answer, so decided to order to figure out myself! Good selection of salads and excellent sandwich buns (which I was surprised to find, they do not make, but do purchase fresh daily—I had always thought those were "their" fresh rolls!). Vienna Brisket sandwich was basically a French-dip style warm roast beef sandwich. It was good, but not as tender or as juicy as Kinder's Ball-tip! I do appreciate the anatomic difference between brisket and ball tip, but quite honestly would have appreciated a better description. Value for the special was good at $6.99, but the regular sandwich prices are not a great deal. Probably the most difficult part of our lunch experience: it wasn't too crowded, our sandwiches were made and were sitting as we waited to check out. No one else was waiting: and yet still, the cashier acted like we needed to wait longer. She stared at us as if we didn't know what we were doing-just paying for a sandwich shouldn't be such a difficult experience. Overall score for Gimanelli's: 3.1 points. A lot of their success is their reputation: they need to improve the rest of the experience to go with it!

Red Robin (4503 Rosewood Drive, by Walmart): We were in search of a quick burger, so on our way to In-N-Out (we weren't planning to review that day). Passing by Red Robin, Mom said she had never been in there—quick U-turn and there we were. Seated in the bar (open seating, same menu) because there was a 15 minute wait for the dining room (despite a plethora of open tables). Mom thought the place cute and the server was very kind. Great burger selection-thought Mom would be excited, but then she ordered the basic cheeseburger. I had fun trying some with mushrooms and a different style of cheese, at least. Overall we were pretty impressed. Burgers were cooked thoroughly (thank you), and were still juicy and served promptly. Prices were OK and portion sizes large, similar to that expected at Chili's, definitely more than In-N-Out, but a very different type of experience. We are glad we tried it! Overall score: 3.5 points.

Dining experiences upcoming: Soon to report some great lunches downtown for special occasions.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Alberto's Cantina: Only "media"!

Lunch date #36, March 29, 2013

Wow, behind in our postings once again. It has been a busy couple of months, and while we have been getting out for a few lunches here and there, I think Mom is worried that our project is dwindling. Must put this back on top priority! Remembering back to the end of March when the weather was so unseasonably warm, we wanted a restaurant with outdoor seating. Since Mom loves Mexican food, I thought—where else but Alberto's Cantina (435 Main Street; www.albertoscantinapleasanton.com). I've had many opportunities to try the food there-always seems just so-so to me, but I wanted Mom's expert opinion!

Location: back to our beloved downtown for the full 5 point score!

Ambiance 3 points. I definitely prefer the outdoor seating rather than the dining room, but upon closer inspection found that even the outdoor décor was rather "old" looking. It seems time to replace the old woody-spindly plants in cheap plastic hangers. The bar area is pretty, and as Mom pointed out, the two color table linen scheme is festive. They definitely attempt to create a cantina-type of atmosphere.

Menu 3.5 points: All the usual Americanized-Mexican style entrees that you'd expect to see. Mom commented that it "covers everything I'd be interested in ordering." Nothing exceptional that stands out, but definitely can find a good assortment. There are good pairings and plate-size options. Mom ordered the chili relleno. I went with the most "popular" tostada on the menu-to really give the place a chance to "wow" me this time.

Food 3 points: Mom was happy that her food was nice and hot (temperature wise, that is). I tasted her chili relleno and thought it was decidedly lacking in flavor. She was quite happy, though and promptly ate everything-no left overs that day! My "popular" tostada was just fair. The shell was too heavy and the rest of the dish was too soggy. The chicken was not seasoned and for once I only ate half of my meal! Not worth taking the rest home, however.  

Service: 3 points. Prompt in the beginning and the food was served very quickly. But then we never saw a waiter again. I would have liked more water, but didn't get a refill until presented with the check.

Value: 2.5 points. Great location and nice outdoor ambiance, however the food is not a great deal. $12-13 for very bland food. Rather on the high end from our experience, without the quality of the food to justify the price.

Overall score for Alberto's Cantina: 3.3 points. The best part of this dining experience is the location. But otherwise, as I said from the start, the place continues to be so-so. Nothing great, but not horrible. Definitely not my favorite. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sweet and Savory: Fast and Friendly

Lunch date #35, March 22, 2013

Mom suggested getting away from downtown—as we actually had been doing of late. I suggested this place-Mom had been there before, but didn't remember it well. Sweet and Savory Café and Bakery (5685 Gibralter Drive, www.sweetandsavory.com) is a favorite for a quick lunch where they serve the business crowd as well as friends out for a quick bite of lunch together.

Location: 3 points. In the Hacienda Plaza at Stoneridge and Gibralter. Not an exciting location, but plenty of parking.

Ambiance 3 points. "Looks like they're hanging laundry," Mom commented as she entered. They use some painted white banners inside as décor—it is a bit strange, I admit. Otherwise, it has the usual bakery/café style with lots of tables and also outdoor seating. No frills, nothing to really comment about. Mom wasn't impressed, hence the medium range score!

Menu 4 points: Great selection of salads, sandwiches, soup, pizza and bakery items. I ordered the special of the day: crab/artichoke grilled sandwich with side Cesar salad. Mom went with the turkey/avocado and side French fries.

Service 3points: Another order-at-the-counter-and-they-bring-your-food sort of place. No real service. You must get your own utensils, drinks, etc. We elected to give 3 points due to the very speedy delivery of our sandwiches and the friendly demeanor of the counter help.

Food 3.5 points: Mom was happy to have the option of fries, but unfortunately they weren't all that special…."Probably not Idaho!" she concluded.  Her turkey sandwich was piled so high with turkey that she had to take it apart and reassemble it to eat. She was happy to take home ½ of her sandwich and lots of extra turkey, however. My sandwich was OK. Not a lot of flavor. I think I ordered the wrong thing again! I have had other sandwiches and salads at Sweet and Savory that I enjoyed more than that "daily special".

Value 4 points: Comparable or a bit lower prices than other places we have tried. Mom's sandwich at $6.95 was a good deal, but adding $2.25 for the fries made the total of $9.20—very typical for this sort of café. Mine at $8.75 was a good deal. The portions are large and Mom was happy with her to-go box. The quick service in a pleasant atmosphere rounds out a nice lunch experience.

Overall score for Sweet and Savory 3.4 points. Nice place to grab a bite. Always a good crowd, so they must be doing something right!  I always run into friends there—as we did that day!  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Cheesecake Factory: merely satisfactory!

Lunch date #34: March 1, 2013

We needed to do a bit of shopping, so thought trying a spot at the mall would be a good idea. Mom said she couldn't remember eating at the Cheesecake Factory before and while I had eaten there many times, it had been awhile….and of course, we had to give the place our personal scrutiny. I remember when The Cheesecake Factory was a very special place--when you had to wait a few hours to get a table at the location atop Macy's in The City. Now, of course they are everywhere-usually associated with a mall or other major development. A glorified chain restaurant, known for their outlandishly large menu—and of course the cheesecake that I have yet to try!

Location 4 points: The Stoneridge Mall. Not a bad location, but nothing special. Problem for Mom as she had to park fairly far away.

Ambiance 4.5 points: "Now, this is really pretty!" remarked Mom as she viewed the dining room upon entering. Everyone is familiar with the interior décor: beautiful color palate with flowing accents, interesting pendant lighting, tall ceilings, open and airy. Also on the down side, it is very busy—ranging from the style of the décor to the number of people within the building; many servers rushing about, many diners at tables far too close for private conversation….quite a production and rather noisy as well. Perhaps would have been 5 points if a bit more breathing room between the tables.

Menu selection 5 points: Just an insane selection of many different types of dishes: from simple small plates to full on entrees and everything in between. The official company website boasts over 200 different menu items. I think maybe Mom was overwhelmed. "I'll get a burger," she decided. Really! I thought, here we had the biggest menu selection of any place one the planet... But, they do have a very large burger selection—so what can you do! Actually Mom was suggesting that she order burgers everywhere we go and change our project to a burger comparison…hmmm, will have to think about that! Mom chose the "factory burger" with the grilled onions and cheddar cheese. I went with the BBQ ranch chicken salad.
Mom with her burger

Food quality 3 points: Here is where the lunch started to fall apart. Mom specifically asked to have her burger cooked medium-well. When she cut it in half (somewhat of a family tradition), we found the inside to be quite red and under cooked. We promptly sent it back and she watched me pick at my salad while we waited for her burger to get cooked. My salad was only fair: the crunchy thin onion rings on the top were the best part. The BBQ chicken was just OK and the rest of the salad nothing special. I even got a bite of a stray hunk of blue cheese—not part of my order! When Mom's burger was finally returned, she was disappointed to find out it did not have lettuce. The menu very specifically listed the ingredients of this particular burger and did not include lettuce (but she didn't notice that while ordering). I gave her some of the lettuce from my salad to garnish her burger—then she was pretty happy with it! This place is known for the large portions and while Mom did save half of her burger and some fries for another meal. I didn't like my salad enough to either finish it or bother to take it home.
Great onion rings top the BBQ chicken ranch salad

Service 3.5 points: Server was nice and food was brought out pretty quickly. It took a bit to get the burger redone, but she was reasonably apologetic about that, and did refill our drinks. It did take a while to get the "to go" box once we were through eating.

Value 3.5 points: Prices were about $11 per meal, plus drinks, so typical to slightly on the high end of everywhere else we have been trying. Beautiful ambiance but only average food quality.

Overall score for The Cheesecake Factory at the Stoneridege Mall: 3.92 points—Owing to the huge meal selection, this rating could easily change depending on what we chose to order. Perhaps this is the problem—the menu is too huge! Maybe the food quality would improve if they cut down the menu a bit and tried to focus on quality. It seems that every time I go to a Cheesecake Factory, I have this same feeling. I always try something new and have often been disappointed that the result is just so-so. I know some people love it, perhaps they have found a special menu item that works perfectly for them. Another thing: I still have as yet to try the cheesecake! I'm usually too full from the entrée to consider dessert. Maybe next time we will have to go just for the cheesecake!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kokoro Sushi: Will it survive? Maybe!

Lunch date #33: February 22, 2013

Where to go when in a hurry to grab lunch about 30 minutes before your hair appointment at Cutt Co? Kokoro Sushi (3550 Bernal Ave, Ste 150) at the Vintage Hills Shopping Center corner of Bernal and Tawny. This is the old shopping center that has been mostly vacant for years. The businesses are starting to fill: the Cutt Co has been ongoing for years, as has the dry cleaner, but now there is a Yogurt shop (Yogoholic), a coffee shop and this Sushi place. The grocery store site is currently under renovation and will open a New Leaf Community Market. This location is like an old ghost town—maybe starting to come back to life.

Location 2.5 points: "For me it's good!" says Mom laughing since she lives in the general area. The mall is still mostly vacant and seems too quiet/boring/dead with an overwhelmingly empty parking lot. Until business picks up at this location, it will not have any curb appeal.

Ambiance 2.5 points: Typical Japanese style décor: simple but OK. Nothing too exciting. One step up from the basic formica table tops as the tables at Kokoro where glass covered. Definitely not going to this restaurant for the ambiance in general. Since only one other patron that day, the place was overly quiet and we wondered how they stay in business. 

Menu selection 4 points: Since Mom and I know very little about sushi, and after trying it once Mom has decided one-and-done is enough for her, we can't critique the menu choices very well. Seems like lots of things to choose. Some good choices for the bento boxes-Mom's favorite thing to order in Japanese restaurants these days.

Service 3.5 points: One host/server/sushi chef only. Since not much business, this was not an issue for us. He was pleasant and made our dishes very quickly. He brought out tea right away and seemed attentive enough.

Food 3.5 points: Mom liked the choices for her bento box: beef teriyaki, rice, edamame, tempura, goyza and miso soup on the side. Biggest issue: the beef was tough and very chewy. I went with a tempura dish which was served with rice, miso and edamame as a lunch special. We both liked the tempura-which included the usual combination of vegetables and one skewer of shrimp…but it was light and tasty. The miso soup was good and flavorful.
Mom with her bento box and chop-stick cheaters

Value 3 points: Mom's bento box was $8.95, about in the range of Tomo Sushi, had far more food than she could eat—and yes, she did take the rest home! My shrimp/veggie tempura at $9.25 was an average price. Since the tea is included in the price, the overall meal charge is a reasonable price for lunch. Food was fair, but not excellent, hence the medium range for the score. We didn't feel that it was as good as Tomo and definitely nowhere near as good as Sushi Main.

Overall score for Kokoro Sushi: 3.2 points. Kokoro means heart and soul in Japanese…perhaps once this shopping center is back up and running and some patrons are attracted, this little Japanese restaurant will have a chance. Until then, hope it has enough heart and soul to stay open. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Corner Bakery Café: Popular for lunch, I'd say!

Lunch date #32: February 8, 2013

We had heard good things about the Corner Bakery Café (6770 Bernal Ave at the new Safeway Shopping Center; www.cornerbakerycafe.com) and had spied it when at The Habit a few weeks prior. Although a national chain, it is another new-to-us spot and certainly had good curb appeal. Who could pass on a place that includes the word "Bakery" in their name? I was trying to figure out in advance how I would be able to keep this a healthy meal….

Location 3.5 points: Consistent with our scoring for shopping center locations. This one though has more challenge with parking-maybe because between this restaurant and The Habit, there is a lot of interest.

 Ambiance 3.5 points: Perhaps because it is relatively new, the place was hopping! First impression: initial excitement as the place was packed rapidly gave way to concern we wouldn't get a seat. We could barely hear our conversation due to the noise level. The striped awning and blue/brown interior is most likely corporate "branding", but is nice enough and inviting. Entering to an immediate long line was not terribly pleasant, although it moved quickly.

Menu items 4 points: There were many different things to try: salads, soups, chili, sandwiches both cold and grilled (panini). I was trying not to look inside the bakery case. I could easily skip the healthy idea and go for a huge cinnamon roll…but I was unusually disciplined and went for a ½ chicken pesto sandwich and soup combo. It was a bit of a chilly day and the idea of a fresh bowl of tomato soup sounded warming. Mom wasn't too sure what to order, but settled on the chicken pomodori panino. She had originally wanted the club sandwich, but the person taking the order told us no club sandwiches that day—no idea why.

Service 2.5 points: Waited in a long line to place our order than hovered over the tables to pounce on one as soon as vacant. Not an ideal restful lunch date—however, you could argue it is not their fault to be popular and busy. We actually got our items pretty quickly: servers deliver to the table, but that was the full extent of the service. One member of the party sitting next to us never got his salad, and watched his dining companions eat…he ended up leaving and not bothering to complain-said something about grabbing a sandwich somewhere.

Food 3.5 points: Mom liked her panino: good flavor to the bread and the chicken and tomato mixture were tasty and tender. My soup was just fair as was the chicken pesto sandwich. Not something I'd order again. I've heard the salads are pretty good—and their baked goods do look amazing, so it could definitely be a situation of knowing what to order. Perhaps the club sandwich would have been good.

Value 3.5 points: Mom's panino at $8.49 was a fairly standard sandwich price. The coffee at $1.99 was reasonable. My soup/sandwich combo at $7.99 would have been a good deal if I would have liked it better. We did use a coupon and got $6.00 off, so that helped. The overall noise level and waiting for a table while standing there and glaring at diners was not enjoyable.

Overall score for Corner Bakery Café 3.4 points. Exciting to try a new place and have it buzzing with excitement-wonder how long it will stay this busy. Not the best deal in town for a good sandwich, but fairly quick and good overall quality. Will have to try some of the other menu items to see what the rage is all about. Mom was happy to take home half of her sandwich, so she was pleased with the lunch date—after all, that's what it is all about!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kinder's Meats-Deli-BBQ: We should take the boys, too!

Lunch date #31: January 25, 2013

Another busy and day and we needed to grab a quick bite. Where could we meet and get a good sandwich? I know my mom likes roast beef, so I thought of Kinder's (4825 Hopyard Rd, www.kindersbbq.com). I have enjoyed their catering at a variety of events, so thought we'd give the Pleasanton location a try. It is a local chain, with many Bay Area locations, and they also report a restaurant in Reno. They even have a "food truck" you might see around!

Location 3.5 points: In the Gateway Shopping Center on Hopyard at Stoneridge (by Chili's). Usual feel to a shopping center location and this one is tucked in the back. Easy to find, but no frills to the locale. We are starting to gain some consistency in this evaluation and felt this location was similar to DeLaTorre's as regards a shopping center destination.

Ambiance 2 points: Typical deli type set up with more of a "take out" feel. Basic tables and cement floor. They do have old butcher prints on the walls as their décor! Definitely not as cute as The Habit. This is more of a place that you would go to get your sandwich, and then only stay to dine if it was convenient.

Menu Selection 3 points: Limited menu to beef, pork, chicken BBQ sandwiches—basically the reason you would choose to go to Kinder's, so the limited menu is expected. They do offer a few salads topped with the BBQ meats. We both chose the signature sandwich: the beef ball tip, and forked up the extra $1.95 for the side potato salad and BBQ beans.

Service 2.5 points: Really no service: order at the counter and get your own drinks, napkins, etc. Someone does bring your meal to your table, and they were fast to deliver. That is about it. We had to get up to ask for a knife and then the wrappings to take the left-overs "to go". They were friendly enough and did say we should try the signature ball tip sandwich since it was our first visit.

Food 4 points: "WOW! And you can quote me on that," Mom was smiling now. Huge sandwiches on nice soft rolls packed with BBQ beef. We could have easily split one—but then she wouldn't have her favorite part of the meal: the left-overs to take home! The roast ball tip beef was perfectly cooked: tender and juicy in a delicious sauce. Mom said, "I like the beans" as she finished off the last spoonful. We both agreed the potato salad was just fair.

Value 4 points: We felt that the price we paid for our sandwiches $8.50 for the size and quality was a very good deal. Not much for the ambiance, and you could definitely take your order to go, but it was clean and nice enough to grab a bite out on a Friday afternoon.

Overall score for Kinder's BBQ: 3.2 points. You might think Kinder's is similar to Togo's or Subway —but at a much higher price than those familiar chains. Considering that the quality was quite superior, as was the quantity, we felt the visit to Kinder's was much better than just picking up a routine sandwich. We did notice a few tables packed with teen-aged boys as it was the Friday afternoon after finals. They certainly seemed to know where to go! I'm sure Jordan and his buds would enjoy these sandwiches—we will have to remember to recommend this one to those hungry boys!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Songpa Yukejang: Our first Korean hang

Lunch date #30: January 18, 2013     

When we started this project, part of my reason to try to eat in every restaurant in Pleasanton was due to the observation that we tend to return to the same place over and over rather than risking new experiences. In our very first blog a year ago, I mentioned that although I drive by it daily, I have never tried the Korean restaurant on Santa Rita near Mission Plaza. Although it has changed titles (and maybe owners) numerous times, this has been a Korean spot for quite some time. Since it was our 30th date, we figured it was time to get to Song Pa Yukejang, 2025 Santa Rita. I asked my Korean-American friend, Jamie, for some advice and felt we were prepared to give Korean food a try. Mom was prepared with her chopstick pincher-cheater-device, so we were all set.

Location 2 points: This is a bit of an odd one: located in the parking lot of the "economical" Tri-Valley Inn and Suites motel. Actually enter the restaurant from the parking lot side in the back. Not an inviting location, most definitely, but easy to find.
 Ambiance 2 points: Pretty stark with Formica-topped tables, very little décor, and an industrial style thin carpet. The best part of the indoor décor is a fake interior roof on the wall designed to give the feeling that you're eating on a patio.

Menu selection 3 points: How on Earth would we know! We judged by the fact that there were a lot of choices in each type of food selection. According to Jamie, this place's signature dish is their spicy beef stew (Yukejang). Problem is that neither Mom nor I care for food that is really spicy…and I was concerned that by Korean standards, it might be quite out of our range. We played pretty safe: Mom ordered the BBQ spare ribs and I got the Dolsot Bibimbap , a hot stone rice bowl with veggies and beef.

Food 3 points: We had no idea that our selections included "banchan" appetizers. We had several small plates of kimchi, marinated tofu, fish bean sprouts and potatoes, and pickled cucumbers. All were very interesting and fairly good. I was disappointed with the Bibimbap: mostly rice, a few veggies and then just a very few slices of roast beef. I actually needed to add a fair amount of the red-chili sauce served along with the dish (served in a large plastic bottle), to give it some flavor. Mom liked her BBQ ribs better, but they were too crispy for her to eat easily. Still the ribs had good flavor.

Service 3 points: Our server (the only server ever--according to posts on Yelp), was very quick to take our order, bring out tea and the banchan. Our entrees were soon to follow. Our only criticism was that he wasn't able to describe the dishes or help with the ordering. I'm not sure if it was a language issue, or if her preferred not to talk. After delivering our food, we really didn't see him again until he brought the bill.

Value 3 points: We felt that the fee for the meal at $11 each was a bit high, especially since mine had about 3 thin pieces of beef. On the other hand, the banchan and tea were included…so it is on par with a usual lunch. Interesting to see that the fee for the dinner selections was pretty close to the lunch prices-so a good deal for dinner. Since we felt that the food was just fair, this affected our feeling about the fee for the food quality in this category.

Overall score for Songpa Yukejang: 2.7 points. We felt that it was OK, but certainly didn't impress us as being all that great. Our findings could be due what we ordered and our lack of knowledge of Korean cuisine, but it was an interesting experience and we were glad to give it a try.