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Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Habit Burger Grill: For Mom, quite a thrill!

Lunch date # 29 January 11, 2012

We had a lot going on that day and needed something relatively fast. "I haven't had a burger yet in 2013," Mom pointed out. She's been dreaming about trying The Habit Burger Grill (6770 Bernal, www.habitburger.com), and even though we said we would not go to chain-type places, we elected to make an exception. After all it is new to us in Pleasanton! I had actually already been there for a quick bite for dinner one night…but on a chilly, rainy night in December, Gary and I ended up finding the place packed and with nowhere to sit, ate our burgers in our car!

Location 3.5 points. The new shopping center on Bernal near 680 is full of new businesses and a large Safeway. Plenty of parking, but otherwise a no-frills shopping center location.

Ambiance 3 points. Not bad for a chain-style order-at-the-counter type of spot with a fairly open, airy and modern décor. It seemed clean. They do have outdoor seating and a large fire-pit, but it was a chilly day and we were happy to have a table inside. One complaint: we ordered our meal to eat there and it was served on a tray. I hate eating my meal on a cafeteria style tray, but they don't provide either little personal In-N-Out style trays, or a personal box or anything. We ended up spreading out napkins to provide a little place mat for our food. 

Menu selection 4 points. Considering it is a burger place--hence the name--they do a good job expanding the menu to include not only a nice selection of different types of burgers, but other sandwiches and salads, too. We both went for the basic burger, and since I figured I'd save the calories, I had mine without the cheese.

Service 3 points. Again, hard to judge when there really isn't any service. The attendant that took our order was quite cheerful, as was the person that handed us our trays. After we had finished, an employee cleaning the dining room offered to bring us a To-Go bag…so pretty good service overall for that type of a situation.

Go for it Mom!
Food 4 points. The burgers are good, but I missed the cheese! Mine was a bit on the dry side without it. They are definitely a good size and the carmelized onions are a nice touch. We also liked the crunchy shredded lettuce which seemed fresh. The fries are nothing exciting at all-not as good as In-N-Out in our opinion, and they definitely needed some salt.

Value 4.5 points. Definitely a good deal with burgers under $3.00! Once you add the fries and drink, it goes up to about $6, but still good value for a good ol' burger.

Overall score for The Habit Burger Grill 3.7 points. We felt this place was comparable to our favorite: In-N-Out, if you can over look the fries, and maybe even a touch above considering the expanded menu selection. It is a great place to get a quick burger fix! I can see this place becoming a "habit" for Mom!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

DeLaTorre's Trattoria: Only a fair idea

Lunch date #28 January 4, 2013

Happy New Year 2013! We started off right away resuming our lunch dates after a long hiatus due to the holidays. We did get together often in November and December for other functions, including holiday meals, so even though we didn't go out to lunch, we did have good together time. In our quest to find food that Mom will like, we decided to go back to our roots and try an Italian-style restaurant. I say "Italian style" since it is nearly impossible to get true Italian food in Pleasanton (as my Italian teacher will agree). All of the "Italian" restaurants around have cuisine that is very much "Americanized", but usually still intriguing.

We elected to try DeLaTorre's Trattoria, 6025 W. Los Positas in the Lucky Shopping center (www.delatorres.net). A local favorite of many Pleasanton residents, it is a place I seem to forget-probably because of the location. While I've had dinner there a few times quite a while ago, I never tried it for lunch. We were ready to "branch out" as Mom said, move away from downtown, and see what the rest of our town has to offer.

Location 3.5 points. We're having a tough time judging this category. We decided that downtown was the gold standard-so those restaurants were awarded the perfect score for this category. What can we say about the location of the Lucky's shopping center? It is easy to find, lots of parking, but definitely not inviting or exciting. Not a place you'd stroll around, but convenient if you need to go grocery shopping after lunch.

Ambiance 3.5 points. I wonder if it has been remodeled since I was last there. They are so close to having a cute place, but sadly fall short. Perhaps in you went for dinner it would be set nicer with linen on the tables. For our lunch date we sat in a booth-which was fine-but the simple addition of table cloth to hide the basic ugly Formica table top would have really helped. Small Formica topped tables also fill the center dining room. Mom pointed out the cloth napkins that were a nice addition. The overall décor and wine racks along one wall create a nice look, but just a touch more to spruce up this place—perhaps a centerpiece and table cloths--and they would greatly improve the ambiance.

Menu selection 3 points: While they print a daily menu, most of those items were things we would typically select for dinner: much heavier, larger meals of pasta and main-dishes (secondi piati). They offer a special lunch selection of several salads and bruschetta, but only four panini choices. We both selected the ½ chicken panini-with pesto and arugula-coupled with a cup of minestrone. I know they also offer pizza, or so it says on their website, but I didn't see that option on the menu we had.

Service 2.5 points: Our server came to the table quickly and took our order. We were served some very dry bread and our drinks promptly and the meals also came right away. That is pretty much were our service ended. There were not many lunch diners left but the time we were there (about 1pm) and our server didn't reappear until it was time for the check. Mom had to ask for a warm up of her coffee at that time, as it was quite cold by then….actually, she said it was only luke-warm when first served and should have asked for another cup immediately.

Food quality 3.5 points. Mom liked the minestrone, but I found it just fair and quite bland. The pasta was very mushy and the veggies quite over-cooked. It is hard to do this soup for the purpose of re-heating to serve and perhaps that is why I always prefer my home-made minestrone over that I find in most restaurants. I should have known better, and ordered something else. The panini were fair, but they chose a ciabatta for the bread and it was just slightly grilled and a bit tough to bite into and chew. The best thing about the meal was the small dabble of potato salad on the side (potato salad in an Italian restaurant??); it was delicious and saved the lunch for me!

Value 3 points. I would have voted for less, but Mom liked her minestrone and was impressed that the portion sizes were large. She barely touched her panini and was excited at the prospect of taking it home for dinner. I felt the price for what you get was too high: $12 for the ½ panini/cup of soup combo. What really blew me away was the $3 price for each a cup of coffee or tea—especially when no offer of a refill was made. The beverage prices substantially inflated the overall tab.

Overall score for DeLaTorre's: 3.2 points. While we were excited to try another location and branch away from the downtown choices, we found this restaurant to score only fair. Considering the relatively high prices, we felt that we paid far more than we would pay for better quality food, with better service at Pasta's, Baci, or Red Coats downtown!