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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!