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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.