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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.