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Friday, October 10, 2014

Eddie Papa's American Hangout: Fairly good, nothing to shout about!

Lunch Date #62, September 12, 2014

Looking for more places to go in P-town and had honestly forgotten about this one. When it was new, we went frequently and then became disillusioned for no particular reason. Good idea to give Eddie Papa's anther try: 4889 Hopyard, (http://eddiepapas.com/).

Location 3.5 points: Easy to find, near Chili's. Plenty of parking. Not the quaint downtown location, though. We consider this a no-frills location.  

Ambiance 3 points: Ceiling fans and exposed ventilation piping in an open dining room. Nice bar area and outdoor seating also. Eddie made it a point to stop by to say "Hi". Basic décor, nothing fancy. Typical family style restaurant.

Menu selection 4 points: Very good selection overall. Same menu for lunch and dinner. We both honed in on the "Red, White and Blue Sandwiches" I chose a Santa Barbara style chicken club and Mom (surprise, surprise!) went for the All American Hamburger.

Service 4 points: Good, attentive server with frequent follow up and drink refills. After Eddie stopped by, the floor manager also came over to be sure we didn't need anything.

Food 3.5 points: Good, not great. Burger was Ok, but a bit dry. My sandwich was also OK, but not exceptional. We both liked the accompanying fries and we had plenty to take home for left-overs. Their signature cotton candy brought at the conclusion of the meal was a fun treat.

Value 3 points: A bit on the high side with the burger at $11 and my sandwich was $12.

 Overall score for Eddie Papa's 3.5 points: Overall good, but not exceptional. I'd be happy to go back, if suggested to meet a friend…but with so much competition out there, this one falls just a bit short. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Specialty's Café: A Decent place, we say!

Lunch date #61, September 5, 2014

Somehow we missed going to lunch throughout August…now it is time to get back into the swing of things. Thought we'd try something new: Specialty's Café on Hopyard, at the old El Balazo site near 580 (5331 Hopyard Rd, www.specialtys.com). This is a newish chain on the seen-similar to Corner Bakery type of place; this one with locations in the Bay Area, So Cal, Seattle and Chicago.

Location 3 points: Not easy to pull into this parking lot as motorists are gearing up to get on the freeway. Might access from Owens. A reasonable amount of parking.

Ambiance 3 points: They did a great job with the build-out of this location to totally change the look from the previous restaurants-my guess is there is probably a common look to all of their locations. Order at the counter/bakery case, with the Peet's Coffee bar adjacent (go there to pick up drinks).  Inside: open space with a tall ceiling with lots of seating at basic tables, and the outside seating is nice—unfortunately the local view isn't so great of either the low-budget motel next store or the Hopyard on-ramp to 580.

Service: we decided not to score service when we order at the counter, but their "thing" is that you can skip the line and order on line—and there are several computer terminals at the entrance. Interestingly, on this day, they were all covered with bags and out of service…so no skipping the line today! One good idea: once you order you get a buzzer that will light and buzz when your order it ready to be fetched.

Menu 4 points: Great choices for lunch: sandwiches hot or cold and many salads. They also have some breakfast sandwiches and lots of goodies in their bakery case, and they sell mix for their cookies. We had Emily along as our guest diner and she chose the turkey pesto sandwich, Mom went for the turkey cranberry sandwich (sans the sprouts and sunflower seeds), and I tried the Southwest salad.

Food 3.5 points: We loved the bakery items (Em tried a chocolate chip cookie and I got a morning bun). My salad was fair, but fresh and a good portion size. Mom liked her turkey cranberry and was very happy with the portion size-a full half sandwich as a left over for another day! Emily's turkey pesto had such little pesto that we really couldn't see it (and she couldn't taste it), so more of a regular turkey sandwich, that wasn't bad…just not what she thought it would be.

Value 4 points: all prices are very reasonable at $7-9 per item. It is all a la carte though-no chips or anything else included. Still, a good deal for decent food. The bakery items are about $2 each; which I think are better than Starbucks' prices…and much better and freshly baked on site.

Overall score for Specialty's: 3.5 points. My main criticism: all served "to go"-all plates are paper (but the sturdy recycled type), but eating a salad on a paper plate isn't great. It's definitely a grab and go type of café. On a prior visit with friends, I had the turkey/apple/brie/bacon sandwich-that was very good, but the service was really slow. It was better on the day I went back with mom and Emily. Overall, the food is quite fine and the prices are great…so I think we will go back and try other menu items. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Pasta's revisited: New menu and prices to match

Lunch date #60 July 25, 2014

I wanted to take Mom to a "nice" lunch to thank her for all of the house sitting she had been doing for us this summer while we were traipsing around England and then South Carolina…so where to go? I remembered she loved the burger at Pasta's, and we hadn't been there in quite a while. After two years, we figured it was worth a revisit to Pasta's Trattoria: 540 Main St., P-town.

Updated review:

No change in location (5 points) and last time we rated ambiance as 5 points (really?) so this time we give it a 4 (no reason, just more savvy now).  We were rather late for lunch and they were willing to stay open for us, which was nice (service would have been 4-5, but see below... making it a 3 which is the same as 2012).  It was a hot summer afternoon, and though it was my choice to sit outside-it was a bit toasty, even in the shade. We were quickly served iced-tea and bread with dipping oil, making us pretty happy at the start. Then…we looked at the menu. I was surprised to see that the $10 burger we raved about in 2012 was now $14, quite an increase!!! Actually, everything was much higher than our previous review, even the turkey sandwich that Emily, our guest diner for the day, ordered was $13. I went with the $10 arugula and peach salad---no, not because I'm cheap, but because I was hot and it was refreshing. The entire menu was quite different form our 2012 experience, but had several choices keeping with the unchanged score of 4. So how was the $14 burger you ask? Well, it was pretty good, quite large, and packed with meat, such that Mom had not one, but several meals to look forward to from her take-home left- overs this time—which made her pretty happy! My salad was fair and Em's turkey also OK, but 
Mom with her giant "left-over" bag
 really not any better than the $9 roasted turkey-cranberry at Café Main next door. (Food score 4 points, last time 5 points). Our only criticism: Mom did order fries, but was served the pasta salad. I'm sure the cooks were quite done with the deep fryer for the afternoon, and the pasta salad was probably a healthier choice anyway. Value for the meal: 4 points. Our final review of Pasta's revisited: 4 points (last time 4.5 points): : clearly higher-end dining for downtown P-town, even at lunch. All in all, still a great place, but no longer such a great deal. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fernando's: Yes for Mom, but for Jan a NO!

Lunch date #59; June 20, 2014

We had our thinking-caps on; trying to figure out where to go next. I knew Mom always likes Mexican food, and I knew she liked Fernando's. Has something to do with a sister-restaurant Celia's that she used to like, or at least, it reminds her of Celia's. We had been to Fernando's (348 St. Mary's) for dinner several years ago, but couldn't remember trying it for lunch. My previous memory was not too fond, but thought it was worth a try in the spirit of the project.

Location 4 points: A bit more off Main Street than the others, but still officially downtown.

Ambiance 1 point: Really dingy and dark inside. The carpets have worn/dirty paths and the booths are the old-Formica style (one table occupied). We chose to sit outside, and found we were alone. The seating consists of haphazardly arranged basic metal patio tables but at least there were World Cup banners hanging about to give some feel of decor to the place (or I would have wanted to give it 0 points).  To get to the patio, we had to pass through the sketchy/smelly bar, where a few guys were having their lunch with a beer. The bar area definitely has that stale-old-beer on the carpets smell—quite unappealing.  

Menu selection 3 points: The usual Mexican style choices, but nothing very creative. I was trying to figure out the difference between the Tostada and the Tostada salad. Our server didn't really help with the description-other than that the tostada was served with rice and beans, so I went with the salad. Mom ordered the chili relleno—maybe she thinks the project goal is to compare all of the chili rellenos in Pleasanton!

Service 1 point: The server doubled as the bar tender. Her took our order, someone else brought out the food and then we never saw him again. I had to take my glass into the bar to get a water refill. I had asked for more water from the guy that brought out the plates, but he must have forgot. Again: there were about 4 total people in the whole place.

Food 3 points: Mom likes the food-she would want a 4. I thought it was rather poor, and would give it a 2 at most—so we're compromising. Mom did mention some concern that with the scarcity of customers, she was worried the food wasn't turned over and was probably not too fresh. Then some of the employees came out to the other end of the patio and started smoking-there was our server/bartender too! Fortunately I had stopped eating, and although not finished I had already lost my appetite!

Value 2 points: Just too dingy and dirty to give it a higher score. The price is cheap: I believe the lunch specials were $5 each, but I'd rather pay more and be able to enjoy the dining experience. As for the smoking-just couldn't believe it. 

Overall score for Fernando's 2.3 points: The lowest of any place we've tried so far! Since I'm the one writing the review, I'm exerting my bias; I never have liked that place. But I was willing to give it another try-which was most definitely my last. We wonder how the place stays in business. I suppose Mom could get take-out chili rellenos from there, and help contribute to their survival?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Swirl: Perfect for a birthday-girl!

Lunch date #58: June 13, 2013

What better way to spend a birthday celebration, than with Mom, some dear friends and a lovely outdoor setting for lunch? We chose this "excursion from Pleasanton" to try Swirl on the Square, 21 South Livermore Ave (in the Blacksmith Square): www.swirlonthesq.com. This wine-bar-by night now serves lunch on Fridays, and is a cool-new fun place to go. After all, we're so trendy!

Location 4 points: Although not P-town, we love downtown Livermore also, and while a bit off the hub/bub of First Street, it is still a good location with plenty of nearby parking.

Ambiance 4 points: It was a lovely day and we sat outside in the courtyard, after pushing together a few tables. The outdoor seating is very casual/no-frills, with  metal tables and chairs, but the shade trees together with the blooming roses, made for a lovely setting. One negative: to use the restroom, you have to fetch a key from a neighboring business.

Menu 3.5 points: A rather short list of sandwiches offered for lunch: 5 sandwiches, 2 of which are grilled-cheese variations, and two salads. We were happy with the choices, however, and all found something interesting to try. Mom ordered "The T-25", a Havarti grilled cheese with prosciutto and grilled onions. I had the "Classic": brie with prosciutto, fig jam and arugula on a baguette. All sandwiches also come with a side salad.

Service 3 points: It's an order-inside-and-they-bring-it-to-you, sort of a deal. Serve yourself water also. That was all fine, but the food delivery was rather slow and not delivered at the same time. It wasn't very crowded, so no reason for the delay that we could see.

Food 4.5 points: Everyone enjoyed their selections. My sandwich was perfect and the salad was crisp and flavorful. Mom liked her choice also-and was happy to take home half for another meal. Around the table, everyone was pleased with a variety of the sandwiches and salads. We had a yummy birthday dessert treat also: the chocolate chip brownie and "Famous Secret Cake" were both worth the calories!

Value 4.5 points: The $8 price for the sandwiches, including the side salad is an excellent value. The bottle of BoaVentura White wine we shared was not very economically priced, I'm afraid.

Overall score for Swirl 3.9 points: I'm thankful for my dear friends, and Mom, to help me celebrate.  The lovely setting, good food, and of course, wonderful company, made for a perfect birthday luncheon! 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Lotus: Authentic Persian Cuisine: OK, but not our scene!

Lunch date #57, May 30, 2014

Mom got her adventure spirit back! We elected to try Lotus: Authentic Persian Cuisine (1991 Santa Rita Rd) in the Mission Plaza (long time ago location of Swenson's). I was excited that she was willing to go so out-of-her-box and try Persian food…a far cry from burgers or Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches! Lotus is an official halal restaurant, serving food that is permissible under Islamic Law.

Location 3.5 points: Trying for consistency here-same score as other places at the Mission Plaza. This one faces Santa Rita, so is maybe just a bit more appealing from the street view.

Ambiance 3.5 points: They have certainly done a lot to change the "look" since the prior businesses in this location. The most striking improvement is the ceiling fixture of blown glass-quite impressive. They also opened up one side to a patio for outside dining and the tables were nicely adorned with linen. Unfortunately at 1pm on a Friday, we were the only customers in the place, so it seemed rather lonely…and guys were walking back and forth through the dining room bringing in laundered linens and boxes—rather tacky.

Ceiling blown-glass light fixture
Menu 3 points: Obviously very hard for us to evaluate, not knowing anything about the cuisine. We asked our server for suggestions, but she wasn't all that helpful. Our biggest complaint: there is not a lunch menu and most of the choices were dinner-entrée style in price. There is a section of "House Specialty" items, so I chose one from that list-not having any idea what I'd be getting-and went with Ghormeh Sabzi. This was a dish of braised beef in a sauce of greens and kidney beans. I encouraged Mom to go with a kabob dish, figuring that would have a better chance of success with her. They don't serve coffee, so Mom went with water. I asked if the iced-tea was brewed, but not so sure the server understand my meaning.

Food 2 points: The Ghormeh Sabzi was basically green-slop in a bowl that you spoon over rice. There were a few pieces of beef in a sauce that didn't have much flavor. I would pass on this one in the future. Mom's kabob dish was better. She got the combo with both beef and chicken, and though both were fairly dry, they had good flavor. Both our dishes were served with a large portion of jasmine rice, topped with saffron-infused rice…but although pretty, that lacked flavor also. The large portion size for the kabob combo was a bonus for Mom.

Service 2 points: Really not much service. The iced-tea was not to my liking (not sure if brewed with a Persian tea or an instant mix), and when I mentioned to the server that I didn't care for it and wanted water, she just smiled. Perhaps a language barrier? Not sure. After she brought out our dishes, she disappeared into the back and we didn't see her again. When we were about to leave and a new party of diners walked in, they had to wait quite a while to be recognized.

Value 2.5 points: Relatively high price for lunch. Mine was $14 (and not so great). Mom's kabob dish at $13 was a bit better, and she did take home the left-overs…but the overall dining experience was not in the realm to off-set the prices. The lack luster service, perhaps coupled with the deserted restaurant did not make for a pleasing atmosphere.

Overall score for Lotus: 2.75 points. Not our favorite by far, and doubt I would go out of my way to return. Perhaps they will find their niche with those that require halal-cuisine, but we weren't all that impressed. Still, if you haven't had Persian food-it might be worth it to try some of the other menu items….and at very least, have an adventure!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Zakuro: Japanese, so-so

Lunch date #56: May 23, 2014

We had met to try Mama Rosa's by Trader Joes and were surprised to find it closed; as in closed-down, out-of-business. We were a bit short on time and looked around and spied Zakuro (6700 Santa Rita Road; www.zakurobistro.com) in the plaza and decided, well why not give it a try. Only problem: we really don't eat sushi, and mom didn't have her "pincher" chopstick cheaters with her!

Location 3 points: on the corner of the TJ's plaza facing Santa Rita. This location has changed hands numerous times…was a burger joint at one time.

Ambiance 3 points: really nothing special. Not even much in the way of Asian style décor. "Someone should tell them Christmas is over" said Mom noticing the Christmas-ornament balls attached to one wall hanging. Maybe there is something in Japanese art that uses Christmas-ornament balls that we don't know??

Menu 4 points: Lots of sushi (well, what did we expect?). Unfortunately, we were given a dinner menu at first and sad not to see an offering of our favorite bento box. When we commented on this to our server, she recognized the error and promptly brought us lunch menus, featuring bento boxes! Yay, something we can recognize. I ordered chicken teriyaki and a California roll (my sushi limit), while Mom went for the teri-chicken and the tempura veggies.

Service 2.5 points: Really not much attention. Our server actually brought our soup without spoons. When I pointed this out, she seemed to indicate that was obvious…but it took her quite a bit to get the spoons to us. The rest of the meal was served without incident.

Food 3 points: Everything was fine. Nothing great, nothing bad. The teriyaki chicken was tender enough, the California roll was good and Mom liked her tempura. Nothing outstanding to make us feel that we were in for a special treat.

Value 4 points: Bento boxes were large and we both took quite a bit home. Total price per box just under $10.

Overall score for Zakuro 3.25 points: Nothing special, but not bad. Perhaps if we knew sushi and tried more of the maki and nigiri, we would have a different opinion, but we really don’t. So, unlikely we would return, but we had a great time lunching together and chatting…which is all that really matters!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Corner Creperie: Questionable savory

Lunch date #55 April 25, 2014

We needed to grab a quick bite, and Uncle Gary was in town to join us. Thought we'd head to the new creperie in town—but Mom wasn't so sure at first. Never had a savory crepe, so time for another new experience, and we were off to The Corner Creperie (349 Main St.; next to Fontina's).

Location 5 points: Still love downtown P-town!

Ambiance 3 points: Open kitchen style so you can watch the crepe making. Very small place-only 5 tables inside, but more outside available. Mom commented about their "wall-of-clocks" and when I asked her what she thought about it, she replied: "Well, I guess it is OK if you like clocks." We counted 7 different clocks on the main wall.

Menu selection 3 points: A few different savory choices-and you can build your own. Seemed to be lacking in choices of sauces, although they did offer a béchamel. They also have a grand selection of sweet crepes (which I've heard are pretty good), but we didn't have time to sample those.

Service: not graded—offer at the counter and then go back to pick up your own plate.

Food 3 points: The crepes were OK, but too bland for my taste. I had a build-your-own with chicken, spinach, cheese and mushrooms. It was far to dry-I even asked the crepe-maker if he remembered the cheese. He replied that he uses a very fine planer-grater so you can't see the cheese. I couldn't see it or taste it, so I think more cheese was needed. Otherwise, it lacked flavor. Mom liked her ham and cheese choice OK and Uncle Gary had a "complete" with egg, ham and cheese. One good point: a decanter of water on the counter with fresh orange slices to serve-yourself a glass of water. I was disappointed, however, that the only non-herbal tea they offered was Earl Grey.

Value 3 points: Sort of a "fast-food" style place with serve yourself everything, and the crepes are served on square disposable plates. Not exactly fine dining—sort of a cross between a crepe stand and a coffee shop. The prices, however, are very good: $7.50 for my combo, Mom's ham and cheese only $6.

Overall score for The Corner Creperie: 3.4 points. Not a bad spot—and probably fun for dessert to get a sweet crepe. Not big fans of the savory, however…but might return and try a different combo and ask for extra cheese. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Casa Orozco: Not far to go!

Lunch date #54 April 4, 2014

Venturing out from Pleasanton! We decided to expand our exploration to the Tri-Valley area. There are many places to try…and while we will continue to report from Pleasanton and have more locations left to try, we thought a big adventure to Livermore was up our alley that day. After we made that important decision, the next question: where to go? Downtown Livermore is quaint and inviting-many places to try there, but I know Mom loves Mexican food so her face lit-up with my suggestion. While we have both been to Casa Orozco (325 S. L Street, Livermore; www.casaorozco.com) for dinner several times, we had not for lunch—so a perfect idea!

Location 4 points: Hard for us to judge this one-we had established that downtown Pleas. was the perfect 5 point location. While this location is fine, with plenty of parking, it is not anything special, as Mom would say.

Ambiance 4.5 points: Love the remodel they did a few years ago: beautiful inside and out. Very Mexican-theme and how can you not love the bronze-sculpture horses leaping from the wall.
The bar area is great and the dining room very nicely decorated. Only down ½ point since, due to the open dining room floor-plan, it gets pretty noisy in there.

Menu 5 points: Not sure there is anything else that could be added. They have thought of every Americanized-Mexican dish I know, and have many of their own personal creations.

Service 4 points: We were quickly shown to a table and our drink orders processed (of course I had to have a margarita—it was Friday after all). Our order was taken and food delivered pretty quickly also—but then as the usual, we never saw another server until it was time for the bill. I was asked if I wanted another margarita as the food was delivered, but no one ever asked Mom if she would have liked a coffee refill. So all in all, quite good with a minor ding.

Food 5 points: Mom had the chili relleno and an enchilada and felt both were perfect. She especially liked the puffed/crunchy egg batter coating.  I had the basic tostada and it was also quite flavorful and not soggy/mushy-the fault of many tostadas. Both had hearty portion sizes.

Value 4.5 points: Prices were reasonable: my tostada with carne asada only $8.50; Mom's combo plate was more the usual$12.99, comparable to other restaurants, but considering she was getting at least one more meal out of it from her to-go box, still a good deal. Really nothing to knock down the score…other than we did have to drive "all-the-way" to Livermore for this very enjoyable lunch experience!

Total score for Casa Orozco: 4.5 points. Mom said "If I wanted Mexican food, I would come here!" We haven't tried their Dublin location, but expect it would be rather similar. Definitely our "to go" place for Mexican food in the Tri-Valley area.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bon Dia Café: Great we say!

Lunch date #53, 3/21/14

Noticed that the location in Mission Plaza that was formerly "Z Café Express" (and "Sisters" before that) had re-opened under new ownership so decided to give it a try. Bon Dia Café (1987 Santa Rita Rd) had only been open for 12 weeks by the date of our visit. Not sure why this location seems tough for cafés to stay in business—obviously not much drive by traffic, so word of mouth will probably determine the success of the place.

Location 3.5 points: Mission Plaza across from Fiesta Taco. Plenty of parking.

Ambiance 3 points: Nothing has changed, that we could tell, from the former establishment. Very plain, café style—but it was clean and on that day, not very crowded. Looks like the hope is to also market the place as a wine bar. Outside seating is also available.

Menu selection 3 points: Fairly limited to sandwiches and salads (I doubt the place has an actual kitchen), but they have a panini maker and offer a good variety of hot sandwiches as well. They offer some breakfast items and have a bakery case, and do a variety of special coffees (espresso style).

Service—we elected not to review service for the type of place where you order at the counter and other than delivering your food, the rest is self-service, but we wanted to comment about the owner, Robert. He was running the show that day—and was very friendly and helpful. He was obviously very enthused about his café and trying (effectively) to make customers feel welcome! He also gave us good recommendations on the sandwich choices. The A/C was cranking, so we took a table in by the window for some sun-warmth. Robert noticed we were chilly and offered to turn off the A/C!

Food 4.5 points: We both ordered the turkey-avo-pepperjack panini. They were full of delicious roasted turkey, on a soft dutch-crunch roll, nicely grilled, but not over done to the point of becoming brittle. The portion size was good-Mom took home ½ for another meal.

Value 5 points: quite a good deal: sandwiches under $7 with hot coffee/tea at $2. Several dollars less overall than most places, with good quality and portion size in a pleasing environment.

Overall score for the new Bon Via Café: 3.8 points. This one measured up pretty well by our standards and we felt it was a great find! We will definitely return-and have been recommending to friends for coffee, breakfast or lunch. Hope Robert makes it and becomes a successful, long-term inhabitant of the space!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Black Bear Diner: Basic diner, nothing finer

Lunch date #52 March 14, 2014

I remember when traveling up through Northern California on Hwy 5 about 15 years ago, that it was a big recommendation to eat at the Black Bear Diner near Mt Shasta. We did then, but weren't sure what the fuss was all about. Now they are springing up everywhere (61 locations)-and we even have one in Pleasanton (5100 Hopyard, www.blackbeardiner.com). Mom and I actually gave it a try about a month ago—but even though I thought the tri-tip sandwich special was pretty good, Mom didn't care for it. So we thought to give it another go…

Location 3.5 points: Hopyard at Owens. Not a spot you'd care to stroll around after eating, but a reasonable amount of parking.

Ambiance 4.5 points: Mom really liked the bear carvings outside and the creative décor throughout the interior. I was impressed that they created bear carvings to depict Amador and Foothill Cheerleaders-a nice touch to make the place feel a bit more like a hometown restaurant rather than an expanding chain.

Amador and Foothill Cheer-bears!!

Menu selections 3.5 points: Good selection of sandwiches, burgers and salads. On our first visit we had spied some of the salads and decided to give them a try. I went with the steak salad while Mom chose the Chef's. They also have a reasonably extensive breakfast menu, and serve dinner entrees as well. Nothing terribly exceptional on any of the menus—but it is a diner, so that is what we expected.

Service 3 points: Very coffee-shop style. Server forgot the dressing for Mom's salad and I had to go find her to get it. After that, she seemed to come by the table (too?) often as we were eating to see if all was OK…over and over again. We had a similar response the first time we ate there—a bit over the top and constantly having to say you're fine gets a bit old. They are friendly enough, but you get the feeling they are just handling a lot of tables and there is nothing special about the service.

Food 3 points: The portions are very large, but the quality was just average. Really nothing special. Not great flavor. Mine had a few strips of tri-tip that was good, and some avocado, but otherwise a lot of iceberg lettuce and a few tomatoes and lots of onions. Mom was disappointed with her Chef's salad. Again, a mound of iceberg lettuce heaped with lunch meat and a bit of egg. Nothing either of us would order again.

Value 3.5 points: The prices are average and the portions good sized.

Overall score for the Black Bear Diner: 3.5 points. The place is cute—sort of an upscale Denny's…but nothing exceptional. Truly a diner, but without that home-cooked good food characteristic that originally put the Black Bear Diner on the map. Not sure we'd go out of our way to eat there again…especially with so many other restaurants in Pleasanton that have character and better food. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Farmhouse Eatery: new P-town scenery!

Lunch date #51 February 21, 2014

We had heard of this new one: next to Yolatea on Division, and were excited to give it a try and our meticulous critique. Farmhouse Eatery (and Bar), 600 Main St. Suite G (actually quite a few paces east of Main on Division).

Location 4.5 points: downtown, but not on Main, and really no parking. The one way traffic flow on Division means circling around to find a parking spot. We ended up parking in the Round Table lot.

Ambiance 3.5 points: Very simple-perhaps like a farm-style restaurant. Cute bar area that is promoted as a "Happy Hour" handout, but the presence of the flat screens in the dining area steals from an otherwise tranquil and homey ambiance. The place mats under glass on the dining tables are a rustic touch.

Menu selection 3 points: Very limited. They seem to be starting with a fairly short menu, which we considered a good idea until the place gets going. Only a few sandwiches and a burger on the offered. I went with the ½ turkey avocado sandwich and house salad, while Mom was very happy to order the burger.

Service: 3.5 points: The server was nice, but she seemed to disappear into the back a lot. We felt that we waiting a fairly long time for our meals-especially since there weren't many other diners present. We also had to ask for drink refills.

Food 4 points: My salad and sandwich were good. The ciabatta bread roll was good and soft. Mom's burger (with bacon and grilled onions) was quite good. Great char-grilled flavor, and a mound of crispy and hot shoestring French fries included. Mom's coffee was served in a French press-so that was fun for her.

Value 4 points: good lunch at reasonable price. Mom's burger with fries was $10. My ½ sand with salad only $8. We are learning to get over the fact that a cup of coffee is $3…but at least the press made that $3 cup of coffee a bit fancy!

Overall score for Farmhouse Eatery and Bar: 3.75 points. Not bad overall. I would go back and get that burger next time! They also just started serving dinner-limited menu, but looked interesting. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Strizzi's Restaurant: Dependable family favorite

Lunch date #50, February 7, 2014

How can you not like Strizzi's? A long family favorite for dinner: their Rigatoni Bolognese and seasonally available Copper River salmon are some favorites, but I couldn't remember having lunch at the downtown location, and we certainly had not since starting our project. Mom wasn't sure she cared for the place all that much-I think that because whenever we go, she always has the fettuccini Alfredo, and they don’t prepare it to her liking. Still, for our 50th lunch she was game to give it a go!

Location 5 points: Perfectly downtown

Ambiance 4 points: I like the bistro-open kitchen SF style of Strizzi's. Mom said, "Nothing special," but she's been saying that for every place we've seen since Cheesecake Factory! We elected to sit at a window seat in the "bar" area (tall table) and I liked the granite topped tables and cloth napkins. The table was a bit on the small side though, and by the time out salad and sandwiches arrived, we were a bit crammed.

Menu selection 3 points: Mostly full entrees but for the usual lunch sort of thing-a bit short. Some sandwiches and salads. You can get a soup or salad with a ½ pasta order for $12.99. We both went with the lunch special of soup and a BLTA on ciabatta for $11.99.

Service 4 points: Very fast and attentive. Refills provided. She even helped us try to fit everything on the table!

Food 3.5 points: The fresh, soft French bread served with oil/vinegar for dipping are always a favorite of mine at this restaurant.  The soups were served first and were very large bowls. I had the clam chowder and it was only fair and lacking in flavor. I only ate about 20% of it. I tasted Mom's minestrone and found it likewise bland.  She thought it was OK, but complained that the pasta used (rather large corkscrew noodles) were hard to fit on the spoon and a lot to chew without cutting. The sandwiches were good but the ciabatta was a slightly hard to bite into as it was toasted a bit too much. Mom was so full of bread and soup that she didn't even try her sandwich, but happily took it home for another meal or two!

Value 3.5 points: Although the price was a bit on the high side, we thought the value score should reflect some positive points such as the large portion sizes. We could have definitely split one order and had plenty. The overall atmosphere and dining experience made us feel the price was worth the experience.

Overall score for Strizzi's: 3.83 points. Known more for their wood-fire grilled fish and pasta dishes than a sandwich spot, this is still one of my downtown standbys. Another place we will have to try again and order something different to give it another chance at a top score!

Note on our critique: Overall it has been tough to be objective with our scoring—and when we look back to Deans and Vic's—probably gave out some rather inflated scores. Now that we are seasoned critics, we're being tough! We might have to revamp our project and either re-visit some of those we have tried—or even venture out of Pleasanton and see what the rest of the Valley has to offer….stay tuned!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Buckhorn Grill: no big thrill!

Lunch date #49; January 10, 2014

New for this year! Mom has declared that she doesn't want to go to any restaurants where she doesn't like the food! Not quite sure how to know that in advance, but I sort of get the feeling that her experimenting out of her comfort zone dining days are over. Knowing this, and also knowing we still had some Christmas returns, I thought meeting at the Stoneridge Mall and going to the Buckhorn Grill would be a reasonable choice.

Now I know something about the Buckhorn…the original Buckhorn Restaurant in Winters, CA was a fancy night out when we lived in Davis. It was (and still is) a very famous, old time steakhouse and was reserved for special occasions and was not a bargain spot by any means. It seems that the Buckhorn Corporation has now expanded to include the "grill" restaurants and have several locations throughout the Bay Area, including SF and of all places: New York City at Grand Central Station and also in the Rockefeller Center! The Stoneridge Mall location is somewhat "fast food" in style (http://www.buckhorngrill.com/).

Location Stoneridge Mall 3 points. Tough to say—not at all that appealing to us, as we are not Mall Shoppers in general. Plenty of parking, but not necessarily close by. Going for the middle of the road on points for this one.

Ambiance 3 points. Very much a fast-food style place, as what you would expect in the Mall. We did get the feeling that the attempt was there to make it a bit more special than the other food spots in the Mall.
Order at the counter style place

Menu 3.5 points. They concentrate on the BBQ meats; which is what they do well. I thought it   was adequate. They also offer flat bread pizza and salads. I went with the "Little Buck"; basically their Tri-tip sandwich, served with caramelized onions and dipping sauce (Au jus style). Mom saw the Philly Cheesesteak, known as "Philly Buck", and her eyes lit up! We shared an order of Fries for an additional $2.

Service: all self-serve, so we elected not to review. Order at the counter, and then find a seat. Get your own drinks and utensils. They give you a pager that will light when your order is ready.

Food 2.5 points: Sadly, here is where it fell apart for Mom! She was disappointed that the Philly Buck didn't have more cheese-and what was there was not well melted, but sort of a firm-blob on top. Then it was very hard to eat. The bread was soft, but very difficult to cut in half with the knife provided….and the meat was a bit tough. She was so disappointed! My sandwich was OK, not as good as Kinder's though I might add.  
Mom with her Philly Buck

Value 3 points: My sandwich was $7.50-not a bad deal and Mom got the larger portion (for left-overs) at $9.50. The price was much in line with other places, but considering no service was maybe a touch high? Since Mom was so disappointed with her sandwich (even later when trying the leftovers), we just couldn't give it a very high value score.

Overall score for the Buckhorn Grill at the Stoneridge Mall: 3 points. Not bad if you're already at the Mall and want to grab a bite, but I wouldn't go out of my way to head there for the food. I must admit, if I'm at the Mall, I'd still prefer the Nordstrom Café over the Buckhorn Grill any day!