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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.