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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!