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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ozora Sushi and Steak: far from usual, and a nice break!

Lunch date #65: March 13, 2015

We've been out to lunch a few times recently, but either back to places we've tried before, or out for other reasons. Finally last Friday we had a chance to get back to our project. We've seen the new place by Trader Joe's for a while and thought another sushi place in Pleasanton? Why bother…but since we're good sports and attempting to try all restaurants in P-town, thought it was time to give it a try! So it was off to Ozora Sushi and Steak (6770 Santa Rita; http://www.ozora-sushi.com) for our 65th lunch date.

Location 3.5 points: Next to Trader Joe's at Pimlico and Santa Rita. Not exactly a thrilling location. We all know how difficult parking is there, but we found a place right by the front door (opens at the south aspect of the building), so no complaints there.

Ambiance 3.5 points: We were pleasantly surprised with the appearance of the interior. They did a good job with the build-out, in a nice Asian-style, including a light and airy ambiance with an open-kitchen sushi bar. We had no idea we'd find two restaurants in one: regular sushi/Japanese restaurant on one side and teppanyaki (table-side grill) on the other. We didn't realize this and were seated in the regular side-but no one actually asked when we arrived and there were no patrons on the teppanyaki side at that time. When we told our waitress we wanted the hibachi grilled lunch, she then said we had to move over to the other side. We were the only ones there for a while, and ended up with our own personal chef. It seems like if the place was busy, it would have a fun ambiance with 7 teppanyaki grills, each facing 8 seats around. Score for ambiance would have been higher, if it weren't for the "to-go" boxes and extra dishes stacked about, creating a distraction for the otherwise clean appearing restaurant.

Menu 4.5 points: Very extensive sushi-with all of the assorted roll-types, bento boxes with assorted choices and then the whole teppanyaki side menu also.  The lunch selections are served with beef broth soup, green salad, grilled vegetables and rice.

Food 4.5 points: We were delighted with our selections. We elected to get one order of each the chicken and steak to share. Our very own teppanyaki chef, Moogie, started grilling the ingredients for fried rice and then fresh veggies (broccoli, carrots, onion, mushrooms and zucchini), and of course prepared the food with rhythmic-flare! He cooked everything to perfection: all was favorable and quite fresh. Even the soup broth and green salad (crisp greens and ginger-sesame dressing) were pretty good. The fried rice was perfect-not greasy. The chicken and steak were moist and tender.

Service 4 points: The server was efficient, in the beginning, but then we didn't see her again for drink refills. Moogie was delightful. He worked at Hana Japan in Dublin for 11 years and is quite good at grilling/chopping and all of the entertainment that seems incumbent with this style of cooking.

Value 5 points: The chicken teppanyaki lunch was $11.95. Quite a good lunch for this price-similar in price to a sandwich in a lot of places. We had plenty to take home, too, which always makes Mom happy! The steak lunch was $14.95 and well worth this price. We aren't sure what the meal prices are for dinner, but the lunch is an amazing good deal.

Overall score for Ozora: 4.2 points. This rates up with our highest. We had a delightful lunch and were quite pleased to stumble in to Ozora. We will definitely return and bring friends. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The English Rose Tea Room: A place in bloom!

First date in 2015: Lunch date #64, January 9, 2015
I wanted something special to kick off our new year of lunches, so thought a nice "high" tea at The English Rose Tea Room, 163 West Neal (http://www.theenglishrose-pleasanton.com/) would be just perfect for us. I was longing for some good "cream tea" (tea with scones and Devonshire cream) and Mom and never had a proper English tea, so we were ready for a treat. I'm glad we made a reservation, on this rather routine Friday in January, as the place was quite full!

Location 5 points: Downtown, but up a ½ block on Neal. Not an issue, usual parking hassle of downtown.

Ambiance 4 points: A very feminine affair, with roses everywhere!  Victorian feel with lots of tables fit in the smallish room, with bric-a-brac all 'round, creating an intimate girls-only atmosphere.  Mom had fun pointing out how there were roses on everything: the tapestry pillows on the seats, in the cups, on the walls, chandelier…everywhere.

Menu selection 5 points: Tea, tea and more tea! Actually many tea choices with an endless supply. We sampled the chocolate cookie dough tea upon arrival (not so great), but settled on a pot of the Rose-infused house tea and followed with a pot of Darjeeling. As for the food portion of the menu: they offer a standard "high" tea complete with savory choices and dessert: The "Queens Sumptuous Afternoon Tea". They also offer a scaled down "cream tea" (scones/cream only) or a mid-range sample of sandwiches/scones without the savory or desserts: The "Duchess Anna's Delightful Tea". It is cute to see that they also offer a special menu for younger ladies: Petite Treats! Considering it is a tea room, we couldn't think of anything else they could offer, hence the full award of points for this category.

Service 4.5 points: Our server was delightful and very attentive. Only a slight deduction in points when we had to wait a bit for fresh cups (after we elected not to finish the cookie-dough flavored tea). There really isn't too much for a server to do, since the entire meal is served on the 3-tier serving stand and the menu has just a few choices. The biggest job is to bring the patrons fresh tea as needed, but she was very kind and knowledgeable of the products and teas.

Food 3 points: The food quality was rather average. Everything was good, but not over-the-top by any means. Quite a few of the sandwiches had gorgonzola, which I don't care for, so that was a bit limiting. My favorite was the egg salad on the phyllo nest. There was also a cranberry gorgonzola puff pastry that Mom liked and a mini-beef Wellington. I was surprised to learn that the scones and desserts are not made on site. They also purchase the Devonshire cream! Both the Devonshire cream and lemon curd were quite good.

Value 3.5 points: Pretty pricey at $25 each (more for the same on weekends). We agreed that we were paying for the overall experience and the price does include the drinks (tea) and dessert. We could have gone without the savory selections (2-3 items) and the dessert for $5 less per person.

Overall score for The English Rose Tea Room 4.2 points.  We had a brilliant time and enjoyed our experience. It was a bit pricey for lunch, and some of the food items were just fair, but overall we felt the experience was quite fun and adventurous, with a lovely setting and excellent service. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

China Lounge: No need to scrounge!

Last lunch for 2014: lunch #63

Catching up from our last lunch in 2014: we went to the China Lounge, a new-ish Chinese place in Pleasanton, in the Rose Pavilions Shopping center (4220 Rosewood Drive). 

Location 3.5 points: Rose Pavilions isn't all that appealing, and this place has absolutely no curb appeal whatsoever. Very "strip mall"-esk. Gets better once you go inside!

Ambiance 4.5 points: very nice, considering the genre of restaurant. I believe this was the old Calico Corners place. The restaurant designers did a great job breaking up the large space: a central "fenced" off eating area, surrounded by tables on a raised platform, with individual spacers between. Gives a cozy feel.  We also liked the open kitchen style and the nice wood tables and padded chairs. Definitely a big step up from the other Chinese restaurants in town. The bar area is very chic and trendy, with a beautiful art-glass mosaic panel. Quite appealing-I'd like to go back for an evening cocktail some time!

Enclosed dining area in the center; open kitchen behind

Cool Bar!
Menu 3.5 points: we only looked at the selection for lunch specials. Usual list and reasonable choices. Lunch includes sweet/sour soup and either jasmine white or brown rice. No chow Mein or fried rice. Nothing really outstanding about the lunch menu, but we were happy to select orange chicken and Mongolian beef, and figured we would share.

Service: 3.5 points: very good attentive server. Hard to get their attention again after the food was delivered (rather typical).

Food 3.5 points: Overall very good. The sweet sour soup was hot, the side of rice was very basic. The chicken was typical: fried chicken in an orange sauce as expected. The flavor of the beef was good, albeit a bit chewy. Neither seemed too greasy. Mom liked the chicken best and was happy to have lots to take home for another meal! Only downside: they had no tea service that day. Must not have been able to provide hot water? I can't really understand how that could be—or maybe they ran out of tea? Rather strange, we thought. So we had water.
Lots of left overs from this lunch!
Value: 3.5 points: Food prices rather typical for lunch: $12 for the beef and $10 for the chicken. Not as good of a deal as some other Chinese restaurants in town, but the ambiance makes up for the difference.

Overall score for China Lounge: 3.7 points. We enjoyed our lunch, and we'd definitely go back. I'd like to try to go for dinner and have a drink in the bar to start!