Monday, January 18, 2010

HFF On The Road: Pleasanton, Ca

It's late January now, so it's time to assess all the fabulous dining I did in the corridors of suburbia while seeing friends and family over the holidays.


There are two kinds of suburbs: the Berkeleys, Napas, Albanys, Los Gatoses, and Healdsburgs of the world which cultivate their own indigenous culinary flowerbeds; and the Concords, Fremonts, San Ramons, and Livermores where chain casual dining is the name of the game and the locally owned businesses aren't much better. I spent most of my holiday in Pleasanton, which is largely the domaine of the latter.

A brief discussion of the I-680 corridor. The freeway runs the length of Contra Costa and Alameda counties in the eastern part of the East Bay--over the hills that separate Berkeley/Oakland/El Cerrito/Richmond from Concord/Orinda/Lafayette/Pleasant Hill. It continues all the way south into Santa Clara County, ending when it turns into I-280 and spins around back north through Downtown San Jose and up the Peninsula into SF. While the northernmost reaches of the freeway are in decidedly blue collar East Bay, most of the corridor, from Pleasant Hill through Fremont, cuts through one of the wealthiest swaths of cities in the country. Walnut Creek, Danville, San Ramon, Alamo, Blackhawk, Pleasanton, Sunol, and much of Fremont is home to million dollar homes, SUVs, and country clubs. Pleasanton is the wealthiest mid-sized city in the country according to the last census, Blackhawk is the originator of the zero-property-line McMansion, and Walnut Creek is the East Bay hub of luxury retailers. And yet....

I can count the restaurants of distinction on the back of one hand and still be able to pick my nose AND suck my thumb.

But here's the thing, I can't really fault the restaurants. I fault the uninquisitive audience they're cooking for. The fact is, why would you bother getting anything better than Sysco foodstuffs if your audience will: A, not know the difference and B, object to the nominal increase in price.

So where did I go?

Redcoats - A perfectly serviceable British-themed brewpub in Downtown Pleasanton. Astonishingly cheap, especially by LA standards: my happy hour 20 oz. pint of Guinness was $3. Pretty tasty fried green beans, shitty frozen wholesale french fries with a middling curry sauce, decent fried zucchini, and well-prepared fried fish with the same shitty fries. But given the prices, the good cheap drink selection, nice atmosphere, and late hours, it's one of the better places to eat in town.

Amakara - Across the freeway is Dublin, Pleasanton's autistic younger brother. Though autistic in the same way that one brother works hard and becomes a modestly successful lawyer while the other brother drinks and fucks his way through college and becomes a billionaire investment banker. Dublin, despite being half Pleasanton's size, is home to a million fast food restaurants and every big box retailer known, driven beyond the overpass by Pleasanton's "planned progress" requirements. Amakara was pretty damn good overall. My mackerel was overcooked, but the grilled edamame, jalapeno hamachi, and grilled oysters were quite delicious. Additionally, Amakara prepares an array of sushi rolls that rival anything out there and that are largely cheaper than its rivals. In particular the "Klondike Experience--" a massive presentation of crab, tempura shrimp, scallops, and three flavors of tobiko roe.

Oasis - Oddly masquerading as an Afghan Restaurant, which is a particularly strange pose to take in a relatively conservative part of California, and a Wine Bar, Oasis is really neither. It's a quasi pan-Mediterranean joint, which primarily means a bunch of mezze stuff interchangeable with any eastern Mediterranean/Central Asian restaurant, and a few actual Aghan things like borani. On the wine bar front, it was a wine bar inasmuch as anyplace that pours Rombauer btg can be a wine bar. The space is pretty and the location right on Main Street is quite nice.

My Parents' House - Killer food as always. Great adventurous cooking, paired with good wine, and the lack of a need to drive in this traffic cop-happy town means that the parents' house is always the best place to eat. Dining highlights included grilled mackerel with fresh pasta, poached salmon with capers, a version of cochinita pibil, and, as a more-than-honorable mention, a killer prime rib cooked by grandma.

And really the point of going home isn't to go out to eat, it's about about seeing friends and family, relaxing, and falling asleep on the couch after drinking a couple bottles of the wine.

Happy New Year!

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