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Monday, September 26, 2011

A Surprisingly Delicious Pleasanton Food Tour

"Why Pleasanton?" people would ask when I told them we were heading there for our September Food Tour. Their skepticism was probably because Pleasanton isn't known as a culinary mecca.

But I had faith :)

The truth is I'd been wanting to go to a restaurant called Eddie Papa's American Hangout ever since my friend Jon Kalb told me they give you free cotton candy with your check. What? Seriously? I LOVE cotton candy! His wife Kathleen suggested if we head up to Pleasanton we should also go to the Primrose Bakery. And Carl wanted to take me to his friend Linda Wyner's kitchen shop Pans on Fire. When he told Linda we were coming to town she suggested we try Nonni's Bistro. A little web research on my part and Saigon Vietnamese and the Oasis Grille and Wine Lounge rounded out our September stops.

Eddie Papa's American Hangout

We headed northeast towards Pleasanton on a bright and sunny day. It took about 30 minutes to arrive at "Eddie Papa's American Hangout" where we were quickly seated in their large main dining room. This is a family style restaurant but we saw plenty of business people enjoying lunch while we were there.

I couldn't help but notice there's also a bar just to your left as you walk in and a smaller dining area preceding the bar.

Monticello Macaroni & Cheese with a Side of Local, Seasonal Veggies ($8.95)

Eddie Papa's is a proud American restaurant featuring local ingredients and their menu offers dishes steeped in American tradition. For instance their menu says that Mac n' Cheese was "Introduced to the United States by Thomas Jefferson, 1787."  Eddie Papas uses wagon wheel pasta a little white truffle oil and both cheddar & jack cheeses to create a rich and creamy cheese sauce. You can have your Macaroni and Cheese topped with either house garlic bread crumb or crushed potato chips. We did both.

This was easily the best Mac n' Cheese I've had since first trying Mac n' Cheese last December. I already want to go back for more.

San Francisco Green Goddess Wedge ($6.95)

Carl got really excited when he spotted the Green Goddess Salad on the menu. Not growing up in the Bay Area, I'd never heard of it before. The menu explained that this salad was introduced to the world in 1923 at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel. It's described on the menu as: "Crisp iceberg, hickory bacon, dried cherries, toasted almonds, slivered red onions, bleu cheese crumbles, and our signature house made green goddess dressing."

It was really good and I don't understand why more restaurants don't offer this great wedge salad.

The dressing is really delicious! A quick look online for a dressing recipe and I found many variations. Some have herbs, some with avocado and some with other green veggies. I'll have to watch for this salad on more menus in the future and try a few more.

Mendocino Mushroom Tart ($8.50)

We also had the pleasure of meeting the owner of Eddie Papa's owner that day, Eddie Westmoreland. We were chatting with him about the menu and mentioned that the one dish that didn't make the cut that day was the Mendocino Mushroom Tart since I don't like mushrooms. But his description: "Mendocino County is home to over 3000 types of mushrooms, 500 of which are edible. An assortment of California mushrooms, with melted gruyere cheese on a soft pastry shell" made it sound so good I was willing to try it had Carl not spotted that salad.

Eddie kindly offered to send a plate over to our table.  I think anyone who loves mushrooms would love this tart. I tried it and, no surprise really, didn't like it. But remember that I hate mushrooms. Carl, did enjoy it and I was happy to let him take the leftovers home to enjoy the next day :)

Moxie Blue Cream Soda ($3.50)

I also went all out and ordered a Moxie Blue Cream Soda. It's made by another great American company that was established in Lowell, MA in 1884. It tasted just like a regular cream soda but left a slight Smurfy after taste :P

I ate the whole thing minus one tiny bite Carl tried.

And then came the big moment. Our bill arrived with a lovely, lavender cloud of cotton candy.

And one last surprise. Along with our check Eddie Papa's offered a "Seafood Watch" card that you can fold into quarters (the size of a standard business card) and keep in your purse or wallet. It helps to let you know which fish and seafood are best and worst sustainability choices. Some species of fish and other sea life are being overfished to the point of becoming threatened species. There's also the little discussed habitat destruction that occurs when sea life is harvested. In some instances habitats that took decades or centuries to create are destroyed in a single moment so that people can have access to seafood at affordable prices. While these harvesting methods keep the retail price low, the cost to the planet is too high imo.

Nonni's Bistro

Our next stop was Nonni's Bistro. It has both indoor and cute outdoor cafe styled seating. We sat outdoors because the day was lovely and the natural light would bode well for our food photos. As we dined we had the pleasure of meeting owner and Chef Jon Magnusson. Who was born in Akranes, a coastal village across the bay from Iceland’s biggest city Reykjavik but had most recently come from Carmel by the Sea. Bistro 211 in Carmel is a restaurant he founded and ran for 15 years. Now the residents of Pleasanton are the fortunate recipients of this very accomplished chef.

Vegetarian Gnocchi ($12.00)

Vegetarian Gnocchi is served with market fresh veggies, fresh herbs and parmesan in a delicious sauce. The gnocchi (potato dumplings) had the most wonderful texture. They weren't mushy, thick or heavy.

You can see the texture inside the gnocchi.

Along with having a wonderful flavor, they had a subtle chewiness that let me know they were not overcooked, something I think many restaurants struggle with. The veggies were fresh and healthy tasting. I would highly recommend this dish to anyone who's ever tried it and thinks they don't like gnocchi. I think you'll find it wasn't the gnocchi but the way it was prepared that was the problem.

Curried Egg Salad Sandwich ($9.00)

We also ordered the Curried Egg Salad Sandwich filled with arugula, scallions & shredded carrots on multigrain toast.

The curry was absolutely the perfect amount. Too much and it would have overwhelmed the fresh flavor of the greens but instead it complemented them perfectly. While the sandwich was very good, for me, it couldn't outshine the gnocchi. Mmmmmmm. Gnocchi. I think I'll have to head back up to Pleasanton for more.


After dining at Nonni's Bistro we went globe trotting (down the street) and enjoyed some Vietnamese food at Saigon.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls with Tofu ($5.50)

Their Vegetarian Spring Rolls were the typical kind of good you'd expect from any Vietnamese restaurant.

Lemon Grass Tofu ($8.25)

But the Lemon Grass Tofu was so delicious it was my downfall that day. Even as I resisted over consuming everything else so that I didn't get too full, I could not stop eating the Lemon Grass Tofu. Maybe it was partly because I try to avoid deep fried dishes because of my cholesterol, combined with that I simply loved the flavor of this dish. I kept eating, and eating and eating. It was sweet, spicy, peppery, crisp and tender all at the same time. I loved it.

And in case you're wondering, here's how we get away with ordering so much. Almost everywhere we go we sample the food then pack the rest to go and put it in an ice chest in the back of the car. Carl takes some home to his family and I bring some home for myself and we end up eating the leftovers over the next day or two.


From Saigon we headed to the Mediterranean at Oasis Grille and Wine Lounge just a block away.

One of the dining rooms at Oasis Grille in downtown Pleasanton.

I'd stumbled upon their site while researching restaurants in Pleasanton online. When we arrived it was happy hour so the prices were better than the lunch prices I listed below which allowed us to try a few more dishes than the one we came for.

Warm Flatbread and Dipping Sauces ($7.00)

With dipping sauces like spicy serrano vinaigrette, garlic-yogurt, cilantro chutney, hummus and red pepper chutney we had fun sampling all of the different flavors.

The Warm Flatbread

Pumpkin Borani  ($10.00)

But this was the dish we came for: The Pumpkin Borani.

So many people on Yelp said this is their favorite dish at Oasis I knew we had to go and try it. The menu says it's "pumpkin sautéed in olive oil, spicy peppers and garlic, topped with garlic-yogurt sauce."

What the menu doesn't say is how delicious it is. How it tastes as if the pumpkin is cubed then marinated in butter overnight, cooked then soaked in more butter before being topped with the garlic yogurt sauce. It was so delicious it was almost unbelievable because I'm not a huge squash fan but this dish defied all previous encounters I've had with squash and left me with a whole new perception of this rather maligned vegetable.

House Marinated Olives ($5.00)

It is a more sweet dish that could almost qualify as a dessert so ordering the small dish of savory House Marinated Olives was a great counterpoint to the Borani.

To be honest I was too full to eat another bite that day but I did order this Lime Tart to-go. And the next day it was delicious! I'd kind of expected the crust might have been a bit soggy the next day but it wasn't. When I go back to Pleasanton again this tart will be the only thing I'll probably ever order from the Primrose bakery in the future. I'm kind of weird that way. When I find something I really love on a menu I'm perfectly content to order it and only it forever more.

Carl ordered a mini coffee cake. You can see his review of it on his blog by CLICKING HERE.

Pans on Fire

After, we stopped by Pans on Fire so that I could meet Carl's friend Linda Wyner who was an absolutely fun and fascinating woman. She knows so much about the history of food she even wrote a book! It's called "Food for Thought - Musings on the history and uses of food."

Linda offers culinary classes in this great classroom styled kitchen at the back of the store.

And the store itself is a epicurean treasure trove of kitchen appliances, gadgets, cookbooks, great gift ideas and decorative items.

Clockwise from top left: Blue skinny ice cube tray for making cubes that fit into water bottles, cookbooks, decorative sugars and small jars of baking "emulsions."

As much as I hoped we were going to find some great places to eat in Pleasanton I have to say all of the restaurants we went to exceeded my expectations. I seriously can't wait to go back. There will be more than one trip because I want to return to each restaurant and order and eat a single dish at each establishment to be able to really savor and enjoy each one.

My last pieces of advice to you would be:

If you're drooling, get a napkin :)

If you're jealous, grab a friend and go to Pleasanton.

If you live outside the Bay Area grab a friend and go out and create your own food adventure wherever you live!

It's fun and if you ask around and do the web research needed to discover what dish is a restaurant's official or unofficial signature dish that their customers love most, the chances you're going to have a great food experience rise significantly. Carl and I haven't been disappointed yet!

If you enjoyed this post you'll probably enjoy our previous adventures this year:

A Pescadero Food Tour: Where and What to Eat Off HWY 1

A Bay Area Cheap Eats and Secret Menu Food Adventure

• A Palo Alto, Epicurean Food Tour

• Our May, East Bay, Berkeley and Oakland Food Adventure

• Meet the Kids on The Harley Farms Goat Dairy Tour

• Beyond Sushi: A South Bay Japanese Food Adventure

• Beyond the Beach: A Santa Cruz Food Adventure

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