Sunday, March 29, 2009

Closed Doors

As I casually drove back to Alameda one day, I noticed a construction crew was working at the Le Cafe Restaurant on Webster Street. What puzzled me about the renovation was that all of the restaurant signage was removed. The front door sign that listed the hours was gone. There wasn't a "Temporary Closure Due to Renovation" sign. The exterior of only the restaurant, not the entire building, was being worked on. It was not a promising indication that the restaurant was able to survive the recession. I will have to closely monitor this location to see if a new owner has taken over the space. Stay tuned for more details.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Tapas are great because the dishes are served in small portions and a table is able to consume a wide variety of food. Tapas were a smashing hit in the mid to late 1990s and have kept their panache in the bay area. Alameda has two tapas restaurants: Barceluna and Zen. Interestingly enough, Barceluna and Zen are just steps from each other. Both are located on Santa Clara Avenue, west of Park Street.

If you read my blog entry dated on March 8, 2009, Zen was definitely off on my radar. I then decided to give Zen another try and went there on a weekday night. This time, the atmosphere and service was a complete 180 compared to the previous encounter. I believe the owner was working that evening and greeted my party as soon as we entered the door. A major relief when I saw someone take care of us in front of the house. The menu was a long list of Asian fusion tapas, entrees and desserts. My table ordered about six different small plates. We ordered gyoza which is basically the Japanese term for potsticker. The won ton skin was crisp, not chewy, and the filing was pork and vegetable. The sauce for the gyoza was a light soy sauce with a slight hint of daikon. Gyoza was a great start to begin a meal. Agedashi with bonito flakes was another delicious dish. I am a huge fan of tofu, I believe everyone should eat tofu on a daily basis. The tofu was dry and firm which means the oil in the pan was really hot. The bonito flakes added another fish dimension to the dish while the sauce was slightly sweet. It was overall a tasty and healthy plate. One of the signature dishes of the restaurant is the sweet potato and taro chips. We had to definitely try it since it was recommended by the wait staff. The chips came with a chipoltle and mayonnaise sauce. When the fish and chips dish came out, I was really excited. I love fish and chips. The fish was cooked well, not overdone and not limp. The chips appeared amazing, but ended up being a disappointment. There was not a lot of flavor coming from the sweet potato or taro root. The chips were deep fried, battered and cut into wedges, and the sauce helped bring some flavor and moisture. The fries overall, were a miss for me. An interesting dish that was selected that evening was the kim chee fried rice. Kim chee is fermented cabbage and can be spicy. The rice dish was great in flavor and had some heat to it, but not scorching hot. The beef slices in the rice made the dish, it brought depth and texture in a fantastic way. In summary, I am glad that I did not completely write off Zen since the meal was great and the service was much improved. I would recommend coming to this restaurant with a reservation and knowing the manager or owner is working.

Barceluna is both old and new to Alameda. The previous location was at the old Alameda Theatre before the the movie house was in operation. The restaurant was forced to close and now it has relocated to Santa Clara Avenue at the old Luciano's space. The food is geared towards Spanish tapas, or small plates. The tapas menu changes on a monthly basis, so it always a welcoming surprise to read what is on the menu. The Tuna Luna tapa was fresh ahi tuna with tofu, cucumber and avocado chunks mixed in a spicy sauce. The presentation was nice in a martini glass and with a giant tortilla chip. The flavors, however were a miss. There wasn't enough tuna for my liking and the dish was mainly filling. The tofu did not add any flavor and at times looked like avocado to me. The ahi was over cooked and other ingredients masked the natural taste of the tuna. The mushrooms tapa was decent. The dish was cooked mushrooms with a nice smokey flavor. The skirt steak on top of a crostini tapa sounded great on the menu, but it was a bit difficult to eat. The steak was a bit chewy and slightly tough and did not tear easily once you bit into the meat. The flavor of the beef was good, but I wish the meat was more tender. The pomme frites were yummy and a good sized dish. The fries were crunchy and hot, served with a mayonnaise and ketchup dipping sauce. Another time I had their pulled pork mini sandwiches. The meat was tasty and tender with smoky flavors, moistened in a rich BBQ sauce. As for dessert, the menu is very minimal. The only dessert worth tasting is their deep fried dessert.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Walked Out

It was a busy Friday night in the small town of Alameda. The rained finally stopped after two weeks of wet weather. People were out and about in downtown Alameda. I walked into Zen Restaurant on Santa Clara Avenue hoping for a great dinner. The restaurant was full of customers. The interiors were Asian inspired with paper lantern lights hanging down from the ceiling. The Buddha statue in the front as you walk into the establishment sets the zen like tone of the room. I also thought the wall separator was modern with an Asian twist. It was a great piece to distinguish the waiting area and the dining area.

As I entered the restaurant, no one greeted our party. I waited for a good fifteen minutes and still no one on the floor acknowledged us. I noticed two open tables which took ten minutes to clean, one was a table for two and the other was a table for four. I thought after waiting for twenty minutes that at least a host or hostess would approach the people waiting at the front of the house. Finally, the party of three ahead of me flagged a waiter inquiring about the open table for four. Unfortunately, the waiter had no indication on how long the wait would be. Another staff person then gave the table of four to a party of two who were sitting at the bar. I am not sure why this rookie mistake was made since a table for two was still available. The party ahead of me of course was upset when they noticed the table mix up.

A party of two then came in after our group. No one of the restaurant greeted them. These two people finally got fed up and left. Minutes later a group of six entered the restaurant who claimed they had a reservation. There was not a table available for their group.

A member of my party then yelled out loud again to the waiter on how long it would take for a party of two. The wait staff didn't know. After twenty five minutes of waiting and not being noticed, acknowledged or greeted, my friend and I decided to walk out. The restaurant had poor communications skills and lacked front of the house management. When staff do not make a connection with their customers, the restaurant will lose money regardless how good the food tastes. This experience was a big disappointment since the food smelled amazing and looked delicious.

Zen needs to focus on customer attention and follow through with the details of great service. My other recommendation would be to eat at this restaurant when it is less busy. If management doesn't get it in the near future, I know I won't be the only customer walking away.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Everett & Jones

Everett and Jones recently had their grand opening on Webster Street. The space is pleasant and has a comfy feeling to it. The light fixtures matched the BBQ themed food and restaurant; the light fixtures were miniaturized Weber grills hanging down from the ceiling. Very adorable.

Due to the new location on the West End, they closed down their Main Street store, right across the street from the Navy Point entrance. Their other location on the island is inside Scobies Restaurant on Central Avenue off of Park Street. The Scobies location needs to be careful with their food quality since I wasn't too impressed with the food the last time I had a meal there. The problem with the food was that it lacked flavor and soul. The food had no personality.

I am hoping the Webster Street location will be closely looked after by the one of the daughter's of the original owner. The food at Everett and Jones is great tasting, quality food. When one of the daughter's watches over the kitchen, the food quality is unbeatable. I would recommend this restaurant since it is difficult to find good BBQ on this island and more importantly on the West End.