India GardenThere have been lots of changes in the Pleasanton eating scene in the last few months —  more than the ones below, but with the exception of The Farmer (which I haven’t tried yet), these seem to be the most significant.

First, the departure. Mahalo Grille was a relatively ambitious attempt at Hawaiian fusion cuisine, with notes from Mexico, the Caribbean, and even Spain (paella). The food was good – I never had a bad meal there, and the waiters were friendly and usually more or less competent, but the owners seemed to lack the management skill to make it a success. Dishes were added to or removed from the menu arbitrarily, and the restaurant’s hours were inconsistent and puzzling. (One example: Saturday lunch. Last summer and fall, every place on Main Street’s restaurant row was packed with diners, indoor and out, many of whom came from the farmer’s market. Mahalo, however, was inexplicably closed.) In any case, after two months with the windows papered over and “closed for remodeling”, and a story about water damage from early winter storms, it looks like Mahalo is gone for good.  It’s a good space, and I hope it remains a restaurant.

Lemon beef saladAnd now to happier developments. The former C&D Bistro, née Claude & Dominque’s, was a beloved romantic French restaurant. After Claude and Dominique’s retirement, though, it proved unsustainable, and now, with new owners and new decor, has become India Garden.  There has not been any Indian food downtown since the departure of Sansar (which was not particularly good). Indian Garden has a menu of northern and southern Indian cuisines, a step up from previous decades in which the only available cuisine was Punjabi.

On my visit, the fish pakoras were tender and flavorful, and not at all dry or greasy. The main courses of lamb korma and south Indian shrimp (that’s the name on the menu) were prepared with care and were delicious.  The korma is a mild sauce made with yogurt, cardamon, and cumin, with nuts, and was paler and creamier than many other places. (It’s more similar to the UK version of korma than the Mughal original.) The south India shrimp featured fresh, flavorful shrimp in a spicy tomato-based curry and was very good.  India Garden will definitely be on my regular rotation.

Up next is Saigon, which took over the space in the Old Cheese Factory building that was recently Oak House (which I never made it to during its short tenure).  Saigon is a traditional Vietnamese restaurant with the classics —  rice vermicelli and rice noodle dishes, appetizer rolls, rice plates, and stir-fried and clay pot specialties. (There’s also pho and hu tieu, of course, as well as special hot/soup soups and fire pots.)  We shared the imperial rolls (above average), lemon beef (rare beef) salad, and beef rolls with onion inside over vermicelli with shrimp and fried rice.  Everything was very good and I’m heading back there for take-out tonight.

Beef rolls over vermicelli noodlesThe third arrival is really a return, Blessing(s), which has been absent for several years, and has now re-opened with the same owners in the back of the strip on Santa Rita Road near the UNCLE Credit Union. (The parenthesized “s” is due to being unable to determine which is the canonical name of the restaurant; the signage, menu, and web site are inconsistent. I’ll stick with the plural unless corrected.)

Alas, Blessings’ return was somewhat of a disappointment.  It’s not so much that the food has changed, but that we have. Americanized Chinese food was the best we could hope for in the 1970s through the 1990s in Bay Area suburbs, and it was often quite tasty food, even if it was just a “safe”, deracinated version of actual regional Chinese cuisines.  But as Chinese-American communities, immigrant and American-born alike, expanded from the inner-city Chinatowns to the suburbs, and built places like Milpitas Square or Ulferts Center in Dublin, you can get real Chinese food out here now, and the old stuff just doesn’t seem as good. The pot stickers were fine, but the kung pao trio (chicken, scallop, and pork) had a gloppy sauce, few peanuts or peppers, and only one scallop, so far as I could tell. The orange beef, marked with a “spicy” symbol, was basically broccoli beef with a slightly tangy orange-flavored sauce.  The one interesting dish was Marco Polo noodles with pork, which seemed to be something like Sichuan noodles without peppers, and was reasonably tasty.

Saved for last, and possibly best, is Jiou Yuan, which took over from Panda on West Angela Street. Panda was friendly but unremarkable, so when it closed, and the liquor license transfer sign went up, I was a little excited. The restaurant’s sign itself was covered by a “Grand Opening” banner, so I stopped in for take-out last Friday, and I was very nearly the restaurant’s first customer on their opening day! I met the owners and staff and welcomed them to the neighborhood (it, along with Senro, are the two restaurants closest to my house) and wished them a long and prosperous tenure.

As readers might know, I am a beginning student of Mandarin and written Chinese, so after pleasantries I asked if there was a Chinese menu, and indeed there was, though it was just the regular menu with Chinese translation. That’s a good start, though, and I was able to order some favorites by their Chinese names — hongyou chao shou (wontons in red oil [spicy sauce]), as well as Sichuan fish fillet (Sichuan chao yu pian). Jiou Yuan is definitely an authentic Chinese restaurant, but since most of its customers will not be Chinese or Chinese-American, they need to tone it down a bit – hopefully not too much.  I hope to continue the conversation with them on my next visit.

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