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Beef kare-kare (beef curry stew with peanut sauce, eggplant, and string beans)Back in October, I complained about Pleasanton’s lack of high-quality food retailers. In the last couple of months there have been some positive developments on this front — first, a new Draeger’s (not in Pleasanton, but a short drive away in Blackhawk — more on this later), and then the appearance of an intriguing sign in the Bernal Plaza shopping center near Bernal Ave. and I-680: Pacific Gourmet & Market.

It took me a while to make it over there, but I managed it a few days before their grand opening last weekend. Pacific Gourmet is a family-owned Filipino market which also serves prepared food. There’s a good selection of canned and packaged food, including what I’m told are “essentials” from the islands, and also fresh and frozen meat and seafood.

Lechón (roast suckling pig) and lumpia (spring rolls)The kitchen turns out an impressive set of hot food for take-out or eating at one of the pleasant tables. There’s a rotating menu of main dishes including chicken or pork adobo, chicken or pork afritada, kare-kare and several other beef dishes, fried pompano and tilapia and fish sinigang, and at least half a dozen others. Appetizers and small dishes include lumpia Shanghai, palabok, BBQ pork skewers, and egg rolls. And for real pork lovers, there are chicharones (cracklings) and lechón kawali (suckling pig). Breakfast is served on weekends only, and offers garlic rice and eggs with a choice of longanisa or tocino sausages, or tapa (meat strips). (Longsilog, tosilog, and tapsilog for you aficionados.)

I bought enough for several meals — lumpia, lechón, pork adobo, and kare-kare, with a bag of chicharones for snacking. Everything was delicious. (It’s probably even better eaten right there on the spot.) Worth checking out, even if you’re not familiar with Filipino food — the owners are very friendly and will gladly explain what’s what and suggest good combinations.

Pacific Gourmet & Market, 6654 Koll Center Parkway, Suite 330 (facing Bernal Ave.), Pleasanton. Tel. 925 417 1120. M-F 11-7, Sat 9-7, Sun 9-6.


Agora Bistro, Main Street, Pleasanton
The most anxiously-awaited restaurant opening in Pleasanton in the last couple of years, at least for me, was Agora Bistro, which took over the former Bert’s Hofbrau and Steakhouse space at 443 Main Street in late December. I was in Nebraska for Xmas and New Year’s and missed the opening, but made it there as soon as I could.

It was well worth the wait. I’d poked my head in a couple of times during remodeling, hoping for a firm opening date, and asking about the menu. I finally got a look inside the other day, and came back for dinner.

Mucver (zucchini and dill pancakes)
The high-ceilinged brick front room remains the same, as does the glassed-in “greenhouse” back room (which is one of the nicest places in town to eat at sunset). The new owners have warmed the place up some, and the former bar/hofbrau counter in the front room is now an open kitchen, and the bar has been moved to the back.

The menu covers the classics of Greek and Turkish cuisine, with a selection of hot and cold appetizers — including baked prawns as well as the expected spreads like tzatziki, hummus, and baba ghanoush, as well as spanakopita, feta with olives, and dolmades. Entrees include souvlaki, moussaka, pastitsia, lamb chops, and beef short ribs.

Kofte with rice pilaf and salad
I started with mucver, a Turkish dish of zucchini and dill pancakes with yogurt and cucumber sauce, which was delicious. For a main course, I had kofte, which were wonderfully-seasoned beef and lamb patties cooked on the grill, with rice pilaf and a small chopped salad of tomatoes, onion, parsley, and red cabbage in a Mediterranean vinaigrette. The kofte were tender and flavorful and were served with their natural grill juices. With the main course I had a glass of Greek red table wine from Tsantali. Dessert was Turkish-style baklava, lighter and less overwhelmingly sweet than other versions I’ve had, and I enjoyed it with a cup of strong — but decaffeinated — espresso. (Turkish coffee is also available.)

Service was crisp, polite, and efficient. By mid-dinner all 10 tables in the back room where I was seated were full, and the room, which had often seemed cold and dark at night in previous restaurant incarnations because of the expanses of glass, felt warm and inviting, and the people at the next table were conversing with their neighbors. There was a discussion of the difference between Ouzo and Sambuca (alas, Agora at present only has a beer and wine license so the question was moot). As I left I noticed all but two of the 12 tables in the front room were also occupied, and there were several parties waiting at the door.

Agora Bistro looks like a big hit and is a very welcome addition to Main Street.