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If you read Berch on Food you might remember that a few years ago I marveled at the rise of all-Asian shopping centers that focused on food. Well, it’s 2007 and the all-Asian mall has come to our valley, in the form of Ulferts Center in sprawling eastern Dublin. There’s some decent food out in that part of the world now, including a branch of Armadillo Willy’s and Stacey’s at Waterford.

Chinese doughnutUlferts is a couple of blocks west, and it’s a two-decker strip mall of the style that’s been popular in Los Angeles and San Jose for the last few years. (Ulferts, by the way, is a Taiwanese furniture store which is nominally the anchor tenant but it’s one of the few non-food-related businesses.) The center opened earlier this year but many spaces are still being prepared. The major (and much-anticipated) restaurant will be Koi Garden, a branch of the immensely popular and hyped dim sum house Koi Palace in Daly City. Koi Garden takes up much of one wing of the upper level, and appears to be slowly heading toward completion. However, it features a smaller and less ambitious sibling — Just Koi — which is already open on the lower level. More about that tomorrow.

Right now, I think 10 of the 14 planned eateries are open, which means many visits are in order!

Of the restaurants that are open, the one with the most buzz was Singapore Old Town Cafe. I tried it on a Friday night and there was a line out the door of people waiting for tables. I decided to go for takeout, figuring I’d probably be home eating before I got a table. I ordered two small appetizers (Chinese doughnut stuffed with shrimp paste and Singapore-style spring rolls) and a main course (sambal belacan prawns). Sambal belacan prawnsI have to say I was underwhelmed by all three. The Chinese doughnut was tasty, but over-fried by quite a bit, to the point of toughness. The spring rolls, which had been recommended, were tiny, had little contents, a stale crumbly wonton-skin wrapper, and were simply unappetizing. I ate half of one of the two small rolls and discarded the rest. The belacan prawns were a disappointment — the prawns themselves were small (most other places use large ones) and the sauce was watery and did not have nearly enough of the spicy belacan sambal (dried shrimp paste with chili peppers), and there were far too many large chunks of bell peppers and onions.

I love Singaporean/Malaysian food and hoped it would be as good as Straits Cafe, Penang Garden, Red Kwali, or Spice Islands, but based on my single visit, it wasn’t in that class, but I’m sure I’ll get back to it reasonably soon.


Pleasanton has at least 6 or 7 sushi bars, but my pick is Senro (30 W. Neal St., between Main and First). Senro is my “local” sushi place, and I try to go at least weekly if I can. Like any restaurant, once you become a regular, you are recognized and treated very well, and that’s especially true for Japanese places.

The food is pretty uniformly excellent, focusing on sushi and sashimi, but also featuring a pretty standard range of Japanese cuisine (teriyaki, tempura, nabemono, sunomono, hot appetizers, and so forth). The sushi chef is able to find o-toro regularly and that’s one of my favorites, along with ankimo (monkfish liver). There is also an exceptional sake collection, with choices at all price ranges (including one for $129 per small bottle!). The sushi chef has created an unusually large number of specialty rolls as well. (My favorites are the Speed-O roll and the Shrimp Fantasy roll.) You can create your own bento box from a number of choices at both lunch and dinner.

I’m often on foot since I live nearby, but parking is usually not a problem except possibly on Friday and Saturday nights (especially free concert nights in the adjacent park — Fridays in summer). The new construction behind the building is now complete and that opened some more spaces.

The space is a converted railroad station which was a coffee house in the 1980s and ’90s, and the atmosphere is informal and unpretentious, with several televisions playing silently, usually with sporting events, and a very friendly staff. I consider myself lucky to live so close to the best sushi place in town.

This week brought signs of life to the former Bert’s Hofbrau location at 443 Main Street. While the liquor license application posters have been down for a while, today the windows featured a recruiting call for employees — waiters and prep cooks, perhaps others — and the door was open, revealing renovations well in progress.

I stuck my head in and asked the person directing efforts what was up, and he confirmed that it is going to be a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant, named Agora Bistro, and that they expected to open in about a month.  Very good news for Pleasanton eaters!

I was sitting in Tully’s on Main St. as usual late on Friday afternoons and went to look something up on Yelp. (I’m not a huge Yelp fan, since (1) it’s clear that many of the reviews are contributed by people without a good understanding of the cuisine they’re criticizing, and (2) some of the reviews are patently bogus, contributed by sock puppets of business owners, but it’s not completely useless.) I don’t remember what I was looking for or if I found it, but what I did learn was that there’s a Cantonese/Hong Kong-style seafood restaurant in Pleasanton that I didn’t know about.

It’s Tri Valley Seafood, at 5588 Springdale Ave., adjacent to Stoneridge Mall and in the same shopping center as JC Penney Home Store and Office Max. So I wandered over and got some takeout — wor won ton soup and an oyster omelette. (They seem to specialize in live fish and shellfish, but I was on my own and didn’t want anything that elaborate.) The place looked like a pretty typical restaurant catering to an almost exclusively Chinese-speaking clientele, with a lot of untranslated specials on the walls and other Chinese signage.

The take-out stuff was just fine — nothing special, but both the ambience and the food were quite different from the more Americanized cuisine at places like Gold Chopsticks or First Hunan Chef Wong. Their specialty is dim sum, so I’ll be back for that on a weekend.