Bay Area Reviews
Summary: Solid but uncreative food in a bistro-like atmosphere
It's sad to admit, but I'm no longer really aware of the restaurant scene in the Bay Area. I have little kids, after all and one in particular is just not restaurant-friendly. I haven't been eating out as much as I used to, at least not at nice restaurants. So when the time came to go out to dinner with my friend Eddie I was out of ideas. I considered Eccolo briefly, but the place has gotten so many mixed reviews that I decided it was too risky to try it. I called Regina, instead, who came up with Olivia and Pappo as possibilities. Olivia is closed on Sundays so Pappo it was.
Pappo had gotten a couple of reviews, in the Express and Contra Costa Times, that were less than stellar. Not much less, however. The food was deemed uncreative but very good - and I had visions of Neumanali without the atrocious service. Opinions at Craigslist agreed, the food was pretty good but not great. And indeed, after having dinner there I have to agree.
Pappo occupies a pretty nice space in Alameda. Like many restaurants of the type, it's elegant but casual, romantic (the little candles on the tables help) yet heterogeneous, and ultimately it blends into the background as you concentrate on your dining partner. A comfortable, though not cozy, place. Still, a good place to hang out, we closed down the place (around 9:45 PM, on a Sunday night in August 2006) and felt comfortable doing so.
Indeed, contrary to some reports, service at Pappo was great. The waitress and busboy were very professional and attentive, yet blended into the background when occupied with tacit tasks - such as getting us more water or replacing plates. They were also friendly and casual, but not overbearing - in all, we couldn't have asked for better service. I'm also happy to note that when I asked the waitress if they had any oaky wines by the glass, she honestly replied they didn't - she actually seemed to know the wine list quite well - rather than have me buy a glass that was not what I wanted. I appreciated that. I got a coke instead ($2), which was served in a tall flute glass, very nice.
Pappo's menu is rather limited. They have half a dozen each of appetizers and entrees, and about five desserts, one of which wasn't available that evening. Appetizers average $8, while main dishes are in the late teens and low twenties. Wine by the glass is in the $7-15 range and desserts were about $7. Not unreasonable for that type of restaurant.
The bread and butter were good, though the bread was difficult to bite off - stringy rather than hard. The water was cold, but their concept of ice water included only one ice cube. We were amused. Eddie and I shared the "Anti Pasti" appetizer, which consisted of four tiny figs (the size of a large olive), with a tiny dollop of goat cheese and sprinkles of basil, six fried olives and three grilled vegetable crostini ($12.50). The figs, which came with balsamic vinegar, were very nice - but mostly because the goat cheese was excellent. The fig and vinegar complemented it, but the basil didn't add anything but color. The fried olives were also quite good. I was a little bit worried when we ordered them as I'm not a big olive fan, but the breading took some of the edge away and I quite enjoyed them. I think they might have been better with some type of dip, however, as the breading made them quite dry. My favorite of the three, however, was the crostini. It was very rustic and yet delicious. The chopped vegetables were probably peppers; I enjoyed them a lot. That said, I don't understand why they can't serve an even number of crostini for an appetizer that is meant to be shared by two. Adding an extra one couldn't cost much (it's, after all, just a thin slice of bread and some veggies) and would have made us considerably happier.
I felt the appetizers were pretty creative, but the main dishes certainly weren't. I got the "Liberty Ranch Duck with Braised Romano Beans and Sherry Reduction Jus" ($18.50). This dish had been particularly recommended by reviews, and as the owner used to work the line at Bay Wolf I thought it could be quite good. It was fine, though not exceptional. The duck was a little bit too dry, and it looked a bit overcooked (if you consider that duck should be served close to rare), but it had a yummy crispy skin. The au jus, however, which could have given the duck much needed moisture was present in such small quantities as to make it irrelevant. I don't know if the thin mush I was served was the braised Romano beans, as I'm not sure what a Romano bean is - but it didn't seem very different from Eddie's polenta, though it had a significantly lower number of corn kernels. In any case, it was pretty good.
Eddie had the "Grilled Pork Loin Chop with Summer Succotash. Polenta and Roasted Pluots" ($17.75). She found the pork to be very moist and tasty - to me it tasted like it had been brined, as the flavor permuted every fiber of the loin. She liked it a lot, though in general I don't like brined meats. She also enjoyed the polenta, and indeed by the time she was done nothing remained on her plate. Though the dishes were not small, they also weren't overly indulgent. I still had room for dessert, so I ordered the chocolate truffle cake. This consisted of a mostly crumbly yet very moist cake with a strong chocolate flavor. It was good, though not excitingly so. It wasn't too sweet, but it could have done better if accompanied by something, ice cream, creme americain, or even just cream. As it was, I found it disappointing and Eddie only took a couple of bites. She had some decaffeinated coffee after dinner. The first cup was served lukewarm - though the waitress offered to warm up her coffee half way through, and gave her a new cup when she found out about the original temperature problem. Eddie also had the sangiovese wine with dinner, and she liked it quite a lot, though she is a big fan of sangioveses in general.
In all we had a pretty good dinner and Eddie is looking forward to going there again. I'd go back for the service and the ambiance, but not necessarily for the food. But all in all I had a great time.
2320 Central Ave.