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Jul 25, 2002 12:48 AM

Pasta Pomodoro!!! [moved from SF Bay board]

  • j

Went to Pasta Pomodoro this evening because we had a zillion things going on, it got late, they were open, I needed a glass of wine and something to eat without too much fanfare. Wine came instantly. We ordered the sauteed brussel sprouts as an appetizer, and plates of pasta. They were out of brussel sprouts, and then out of the suggested green bean substitution, and although it hardly seemed to matter, they comped the sauteed brocolli. Then they comped our last glass of wine, just because. Food was good, hot, nicely paced, and graciously served. It's a noisy, family style chain restaurant, and I'd go there a zillion times before I ever step foot in Spago's again!

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  1. I noticed tonight on the way back from Costco that there will be a new Pasta Pomodoro opening up in Vallejo by the new movie theatres, Old Navy, Michaels, etc etc.

    I've yet to try them out... how's their angel hair?

    10 Replies
    1. re: ShyHound

      I actually think P.P. is ok. Maybe the word is reliable. Nothing too bad, nothing too good.

      However, any restaurant about which the first comment people make is, "their prices are cheap" usually puts me on the defensive.

      I would rather hear, "their food is fantastic" first off and then that their prices are too high, service is slow, etc. later.

      1. re: Ciaohound

        I think price is the operative criteria here, though.

        You don't go to PP because it's life changing food. You go because it's reliable, well-run, and a good value. As Judith writes in the original post, you can easily spend two to three times as much and not have as consistent a meal.

        1. re: Windy
          Nathan Landau

          I had a couple of soggy tasteless messes where I could barely tell what the ingredients were at Pasta Pomodoro, one at Union St. and one at a location I've mercifully forgotten. After that I stopped going. There are loads and loads of other better pasta places in San Francisco and Berkeley--both chain and independent. They strike me as the relevant comparison.

          To me it's odd to say they're good "for a chain." Good at a given price I can understand though it's weaker praise than just plain "Good"! But why cut them slack just because they're a chain? Nor should we necessarily assume they're bad just because they're a chain.

          1. re: Nathan Landau
            Judith Hurley

            I'm not sure about cutting slack for a chain restaurant, but I do think it's a relevant descriptor because mass marketed restaurants are more likely than others to lack any subtlety on the menu.

            The relevant comparisons in the South Bay are Willow Street Pizza, Mio Vicino and Cucina Cucina. Willow Street has acceptable food and a more upscale presentation than PP, and it's a little more expensive, but not a budget buster. The menu is somewhat limited, and their one attempt to cross over into some kind of Asian lime pasta thing is regrettable. It's also noisy, and hard to get into at any of their locations. No reservations, long waits. Finally, the one in Westgate is kind of icky.

            Mio Vicino started as a small place in Santa Clara and it was excellent at the outset. But they expanded to three locations (I heard they just sold and maybe shut down one location). The one in Campbell has a nice atmosphere and reasonable service. The one in Willow Glen leaves something to be desired in both categories. The food, far more expensive than Pasta Pomodoro, is not as good. In the beginning it had some sublety, and the pasta was nicely cooked. Now it's just all (and I mean all) about garlic, except for the cream sauces, which are all about gagging you with cream.

            The food at Cucina Cucina is large and overstated, but not bad if that's your thing. The service was fine the two times I was there. It's more expensive and nicer than Pasta Pomodoro, but it has a theme park atmosphere, aimed at kids and birthday parties.

            There are clearly Italian restaurants that deserve the name and fame: Palermo's in Palo Alto (not the one in SJ), La Pastaia in San Jose. But sometimes I just need a reliable, reasonably priced meal after work, and Pasta Pomodoro is good for that.

            1. re: Judith Hurley
              Nathan Landau

              It sounds like what you're saying, Judith, is not that Pasta Pomodoro is pretty good for a chain, but that it's pretty good (at least at some locations) even though it's a chain. Most Chowhounds certainly start out with at least a negative inclination towards chains.

              It's also very true that what you choose depends on where you are. I suppose in some theoretical definition of Ideal Chowhounding, I'd be ready to drive 50 miles at the drop of a hat for the best noodle, but that isn't always possible (let alone ecological). In Berkeley, I won't go into Starbucks, in Fremont I'm really glad it's there.

              There are chains and chains. It seems to me that regional vs. national (or multi-regional) is a big difference. If a chain stays within a region, one person can keep some quality control, can check up quite regularly on how the restaurants are doing. That seems entirely possible with the 5 restaurant Szechuan chain Melanie mentioned. On the other hand, that is simply not possible with a McDonald's or even a (McDonald's owned) Chipotle, with 125 outlets so far. Rubio's might be a classic case--most Chowhounds are very positive towards their Southern California outlets, but there's been a lot of criticism of their Northern California places. It's hard to keep quality control over 400 miles.

              Another dimension, which is probably related to but not the same as regional/national is whether outside capital is involved. With outside capital comes a whole level of control and expected financial performance that won't be driving the (terrific) Oaxacan restaurant owner with three branches.

              1. re: Nathan Landau

                Excellent post, Nathan -- your points are well expressed and well-taken.

                1. re: Nathan Landau
                  Jennifer Stimson

                  My last meal will include McDonald's french fries! There is a lot of interesting talk about rest. chains. All I care about is what tastes good. Anyone in agreement?

                  1. re: Jennifer Stimson
                    Stanley Stephan

                    Yes. I'm a McDonald fan myself. And this subject always gets a lot of play on the boards.

                    I guess my only opinion is that a chain should not be put down because it is a chain. There have been alot of posts across the boards about Bucca de Beppo. A friend recently had an event there.

                    This person is not a chowhound, but is someone who's food opinion I trust. She recognizes, say Olive Garden, for what it is. Anyway, she raved about the cannoli. Also, her one specialty, taste-wise is tiramisu. The girl can find great tiramisu. She says Bucca has some of the best she's ever had.

                    So, sometimes I think we put down chains, just because they are chains, ignoring the good that is there. I always love the posts that say I NEVER eat at chains. Well, how can you give an educated opinion then?

                    Although I haven't been there in ages, Denny's had some of the best bang for the buck as far as breakfast went. It gets pillaged on the board. But when you don't have alot of bucks, that 1.99 breakfast and never ending cup of coffee can be pretty satisfying.

                    Hersheys chocolate is great. And cheap. It doesnt' have the waxy taste of so many other candy bars, and even more frou frou chocolates.

                    Chevy's puts out a fresh and tasty food. Much superior to a upscale Mexican restaurant I recently ate at.

                    Given that, I haven't been eating at chains much lately because of all the wonderful tips on chowhound. A few days ago I was craving a quarter pounder with cheese. I was shocked at how bad it tasted after eating at so many good finds. This has bappened to me in the past with McDonalds. Absense does not make the heart grow fonder. I was once on a limited salt diet and when I went back to McDonald's, all I could taste was the salt.

            2. re: Windy

              Hey Windy,

              Where have you found "life changing" food? That's a pretty strong statement.

              No, personally, I don't go anywhere just for a good value unless I expect GOOD food. Not reliable - GOOD!!

              But that's just my mentality, not necessarily anyone else's.

          2. re: ShyHound

            The PP on Union Street is reliable, the service quick and friendly and for the what you pay a good value--always good these days. There's a place for this type of dining--you can eat healthily at a good price. You can't expect the world of haute cuisine.

            I stick with one thing mostly the mussels in a garlic wine broth that comes with toasts. The mussels are usually cooked perfectly and at $5.95, a stool at the bar and a food or travel magazine I can be fed, watered and not break the bank. Maybe I'm a cheap date after all...hmmmm.

            They are a family one franchise and I think they try hard at maintaining that brand experience.

          3. j

            I had the opposite experience. Went to movies in Pleasant Hill and needed a quick, early dinner. Walked in to Past Pomodoro. They were so disorganized they couldn't even tell me when they could seat us or why there were several people waiting and lots of empty tables (no reserved signs.)

            1. I think the charm has worn off a little in the city, at least for me. There is wide variety in quality among the locations. The caesar salad can be excellent, the lunchtime specials are often a good value, and they are always willing to substitute a caesar for a green salad. Also not stingy with iced tea refills.

              I've found the Japantown PP the worst. They tend to overdress salads and pasta, even when asked not to. Maybe it's just by comparison to better (Japanese) noodles nearby.

              Noe Valley is the best I've been to, including friendly service. It may shine by comparison to the alternatives too.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Windy
                Judith Hurley

                I imagine the quality of PP varies wildly from place to place. The one we went to is on the Alameda in San Jose. And at the risk of repeating myself, the food was good and inexpensive, and the service was attentive and quick. I'd never suggest this as a fine dining experience, but I couldn't help but be impressed. Two weeks ago we got held up for the contents of our wallet at Spago's in Palo Alto where the server was disinterested, the wine was warm, the food was cold, the bread was stale, and the cookies were soggy and appeared to be from a low-end supermarket brand. So it did my heart good to drop into an ordinary place because I hadn't done anything about dinner, I was tired, it was convenient and open, and be treated like an actual customer.

              2. I have praised Pasta Pomodoro a couple of times already on this board. For a chain, I think they do a very nice job, especially at the prices they charge. The nightly specials I have tried have been quite tasty. I cook and eat a fair amount of Italian food and have been to Italy a number of times over the past 10 years, so I think I have some idea of what Pasta Pomodoro is trying to do. If every restaurant chain was a competent as Pasta Pomodoro, the world would be a much better place!

                1. k
                  Kathleen Mikulis

                  Just curious about what dishes are good there. I've had some hit or miss meals there - usually hits but many just mediocre.

                  --Capellini with chicken
                  --Frutti di mare
                  --Chocolate mousse (now sadly off the menu)

                  --Gemelli (chicken in cream sauce with mushrooms over pasta - weird chicken pieces)
                  --Minestrone soup (all cabbage!)

                  What do other people order there?