Pasta Pomodoro!!! [moved from SF Bay board]
- Judith Hurley Jul 25, 2002 12:48 AM
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!
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.
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.
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.
re: Nathan Landau
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.
re: Judith Hurley
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.
re: Jennifer Stimson
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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?
As I rule I never eat in Pasta Pomodoro, the Inner Sunset branch is serviceable but there are better options in the 'hood and for Italian I'd rather schlep to L'Osteria del Forno.
However, the remembrance of things pasta reveals something odd - ordering in bulk for a very large gathering may yield better results (e.g. with the melanzane). Perhaps this is because of a predilection for the soft, squishy spaghetti one finds at soul food joints - heresy!
Low End Theory
re: Low End Theory
Sometimes I feel like a heretic, too. I like my pasta cooked soft enough to actually absorb a tiny bit of the sauce. IMO this crazy for al dente pasta is a bit of an over-reaction to years of soggy, waterlogged spaghetti. But I'd rather have that than the "crunchy" pasta one of my friends prefers.
So a restaurant actually planned to offer food people would like at a price they could afford, and they set up their kitchen for maximum efficiency.
I don't think this warrants paragraphs in all capital letters and a bazillion exclamation points.
I think it is great that there is a mid-point between McDonald's and Gary Danko.
If you don't like Pasta Pomomdoro, don't eat there, but please don't have a hissy fit if someone else points out that it is a convenient and affordable place to get a decent meal.
You are correct that eating in a chain restaurant does not fit the definition of a chowhound that is posted on the home page of this web site, but perhaps you could be a bit more diplomatic about making that point.
Too much diplomacy?!?
I was unaware there could be such a thing.
And Liz, it must be nice to be able to eat at French Laundry, Chez Panisse, Fleur de Lys and Jardiniere every night. For the rest of us poor schmucks that possibility simply does not exist.
Oh, and BTW, every one of the above restaurants listed is (gasp) INCORPORATED!
okey dokey, time for some ;) diplomatic clarification.
There ARE chains, and then there are chains.
I was simply surprised at the amount of discussion and baited breath about pp and any new pps.
I didn't think I had to qualify what I meant, but: My business is incorporated, I have to consider food and labor cost etc., and I think everyone knows what I mean by the use of the word in conjunction with the Starbuck's of the world, and, incidentally, I went to one in Tahoe when I was leaving the town and couldn't find coffee anywhere else. It was fine, but ... you know...
Didn't know I had to hold my tongue on this board. I just have an opinion or two on the subject.
ps, I don't see what taking valium has to do with anything, really.
Being from nyc, I guess I took it for granted one could air one's opinion without the suggestion of being sedated.
But I still enjoy reading what's on the board, and seeing other people's opinions, which do run the gamut, and really, isn't that what makes this so interesting?
It's just that all caps yelling which causes people to start suggesting a chill pill, but is not meant to suggest that you don't have a perfect right to your opinion here or that you should be sedated.
PP is one of those places that you can go to and be pretty sure that you won't feel ripped off when you get the check. And threads like this one get pushed down the CH intestinal pipeline and out the other end in no time. :-D
Your yelling and screaming about how someone dare have an opinion different from yours, and authoritatively stating that what they decided to talk about is unworthy of this board (says you) is every bit as annoying to New Yorkers (I am one) as it is to Bay Area 'hounds.
As a matter of fact, I'd bet my last subway token that NYC 'hounds would tell you to shut up - uh, chill out - in far less diplomatic terms than they did in nice, polite SFO. So count your blessings.
Gee, I really appreciated Liz's comments and hope that Chowhound won't become a place where such sentiments won't be welcomed. I couldnt agree more with her posting and was surprised to see how much discussion a place a completely mediocre as PP provoked. If that's what gets folks excited, so be it. But lets not censor the voices that make this board interesting.
Communities have a tendency to filter those who don't fit the mold. Many of us will remember this phenomenon from elementary school. Liz has a different sort of voice, which some find jarring. That's ok. There's room for that sort of voice here. We don't all have to talk the same.
We WOULD ask Liz to take, maybe, HALF a valium, so as (per your posting) to refrain from telling people what is or is not appropriate discussion, and from trying to corral/curtail the discussion, e.g.
"BUT there couldn't possibly be a place to discuss pp in relation to real food finds"
That's going a few notches too far. What makes this discussion work is that we all show tolerance for others' right to opine...even if we strongly disagree with their opinion. We don't bludgeon each other, because that would result in people feeling reluctant to express divergent opinions. And divergent opinions are essential.
But, generally, over-the-top passion's cool. And if you don't like a given poster, you don't have to read them. So, please, review food, not posters. That goes for both Liz and for those urging her to mellow out.
Anyone eat anything great lately?
As the posters in this thread point out, Pasta Pomodoro seems to have failed at creating uniform mediocrity throughout the chain. At the location Judith tried, the staff seemed to go out of their way to serve her and did a far better job than her recent experience at Spago.
I've not eaten at PP. But I did have Roman visitors tell me that the one on Union St. in SF turned out better capellini than any of the places they tried in North Beach. Maybe that says more about the poor quality of many independents than it does chains. (g)
The best Sichuan food in the Bay Area comes from - gasp! - a 5-restaurant chain called Szechwan House, Inc. What it comes down to is who's in the kitchen and on the floor. Sometimes we get lucky and find people working at chains who still care (i.e., The Original Pancake House), and we want to hear about them. Jim Leff discussed this phenomenon in one of his dining reports. Here's an excerpt, or you can read the full review by scanning down to his entry for May 24 at the link below.
"I hate the decor. It's shiny, modern upscale -- "fun" upscale. Cavernous, and oppressive with characterless overdesign. Though you'll drop 30 bucks/person here (not counting any premium drinks), this is more a theme-restaurant than a comfortable dining establishment.
The meal was splendid; every single dish uniformly, wonderfully delicious. I can't wait to return, and I'll be a regular customer. It's worth a trip from the city. I want to bring all my friends.
Explanation: it's all the chef. As the Galapagos Islands were the perfect embodiment of Darwin's theory, this joint is a laboratory-grade illustration of my devout belief that great chefs transcends all -- that anything can be deeply delicious if it's made with talent and caring attention. When the present chef leaves, this will immediately sproing back into the phenomenally bad restaurant it really should be. There is nothing intrinsically good about this place; every iota of quality stems from the deft hand of someone just MAMMOTHLY overqualified for the gig. I love it when that happens.
Despite the hyper-hyphenated hype of the bim-bam-boom menu, success doesn't stem from clever revisionism. It's not that hipper ingredients are substituted. This is not the southern theme restaurant equivalent of some wise-ass haute chef's foie gras "hamburger"; there are no trick shots whatsoever. It's just an utterly pure, focused, archetypal example of an artist's ability to transcend. The chef takes every jive corporate "southern cooking" cliche and cooks it into transcendence via incredible touch and impeccable attention to detail."
I never have sought out Pasta Pomodoro as a destination spot, but the times when I found it convenient to go there, the food I had was quite decent and a good value and, as Melanie was told by her Italian friends, the pasta was better than that served in many places in North Beach. The restaurant isn't managed by committee, it's the vision of an Italian chef with more than 10 years experience at other restaurants in San Francisco. You can read all about him on the Web site. This is no Olive Garden (which I *will* say is awful!).
I was in Los Angeles over the weekend and finally made it to the Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza, which I'd wanted to try for some time. To be more precise, I made it to the one in Palms; it's one of at least three locations. The food didn't disappoint -- among other things, we had a rich, brick-red mole coloradito and a delicious, herbal green one with tender, nicely roasted pork. Some L.A. hounds say the place is slipping. I can only wish we had a chain like this in San Francisco.
The point is, there are chains and then there are chains.
Some, as Liz notes, are indeed pure corporate animals, obsessed with target market, price point and other bottom-line concerns. (It's worth pointing out that no restaurant of any size or quality, even those whose owners aren't fluent in corporatespeak, can ignore these matters entirely.) Others grow more organically, possibly because they were started by chefs, came along at an opportune time and served food good enough to gain a following.
Pasta Pomodoro has scored some outside capital and has grown a lot larger than Guelaguetza, but I'd still put it in the second category. As far as I can tell, it's owned by the chef who started it on Chestnut Street (and then, sadly, closed his more formal restaurant around the corner, Adriano, a place I'd enjoyed).
Can't say I'm a regular, but I've dropped in a few times for a quick bite before a movie at the Kabuki and had good luck there. (Last time was a cool night this past spring. One special was pizzocheri, the thick buckwheat noodles, with cabbage and fontina. I also had the Brussels sprouts (roasted, not sauteed like the ones Judith didn't get to try). Both dishes were fine; not four-star, not the best of their kind, but they tasted like real food and I enjoyed them.
So what's the place for a restaurant like this in a hound's life? How about when you're hungry but don't have a lot of time before the movie starts? Or, as Judith said, when you've got ``a zillion things going on''? You could do a lot worse. Yeah, it's a chain, but I wouldn't automatically hold that against it.
I guess this is the wrong time to admit I like the fajitas at Chevys...
As chowhounds (or independent business owners) we may dislike the idea of being able to reproduce food quality in chains, equating predictability with mediocrity.
On the other hand, this board is filled with enthusiastic posts about Krispy Kreme, Peet's, and Trader Joe's. If there could be 100 Tartines around the country tomorrow, who would complain? The Wolfgang Puck Cafes in LAX and O'Hare are a big step up from hot dogs and nachos.
My friends in Michigan would be thrilled to have a Pasta Pomodoro within an hour of their house. Oddly enough, I feel like I'm defending PP in principle rather than because I'm a fan. I don't see them as a giant predator, forcing great, modestly priced neighborhood trattorias out of business.
And then there are people who can never rely on their own sense of what might be good, and therefore can never shop in Target. These are the folks who insist on having brand names splashed across every item of clothing they put on, and feel that the more they pay, the better the stuff they get. I don't think PP has that much to do with Italian food (anymore than the brie chicken pizzas that you can get at some of the "finer" places), nor do I think it's an incredible find, or a culinary experience beyond measure. I do think, in a world of phenomenal restaurant rip-offs, that you can get a decent meal there at a reasonable price. And I think that's an appropriate observation in a conversation about food and restaurants. And I further think I have a right to say that even if (or especially if) it drives some people nuts.
re: Judith Hurley
Judith - I couldn't agree with you more! My posting had nothing to do with your first observation. I especially have to say, that in this day of mostly terrible service in ANY level of restaurant it was very refreshing to hear you were treated well and comped.
This I always say: I'll return to a restaurant where the service is attentive and wonderful EVEN IF the food was not the absolute best experience OVER returning to a place with really really bad service but with pretty good to great food. Maybe if the food is truly terrific I'd of course give it a few more tries, but in the long run, odd as it is to say, I'll probably not return to any time soon.
I recommend two items at Pasta Pomodoro:
The Gemelli: It's corkscrew pasta, smoked chicken, sundried tomatoes,
mushrooms, roasted garlic, cream sauce. $6.95. They actually use a
combination of smoked chicken and regular chicken. I recommend
asking them to use only smoked chicken (it has a deep, rich flavor),
and also asking them to go light on the cream sauce (lowers the
cholesterol count and lets the flavor of the pasta come through). I
have ordered this item more than 10 times at the Sunnyvale PP, and it
has come out al dente (according to my tastes) every time.
The Tortellini pasta: it's meat-filled, with Roasted prosciutto,
sage, cream, parmigiano. $7.75. I have had it more than 5 times at
the same location, and again, it has been al dente every time. It
also seems to taste even better after sitting in the refridgerator
overnight: I think the prosciutto flavor has time to permeate the
oils in the sauce.
There is one tip-off that PP is low-cost and very high-value: A lot
of cops eat there. If you go to the PP at night in San Jose on the
Alameda, the place is often crawling with cops on their dinner break.
It's hard to beat this quality for < $8.
I'm curious, since PP is a chain, whether you experienced this quality decline at more than one location. It's helpful (not to mention, more on topic for this board) to differentiate between a individual location having gone bad and a whole chain declining from it's previous quality levels (whatever they might have been -- no more screeds on the pros and cons of PP generally please).
re: Ruth Lafler
You know this is a 2002 post Ruth, right?
I was amused to see me still defending the honor of chains back in 2002. I was wondering what the heck this was doing on the SF board instead of chains and finally opened it up. Every time I think I've grown ... I could have wrote that yesterday ... oh wait, I did write something similar yesterday.
I didn't realize they sold breakfast. Will have to check that out.
Atomica and I were replying to a new post that bumped the thread up that seems to have been removed. I'm not sure why. It was actually posted as a new thread yesterday, but was removed -- I assumed that was because it was on the SF board, not the Chains board. But they moved this to the Chains board and then removed the post that brought up the thread in the first place, which seems more than a little nonsensical.
Has anyone noticed that the quality of food has gone down at Pasta Pomodoro? The latest in a series of bad experiences involved the seafood pasta. I ate a clam that was in it and got a mouthful of black grit. It tasted like it has been in an oil slick. I grabbed my napkin and started trying to wipe it off my tongue. Unbelievably both sides of the napkin was covered with this silty, oily substance. It was horrifying. I reported it to the waitress who stared at the napkin, wide-eyed, reflecting the horror I felt. Of course they comped me and apologized for not noticing a pan full of black silt. I didn't feel good for a few days and probably should have reported it to authorities.
Pasta Pomodoro used to be pretty consistent in serving decent food. Prior to that oil slick on my tongue I had had pasta with thin, salty, virtually tasteless sauce, pesto that consisted of a plate of just oil, stale bread, warm drinks, etc. Sadly, I'm through with them. I gave them a more than fair chance to correct the quality.
I like Pasta Pomodoro.. First had it when we lived in Berkeley, CA and wasn't aware it was a chain outside the state.. (let alone the bay area). We would go to the El Cerrito or Emeryville, CA location (and still do) when we visit. There's one down here in Orange, CA. which is alright.. depending on who you get to serve you. Believe it or not we had an excellent experience there Christmas Eve and other times when things are being 'better run' (they're staff is all there) it doesn't seem as good.
My fave dish there is the Capellini which is the healthiest and lowest point (for Weight Watchers) pasta they have. They will also allow you to substitute for wheat pasta if they have it available (at least they would in the Bay Area locations!) and the spinach salad (which I'm not sure what the status is on that lately) side is excellent. It's staying away from the yummy pesto and bread they serve while you wait that's the hard part. I tried their 'healthy chicken' and didn't care for it as it was swimming in oil. How is that healthy?? =)
I consider Pasta Pomodoro a hybrid chain.. something you can't get everywhere just yet, and thankfully it isn't as horrible and lackluster just yet because of it. I could see where it could get that way though.
When brand spanking new, Pasta Pomodoro was a pleasant surprise. I would estimate that, with growth, it has slipped a half a notch (whatever that means) but still can be enjoyable. Their butternut squash ravioli can be very good as an appetizer, for example, but you have to remember this isn't "fine dining"; it is a chain; and yet they deliver tasteful food regularly at reasonable prices. I hope they don't slip further down a few notches because they're a refreshing and quick alternative to the local red sauce places.