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Summary: Good Californian food at very high prices in swanky surroundings.

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Update 6/06: I went to Paradiso for lunch with my friend Penelope last week (June 2006). Their lunch menu includes pizzas, pasta, salads as well as heavier dishes, prices are mostly in the low teens though they can go up to the twenties. Penelope had a Nicoise salad while I had the filet mignonettes, small tenderloin medallions served on crostini bread with mushrooms in a masala sauce. The beef was tender and nicely cooked medium rare, and all of the elements of the dish came nicely together with a tasty result. I'd order it again. Service was good and professional, and I'd definitely go there back for lunch, though given the price ($36 for both of us after tax & tip, including one soda), I won't be doing it too often.

Paradiso is the best restaurant in San Leandro, the closest thing we have to the chic Californian bistros that dot the San Francisco and Berkeley-Oakland landscape, so it's no wonder that people keep e-mailing me and asking me to include it on my list of San Leandro Restaurant Reviews. Indeed, a few years ago I did write a review of the place, but for some reason Mike never returned it to me (he edits all my reviews) and then we forgot all about it. And while we've gone back to Paradiso for dessert from time to time, we hadn't been back for dinner. While we love the ambiance and the food, we don't find it a particularly good value. For those prices you can have a much more exciting meal at a number of restaurants in the East Bay and San Francisco. Still, it was Mike's birthday, we wanted to celebrate it with our friends and dining buddies Boris and Regina, and our first plans (going to Tanjia in Berkeley) had fallen through as the restaurant was closed for the evening. So Paradiso seemed like a good choice.

With its open kitchen, round counter-bar area, soft-colored walls decorated with ever-changing art and mix of low and high tables, Paradiso has a modern, sophisticated and yet non-threatening look. You can come here for a business lunch, dinner with grandma or a romantic date and feel quite at home. Its Californian menu is not terribly exciting, but it's easy to find something for everyone. It's quite seafood oriented; most of the appetizers and almost half of the entrees were seafood. Appetizers and salads run $6 to 12, pizzas $11-14, pastas $16 to 19 and entrees $15 to $30.

Dinner started with bread, which at Paradiso is served with olive oil. The bread was good and fresh, the olive oil just OK.

We skipped appetizers per se, though Regina had the Pear and Gorgonzola Salad ($10) with her dinner. She's had it quite a few times and it's quite good. I liked the blue cheese in particular and Boris thought the nuts were amazing. The mild balsamic vinegar dressing truly makes the ingredients shine.

Regina had a Mediterranean Pizza ($12) as her main entree. Paradiso's pizzas are thin crust, thinner than even New York pizzas, though not as paper-thin as some of the pizzas you find in Italy. The pizza featured roasted eggplant, kalamata olives, red onions and oregano on a mixture of feta and mozzarella cheeses. Regina liked it overall; she appreciated the thin crust and the fact that it was not tomato-based. However, the salty taste of the chunks of feta cheese overwhelmed the other toppings. She wouldn't order it again.

Mika, our 3 year old, had the Margherita pizza ($11), and of course, we all partook of it as well. It was quite good. We liked the smokey taste of the crust, the slightly sweet and tangy sauce, and the very fresh basil. The cheese tasted very mild, but then again, that's mozzarella for you. We'd probably order it again.

Mike had the rack of lamb ($25). He thought it was well seasoned, very tender and quite nice. He'd order it again.

Boris went for the filet mignon ($30), which came in a wine reduction sauce. He thought it was good, though not spectacular, and while he would order it again, he'd probably try the salmon first (he had wavered between the two at first).

I had the braised lamb shank with Tuscan potatoes ($18), one of the night's specials. The lamb shank was very tender and succulent, I wouldn't call it delicious but it was definitely satisfying - just like a braised lamb shank should be. I liked the Tuscan potatoes, but there were merely three slices of them. They were a tiny bit under-seasoned for my taste, however.

All the main dishes were served with mashed potatoes and a mixture of broccoli and carrots. The mashed potatoes were good, well-seasoned and neither too creamy or lumpy, but when you charge such high prices for entrees, sides should be more individually matched to the main dish. The presentation of the dishes was unspectacular, once again not keeping up with the price.

Paradiso's wine list focuses on Napa wines, and bottles are priced from $25 to $145 (about three times retail). We decided on a Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon, from Chile, which Boris liked but I thought was just OK. It was a bit sweet for a cab, and neither oakey or tannic. Mostly I found it blunt and weak.

We decided to skip dessert and have cake and ice cream at home. While Paradiso has a dedicated pastry chef, its dessert menu is very conventional and includes a lemon tart, a tiramisu, a creme brulee, a chocolate torte, a bread pudding, a sundae and a wild cherry dessert, in addition to sorbet and gelato (all $6). We've gone for dessert there before, and have enjoyed their offerings.

Service was very good throughout the evening. The waiter was competent, friendly and tolerant of our two children.

In all, the meal was very nice, though, at the risk of sounding repetitive, too expensive for what it was.

685 Bancroft Ave
San Leandro, CA
(510) 430-9212
Tue-Thu 11am-9pm; Fri 11am-10pm; Sat 5pm-10pm; Sun 4pm-8pm
Open Table Reservations