Update: My friend Regina and I visited Asena a Tuesday night in March 2005. Again, we had a very good experience. Service was very cordial and the food was yummy. This time I did eat the soup which was quite good and I was very pleased with my entree of grilled chicken in a phyllo pastry with apples and brie in a curry-coconut sauce. The flavors were a tad mild, but very inviting. I ate every last drop of both the pastry and the sauce. Regina was also pleased with her dish of grilled eggplant layered with vegetables. She is not always a fan of eggplant but this one was good. Again, we skipped dessert.
A couple of members from Craigslist's Food Forum recommended Asena as a great place to have well-priced Mediterranean food in Alameda, so I suggested it to my friend Lola for that evening's "girls night out". After looking at the menu, she agreed so we headed there one Friday night in April 2004. We got to the restaurant around 645 PM and found it mostly full. Fortunately, we were able to get a table. We didn't have a reservation and I'm not sure if the restaurant takes them. I didn't see the busy host consulting a book at any point.
The restaurant is very small, occupying one single room with tables crowded together. It looks modest yet somewhat hip with its light blue-gray color-washed walls, busy yet comfortable and social. You won't want to come here for a romantic dinner alone - but this is the place to come if you want to meet your neighbors. There is a very small bar area on one side (it's not a sitting area, tables are pushed almost against it), filled with wine bottles. The restaurant has a full bar, so if what you want is alcohol, selection is not a problem. There is a small eating area outside with heaters and umbrellas. It wasn't open that (fairly cold) evening.
The menu at the restaurant was exactly like the menu online. It includes two dinner salads ($6.25-7), six appetizers ($6-7.25) and 10 main courses ($9.50-17). Main courses come with your choice of soup or salad. There are also five or six desserts at about $4.50 each. In addition, there are a few daily specials.
We started the meal with some delicious homemade bread presented with an olive oil-balsamic vinegar dip. The bread was yellowish, had sesame seeds on top and had the consistency, but not the taste, of corn bread. We both loved it.
We shared an appetizer that consisted of a roasted head of garlic served with onion-curry bread smeared with Gorgonzola cheese and olive oil. I loved the bread, but then again, I'm a big Gorgonzola fan. I think Lola, who is only now getting into blue cheeses, didn't appreciate it as much as I did. She also didn't think much of the garlic, she found it monotone and a tad bitter. I'm not usually a big fan of roasted garlic, but I liked this one because it wasn't too sweet.
Next came the soup and salad. The bean soup, based on pureed and liquified beans with quite a bit of lemon juice, was really good. You could feel the chalky texture of the beans, but it wasn't too overwhelming. Lola had ordered it and she ate it all, and I probably would have done the same if I had ordered it myself, even though I don't like beans or soup.
I gave Lola my salad and she was less enthusiastic about it. She found the vinaigrette overly sweet. It was good with the bread, though.
I had one of that evening's specials, a steak with some reduction sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus. I don't recall what type of steak it was, but it was quite tender and delicious in the sauce. Indeed, the bread was also very good when dipped in the sauce. The mashed potatoes were a little bit clumpy and not very flavorful, but they also tasted very good with the sauce.
Lola ordered the paella which came with prawns, chicken, chorizo, mussels and fried leeks. She liked it but said she though both her paella (the one she cooks) and mine were better. I tasted the rice and it tasted just like paella rice (and I've had several paellas in Spain), nice and flavorful. When I make it, I use basmati rice which I think improves the dish, though it makes it less authentic.
I had a glass of the house Cabernet ($6) with the dinner and was very pleased. It was fruitier (sweeter) and less tannic than most Cabs, and yet full-bodied and complex. It was quite easy to drink and went well with all my courses. I'd definitely order it again.
We decided to skip dessert as we were quite full and, in any case, we wanted to go to Horatio's for dessert, but the woman sitting at the table next to us (who was quite effusive as to how much she loved Asena), said the cheesecake was very good.
Service was quite good, the waiters were attentive and pleasant.
All in all we had a great dinner and if I was childless I'd go back to Asena again and again. Unfortunately, Asena is not a child friendly restaurant. I didn't see any high chairs but even if there were one, I'm not sure where you'd put them. The tables are very close together and are probably not wide enough to accommodate a high chair between the seats. The restaurant is loud enough that a reasonably loud child would probably not be overhead, but there would be no room for the kid to crawl or extend his legs. In other words, don't bring your toddlers here.
2508 Santa Clara Ave