Pleasanton Hotel - Mystery Dinner


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A Caveat

The Pleasanton Hotel offers murder mystery dinners twice a month and I've wanted to go to one since I found out about them. I love mysteries, but save for the two mystery games we've played at home, I've never actually been to a mystery dinner. Mike surprised me by taking me there one Friday night in June 2004 and I had a very good time. It's certainly something I would do again.

The Pleasanton Hotel is actually a restaurant situated on the grounds of a beautiful old-West building. It has several dining rooms downstairs, decorated in a Victorian fashion. The Victorian room, where we dined, is clearly a banquet room and featured a number of round tables all set for nine people (a strange number, as it meant most tables had an empty chair). They also seem to serve in the garden. It's a charming place, the type of place where you could take your parents or grandparents for a nice meal.

The mysteries are run by Gibson House Mystery Performers; the play that night was Weddings are Murder. The play takes place mostly between courses. The characters start by introducing themselves to each table, and then you hear them interacting with each other, generally loudly and across the room so that everyone in the room can hear. The actors are very good at responding to the audience - some people obviously wanted some attention - and improvising in response to their taunts. At the end of the meal, you are given a sheet where you can write your solution to the murder (including your reasons), as well as answer a few "bonus" questions. Here is a hint in case you want to play: take notes (bring your own paper), in particular of things with weird or funny names. In this play, at least, the murder occurs out of the room - getting the motive right was therefore the key thing here.

I wasn't expecting to do very well - as much as I like mysteries, I'm not very good at solving them - but Mike figured it out. We won 3rd prize (they give you points for everything you write in your answer sheet, including the three bonus questions), a huge magnifying glass. Pretty cool.

At the beginning of the game, we also played a riddle game. We had to guess where the couple would go in their honeymoon and given three easy riddles to solve. We didn't get the second one because we were trying to be too smart (the answer seemed so obvious that we over-thought it and chose a less obvious answer which was, of course, wrong). So, now you know, go for the obvious.

Unfortunately, the low point of the night was the actual dinner. The food can be best described as "banquet" quality, and that is not a compliment. First came a salad which was probably the field greens salad they feature in their menu. It had arugula and other bitter greens, spiced walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese, and a delicious citrus shallot dressing. I actually ate it all. The buns that followed weren't that great but they were hot, and there is much to be said for hot bread.

We weren't expecting much of the entrees, but we still managed to be disappointed. We had four choices for entrees (made when we made our reservations) and Mike and I went for the Herb Roasted Pork Loin with a red wine sauce and the Chicken Dijon with a mustard cream sauce. The pork was incredibly dry. The scant red wine sauce was quite salty, so it didn't do much to relieve the dryness of the meat. I was glad when I had finally finished my half and it was time to exchange it for half of Mike's chicken. The chicken was better but not actually good. The mustard sauce was one-dimensional and masked any other flavors of the dish. Still, it was OK. Both dishes came with mixed vegetables (didn't try them) and very lumpy, tasteless mashed potatoes.

For dessert we got a berry cheesecake. It was fine though so mild-tasting that Mike didn't even recognize it as cheesecake until I mentioned it.

It's a pity that the food (save for the salad) was so poor. I don't know if off-the-menu food is significantly better, but I'm not sure if I want to find out either. Still, for $48 a person including tax and gratuity, I don't think it's a bad deal. I would just rather pay a little bit more and get better food.

Service throughout the evening was good, though with a set menu there wasn't much room for special requests. Drinks were extra (of course) and the cocktail waitress came quite often to take requests and bring them.

In all we had a very good experience - one that I'd like to repeat sometime.

Pleasanton Hotel
855 Main Street