Skylight Café

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It was Friday night (Jan. 2002) and I wanted a steak - nothing fancy, nothing pretentious, just a good, tasty, juicy steak. Normally, I would have asked Mike cook one for me - his steaks are the best - but I was very hungry then and I didn't want to have to go all the way to Costco to buy the meat and wait in their endless lines to get out. I decided, instead, to make use of our Entertainment card and try one of the listed restaurants.

After looking through three menus and on the internet, we decided on the Skylight café in Alameda. Mike had been there for lunch years before (before the change of ownership) and thought it was fine. The one review I found online was not very positive, but I figured it was more than a year old and the restaurant could have improved since - so we gave it a try.

We got there a little after 7 PM and did not have reservations. The restaurant was mostly packed - there was only one table for 2 available at the time and that was 2 inches away from another occupied table. Not ideal, but at that point we didn't have much of a choice.

The restaurant itself is very nice. It does have the look of a café, with its tall, funky golden walls and cool art, and it could in theory be romantic with its dim lights and semi-private booths. Unfortunately, the tall ceilings and the complete lack of fabrics allowed sound to travel only too well, so the restaurant is a little bit too loud. We, of course, had the added noise of our neighbors - an elderly couple, apparently on a date, that seemed to be a little bit hard of hearing - but we could hear conversations at other tables just as well. Still, it's a pleasant enough place to go for dinner, probably a good place, atmosphere-wise, to take a first date.

Service was fine, though a little bit slow. It took them quite a while to take our order and then again, quite a while to come around once we were finished. But the dishes came at good intervals and the wait-staff were pleasant enough. One problem we had, though, was that our table was too small too accommodate two dinner dishes, two bread dishes, the bread basket and the pesto/butter plate. They probably should have cleared the bread dishes after they took the soup dish.

The menu is mostly Italian and in Italian. It features a few salads and seafood-based appetizers, modestly priced pastas, Italian meat dishes and a couple of steaks. There is a wine list, but we didn't bother to look at it.

I wanted a steak so my choices were between the New York Steak ($19) and the Filet Mignon ($20). The latter came with a choice of 3 different toppings. I went back and forth but finally opted for the New York Steak as it's a cut I usually find more flavorful. Mike went for the pasta and ordered the Fettuccine Alfredo ($9). My steak came with a choice of soup or salad, and as I don't eat either I ordered the soup (clam chowder) and gave it to Mike. He thought it was too watery and too spicy - even though he declined the added pepper. In all, he thought it was "OK."

We were also disappointed with our entrees. I found my steak to be boring. It was a little bit fatty, not very flavorful (though it improved with the addition of the accompanying sauce) and not very exciting. It tasted like the basic New York steak you can get at your average diner for $13. At $19, it was really overpriced for what it was. It came with a very small scoop of too-salty garlic mashed potatoes and a few slices of carrots and some other vegetable. Mike thought that his fettuccine alfredo was "edible." Ok to eat, but nothing that made him look forward to each new bite. The sauce was not rich and creamy as he likes it, but instead a little bit thin. He would not order it again.

We thought briefly about ordering dessert, but their tiramisu had gotten a pretty bad review in the Chronicle article and I heard our not-very-picky-table-neighbor tell his date that he had had the cheesecake there before and it had been terrible. I thus did not have much hopes for their creme brulee and didn't want to spend $4.50 to find out.

The bill came to about $35 before the discount. Even with the discount, I did not feel the food was worth the price and we would not go back again. Indeed, I think after this experience we will only go to those restaurants in the Entertainment book that we've tried and liked before.

Skylight Café
2320 Central Avenue