Mike and I stopped for lunch at the Elephant Bar last Friday. He was well acquainted with the chain, but I hadn’t been to one before so I was curious. The restaurant is part of a big chain and it’s at a mall, but the interior was very pleasant, with lots of wood/bamboo, dark colors, a brass elephants and posters of old cruises to exotic lands.
The menu is basically Asian-inspired California food, on the pricy side. Mike and I shared the chicken potsticker appetizer (~$7), and we both liked them very much. The chicken filling was bursting with flavor, and the soy-based dipping sauce complimented it nicely. I’d order it again.
We then shared a full rack of the Kona BBQ pork ribs (~20). These came with a few french fries and coleslaw, and some apple sauce. Mike liked the ribs, but I wasn’t thrilled. Yes, the meat was falling off the bone, but it had the textured of steamed rather than slow cooked pork. The sauce was OK, similar to a teriyaki sauce, with sweet and gingerly notes, but not really remarkable. The ribs I had a couple of days later at Willow Ranch in Buttonwillow were much, much better.
Service was great, however, with a very attentive waitress.
All in all, the Elephant Bar seems like a good place to have a generic good meal in very nice surroundings.
9301 Tampa Ave
Nation’s is a Bay Area restaurant chain offering burgers, fries, breakfast and pies. Mike and I have been eating at Nation’s ever since college – there was one near the UC Berkeley Campus, then we were within walking distance of another, when we lived in Richmond, and we found yet another one here in San Leandro.
I don’t know if Nation’s burgers have declined in quality since we were young, or if our expectations have risen, but I don’t think the burgers are nearly as good now as I used to think they were back in my 20’s. Still, they are better than anything else you can get at a fast food joint.
Nation’s menu is very limited: burgers, hot dogs, chicken and salmon sandwiches. They also have eggs and pancakes for breakfast. And they have pies and shakes. Prices are good, from $4.10 for a plain burger to $6.80 for a bacon cheeseburger.
The regular burgers come with very generous portions of mayo, lettuce, tomato and onions. They are huge and quite tasty. Their fries, fried in canola oil, are pretty good though not outstanding.
Their pies are quite good, with flaky crusts and thick centers. We particularly enjoy the chocolate cream and banana cream, though we dislike the artificial topping with which they are covered. Their lemon merengue pie is also very good and doesn’t suffer this problem (pies start at $1.80 for a small slice).
Mike has had breakfast once or twice. The breakfast are huge but, as you can expect, not particularly high quality.
Another advantage of Nation’s is that it stays open late.
Nation’s Giant Hamburgers
San Leandro Plaza
1335 Washington Ave.
San Leandro, Ca.
Hours: 6am-3am Daily
Breakfast served till 11am
Mika (my 9-yo daughter) had been asking me to take her to the Rainforest Cafe for months. We’ve been to the one in San Francisco a couple of times, and she loves it. However, the Rainforest Cafe is not just out of the way, all the way in SF, but it’s also ridiculously expensive – and the food isn’t even very good. However, I knew she was going to find out that there was a Rainforest Cafe in Vegas (as it was at one of the hotels we were staying at), and she’d demand we go there, so I made plans to do so. My plans basically consisted on going elsewhere for dinner, and just having dessert at RC. They sort of worked – Mike, Camila and I had burgers at In-n-out and then a dessert at RC, but Mika insisted in having dinner there as well.
The Rainforest Cafe in Vegas is located at the MGM Grand hotel. It’s a pretty small affair, in particularly in comparison to the one in San Francisco, and, IMHO, not nearly as cool. The fact that you can see the people walking in and out of the hotel from your table (or at least, from the table we were seated at), really detracts from the experience. There are relatively few animatronic animals, and they are static most of the time, but they’re pretty cool when they move. I did like the rain effect behind me. Mika liked it well enough.
Food at the Rainforest Cafe in Las Vegas is even more outrageously expensive than at other RCs. Most entrees are in the high 20’s, and even children’s meals are $10, and all they include is a drink (not dessert). You can get a coupon for a free appetizer with the purchase of one entree in several of the coupon books you find in Las Vegas, and when we went the first time there was a man downstairs (by the entrance from the self parking lot) handing out coupons for one free child’s meal with the purchase of an adult entree. Still, the food is super overpriced. On the plus side, the adult portions seem to be quite large and may be large enough to share.
Mika had the fettucini alfredo, and she was happy enough with her dish. No complains there, but really, she’s happy with the Budget Gourmet’s version of this dish, so she’s not picky.
We all shared the “volcano” ($15), a dessert consisting of three long brownie balls, surrounding two scoops of vanilla ice cream and covered with chocolate fudge. There is a glitter stick on top to suggest an explosion. I’ve had it before, but I had forgotten just how bad this very expensive dessert is. The brownies are way too dry, the fudge is way too sweet, and there isn’t enough vanilla ice cream for the amount of brownies available. There were four of us eating this dessert, but we couldn’t finish it. Actually, we didn’t want to either. I know I’ll have to return to the Rainforest Cafe (though hopefully not to the Las Vegas one), I hope to remember to order something other than the Volcano.
On the plus side, service was very good by our very cordial and cheerful waitress. She didn’t seem to mind at all that we were ordering so little food, and was very pleasant to us and the kids.
MGM Grand Hotel & Casino
3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV
Since Chili’s opened years ago, we go back once or twice a year. We like the baby back ribs and the loaded mashed potatoes. The burgers are OK, though not that memorable. They usually have a coupon for a free appetizer or dessert with entree, if you subscribe to their mailing list.
In all, it’s a dependable restaurant, but nothing to be excited about. The fact that is so crowded speaks about the poverty of restaurants in San Leandro.
May 2008 Review
Last night, Kathy, my sister who is visiting from LA, wanted to go to Chevy’s for dinner. Alas, we’d been there only last week and the experience hadn’t been that great, so I wasn’t eager to repeat it. I suggested Chili’s, as I figured one generic, mediocre, chain should be easy to substitute for another.
My first experience at Chili’s in San Leandro had actually been positive. Granted, Mike and I were in a date so that might have rose-colored our glasses, but we thought the BBQ ribs were pretty good as was the rest of the food. We visited again a few months ago, this time with the kids, and I wasn’t as happy with the experience. I found the food to be tired, with boring rather than vibrant flavors. It wasn’t bad, just not exciting.
Still, our choices, here in San Leandro, are dismal, so I figured we might as well go there. Once again it wasn’t exciting, but it wasn’t bad.
None of us were particularly hungry, so we decided to split an order of baby back ribs ($17 for a full rack) and get an additional half-rack for Kathy ($7, if ordered with another entree). Mike got the habanero ribs, and he liked them quite a bit. He thought they weren’t very spicy, but I disagreed. Kathy had the honey chipotle ones. She thought they were OK, but that they lacked flavor. I liked my honey BBQ ribs, they were fall-off-the-bone tender and had a pleasant, sweet, flavor. So far these have been my favorite.
I had ordered the loaded mashed potatoes as a side, but either the waitress didn’t hear me (it’s a rather loud restaurant), or she made a mistake, as she brought us french fries and veggies instead. The former were very disappointing, they were limp and not very flavorful. The veggies were OK.
We also ordered onion strings served with jalapeño ranch sauce ($6, I think). Mike and Kathy thought they were pretty good, I thought they lacked flavor, and wasn’t too happy with the sauce.
Both kids got mac-n-cheese. It is Kraft, but Mika said it was just OK. Both she and Camila ate quite a bit, though. Neither touched their corn on the cob, however 🙁
In all, it wasn’t a bad meal and I’d go back once in a while for the ribs.
Rainforest Cafe is an international chain of themed restaurants which feature a jungle-like atmosphere with large and pretty realistic looking animatronics. I’ve only been to the San Francisco branch, both times during a slow time, and I found the restaurant sort of sad. It’s pretty dark and it reminded me of the dining area at the zoo, soon before it closes.
The first time I went to the Rainforest Cafe in San Francisco was last March, when Desiree and her kids joined my kids and I on a ferry trip from Jack London Square to Pier 41. We ate at Boudin, but we toured the Cafe to please the kids. They liked it, and I thought that we should probably eat there next time we were in the area. The opportunity presented itself yesterday when my father and sister were visiting from L.A., and I decided to repeat the ferry trip from last March. Mika insisted that we go there and I saw no reason why not to. My dad, who’d been there before, did say the food wasn’t very good, but I am an optimist. The Rainforest Cafe made it clear that I shouldn’t be one.
The menu at the Rainforest Cafe features typical American restaurant food, burgers, pastas, wraps, pizzas and meats. Prices are pretty high, with appetizers averaging about $10 and main dishes in the high teens to twenties. Children dishes, which don’t include either drinks or dessert, are about $7. The place ain’t cheap.
We weren’t terribly hungry – I’d actually eaten before we left – so daddy and Kathy split the fried mozzarella sticks and the buffalo wings while Mika had the pasta marinara. Neither the cheese nor the wings were special, the wings were a bit spicy but otherwise unmemorable. The pasta – penne – was very unwieldly for a 6 yo (she ended up getting most of it over her shirt) and innocuous enough. The portions were in the small side, considering the prices.
I wanted to try “The Volcano”, their signature dessert ($15), and I was also disappointed. The dessert consists of a mass of ice cream shaped in the form of a pyramid and sided by large slabs of brownie. Chocolate and caramel syrups complete the effect. The description (and price!) suggests that it’s large enough for 2 or more people to share. Three adults and three kids couldn’t finish it at our table – it’s really immense. It’s also not that great. The vanilla ice cream is generic, the brownie could be chewier and more chocolaty, and the sauces could have stronger flavors. I can only speculate that the problem is the lack of quality ingredients – so much money has gone into building the restaurant, that there can’t be much left for the actual food.
The waiters, at least, were trying. Ours overheard my sister say it was my birthday and he brought me a complimentary ice cream sundae (just what I needed). They also sang me happy birthday. Yes, I was mortified. The kids enjoyed it, though.
In all, given the quality of the food and the prices, I’d avoid the Rainforest Cafe if I was you. You can, however, go and tour the place, have your kids see the animals, and avoid the food.
The Rainforest Cafe
145 Jefferson St # 400
San Francisco, CA 94133
Yes, Sizzler. Mike wasn’t happy about it, but I’d seen it there, on the corner of Davis and East 14th, for years now, and I thought that sometime I should review it. And why not? Yeah, it’s a lowly chain, but once upon a time that lowly chain represented the epithomy of culinary achievement to me. Growing up, or at least during that period that constituted my growing up in America, we were poor. Our idea of a fine meal out – on those rare occasions when we had one – was Bob’s Big Boy (and really, their double cheeseburgers rocked). Sizzler was a couple of steps up from that, a place where we’d go in the most special of special occasions, and in particular if my aunt Gladys was paying. And indeed, I think I had my graduation dinner at Sizzler’s.
But times have changed, at least for me. And like it or not we look down at Sizzler’s. I haven’t had their food in many years, so it may be unfair, but we didn’t recall it as being particularly good. Our visit a few days ago, didn’t really improve our opinion.
Mike had their cheeseburger, which he couldn’t have made to order. It was well done instead – I guess they don’t trust their meat. In any case, it wasn’t dry. Still, he prefers the much cheaper burgers from Nation’s instead.
I ordered the ribs. Yes, I know, Sizzler is a “steakhouse” and I should have ordered the steak, but they just didn’t look good in the pictures. The ribs weren’t bad. The BBQ sauce was generic, the type of stuff you get from a bottle, but the ribs were tender and meaty enough. Of course, they couldn’t compete with those from Chili’s.
The kids had the equivalent to the chicken nuggets, and I thought they were pretty good for chicken nuggets. They didn’t taste frozen.
The fries that came with our meals were sort of wimpy. The cheesy toast was very good, however.
The really low point of the evening was the service. I wanted a refill on my drink, and not only the waiter never came to ask me if I wanted one, but he was nowhere to be found.
In all, it was an OK but not special experience, and I don’t see why I’d go back.
201 Davis St
San Leandro, CA