Now that both Pangea and Belana have finally opened in the Fig Garden Village, myself and my colleagues thought it would be an appropriate time to see if the potential in these restaurants was realized or just hype. After our unscientific lunch-time sampling, it's clear that one of these restaurants comes close to the hype, while the other is primarily just hype.
Our first stop was Pangea. Our comments:
Restaurant decor - Fantastic. The large wine rack right behind the front desk is impressive. I can understand why people complain about the size of the dining area. But, the dining area and the patio were a perfect size to hold the lunch-time crowd.
Macaroni and Cheese: with its multiple cheese combination, it has excellent taste when dish is warm, but loses some of its appeal when it cools. It's above average overall.
Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich with Sea-Salt Seasoned French Fries: ordered without vegetables, so it tasted like a pile of meat covered in cheese. The fries, though were light and delicately seasoned.
Iceberg Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing: Nice presentation. Taste was what one would expect.
Balsamic Vinegar-Marinated Pulled Pork Sandwich: Amazing!!! The pork was tender and extremely tasty. Overall, the best dish of the bunch.
Service - Efficient, unobtrusive, helpful. Just how you'd like it.
Price - Averages about $12 per dish, a bit higher than the usual lunch menu.
Other - Pangea's "small plate" concept is dumped for lunch. So, the plates and portions are "regular" sized.
The following week, we went to Belana for lunch:
Restaurant decor - More "homey" than Pangea. Also more open floor plan. We had no trouble walking up and getting a table here, either.
Ordered - After going through the large menu, we selected:
Chicken Pot Pie
Club Sandwich with Applewood Smoked Bacon
Cuban Pork Sandwich
While we were eating, all of us commented that the food was okay, but it lacked any special quality. In some cases, the food seemed to lack a key ingredient. For example, the pulled pork sandwich contained meat, pickles, and bread (that's it). My colleague took the Oriental dressing from another colleague's side salad and dipped the sandwich into it. Much better!! I took the applewood smoked bacon from the club sandwich and mixed it into the chicken pot pie. Much better!! Too bad the Belana chefs didn't think about those changes. However, they have so many items on the menu that they probably don't have time to add originality to a dish (more on that later).
Service - Belana had a lot more staff than Pangea on the day we went (it seemed like one server for every two tables). But, the service wasn't any better. In fact, when the bill arrived, we were charged for our meals and another table's meals. When we went to have the bill changed, our server was no where to be found. After a 15 minute wait, the server reappeared and blamed the check on "the computer." It was eventually fixed.
Price - Averages about $10 per dish.
So, what's our verdict? Well, even though both restaurants are still new and are probably working out the bugs, we'd have to say that Pangea is the winner in the "Best new restaurant in Fig Garden Village" race. The food and the decor are more creative and the service was solid.
What does Belana need to do to catch up? In our humble opinion, Belana is trying to do too much. For starters, they're open from 6:30 a.m. - midnight daily (even later on Fridays and Saturdays). They're serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They're a restaurant, and a bar, and a nightclub!! Mirroring that ambitious agenda is a menu that is way too big. The result of this situation is food that's not memorable. They need to pare down the menu and figure out the market to which they want to appeal, instead of trying to please everyone. Until that step is taken, it's not unreasonable to conclude that Harland and his investors have basically recreated Mimi's Cafe with Belana (not that we don't like Mimi's Cafe, but we expect more from a Harland's restaurant).
In the meantime, we have no problem recommending Pangea for lunch. We're even open to trying it for dinner. It's a nice addition to the Fresno dining scene, which we anticipate will be developing a loyal following in the very near future.