Pasta Pomodoro is a chain that started in San Francisco in 1994. Currently it has about 50 restaurants in Northern & Southern California with a few restaurants in Arizona. Wendys has an interest in it these days.
Even when it opened, it was never the ultimate Italian restaurant, but you could get some interesting dishes at extremely reasonable prices. I visited with a friend today and found that still to be true.
For $5.95 the twenty Prince Edward Island mussels, steamed with garlic, herbs, butter and white wine and served with three big slices of grilled bread, were a good value and tasty.
The minute we sat down there was a plate of rosemary foccacia and a dish of olive oil with pesto placed on the table. The olive oil / pesto were fresh and very good. Focaccia was on the verge of Olive Garden quality, but better that some more expensive area restaurants.
For $6.50 my friend (not a sharer) had the capellini with tomato sauce, basil and garlic. It came with a cup of minestrone that was topped with some nice looking croutons. She liked it very much. Qualifying that, she is a HUGE fan of Bucca di Beppo.
I was impressed with the salmon with marinated and grilled veggies ($9.75). The salmon piece was very large and nicely grilled. The veggies were really good. The hot grilled asparagus, charred yet tender, along with warm caramelized onions were a nice contrast to the excellent room temperature marinated sweet eggplant, zucchini and onions. Eggplant is often difficult for restaurants to do well. This was excellent.
The balsamic reduction that dressed the generous serving of greens with radicchio, frissee, spinach and other lettuces brought it all together.
There were a few glasses of wine for $3.50 and they werent any of the usual suspects at that price.
Cappuccino ($2.25) was Illy and a generous serving with a nice foam. My friend had tiramisu which was a huge slice slathered in mascarpone with nice coffee and chocolate accents ($4.50). It was enough for two and I did get a taste of this. My criticism would be that it was a little too sweet for my taste.
For ten cents extra, Coke, diet Coke or Sprite came with a shot of Torani Italian syrup. Well that would be a different way to have a Vanilla coke raspberry, mango, peach orange and strawberry syrups were also available.
For what has become a chain, it didnt seem any different quality-wise than when it was locally owned. It is nice there are dishes that are different than the usual chain Italian joint. For example, one of the appetizers was polenta farcita, an Italian cornmeal cake with fontina cheese and spinach.
They have nice sides of sautéed broccoli or spinach. Brussels sprouts in brown butter, onions and sage are available, as is a side of fagioli, white beans with herbs, garlic, olive oil and tomatoes.
They will also try to accommodate special needs. There is the option of substituting whole wheat or low gluten, high protein pasta for the regular pasta. One SF poster said they will make practically anything you ask for as far as custom or substitute dishes
It is a great place to take kids and quite a few families were there. This location was a little busy and noisy though. It sits in a mall that exclusively has chains and the décor reflects that. There are black and white check floors, red banquettes and wooden tables and chairs. There is also a small bar and an uncharming patio that looks out on a lot of concrete. The original in North Beach was more attractive.
So do you have Pasta Pomodoro favorites? Is there anything you would avoid? I seem to remember that when they opened the desserts were not a strong point, but the tiramisu was ok today.
If you feel compelled to say avoid chains, there is a discussion for that on the Not About Food board already. I'm not suggesting that anyone snub the mom and pop that lovingly makes superior strombolli.
This isn't a place I see frequenting regrularily. However, given dining companion tastes, budget, location, etc. to me, it seems a much better choice than Olive Garden or Cafe Macroni or even the local joint that is locally owned but puts out expensive or mediocre food.
It is not a destination, but a place where you can get a good meal at a good price.
Chain bashing is not helpful in the context of my question and I hope to get some useful menu guidance. Also, if some locations are better than others, that would be nice to know as well.