http://mv-voice.com/print/story/print/2008/12/12/bites-and-bytes


Mountain View Voice

Eating Out - December 12, 2008

Bites and bytes

Mountain View's uWink caters to region's tech-savvy eaters

by Andrew MacLeod Doerschuk

Even from across the street you can't miss the light show flickering within uWink, the high-tech eatery that opened on the intersection of Castro and California in Mountain View. Inside, huge projection screens line every wall and demarcate seating areas, providing nonstop sensory input that keeps the joint humming.

But that's just the beginning. Each table is outfitted with touch-screen monitors that serve as menus, ordering stations and video game interfaces. You can even pay your bill by swiping a credit card at the screen. These monitors are mounted in pairs in the middle of the tabletop, facing customers seated on both sides and creating an obtrusive barricade between guests. Combined with the hubbub, the arrangement isn't highly conducive to a quiet, intimate evening — but that's not the idea.

UWink's high-concept dining experience is the brainchild of Nolan Bushnell, unsurprisingly the originator of Atari and Chuck E Cheese, who combined both of his innovations — video gaming and entertainment restaurants — into a single package.

The restaurant's tabletop monitors provide close-up photos of every item on the menu, enabling guests to compare their three-dimensional dishes to those on screen. This feature didn't play in the restaurant's favor when it came to the crispy calamari and vegetables appetizer ($8.95), which was conspicuously light on the roughage. However, our calamari rings were crispy and tender, and worked nicely with the smoky dipping sauce.

By contrast, the apple walnut salad ($9.95) was a mirror image of its screen shot. A healthy mound of mixed greens was dotted with candied walnuts, red onion, apple slices and crumbled bleu cheese, all dressed in balsamic vinaigrette. Our veggies tasted fresh, and the bleu cheese and vinaigrette were pleasingly puckering.

The chicken tortilla soup ($4.95) was thick and spicy. Its tomato-based broth created a rich base for the chicken, and was topped with tortilla strips, red pepper slices and sour cream. Although the recipe was tasty, the dish was served lukewarm, which dulled its appeal.

Oddly, temperature was an issue at uWink. Entrees that should have been hot were a degree or two too cool. Yet, like the soup, this glitch had little impact on the taste of our main courses. I had no trouble cleaning my plate of braised short ribs ($16.95). Served on a mound of mashed potatoes, these juicy boneless beef ribs were so tender that they could be cut with a fork, and came slathered in sweet and smoky gravy with a hint of cinnamon. Including the crispy onion strings, this was a hefty plateful.

The chicken and pesto carbonara ($12.95) was no less filling. This generous portion of spaghetti noodles was coated with thick carbonara pesto sauce, tossed with bacon bits and parmesan cheese and topped with slices of grilled marinated chicken breast — a heavy meal with a garlic aftertaste.

The atmosphere changed at lunch the next day. The projection screens were visible but dimmer, since they competed with the ample natural sunlight. The room felt starker than the night before, when the screens exploded with the color and action of sporting events and game results.

We ordered a Hawaiian BBQ pork sandwich ($8.95) and enjoyed the sweet barbecue glaze clinging to the pulled pork, which was piled onto a hamburger bun and topped with creamy coleslaw, red onions and deep-fried onion strings.

A pair of fish tacos sounded like a deal at $5.95. They arrived in flour tortillas stuffed with cod deep fried and covered with coleslaw. While the menu promised something called "jalapeno crema," the taste of mayonnaise from the slaw overwhelmed my palette, and seemed out of place in a taco. A scoop of white rice and a small bowl of black beans shared the platter.

For jollies, we munched the chocolate chocolate cake ($6.95), which was shaped like a cupcake yet tasted like a brownie. It was topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream with a mound of whipped cream on the side. Sadly, the cake was too chewy and not as chocolate-y as expected.

We left uWink conflicted about our experience there. On the upside, the menu selections are appetizing, and the high-tech distractions are interesting and fun. But the quality of the menu scored only slightly above pub food, with big, heavy portions brimming with carbs, and the atmosphere is frenetic.

It's not really a destination for couples on a date, or even people who would rather talk than play video games. Bushnell is betting that there are hundreds of hungry gamers looking for a place like this. Before going, ask yourself: Am I one of them?

uWink

401 Castro Street, Mountain View

(650) 965-8100

www.uwink.com

Hours:

Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 10 p.m.

Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to midnight

Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight

Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Comments

Posted by registered user, Angela Hey, a resident of Mountain View Voice Blogger
on Dec 15, 2008 at 10:07 pm

I enjoyed the quesadilla - but it wasn't clear from the menu whether it was to share or for one - I had no idea how big it would be! As it was it made a fine lunch - and the food was very fresh inside it.


Posted by Bex, a resident of Shoreline West
on Dec 16, 2008 at 4:22 pm

uWink is nothing more than a novelty. The table screens completely dominate the dining experience to the point that you need to move to the side just to eat comfortably. The food is good but not outstanding. The games mostly left me shaking my head. For example, my friend and I wanted to play a game against each other but were annoyed to find that most of the games do not allow you to compete directly against your table mate. And very few of the games are actually very challenging. It all seems just a little half hearted.

Two things that would at least make the experience tolerable would be the ability to surf the Internet and invite other tables to chat. All in all, a mediocre experience.


Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2008 at 9:52 pm

every time I walk by there, the place is empty. Guess the novelty is wearing off already.

Im looking forward to whatever takes its place--hopefully good food!


Posted by Nick, a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2009 at 1:06 pm

How's the customer service?