your favorite caterer
We're planning a wedding and want to provide tasty, sumptuous, unforgettable hors d'oeuvres for the 100+ people we are inviting to the ceremony. We'll be having a smaller, intimate dinner for our nearest and dearest that evening. Who is your favorite caterer and why? We are a well-fed SF couple who enjoy EOS and Zuni, Tu Lan and Cordon Bleu, Mifune and Ebisu - which is to say our tastebuds are discriminating as are our wallets. What say you, chowhounds? thanks for the advice.
I'll take a stab at this from the perspective of one who has had the pleasure of eating at catered events, as I don't have any insight into what a particular caterer is like to work with.
The finest wedding eats I've feasted on were catered by Kathleen & Dan Berman of Mixx restaurant in Santa Rosa at Bohemian Grove last year. Not preciously manipulated food but in the Sonoma style, namely the freshness and intensity of local ingredients were the key for this outdoor setting. Local wild salmon, grilled Sonoma baby lamb, smoked sturgeon, Hog Island kumamoto oysters on the half shell, Petaluma duckling, coq au Zinfandel, roasted baby beets, sweet corn, fingerling potatoes, beautiful red and golden raspberries, organic Alpine strawberries, well maybe the bowlfuls of caviar were imported, and more. Not only was the food incredible and bountiful but the staff were the smoothest and most organized I've seen at a large event (100+). We had a few appetizers and wine before the wedding - the first time I've witnessed a wedding with a glass of wine in hand! And the corks were popped and bubbly poured in a blink of an eye as soon as the couple was officially hitched and more appetizers were circulated. The dinner was a buffet but not a long wait. A cheese course with local and imported cheeses at the peak of perfection with fresh fruit and biscuits was available during the dancing. Kathleen's a great pastry chef - the wedding cake featured different flavors in each layer.
To put in another plug for Dan and Kathleen, I organized a dinner for 30 people at their restaurant. Didn't suffer a bit from slipups that can befall large parties, except that my guests were so loud. Felt sorry for the diners around us and sent over many bottles of wine to share with our apologies.
This spring I attended a wedding at Beaulieu Gardens in Rutherford catered by Elaine Bell (and the only one the property will allow) who is THE caterer in Sonoma/Napa valleys. This was a larger affair, probably 200+. The hot appetizers were barely warm, even when they first came out. The dinner was better and very good but two serving stations were not enough for the size of the crowd.
A couple years ago I was a guest at a birthday dinner for 12 people in a private home that was prepared by Larry Vito (who made Fournou's Ovens famous) on-site. The menu was on the conservative side but everything was beautifully executed. And, this may have been intentional to not detract from the many celebrated bottles of wine dusted off for this special occasion. The hosts used their own special table settings and crystal.
A friend mentioned a memorable birthday dinner for 100 people she'd attended in Portola Valley that was catered by Traci de Jardins. She said the food was sumptuous but not always balanced to the accompanying wine, and the wait staff and sommeliers were very pampering.
For your East/West taste in food you might want to contact someone like Kurt (Kirk?) Weber at Cafe Kati, Ponzu or Azie. Or if you follow chef comings and goings reported in the Chronicle, you might catch someone between gigs. Julian Serrano maybe?
My aunt, Ruby Tom - Glorious Food, SF is pretty much retired these days. Don't think she'll do something as large as you need any more.
re: Melanie Wong
Elaine Bell did JB's and my wedding at Landmark Vineyards more than six years ago. As a counterpoint to your experience w/ her big wedding gig, our little wedding of 85 people was universally wonderful. She did sun-dried tomato cheesecakes and veggie pizza appetizers which everyone raved about (I don't know if the temp was hot enough or not), Sonoma lamb and local salmon. I found her very accommadating to work with in making wine pairings; we had to use Landmark wines, and she served as our defacto wedding coordinator the day of. We were very pleased.
re: Judy Leibovitch
Right, I remember you're mentioning that you got married at Landmark in Kenwood. My criticism of Elaine Bell at the reception I attended were service related, maybe she was short a couple people. The bride and groom really enjoyed working with her too. In fact, they are indebted to her for slipping their wedding into Beaulieu Gardens when a cancellation came up. They got engaged minutes into Jan. 1 and it was a whirlwind to pull everything together to get married/honeymoon before harvest (winemaking family). They were truly blessed to pull this off in only five months!
I think I might have mentioned these guys before, but Carter Brown Catering out of the East Bay. They are two chefs that met at Bay Wolf Restaurant. Then Brown went on to cook at Chez Panisse. Both Chez Panisse and Bay Wolf recommend them to their customers that ask about caterers.