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Elegant lunch restaurant rec for San Rafael area needed

I'm taking my mother in law to lunch today for her b-day & don't know the San Rafael area very well - that's where she lives. Any recommendations for lunch someplace "nice." She ain't gonna want something in the back of a store, not a burger joint etc. She's more of an elegant sort of person. Doesn't have to be in San Rafael, anywhere within 15-20 minute drive would be great.

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  1. Il Davide (http://ildavide.net) in downtown San Rafael has an unusual-for-Marin urban atmosphere and quite good food in general. I've never been there for lunch but that's probably good like their dinners.

    Insalata's in San Anselmo (http://insalatas.com) is also quite good and a fine-looking place. Again, never been there for lunch but should be good.

    1. My choices would be:

      Lark Creek Inn
      Il Davide
      Buckeye Roadhouse

      1. If you're considering Mill Valley, there's also Piazza D'Angelo which has been one of my favorite places for a long time except for a few-year run of mediocre food that seems to have ended a year or more ago. Both elegant and casual at the same time, good food and service.

        1. I recommend Maria Manso World Cusine

          It has gotten mixed reviews on this board and you should check them out as well but I think it fits the bill as a special place for lunch.

          7 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I had avoided it because of the earlier uneven reviews and then it was featured on one of the KQED shows.
              The revews were so good it seemed worth a visit. And it was.
              I'm partial to the full bar so that's always a plus with me.
              I always order french fries --it's my test dish. We got an order with drinks and they were good --thin and crispy.
              I guess the place has good and bad days and it might be worth checking to make sure Maria is on site when you are going but I stand by the recommendation.

              1. re: ellenm

                That KQED blog drew me in too. As I said in my post, the Cubano might not be the thing to order here. Good to know the French fries were good and edible as opposed to the 'pommes frites' ... skip those too.

                Hope you report back if you have good experiences there. I wanted to like it.

                Although it seems like the event has passed for the OP, I wouldn't have recommended MM for that particular lunch even if the food was great. The lunch menu is a little too casual for a celebratory birthday lunch and runs to wraps and sandwiches.

                Maria was in the kitchen on my visit and personally brought the dishes out to each table. If that is the strategy, I would say that she should put on a clean chef jacket when walking into the dining room and not one that displays what she is cooking.

                An old positive review in the Chronicle
                And the Marin IJ

                1. re: rworange

                  Aren't pommes frites and french fries the same thing?

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Not at MM. They were cold potato sticks like out of the can. I'd ask to make sure what was being ordered was hot.

                    That was one of the things that so ticked me off. IIRC, on the Check Please episode it seemed like there were those pommes frites cones on tables. So when I saw pommes frites came with sandwiches & wraps, it seemed like such a deal. Yeah. Every table at lunch had those potato sticks. Ya know, if you are giving me potato sticks call them that ... don't call them pommes frites on the menu. That way I don't have raised expectations and get disappointed.

                    1. re: rworange

                      Maybe the menu is out of date. I see pommes frites and don't see french fries listed anywhere. Thought they might be one and the same but you got the bad batch.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I checked the website for Check Please to see if the pommes frites were mentioned and it seems that it is the same thing served at dinner ...

                        "The pommes frites were very thin shoestring potatoes presented in a big pile. Trying to put them on your fork with a knife as we observed another guest attempting to do was tricky. We decided to make them finger food"

                        There was some editing going on in that show because reading the written reviews there is more about the glitches than the good stuff ... one person wrote that the food wasn’t awful.

                        There's also a post from someone who tried it based on the show and was very disappointed ... didn't like the fish which was the one thing that really interested me.

                        Although everyone comments on that extrodinary, warm service.

                        That's why I hope people will report on the successful dishes there. I'd love to go there for what might be the better dishes, lounging on the patio in warm weather and basking in the warmth of the staff.

                        And I still want to try the house-made violet and banana sodas.

          1. Our version of the fries or whatever were similar to the McDonald Fry. Long and skinny but hot and with a softer interior. I'm trying to replay our experience to see if the full bar may have fuzzed up the rest of the meal. Because of the reviews we stayed away from things that had been slammed universally. (anything Cubano) We split an Asian chicken salad and the steak and were very happy. It's such a lovely comfortable room and there was no trouble hearing or lingering.
            It seems from reading other people's experiences like the little girl with the curl --either very very good or awful. I thought Chef on board might be the difference but there must be more.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ellenm

              Thanks for pointing out the dishes you were happy with. I'll go with those next time I'm there. Everyplace has good and bad dishes and I'm sure there's a lot of other good things here.